2012: the highs and the lows
THEATRE: Highlight of the year in your areaDruidMurphy was a riveting and shattering journey that led from the London Cultural Olympiad through Ireland and across the world. That was a suitable trajectory for this coruscating trio of Tom Murphy plays, stunningly directed by Garry Hynes, which traced a history of emigration and dispossession through drink, violence and hunger.
Honouring the intoxication and intelligence of Conversations on a Homecoming (right), A Whistle in the Dark and Famine, the director, designers and performers plunged deeper into a history and cycle of hope and collapse, in which Murphy’s voice sounded more urgent than ever.
Highlights in other artsEmma Martin’s Dogs was an exquisite and raw contemporary dance piece twisting polite society into a chaos of gender collisions, fraying classical music and sensationally choreographed panic attacks.
I liked the similarities between the utterly dissimilar Frank Ocean and Fiona Apple who both bailed on their tours this year and each made fantastic, adventurous albums on a timeless, lovelorn theme. Electro-pixie Grimes excelled at a beautifully coherent Forbidden Fruit festival.
You could look at Lenny Abrahamson’s brilliant film What Richard Did in many ways – as a complex reflection on real-life horror, or a piece that dared to take the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly milieu seriously – but in its devastating depiction of loosening responsibility, it was this year’s most resonant and finely wrought tragedy in any medium. I also loved Rian Johnson’s witty, surprisingly moving sci-fi film Looper and the recently discovered lost Shakespeare play of Arthur Phillips’s dazzling novel The Tragedy of Arthur.
Biggest disappointmentDisappointment is too weak a word. Government plans to merge national cultural institutions, as well as to absorb Culture Ireland into the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, had been persuasively challenged for a year in these pages, by the National Campaign for the Arts, in the Seanad and the Dáil. In October, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, decided to press ahead with them anyway, without detailing any cost benefit, and in potential conflict with Michael D Higgins’s National Cultural Institutions Act of 1997.
Biggest surpriseEvery second thing that happened in the Abbey: a flawed but fascinating new electropop musical in Alice in Funderland (in which Sarah Greene gave one of the best performances of the year). Its temporary closure for asbestos removal. A Tom Murphy production, The House, in which Annabelle Comyn directed a tremendous cast with such depth of perception that it withstood comparison to Druid. The quiet acquisition of the building next door, putting to rest years of contentious speculation as to where the Abbey might move. The best new play of the year in Owen McCafferty’s Quietly . . . Say what you will about the National Theatre, it’s never dull.
What will you be glad to see the back of?The Joycean stampede. The year’s theatre began with a hasty Ulysses adaptation, Gibraltar, and ended with Frank McGuinness’s mercifully longer-developing dramatisation of the novella The Dead at the Abbey. In between, we’ve had a rake of works inspired by Dubliners, another Ulysses, try-outs for his only play, Exiles, and an adaptation of Finnegans Wake. “We are still learning to be Joyce’s contemporaries,” a critic once wrote, and this has been a year spent cramming.
I’ve seen the future and it is . . .Sincerity and whimsy. It will take some getting used to for those of us fluent in the irony and experimentations of Pan Pan’s A Doll House or the zany erudition of Bush Moukarzel’s Souvenir, but popular new works from Collapsing Horse’s Monster/Clock by Eoghan Quinn or Ross Dungan’s The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle for 15th Oak suggest an emerging audience hungry for simple storytelling, homespun design, puppetry and acoustic guitar arpeggios. Milk and cookies too, perhaps.
Something that should have been big but was cruelly overlookedEveryone should have made more noise about Globe Motel, an adventurous promenade performance from Dublin Shakespeare Society and Belfast’s Bart Players for the RSC’s Open Stages programme, which smashed eight Shakespeare plays together and sent their scenes – and the audience – scattering through Findlater’s church, kitchens, bedrooms and various nooks for some commendably playful classic crossover opportunities. Peter Crawley
Highlight of the year in your areaIt was a wonderful year for films beamed down from the planet Barmy. But the most deliciously peculiar movie of the year was surely Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (left). A meta-thriller set in the world of Italian horror cinema, the picture used sound to greater effect than any picture since The Conversation.
Highlights in other artsSwans, one of the most gloomily cacophonous of American post-punk groups, returned with a gorgeously horrid wall of structured noise entitled The Seer. Enormously long and scarier than a sinkful of leeches, the LP is easily the best of their long career.
Biggest disappointmentOn initial consideration, Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated Prometheus – a quasi-prequel to Alien – came across as an interesting misstep. The more one thought about it, however, the more disordered and philosophically moronic it seemed. Leave it at that, Ridley.
Biggest surpriseUp to this point, I had regarded Léos Carax, the director of Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, as a tedious show-off with delusions of adequacy. Yet Holy Motors – premiered at Cannes to uncharacteristic cheers – turned out to be a busy, surreal classic. Denis Lavant was astonishing in the lead.
What will you be glad to see the back of?Film adaptations of popular novels that – for artistic reasons, you understand – split themselves into two, or even three, parts. If the trend continues at this pace, the film version of the 50 Shades of Grey novel will actually appear in 50 instalments. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is on release now.
I’ve seen the future and it is . . .Exactly the same as the past. James Bond thrillers and Star Wars epics from now until the heat death of the universe.
Something that should have been big but was cruelly overlookedBen Wheatley’s Sightseers followed through on the director’s superb Kill List to deliver English comedy of the blackest hue. The film performed adequately. But it should have been an out-and-out smash. Donald Clarke
Highlight of the year in your areaAlbums from Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Dr John, Laurel Halo, John Talabot, Seamus Fogarty, Spook of the Thirteenth Lock, Miguel and Delorentos kept me in clover throughout the year. There were also fantastic nights out with Dr John and his Locked Down band in Brooklyn, New York, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne throwdown (right), Paul Simon revisiting Graceland, Chic’s disco blitz in Galway and Electric Picnic turns from The xx and Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine, Paddy Glackin and Donal Lunny. Also, hearing Bruce Springsteen deliver a fantastic, powerful keynote address at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, was something to savour.
Highlights in other artsThe giant landscapes at David Hockney’s A Bigger Picture at London’s Royal Academy provided a feast of endorphins; Alice Maher’s Becoming mid-career round-up at Imma was powerful; and Alice In Funderland was a gaggle of giggles. Filmwise, Beasts Of the Southern Wild stayed with me for days afterwards. On the TV, there were tremendous dramas such as Luck, Boss, Blackout, Borgen and Line Of Duty, plus David Simon’s Treme made me long for a return trip to New Orleans.