Kilkenny stages arts festival just as you like it
AS THE Kilkenny Arts Festival opened its 39th programme this weekend, nobody could accuse the 10-day, multidiscipline event for being without optimism. Arriving at the end of one of the wettest Irish summers on record, the last major arts festival of the season had chosen an image of a deckchair as its brochure cover and an outdoor event as its centrepiece.
Its suggestion, perhaps, was that this varied programme of classical and contemporary music, literature, visual art, crafts and theatre could be best contemplated under a forgiving sky.
When it opened on Friday with an outdoor performance of As You Like It by the Globe Theatre Company (making its first Irish visit), the organisers’ faith was rewarded with sunshine and continuing Olympic uplift.
It was an encouraging launch for “a festival of ideas” or, as its music curator Gerry Godley characterised it, “a wellness spa for the mind”.
The range of treatments, under new festival director Rosemary Collier, includes an event commemorating author John McGahern with contributions from Colm Tóibín, Denis Sampson and Anne Fogarty.
There is also a debate on the legacy and failure of the Home Rule Bill led by Catriona Crowe, the Hubert Butler Lecture, delivered by Misha Glenny on the siege of Sarajevo, and a discussion led by Senator Fiach MacConghail and historian Diarmuid Ferriter on preserving the nation’s cultural legacy against the Government’s proposed restructuring and amalgamations of national cultural institutions.
Also, CoisCéim’s exquisite and adventurous dance piece Swimming With My Mother is currently playing in the Watergate Theatre as part of the festival.
In As You Like It, a play about nature and artifice, director James Dacre plays smart games with shifting identities, where France becomes a model of Maypole Englishness, Deirdre Mullins briefly amplifies her Irish accent, and Jaques, the sour malcontent who unhappily announces “All the world’s a stage”, is transformed into a woman by the engaging Emma Pallant.
It is a play that can appeal to either progressives or conservatives with a production’s careful inflection. Throughout, gender and sexuality are unstable, yet everything is resolved in multi-marriages and a return to court.
Music, literature and visual art at the Kilkenny Arts Festival are as varied as ever, but without the counterbalance of many smaller risk-taking theatrical performances, the hardy production of a classic such as As You Like It represents an investment in something more mainstream and bankable.
That won’t matter much to its audience who, like the Forest of Arden dwellers, will have nothing here to fear “but winter and rough weather” (and are advised to dress accordingly), lingering in its lively entertainment and evening air: as they like it.
As You Like It and the Kilkenny Arts Festival continues until August 19th