Epiphany and Dead Dog in a Suitcase: theatre shows to catch this week

Druid Theatre Company stages Brian Watkins’s new play Epiphany, a serious comedy with Joycean inspiration, Cornwall’s Kneehigh turn The Beggars Opera on its head

Epiphany

Town Hall Theatre, Galway, Previews Jul 17 Opens Jul 18-27 8pm (Sat mat 2.30pm) druid.ie

You may find our host familiar, in a modest, uncertain celebration held in a grand but faded Dublin home. That’s because Marie Mullen’s Morkan, humming with anxiety and conviviality, is retracing footsteps in Epiphany herself. The feast day she has rekindled, on an occasion whose significance seems long forgotten to the assembled, also brings together a group you feel you’ve met somewhere before. “It’s a holiday that people forgot!” Morkan says of the Feast of the Epiphany, whose rediscovery provides her, fittingly, with a “Eureka moment”. Now they just have to make sense of it.

To those familiar with James Joyce’s The Dead (so frequently adapted on the Irish stage, that can seem like everybody), parallels aren’t hard to spot, but Brian Watkins’s new play for Druid treats the novella more as a scaffold than a source, borrowing something of its structure and characters while thoroughly updating its context for a dizzily spinning world. When the guest of honour Gabriel proves elusive, moreover, the ceremony must find a new centre, while other dimly recalled rituals – games, eating, songs – spur reflections on why people gather, why they need each other, why they fall apart. That these questions have been considered by generations before us, and will be again when our revels now are ended, is not lost on the play, a vigorous comedy of energy, debate and realisations.

Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs)

Bailey Allen Hall, NUI Galway, July 16, 17, 20 7pm, Jul 18,19 6pm (Wed and Sat mat 2pm) giaf.ie

There are quite a few options available to anyone keen to revisit the most comprehensively satirical work of John Gay, 1728's The Beggar's Opera. Two centuries later, it became the basis for Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, which tends to get more frequent revivals. Now it invites a spirited reimagining from festival favourites Kneehigh Theatre. When it comes to Beggar's, then, it seems we can be choosers. In part, that's because the original was itself thoroughly contemporary, in both its satirical targets and its material, drawn from a catalogue of popular song. If that method urges update, the story – an amusingly cynical tale of crime, corruption and romantic capers – tends to stay evergreen. Some tunes never change.

Hot on the heels of their 2017 Galway visit with Tristan & Yseult, another classic given a vibrant new guise, Kneehigh dress Carl Grose's new version of the opera in the imaginative theatricality for which they are celebrated, combining the immediacy of puppetry, physical theatre and live music. Here, the vicious Macheath is a contract killer fresh from the assassination of the mayor and his dog (the only witness). Given a score by Mike Hazlewood that brings 18th-century balladry in line with hip hop and grime, that lets Dead Dog in a Suitcase honour its source material without getting weighed down by baggage.

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