Our contributor Marjorie Brennan selects her highlights of the year

Our contributor Marjorie Brennan selects her highlights of the year

Marjorie Brennan talks us through her highlights for 2019.

Theatre

Gare St Lazare came up trumps again with their staging of Beckett’s How it Is (Part 2), with an ingenious staging at Cork’s Everyman Theatre. The Irish Gamelan Orchestra was a sublime addition.

Michael Keegan Dolan’s Loch na hEala — Swan Lake with an Irish-Nordic twist — was staged as part of the Sounds from a Safe Harbour festival.

It almost passed me by, and what a loss that would have been. Theatre at its most affecting, it was literally stunning — the audience struck dumb by its power and one of the best endings ever.

Dance

An impressive staging of Swan Lake from Cork City Ballet for its traditional November performance.

Festival

Cork Midsummer Festival continues to go from strength to strength and this year’s instalment was the best yet. Theatre for One offered six specially commissioned short pieces in the intimate setting of a confessional-style box.

I saw Brilliant, by Stacey Gregg, in which Kathy Rose O’Brien gave an impressive performance as a hassled mother struggling to keep up appearances.

The inaugural Cork Proms was also staged as part of the festival — the Broadway show was a hugely entertaining and polished production with great performances.

Visual art

The Crawford Art Gallery’s ambitious retrospective of the work of neglected Irish artist Mary Swanzy, expertly curated by Seán Kissane of IMMA, was a delight. I

ts summer exhibition Seen, Not Heard, was a wonderful survey of the representations of children in Irish art and also gave children and adults alike the chance to take ownership of the gallery space.

The Anthony Gormley retrospective at the Royal Academy in London went beyond the ‘Angel of the North’ and the nude portraits to deliver an enjoyable and accessible sweep of the sculptors’ impressive body of work.

Podcast

It’s one of the longest-running radio shows on the planet but Desert Island Discs is made for the podcast format and its archive is the gift that keeps on giving.

She has been coming for a bit of flak lately but for me, new presenter Lauren Laverne brought something different to the party — her interview with former Wire star Wendell Pierce made me laugh, cry and think.

Books

The to-be-read pile continued to grow, with Ireland’s literary output healthier than ever, but my pick of the bunch was Night Boat to Tangier, another glorious dispatch from the dark recesses of Kevin Barry’s brain.

The film rights have been optioned by actor Michael Fassbender, with Barry on board to adapt.

It’s got all the ingredients of the perfect set-up — Kerryman meets Limerickman to tell the story of two Cork gangsters.

Honourable mentions to Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner; and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout — two American writers at different stages of their careers but at the top of their game.

Television

It was streamed at the start of the year but for me, nothing else lived up to the bracingly inventive Russian Doll on Netflix, the perfect viewing for last year’s post-Christmas lull.

With an exceptional script and direction, and a bravura performance from the resurgent Natasha Lyonne, every déja vu episode was a joy.

At the opposite end of the year, a late entry is Last Days at Luggala on RTÉ, a beautifully-filmed documentary on Guinness heir Garech Browne and his unlikely patronage of Irish traditional music.

And not forgetting the horror and hilarity of the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix, the programme that generated a million memes.

Best comeback

The Keanuaissance.

Keanu Reeves was, thankfully, everywhere, from the unrelenting action of John Wick 3, to a charming, self-parodying role in Always Be My Maybe on Netflix and a stand-out cameo in Toy Story 4.

And there’s more to come next year with the return of Bill and Ted.

Lowlight

Unfortunately, Marriage Story failed to live up to the hype for this Noah Baumbach fan.

While Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver have been praised to the skies for their performances, I found it all a bit too rehearsed. It looked beautiful though, thanks to cinematography from Ireland’s Robbie Ryan.

Looking forward to...

I feel the need, the need for… more Maverick.

Yes, Top Gun is back and this 80s child cannot wait for the adrenaline rush.

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