Fintan O’Toole’s cultural highlights: ‘A great year for the elderly’

Culture review 2016: Seanad National Museum land grab shows depths of philistinism in our political culture

Your 2016 highlights? It was a great year for the elderly: the last, hilarious and heartbreaking, volume of Samuel Beckett's letters; Leonard Cohen's noble farewell; Glenda Jackson's glorious return in King Lear; a haunting last blast from the great Tony McMahon. For dance-theatre fusions: Anu's These Rooms and Michael Keegan-Dola's Swan Lake/Loch na hEala. Lisa Dwan's No's Knife was startlingly courageous. Christian Blackshaw's superbly meditative Mozart sonatas in Kilkenny still linger in the mind. Sebastian Barry's Days Without End is glorious. A Date for Mad Mary was the best Irish cinema debut for ages. Jon Snow came back from the dead in Game of Thrones so maybe Cohen, Prince, William Trevor and John Montague will live on, too.

What let you you down? I really disliked the A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Dublin Theatre Festival. All tricks and no poetry makes Will a dull boy. And the Seanad's land grab on the National Museum shows remarkable depths of philistinism in parts of our political culture.

What was the dominant plot twist of 2016? Waking the Feminists feels like that rarest of things, a real watershed moment. In a year of toxic rage elsewhere, it was a reminder of the proper uses of anger. No going back to lad theatre?

How did our centenary celebrations strike you? Paul Muldoon, Rita Duffy, Anu, Fearghus ó Conchúir and many others showed that it is still artists who give the nation its voice. And the Government actually noticed: the cultural legacy programme has great promise. On a personal note, it was a privilege to work with Owen Roe, Olwen Fouéré, Lisa Dwan, Fiona Shaw and Stuart Graham at the NCH and Belfast festival events – and Kevin Rowland singing his mother's Irish songs for the first time at the NCH was really something.


What are your 2017 resolutions? The Irish novel is really flying and there are new works to look forward to from Colm Tóibín, Roddy Doyle and Sara Baume. So I have learn to read fiction faster.

2016 in three words: The republican imagination.