Launching the 60th anniversary programme of the Dublin Theatre Festival, its director Willie White surveyed the 31 productions and pointed out "there are a few generations present in the family". White is often reticent to identify any single theme behind his programmes, even a celebratory one, but this year, generational conversations and succession may come closest to an identifiable strand.
The Abbey and the Gate, the most venerable institutions in that family, are now both under new management, with a corresponding change in emphasis. The Gate's offering, the Irish premiere of Nina Raine's 2010 play Tribes, sees director Oonagh Murphy making her debut on its stage. The Abbey, which has long premiered new Irish works at the festival, this year debuts Stacey Gregg's Josephine K and the Algorithms on the Peacock stage, a piece about democracy in the age of big data, with a new staging of Dermot Bolger's adaptation of Ulysses destined for the Abbey stage. Also at the Peacock is a co-production with Dead Centre, Hamnet, which premiered last April at Berlin's Schaubuhne, inspired by Shakespeare's relationship with his son.
Druid, Rough Magic, Fishamble, Corn Exchange and Pan Pan each present works. Garry Hynes directs a new production of Eugene McCabe's King of the Castle, which debuted at the festival in 1964, in a Druid production that suggests its tragedy was far ahead of its time. Rough Magic premiere Melt by Shane Mac an Bhaird, a young writer who recently germinated from its SEEDS programme; Fishamble stage a new Sebastian Barry play, On Blueberry Hill; while Corn Exchange reappraise Ibsen's A Doll's House in Belinda McKeon's new play Nora.
Directed by Corn Exchange's new associate, Eoghan Carrick, and featuring artistic director Annie Ryan in its cast, Nora involves a sundered family, as does Hamnet. In a curious bit of festival trivia, both productions draw their casts from the same household: Ryan's son Ollie West takes the title role in the latter. Elsewhere, in Dublin Youth Theatre's coming-of-age project this is a room… Veronica Coburn directs the work of her son, Dylan Coburn Gray. When White refers to "the family" of his programme, it isn't always a metaphor.
A new generation of theatre makers is also looking back, as Anu returns with The Sin Eaters, inspired by the Kerry Babies case and the death of Ann Lovett in 1984, making contemporary associations to female body and the body politic. Doireann Coady uses recorded material to stage a tragic family absence in TheatreClub's I'm Not Here. And Martin McSharry's festival debut, Playboyz, re-imagines Synge's Playboy of the Western World, with an emphasis on asylum and fatherhood.
The festival's opening production, from Actors Touring Company and the Royal Lyceum Theatre, is a staging of David Greig's adaptation of The Suppliant Women, inspired by the Aeschylus classic of sanctuary and suspicion, performed by a professional cast and a diverse chorus of volunteers, some of whom are within Direct Provision.
Other international works include Australia's Ranters Theatre with a humorous meditation on mortality in Come Away With Me to the End of the World, the Royal Shakespeare Company's retelling of Venus and Adonis, using music and puppetry, and a wordless performance of Her Voice, from Japan's KAMOME-ZA, inspired by Beckett's Happy Days. From the US, Keith A Wallace performs The Bitter Game, a solo show that shares territory with the Black Lives Matter movement, and Belgium's Miet Warlop returns with a trippy installation Fruits of Labour.
The festival will stage commemorative events, but White is keener to lay down a legacy of increased participation for the future, "by showcasing the work of the next generation of artists". Part of that is to keep extending the rubric of the festival: Emma Martin's new dance-theatre piece Girl Song, for instance, creates a visceral and absurdist ode to ordinary existence through movement.
“It’s about transmission and succession,” says White. “It’s about a conversation between those generations and to provide a pathway for succession. It’s about keeping our momentum.”