As 2017 begins in earnest, so ends the end of year wrap-ups, reviews, round-ups and best of’s celebrating the highlights of 2016. If such lists aren’t exhaustive, they at least highlight some of the richness that was the year that was. Some, but not all. Whilst never advocating an "everybody gets a prize" approach, and while being mindful that too many inclusions risks making such highlights meaningless, nevertheless, there were a number of other productions that risk slipping through the cracks and being forgotten, aside from all those other influential shows one did not get to see.
Without question, 2016 was the year of #wakingthefeminists, whose brave and intelligent campaign for gender equality is transforming the face of Irish theatre. 2016 also saw the Project Arts Centre turn 50 with their excellent Project 50 programme, as well as signaling a changing of the guard at both The Abbey and The Gate. With Fiach Mac Gonghail and Michael Colgan both signing off their respective tenures, each bowed out with some outstanding productions, including “The Wake” and “Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme” at The Abbey Theatre, and “The Father” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” at The Gate Theatre. 2016 also saw a rich array of celebrations, commemorations and interrogations of all things 1916. Top of this list, indeed top of any list for 2016, was ANU and CoisCéim Dance Theatre's extraordinary “These Rooms,” directed by Louise Lowe and David Bolger, which was simply a tour de force. The wonderful “Signatories” and “Embodied in the GPO” are also worthy of mention with regards to 1916, as is the collaborative “Inside The GPO” by Colin Murphy, presented by Fishamble and directed by Jim Culleton. Culleton also enjoyed individual success, along with Pat Kinevane, earlier in the year, receiving an Olivier Award for the excellent “Silent.” Indeed, Kinevane’s touring trilogy of “Silent,” “Underneath” and “Forgotten" are deservedly to be considered highlights of the year, even if you'd seen some already.
There were other notable, individual achievements too. From “Big Maggie,” through to “The Wake” and “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” it was something of a stellar year for Aisling O'Sullivan, who was a revelation in each of the above and arguably Performer of Year. The excellent “Swan Lake/Loch na hEala” by Michael Keegan-Dolan was another revelation, with possibly the most sublimely beautiful ending of any production.
If not always five star productions, each of the following certainly contributed to the rich, artistic and cultural fabric that was 2016 and deserve to be acknowledged. The tender and poignant “Linger” by Breandán de Gallaí, being a case in point, a beautiful exploration of ageing played out through the bodies of a young and older dancer. The tender “Age of Transition” by Aoife McAtamney was another worthwhile gem. Indeed, dance had an excellent year, with Oona Doherty's thrilling “Hope Hunt” being particularly memorable. International acts such as “Betroffenheit” by Kidd Pivot and The Electric Company Theatre, “Shostakovich/Raza” by Alonzo King and “Planites” by Patricia Apergi and Aerites Dance Company also delivered some extraordinary work. Yet perhaps the most joyful performance of all was that of Christiana Morganti in her delightful “Jessica and Me,” a production again dealing with an ageing dancer. The international and home grown converged beautifully in Irish Modern Dance Theatre's excellent “Lear,” which was a sheer joy to watch.
If protest loomed large with #wakingthefeminists, they weren’t the only protest game in town during 2016. THEATREclub's revival of “The Ireland Trilogy” pulled no punches. Nor did the excellent “Riot,” which was absolutely wild and wicked. But wickedest and wildest of all was “Longing Lasts Longer” by the legendary Penny Arcade, a one woman force of nature who had a lot of things to say about a lot of things, and all of them worth hearing.
There were several memorable productions from companies new and old, including Moliere's “Misanthrope” by AC Productions at the New Theatre, which proved to be an absolute delight. As was the tender “Glowworm” by Umbrella Theatre Project, showing great promise for a company on their first outing. Molly Molumby's wonderfully imaginative “Half Light” was also a joy, soon to be returning to Smock Alley in early 2017. Stephen Jones' excellent “From Eden” which returns to Bewleys Cafe Theatre next week, was another memorable production, as was the excellent “Murder of Crows” by Lee Coffey, with performances, design and production delivering an absolutely exhilarating experience at Theatre Upstairs. Unquestionably one of the year’s most enjoyable productions was the perfectly realised and wonderfully executed, “The Kings of the Kilburn High Road” by Livin' Dred Theatre Company and Verdant Productions, which proved itself to be a show not to be missed.
If last year delivered in so many areas, there’s much to be excited about this year also. The Abbey Theatre’s rich new season sees the return of some excellent productions including Druids “Waiting for Godot” and The Corn Exchange's near legendary “Dublin by Lamplight.” The Gate Theatre kicks off 2017 with “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” and The Project Arts Centre continue their Project 50 celebrations as well as bringing “Dublin Old School” back to Dublin. And The New Theatre also turns twenty this year.
There’s also some interesting things happening beyond the major players. Along with the aforementioned “Glowworm” and “Half Light,” companies like Sicklemoon, whose intelligent “TRYST” and delightful “Cirque de Reve” showed exceptional promise, are certainly worth keeping an eye on. As are the youthful Sad Strippers Theatre, whose smart and funny “Triangles” was a sheer joy. There might also be a surprise or two from The Corp Ensemble, a young company ferreting away quietly out in Clontarf's Viking Theatre. All of whom are well worth checking out.
So roll on 2017.