A week of real, live events: Arts festivals, in-person theatre galore and lots more

Online offerings include the best from Kilkenny and Belfast events and youth theatre via YouTube


Kilkenny Arts Festival
August 5th-15th, kilkennyarts.ie

This year’s Kilkenny Arts Festival aims to bring people closer together (in a safe way) with a mixture of online and live events that will, once again, showcase the strong vein of creativity and innovation running through the marble county. The festival kicks off with a bang, as the Irish National Opera stages Richard Strauss’s cracking opera Elektra (Castle Yard, Kilkenny, 9pm, €50). This is a full-metal-jacket outdoor performance, so dress for the weather and follow all Covid protocols. The orchestra will be pre-recorded, but the passion of the performers on stage – including that of acclaimed soprano Giselle Allen as ol’ Lecky herself – will be all too real. Meanwhile, in the Watergate Theatre, folk and trad singer Karan Casey takes a personal musical journey in I Walked into My Head, an adventurous piece in which Casey tells stories and sings her own songs, and listens to her inner voice (preview August 5th, 7.30pm, €15; August 6th, 7.30pm, €25; August 7th 3pm and 6pm, €25; August 8th, 3pm, €25). On Sunday 8th, Rough Magic unscrews the top from its futuristic new production, Tonic, written by and starring Fionn Foley, co-starring Juliette Crosbie and Aoife Kelly, and directed by Ronan Phelan, with music composed by Foley (August 8th-11th, St Kieran’s College, €20). Tonic is set in the year 2047 and revolves around a miracle medicine, called Halcyon, that is guaranteed to cure you of your apocalyptic apoplexy and doomsday dyspepsia. With the world about to come to an end, a dose of this tonic is your only man, but how to persuade the plain people of Ireland to try it out? Simple – send out a musical medicine show to spread the good news and get audiences to drink the Kool-Aid. There’s more in store in Kilkenny, so check out the programme.

Of a Mind
August 4th-15th, Bray seafront, 7.30pm (Saturday and Sunday matinees, 3pm), €15/€12 (preview €10), mermaidartscentre.ie

Here’s a promenade with a difference – a mixture of flashmob, silent disco and Sunday Mass – conducted along Bray seafront, in the company of Irish dramaturg/producer Hugh Farrell and Brooklyn-based sound designer Tyler Kieffer. This guided audio experience explores our collective memories of going to Mass, going to yoga classes, or going to a GAA match, which all seems so far in the past now as to be ancient history. The audience of 50 will gather at the Victorian bandstand in Bray, then walk a designated route along the seafront for this unique social gathering, designed to help us reclaim our place in the crowd at a time when crowds have become scary places to be. Don’t worry – you’ll be safe in the hands of Farrell and Kieffer during this meditative, immersive and ultimately uplifting event.


Synge Out Loud: The Playboy of the Western World – The Musical on tour
Imma, Dublin, August 5th-7th; Muckross House, Killarney, Co Kerry, August 19th-21st; Coole Park, Gort, Co Galway, August 27th-28th, €25, playboythemusical.ie

The pandemic hasn’t sent society back into the Stone Age just yet, but the producers of this musical version of The Playboy of the Western World have gone back to the 1950s for inspiration on how to safely stage the production for a live audience. This “mischievous” adaptation of Synge’s evergreen drama will be staged outdoors under old-fashioned stretch canvas – the sort of theatrical fit-up used by touring groups in the olden days. The action is set in 1959, in a radio station, where a group of actors are performing Playboy as a radio play. Good luck with that. It promises to be a rollicking roller coaster of a show, with 15 talented actors and musicians giving it bobby sox – including two foley artists to provide hilarious sound effects – plus acting legend Kate O’Toole performing as your not-so-humble narrator. Synge purists needn’t get too hot under the collar: the storyline stays true to the original play – it’s just tweaked a bit to bring out the good bits, and given added oomph with original songs by producer Justin McCarthy, that go from country to heavy metal in a trice. The show was previously staged in Galway’s Town Hall Theatre, and drew delirious audience reaction, so get ready to be dancing in the aisles with Pegeen Mike, Christy Mahon and the gang.

Eastside Arts Festival
August 5th-15th, Belfast, eastsidearts.net

So, how do you want your arts festival? Would you like to participate at home, outdoors, in a socially distanced audience, or all of the above? The Eastside Arts Festival 2021 is designed to cater for all configurations, so that as many people as possible can have access to the more than 80 events on offer, featuring more than 100 artists. This year, the organisers have introduced a digital festival pass that gets you into all the virtual events, either to watch live or on demand. It seems the entire arts and business community in Belfast have come together to make this year’s festival happen, and the line-up goes across all genres, with highlights including an east-Belfast-inspired album launch by Anthony Toner; comedy night featuring Micky Bartlett, Robbie McShane and Sarah Jade Davidson; greenway celebrations at Victoria Park, Billy Boy, a high-energy new play by Rosemary Jenkinson starring Belfast actor John Travers; West Ocean String Quartet at St Patrick’s Church; and Mary Coughlan singing Billie Holiday at the Stormont Hotel.

Summer Songs
Burnaby Park, Greystones, Co Wicklow, August 7th and 8th, 3pm, €120 (admits six), eventbrite.ie

Wicklow has the mountains, the lakes and the woodlands, and now it’s added the music to its repertoire with Summer Songs, a series of outdoor gigs in various scenic locations in the county. The idea is simple: each ticket admits you and five of your friends and family to your own Covid-compliant pod, where you can enjoy some breezy afternoon-and-early-evening vibes with some of the area’s finest local musicians. It’s all part of the Government’s local live performance programming scheme, designed to help musicians get safely back on stage after a year and a half of a live music shutdown. Among the artists who will be performing over the remainder of the summer are Hothouse Flowers, Mary Coughlan, Cathy Davey, Wyvern Lingo, Leslie Dowdall and Pillow Queens. Saturday’s gig features legendary folk-rock-jazz-whatever combo Scullion and trad royalty Kíla; on Sunday The Gregory Walkers will take the audience deep into the dark woods via music and storytelling, and Sonamus will bring us on a magical trip through 500 years of Irish music.

Summer Songs continues with gigs at the People’s Park, Bray (August 14th), Brockagh Centre, Laragh (August 21st) and North Beach, Arklow (September 5th).

Druid presents The Seagull
August 7th-21st, Coole Park, Gort, Co Galway, 7.30pm, (previews August 6th-9th) €26/€30, druid.ie

Druid’s summer season reaches its peak with this large-scale production of Thomas Kilroy’s The Seagull (after Chekhov), directed by Garry Hynes and featuring a cast that includes Jack Gleeson and Eileen Walsh. Druid return to the place where they last year staged Druid Gregory, in honour of the area’s famous resident, Lady Gregory. Kilroy’s take on Chekhov is set in a country house in the west of Ireland, where London-based Isobel Desmond (Walsh) and her son Constantine (Gleeson) are spending the summer. Are they in for a relaxing break? Not a bit of it – there’ll be lots of artistic rivalry, class conflict and tangled love knots in store. Tickets will be sold in pods of singles, pairs or groups of four, and are extremely limited, so don’t be too disappointed if you can’t get your hands on them.

National Youth Theatre: Aftertaste
August 8th-15th, the Abbey Theatre YouTube channel

“I’d dream I was walking down the catwalk, covered in caramel, wearing these shoes. And everyone wanted to lick me.” With an appetising tagline like that, how could you not be tempted to sample the smorgasbord of dramatic delights on offer in this new play by Ciara Elizabeth Smyth, presented online by Youth Theatre Ireland? An ensemble cast of 16 talented young actors and six super-creative young designers, under the direction of Veronica Coburn, have been working hard over the past 18 months to whip up this new production, which will be streamed on the Abbey’s YouTube channel from Sunday 8th. It’s set in a not-far-off dystopia in which a new ultra-woke government has banned all junk food – so now nobody can possess as much as a muffin without incurring the wrath of the law. But one rebellious group of “junk advocates” are determined to stand up to these liberal, leftie weight-watchers, and set out to restore junk food to its rightful place in the national diet.