- Chris O'Rourke
The Year That Was 2018
2018. A year in which the Abbey Theatre remounted several shows to great success while also exploring new ground. A year that saw the Gate Gatsby return to end a challenging year at The Gate Theatre on a high. The year that saw several revivals and re-imaginings dominating much of Dublin Theatre Festival, including a stunning reimagining of a long lost O’Casey play. 2018 was also a year of new beginnings with both the official launch of Irish National Opera and with Ruth McGowan taking over at the helm of Dublin Fringe Festival. It was also a year of some superlative home grown dance works and some staggeringly brilliant pieces from abroad. Mostly, though, it was a year in which #metoo informed a phenomenal amount of work. Even with the most committed of efforts, seeing every production just isn’t feasible (including Irish National Opera’s Orfeo et Euridice which, by all accounts, was simply stupendous). With that in mind, here are some of the highlights of 2018.
For The Gate Theatre, 2018 proved to be the proverbial game of two halves. If well intentioned productions failed to connect in the first part of the year, a period overshadowed by claims of historical sexual misconduct coming to the fore, the summer saw a distinct change in fortunes with the joyous arrival of The Snapper. Later followed by Ruth Negga’s impressive Hamlet before The Great Gatsby brought the party atmosphere back to The Gate.
Meanwhile, The Abbey proved to be no slouch when it came to parties. A rambunctious main stage hosting of the exuberant Come From Away, with a much more modest, but equally joyous Thirst (and other bits of Flann) in The Peacock, rounded out what seems to have been a commercially profitable year. But it wasn’t all about parties. Cypress Avenue by David Ireland proved to be a dark delight, as did On Raftery’s Hill by Marina Carr, along with Druid’s superb Richard III. Shame and The Patient Gloria by Rough Magic alumni Pam Boyd and Gina Moxley respectively, saw two seasoned practitioners playing with new theatrically boundaries. Yet where the Abbey truly struck gold was in its astute co-production with ANU Productions. Louise Lowe’s magnificent The Lost O’Casey during Dublin Theatre Festival was, unequivocally, the best show of the year. A production which also boasted the best performance of the year in Sarah Morris’s inimitable and unforgettable Nannie.
Dance also had a particularly impressive year with Junk Ensemble delivering two powerhouse productions in The Bystander and Dolores. Liz Roche’s Naher…closer, nearer, sooner at the Goethe Institute was also superb, as was the gorgeous Assisted Solo by Philip Connaughton. John Scott’s Cloud Study also proved to be profoundly moving. On the international front, Dublin Dance Festival delivered two monumental productions with the sublime Akram Khan’s Giselle and Patricia Guerrero’s thrilling flamenco delight Catedral. If INO monopolised the opera headlines with standout productions throughout the year, the modest, yet wonderful, The Nightingale and The Rose by John O’Brien, presented by O’Brien in association with The Everyman, Cork was an absolute delight. Children’s theatre also excelled with Bombinate Theatre’s Susie and The Story Shredder confirming Bombinate as one of the premiere Irish companies making theatre for children. While Jamie Vartan continued to set the design bar incredibly high in several productions, including Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Naomi Faughnan was also extraordinary again this year, with impressive work in several productions including Ciara Elizabeth Smyth’s absurdist We Can’t Have Monkeys In The House.
2018 delivered several strong shows by several seasoned pros including The Approach by Mark O’Rowe, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter, adapted and directed by Enda Walsh, and Annie Ryan’s take on the dark side of Americana, The Misfits by Arthur Miller, adapted and directed by Ryan. Yet there was also wealth of promising new works from promising new talents well worth watching out for in 2019, with some looking ready to go places. ELECTRIC, written and performed by Ali Hardiman, was a little slice of Electric Picnic heaven, as was the darling The Wendy House written and performed by Claudia Kinahan. Fionn Foley’s Brendan Galileo for Europe was a joy and worthy winner of its several awards. Undoubtedly the cult classic of 2018, Liam Heylin’s excellent Lex Talionis from Cork based Wandering Star Theatre Company was astoundingly good and featured two of the year's standout performances from the searingly brilliant Bláithín Macgabhann and a captivating Sinéad McGee.
Yet 2018 ultimately belonged to Thomass Kane Byrne (TKB) whose fab trilogy Say Nothing To No One, the acerbically brilliant Well That’s What I Heard, and the love song to vanity The Fattest Dancer at Saint Bernadette’s all enjoyed productions, with TKB not so much announcing his arrival as kicking the door down. The first two productions featuring TKB’s sister in arms and rising star, the superb Ericka Roe, who also made a huge impression in Hardiman’s ELECTRIC as well as several other productions this year. As did Danielle Ghouligan (nee Galligan), whose turn in James Elliott’s pitch perfect Summertime was, well, pitch perfect. Juliette Crosbie in The Shaughraun also proved memorable, with Crosbie’s musical prowess sounding pretty impressive. A trait shared with the promising Jessica Leen, evidenced in her Two of Clubs, another artist well worth keeping an eye out for. Two not seen much on home shores in 2018 due to working abroad and other commitments, Toni O’Rourke and Shane O’Regan have both been steadily garnering some serious attention. 2019 could well be their year. As well it should be for the brilliant Sarah Morris.
So a big thank you from the heart, and from Las Vegas, to all who dedicated themselves to making some truly outstanding performances during 2018. To those who attended, and to those who created some memorable productions, I wish you a joyous, prosperous, and successful 2019.