Kilkenny Arts Festival organisers take flagship events outdoors this year
Shakespeare comedy Much Ado About Nothing and multi-sensory spectacular fLux among highlights of festival
Clare Barrett in Much Ado About Nothing, which takes place at Quad at St Kieran’s College during Kilkenny Arts Festival. Photograph: Ste Murray
No doubt they’re dusting off the Child of Prague in Kilkenny, as the city prepares for this year’s arts festival, which starts on Thursday. Two of its flagship events, both Kilkenny Arts Festival collaborations which sound very special, take place outside.
After last year’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Castle Yard, Rough Magic presents another Shakespeare outdoors, this time at the Quad at St Kieran’s College, with a contemporary staging of the Bard’s screwball comedy Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Ronan Phelan.
Meantime, 20km down the road, the entire town of Callan has been preparing for an epic promenade performance of The Big Chapel X, Asylum Productions’ fictionalised version of a dark story from the town’s past, adapted from Thomas Kilroy’s novel. Revolving around this is a programme of events exploring the novel, the impact of Kilkenny on Kilroy’s work, its staging in Callan and an architecture project.
Rough Magic’s second show at the festival is Fergal McElherron’s Cleft, a two-hander (inside: at the Watergate Theatre) fresh from Galway International Arts Festival. Lynne Parker’s direction of Simone Kirby and Penny Layden is assured and unsettling in this dark, powerful story of a family on the edge, in all sorts of ways.
The 46th Kilkenny Arts Festival, Olga Barry’s first as festival director, is set to be illuminating, in the shape of two light shows. The multi-sensory fLux in St Canice’s Cathedral, by Eat My Noise (composers David Duffy and Peter Power), mixes projections, live organ, church bells, voice, electronics and tape for an immersive indoor experience (August 9th, 9.30pm). And the circular towers and limestone walls of Kilkenny Castle is the outdoor canvas for four free light shows; best vantage point is the Castle Rose Garden but it’ll be visible around the city, with an offsite soundtrack on KCLR (10.40pm, August 14-17).
Also in St Canice’s, contralto and conductor Nathalie Stutzmann’s Kilkenny debut is with her new ensemble Phoenix 55 in a programme of Bach cantatas. The Irish Chamber Orchestra returns as orchestra-in-residence, joined by conductor/violinist Thomas Zehetmair for Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, along with violist Ruth Killius.
One of the festival’s big names, pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk, has cancelled because of illness, but pianist Barry Douglas has joined the line-up, at St Canice’s on August 10th, playing Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky. (Gavrylyuk tickets are valid for Barry Douglas or can be refunded).
Other music highlights include the Fews Ensemble and actor Ciarán Hinds performing Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale; an afternoon chamber music series including outstanding pianist Michael McHale and violinist Patrick Rafter playing some fin de siècle gems; Crash Ensemble’s residency, with an Irish premiere; and young chamber music collective Musici Ireland.
Martin Hayes’ Marble City Sessions includes his own quartet, a collaboration between the Ní Dhomnaill and Mulcahy sisters, Richard Thomson, and NYC jazz outfit Harriet Tubman with a trad quartet.
This year’s visual arts line-up includes New York-based Amy Cutler’s first Irish exhibition – whimsical allegories of unrealistic expectations imposed on women – at the Butler; two contrasting local artists Eamon Colman and Blaise Smith’s Double Vision of the county; and an exploration of storytelling and artistic expression at the National Design and Craft Gallery.
Kilkenny is a perfect size to host a festival (and it has plenty of them), and director Barry points out the city itself is “the ideal festival stage, with its amazing historic spaces and gardens. Its compact, medieval cityscape and generous people has always made Kilkenny Arts Festival a simply gorgeous place for artists and audiences to come together easily and creatively.”
Kilkenny Arts Festival, August 8th -18th, kilkennyarts.ie