Cork Midsummer Festival welcomes mystical adaptation of Virginia Woolf

Derbhle Crotty leads beguiling version of To the Lighthouse while Prometheus Now wows audience

Derbhle Crotty in To the Lighthouse. Photograph: Darragh Kane

Derbhle Crotty in To the Lighthouse. Photograph: Darragh Kane

 

He was in a “state of beguiledness”, Tom Creed admitted, after seeing Prometheus Now in the online strand of Cork Midsummer Festival. Creed, the director of Lynda Radley’s revival of The Art of Swimming, was searching to categorise Gaitkrash Theatre’s spellbinding fusion of fluid and spectral imagery. Specialists in sorcery, theatre artists Bernadette Cronin and Regina Crowley, with Mick O’Shea’s sound scheme, Harry Moore’s filming and editing and pianist Gabriela Mayer’s melding of Schumann, Lizst and improvisation, created a smouldering evocation of a myth still applicable to humanity’s reliance on blind hopefulness.

Gaitkrash Theatre’s Prometheus Now provideds spellbinding fusion of fluid and spectral imagery at the Cork Midsummer Festival 2021. Photograph: Jed Niezgoda
Gaitkrash Theatre’s Prometheus Now provideds spellbinding fusion of fluid and spectral imagery at the Cork Midsummer Festival 2021. Photograph: Jed Niezgoda

Those who, despite author Virginia Woolf’s frenzied doubts, have been enchanted for nearly a century by her novel To the Lighthouse, may have found themselves also in a state of beguiledness following the world premiere of Marina Carr’s adaptation of that lambent book. Streamed live from the Everyman Theatre stage and presented by Hatch Theatre and Everyman, this production captures not only the succinct beauty of Woolf’s prose but also Carr’s ear for coherence and affinity. Woolf asks the reader to read in a new way by allowing her scheme of mental commentary to flow through a narrative of dialogue and activity. The device is challenging on the page. On this stage it is as if director Annabelle Comyn and set and lighting designer Aedin Cosgrove have taken the shaded, fluctuating text as a template, creating an atmosphere almost mystical around a group of really quite ordinary people on a customary seaside holiday in the early 1900s.

Like the stage itself, these are people on separate tiers of existence, their strands of thought only coinciding around the rituals of the Ramsay family’s life, and particularly around Mrs Ramsay. It is a world in flux, newly alive to the questionable existence of, for example, a table, and within her own finite sphere Mrs Ramsay endures a psychic weariness of being needed, of being compliant; her thoughts drive a harrow of disparagement through the dream world she shares with her husband, children and guests. Imposing tension and rhythm on this meditative text, Comyn sometimes stills the camera (José Miguel Jiménez) on an image like a fine painting, a portrait caught in the ebb of time.

As in the novel, the end-point is not easily reached, and the late introduction of both author and publisher disturbs a style so carefully achieved by both script and direction. Carr has honoured Woolf by extraction, like an empathetic editor gifted with eloquence and intuition. A cast of consummate quality is led brilliantly by Derbhle Crotty as Mrs Ramsay and Declan Conlon as her husband; their mettle is matched by, among others, Aoife Duffin as Lily Briscoe and Olwen Fouere as the enigmatic Mr Carmichael. A tender unanimity of purpose seems to unite them all. Beguiledness is the only word for it.

Oonagh Kearney’s Birdie draws on the story of Cork-born soprano Mademoiselle Delrita. Photograph: Clare Keogh
Oonagh Kearney’s Birdie draws on the story of Cork-born soprano Mademoiselle Delrita. Photograph: Clare Keogh

Elsewhere in Midsummer’s second week, geographic loyalty to the “Port to the Fort” strand yielded Birdie, with film-artist Oonagh Kearney and composer Ellen King guiding a distanced audience along the peninsula of Custom House quay. Kearney’s voiced script knits the story of Cork-born soprano Mademoiselle Delrita, who sacrificed her international operatic career to become president of the Shandon branch of Cumann na mBan, into Kearney’s own commitment to the changing city. Accepting her invitation to look as if with fresh eyes at the river, the quays and the new dockland ramparts of buildings floating on buildings, it is possible to see also the protected landmark spire of St Luke’s Church, if we search for it and squint.

Any festival worth the name must have its evangelists, and here is Vicki Davis with Meatán, also at the port, in a reflection on the environmental impact of cattle farming, in particular on reports of Argentina’s method of collecting methane by tube and balloon from a cow’s intestines. In her stark installation Davis has accompanied her screen-printed inflated feed-bag with the calls of drovers and crews as the herded animals are loaded from the Cork quays, in a process largely unseen by the public. But Davis saw it.

At the opposite end of town here is dance artist Lisa Cliffe representing the Cork Dance Initiative. In the doubtful sunlight of Cornmarket Street she radiates the positivity of aspiration, offering a choice of seed in exchange for a matching seedling, and through shared nurturing an ideal of pollination and connection evolves to reinvigorate the culture of dance in Cork.

The festival through all its strands was packed with comparative extremes in a mix of online and live events which complied with Covid-19 restrictions. The contrasts were typified by the closing celebration at Elizabeth Fort curated by Tobi Omoteso, and the final streamed production, again from the Everyman stage, of writer Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s event from her book A Ghost in the Throat. Her contemplative response to the 18th-century Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, composed by his widow Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, was visually grounded by Tadhg O’Sullivan’s eerie landscape of woe and womanhood and Linda Buckley’s soundscape.

The spaces of the Crawford Gallery remain open for Doug Fishbone’s work (until August 29th) and for Laura FitzGerald’s I Have Made a Place (until September 19th); her place reveals itself as an essay on turf-cutting. Another revelation comes with Bad Siobhán, an online dance piece from Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín and her boat-building father Padraig. From spoken stories to interrogations demanding Instagram and Youtube, to the young hiphop musicians and writers of the Kabin Studio in Knocknaheeny, or Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed interactive session TM, this festival has woven a pattern of successful survival.

The smallest beguiledness was also the first. In an annunciation of midsummer and arranged by Jack Healy of Theatre Makers in tribute to the late George Roberts, tower master at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the long-silent chapel bell at Griffith College rang out at 8.30am, repeating its rounds for 30 minutes. Then the bell of neighbouring Church of the Holy Family rang out, and later that of the south chapel; our ears were tuned to bells all over Cork.

This article was amended on July 2nd, 2021, to correct the closing date of Laura FitzGerald’s I Have Made a Place, at the Crawford Art Gallery

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