Peter (Bowen in Enda Walsh’s Bedbound
As the Dublin economy continues to bubble, the Irish are out in force on the Festival and Fringe once more.
Words: Mark Fisher
here's no escaping the boom when you’re in
Dublin. As soon as you‘re off the plane your
taxi driver will tell you how he can’t afford to live in the centre since property prices rocketed. And if you hang out with the arty set around the fashionable Temple Bar quarter. you’ll find folk who are profiting from the cultural boom even while the economic boom is passing them by.
Not for the first time. the fruits of the cultural boom are spilling over into Edinburgh. The Traverse Theatre alone has three plays from Dublin. and there are Irish comedians. musicians and theatre companies everywhere you look. Many are capitalising on the world-cont]uering dramatists who‘ve come to prominence in the past decade — Martin McDonagh. Conor McPherson. Mark O'Rowe — others are claiming their place in a tradition that goes back to Shaw. Synge and O'Casey.
Is the Irish invasion a simple case of economics or is it that Irish theatre provides something unique that everyone wants? I suspect it's a bit of both. Yes. the Irish have a fine turn of phrase. a way with a story and a plucky sense of the communal. But yes also. they just happen to have the gumption to shout about it.
‘lreland’s benefited from being sexy, but if you don’t conform to that thenitdoesnﬁ help you at all.’
For playwright and novelist John B. Keane. it’s taken 25 years to cross the water. With the exception of Tire Field — made into the movie with Richard Harris and Sean Bean in 1990 — Keane's work has remained an Irish—only institution. Director Michael Scott is Changing that with The Matchmaker. first seen in 1975. and now heading to the Assembly Rooms and London‘s West End. Starring Des Keogh and the Tony Award-winning Anna Manahan. it's a bitter-sweet comedy about an old man who brings lonely hearts together in rural Ireland.
‘John B. Keane is the missing playwright.‘ says Scott. ‘People know about Tom Murphy [whose Too Late For Logic is in the International Festival]. Brian Friel and Hugh Leonard. but Keane was writing before some of those people and. extraordinarily. it hasn’t crossed the water. Because it comes from Kerry it has this wonderful. robust. poetic Irish language. He was always a success. but he never got the international acclaim.‘
Keane might be the missing link. but among the younger Irish practitioners it's hard to find anyone so keen to be part of a tradition. Playwright Michael West of the Corn Exchange has always avoided ‘Dublin men with guns and their cocks hanging out’ and the similar cliches of stage Oirish. His monologue Foley is coming to the Traverse. ‘Somebody told me that it was a perfect example of Irish story-telling and I was thinking. “It bloody is not".‘ he says. ‘Ireland’s benefited from being sexy. but if you don’t conform to that then it doesn‘t help you at all.’
For ﬁrst-time playwright Morna Regan. whose Midden is being staged by Rough Magic. the aim was to write something that hadn't been done before. ‘You can’t write thinking yourself as part of a tradition.’ she says. ‘I suppose everybody tries to write something new. There’s a tradition of emigrant plays. but none that I know of about the return.’ Which is why she wrote Midden.
Enda Walsh. of Disco Pigs fame. also seems most interested in subverting expectations. ‘Every- one’s very comfortable with these Irish characters telling stories of these terrible things that happen to them.’ says Fergus Linehan. director of the Dublin Theatre Festival. who commis-sioned Walsh‘s Bed/mum]. also at the Traverse. in which a daughter listens to her old father’s stones. ‘But he keeps falling back exhausted. When the language breaks down there's an acknowledgement of people’s expectation of what an Irish play is going to be.‘
But even having a tradition to react against is part of what makes Irish theatre so vigorous. And it's hard to imagine that the cultural buoyancy of Dublin doesn't rub off onto the theatre. ‘For the size of the city.‘ says Morna Regan. ‘there's deﬁnitely a very healthy feeling and it‘s inspiring.‘
See next issue for full listings detalls.
26 THE LIST ’9 0.. —2
Gagarln Way Greg Burke's first full-length play IS also John Tiffany's last at the Traverse. This exploration of class, globalisation and life in the mean streets of Dunfermline promises outrageous comedy and astute political COmmentary. Gagar/n Way (Fringe) Traverse Theatre, 228 7404, 7—25 Aug, times vary, £72 (£7.50).
Quentin Crisp/Resident Allen Tim Fountains play was dewsed after long conversations wrth the Naked Cryil Servant himself. The excellent Bette Bourne performs Crisp's life and wisdom in the form of a mon0logue. Quentin Crisp/Resident Alien (Fringe) Assembly Rooms, 226 2428. 3—26 Aug, 77.50am, $70—$77 (89-5370).
Wlplng My Mother’s Arse Iain Heggie's new play develops a complex relationship between two former gay lovers. one of whom is the carer for the other's mother. His first new play for several years. Wiping My Mother '3 Arse (Fringe) Traverse Theatre, 228 7404, 7—25 Aug, times vary, E 72 (E 7.50).
PASTFoward Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project presents an eclectic collection of post-modern dance forms. Exploring the revolutionary work of the 603 and 705. and the period's influences on contemporary dance. it includes work by Lucinda Childs. Simone Fone and Trisha Brown.
PAS TFoward (Festival) Edinburgh Playhouse, 473 2000, 73—76 Aug, 7.300m, 25—822.
Office Glasgow-born writer Shan Khan's first play is given a Scottish premiere by Soho Theatre Company. Office /Festi'va// Roya/ Lyceum Theatre, 473 2000, 7 3-78 Aug, 70.30pm, £75.
Tiny Dynamite The equivalent of a theatre supergroup, With the combined talents of playwright Abi Morgan, top companies Frantic Assembly and Paines Plough, and top live an venue. Contact all included. A stOry of love memOry and Subjectivity. Tiny Dinamite (Fringe) Traverse Theatre, 228 7404, 3—25 Aug, times vany, E 72 (E 7.50).