Moments from a festival: Galway wraps with a new way of bringing it back Home

Geoff Sobelle’s show one of the many highlights of this year’s vibrant, audience engaging festival

In the beginning there may have been the word, but there were no words for a long time in Home and hardly any at all throughout, bar those sung by Elvis Perkins, one of the show’s seven performers. In the beginning, rather, is black and from that Geoff Sobelle creates the world: Home. One of many highlights in this year’s Galway International Arts Festival, which has just finished, was the run of New York-based Sobelle’s award-winning theatre show at the Black Box Theatre.

Alone on stage, he starts with a wooden frame, staple-gunning sheets of plastic to it. The frame grows and within minutes is the cross-section of a house, two storeys filling the stage, more details added imperceptibly as it progresses. This is not just a house but a home, and the show is about how one becomes the other and of the life and lives within it, simultaneously and over time, evolving to encompass what it is to be alive.

Home is an evocative concept and a pertinent one these days, and its wider social relevance is just below the surface, evoked by a gesture here, an image there, or the lyric of a song.

What ultimately becomes a fast-moving, multipronged show uses movement, physical tricks, live and recorded music, light and sound. Momentary swaps of performer are like sleight of hand magic tricks, and there is plenty of stage business coming in and out of fridges and cupboards.

The action moves from the inconsequential, intimate and repeated activities within a home — laundry, cooking, showering, going to the toilet, sleeping, dressing, going on holidays, cleaning, accepting deliveries — to significant moments of celebration or grief, fun or disaster. In a sort of spatial illusion, initially the multiple lives lived over different times in Home overlap in parallel universes, not interacting. Cue perfectly-timed and electrically-charged set pieces of activities in the shower and the kitchen, like time-lapse photos.

Later, characters coexisting on different planes come together in a party, which morphs from one kind of celebration into another: birthday to graduation to wedding to funeral. From here on there is interaction, as well as extensive audience participation. Imperceptible instructions charmingly weave perhaps 20 or more audience members into the action. It is a full-hearted, uplifting show and the audience responds in kind.

Over the run, surely most people at the festival were just seven degrees removed from someone who was brought onstage in Home.

A five-star show, Home is hugely skilful but wears it with ease. It is full of life and movement; beautiful, funny, moving and emotionally engaging, a mix of fleeting, impressionistic gestures and large-scale action. It’s evocative of place as having meaning, and the nature of any house being the total of the many lives lived there, and its ghosts.

Home is technically impressive, and complicated; the basic facilities and lack of fly-towers at the Black Box made for additional challenges, but none of this is visible. This too suits thematically, and the nature of theatricality, building a world quickly, through illusion. It is literally magical.

On its last weekend, rain both soft and torrential cleared the earlier heat, as the closing days of Galway’s arts festival coincided with the county’s All-Ireland football hopes, appropriately broadcast live in the big top in Fisheries Field. Fortuitously, in the early part of the festival the blast of summer heat had coincided with street action, from Les Girafes on parade to LifeLine on high wire. The county was licking its wounds for what might have been on the field at Croke Park, but artistic director Paul Fahy was happy with how the first full-scale festival since 2019 played out. Pandemic infections continued to threaten disruption, but contingency action meant hardly anything was affected for audiences.

He was pleased they had lots of creative festival activity with international and Irish work being pulled together in the city: from the Home build to mounting Ana Pacheco’s stunning show to erecting John Gerrard’s Flare installation at the docks to constructing the careful interior of Middle Bedroom, to The First Child, Landmark/INO’s opera, rehearsing for weeks in town with composer Donnacha Dennehy and writer and director Enda Walsh.

Lewis Major’s four performers were literally dancing with light in the Australian choreographer and director’s double bill at An Taibhdhearc.

Satori (“awakening” in Japanese, loosely) uses rods of fluorescent light to create shapes and patterns with which the dancers interact with fluidity and vigour, and also to provide the sole lighting for performance. Along with the soundtrack, the effect is rhythmically relaxing, and while beautiful as a performance in itself, it is also a good foil for the more frantic and hypnotic second piece, Unfolding. Here too interaction with light is at the core, with what’s described as a shifting 3D animation (by creative coder Fausto Brusamolino). A skirt of moving light from the roof beams down, creating waves of effects for the dancers. It builds to a crescendo of patterns on their almost naked bodies. The movement and light continues even as the Taibhdhearc’s beautiful, historic curtains with their Celtic interlacing draw closed, as if the whirl of dance and light were to continue forever.

Across town in the big top, The Frames were in fine form. Glen Hansard introduced a song they don’t generally perform these days, because “Unfortunately the chorus doesn’t stand up. We don’t have all the time in the world any more”. They sang “We have all the time in the world, to get it right ... To set it right”, but at the end inserted the word “don’t”.

Towards the end of a buzzing set, Hansard appeared to take issue with something happening in the audience and left the stage to bring a guest up, to sing a great version of Crazy World. “He’s a busker. Whenever we see a busker we gotta get him up,” said Hansard (though he didn’t introduce him).

As well as Frames numbers such as Fitzcarraldo and Star Star, appropriately — given their busking connections — the gig ended with songs including Pixies’ Where is my mind? and the late songwriter Mic Christopher’s HeyDay.

At Pacheco’s exhibition in the festival gallery, the crowds kept coming (sometimes queuing), getting literally into the thick of her threatening, disturbing tableaux where you can feel the tension. Visiting on the second-last day of the show, an invigilator made a point of gesturing to a new notice on the wall which asked people not to touch the work. That refers to a platform, she stressed, where people had been sitting. “You can touch the work. In fact Ana Pacheco wants people to touch it, to engage with it.” And they did. Lots of engagement all round the festival.

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times