Steeped in history and youthful energy, Ireland’s captial offers a vibrant theatre scene more than a match for our own. Words: Mark Fisher
t‘s a damp evening in Temple Bar. Dublin‘s pulsating
centre of youth. hen nights and hippie shops. A guy
stumbles towards me. ‘How old are you'." he slurs. ‘How old are you'." I retort (razor-sharp repartee never was my strong point). But he insists. Some story about needing to work out how old his mate is. So I tell him my age. ‘ ’ell. how old do you think my mate is'." he asks. As his mate is nowhere to be seen. I can‘t even begin to guess. I leave the scene as he makes a lunge for me.
Round the corner. I’m approached by a young man and woman. ‘Iixcuse me.‘ says the guy. ‘but which one of us is the tallest." I measure them up and it‘s him by an inch. An argument ended.
So in the spirit of comparing and contrasting — how old is my mate. how tall is my girlfriend — how does the Dublin theatre scene compare with our own‘.’ You notice the difference as soon as you take one of the open—top tourist buses that give you your first grounding of the city. Where your average Scottish tourist spiel is all whisky heritage this. traditional woollen mill that. here it's more like Teach Yourself Irish Literature Lesson ()ne. It’s James Joyce. it‘s Sean ()'(‘asey. it’s Samuel Beckett. it‘s Oscar Wilde . . .
I’or the Irish capital has a literary history that is as rich as it is popular: a history of which the locals are possessive and proud. And if it's alive anywhere. it‘s alive in the theatre. The Irish playwrights you‘re likely to see in the two-week Dublin Theatre liestival and its kid sister. the three—week Dublin Ir‘r'inge I‘estival. are part of an accomplished tradition. It‘s a
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tradition understood by players and public alike. rooted in the nation’s politics and history as much as its artistic heritage.
In short. it‘s a good place to see theatre. A place where the people still see the point of gathering in small rooms to hear what another group of people has to say. In the forthcoming festival. for example. there‘s a play by Marina (‘arr called Ariel. She‘s a name that should be better known here. and in Dublin she‘s one of a number of playwrights. writing bold contemporary drama. The Irish take such writers as seriotrsly as we take our novelists. In the Scottish theatre. only Liz Lochhead comes close to the kind of status Irish writers take for granted.
Other highlights at the forthcoming festival (30 September—l3 ()ctober) include a second chance to see the very line double bill of The Notebook and The Proof after its appearance at the 2001 Iidinburgh Festival. The rl/l_v.s‘rerivs. a South African show that‘s been a big hit in London. and a performance of David Mamet‘s (ilr'ngunjv Glen Ross by the famed American Steppenwolf company. The full programme can be seen at www.eircomtheatrefestival.com
Keep a look out too. for the adventurous Dublin Iiringe Festival (www.fringefest.com). A new director. Vallejo (iantner'. is in place. Ile's from Melbourne and has programmed work from Australia and the I’ar Iiast for the first time. There‘s also a show —- Ladies and (JV/Its" —‘ performed in the public toilets on St Stephens (ireen.
Only Liz Lochhead comes close to the status Irish writers take for granted
Pretty though the Irish capital is, it is its artistic treasures that run deep into the cultural life of the city