THIS year’s Cork Midsummer Festival was the first programmed by artistic director Tom Creed. Its biggest production was Parallel Cities, a suite of eight plays, each placing its audience in a different location, such as the street between two houses on Patrick’s Hill, Barry’s Tea, the Boole library, Kent railway station and the Maldron hotel.
Parallel Cities gave its audience an insight into how the city lives and breathes. It shed light on some familiar spaces, such as the reading room in the Boole. It engaged with the people of Cork, whether it be the long-time staff at Barry’s Tea or the immigrant workers in Hotel, whose stories were often heart-breaking: you wouldn’t leave your hotel room in a mess if you knew the maid was saving to be reunited with her infant daughter in Latvia.
Creed’s own production, Berlin Love Tour, brought its audience about the streets of Cork, re-imagined as the German capital. Its narrator was a tour guide, played by Hilary O’Shaughnessy, whose memories of a doomed romance intruded on her love-struck account of the city of Berlin. The perambulation about town was haunted by the figure of a busker, played by Ray Scannell, who performed Kraftwerk’s The Model and David Bowies’ Heroes, and other songs associated with Berlin. The production was a hit at Dublin Absolut Fringe in 2012, but was better suited to the streetscape of Cork. Its finale, on the rooftop of Paul St carpark, with Scannell joined by a choir on Blur’s Tender, was one of the most memorable moments of this year’s festival.
There were also plays for children. Kindur brought its young audience to Iceland. White opened minds and hearts, its two characters overcoming their obsession with white to allow the full spectrum of colour into their lives.
Local boy made good, actor Louis Lovett, presented the award-winning The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badly at the Everyman, where hundreds of older children, and as many parents, rocked with laughter at his antics.
Dylan Tighe’s Record had its world premiere at Cork Midsummer. Like the album that inspired it, Record grapples with the subject of Tighe’s bi-polar disorder, a condition that has plagued him all his adult life. Tighe is an experienced actor and director, and had the good sense to employ a great deal of deadpan humour in the two-hour show. It’s the kind of production that will surely be welcomed in other festival programmes this year.
Another world premiere was Peter Power/Eat My Noise’s eVolution, at Cork School of Music, a wildly inventive production that featured string-and-brass sections as well as drums, bass and piano and a background of giddying visuals.
There was much to love in the music and dance programmes. The Gavin Bryars’ Ensemble performed the legendary The Sinking of the Titanic in Cork — at City Hall — for the first time. Liam Ó Maonlai and Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Rian wowed the crowds over three nights at the Opera House, with its heady, almost anarchic mix of trad music and contemporary dance. Starlight brought us on a magical tour of Firkin Crane, and Siamsa Tire invited us into a home on Donovan’s Road to explain how they do what they do, producing Irish dance shows in Dingle and abroad.
David Kitt performed his first album, Small Moments, at Triskel Christchurch, where Kate Ellis also presented an eclectic evening of music and poetry. Ellis also performed about the streets of Cork with George Higgs’ Door.
As a statement of intent, the Everyman’s Pagliacci — the first in-house production by new artistic director Michael Barker-Caven — delivered on all fronts, thrilling opera lovers with its scale, its chutzpah and the sheer quality of its performances. With the demise of Opera 2005, the genre was badly in need of a reboot, and that’s just what it got in Pagliacci.
Every decent festival should have a fringe, and Solstice stepped up to the plate for the second year running. In 2011, the mini festival within a festival ran at the former FÁS building on Sullivan’s Quay. This year, it moved to the Elysian, where the organisers ran a box office and café, as well as exhibition and performance spaces. Their programme included much that was new and brave and experimental, including dance, theatre and music performances. Its success suggests that there is scope for further programmes in a similar vein outside the festival.
The visual arts programme included the entirely wonderful Josef Albers exhibition at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, UCC: Burke + Norfolk: Photographs from the War in Afghanistan and Simon Fujiwara’s provocative The Museum of Incest at the Crawford Art Gallery. Featured also were Danny McCarthy’s The Memory Room at The Guesthouse; Strange Attractor, and Stephen McGlynn’s and Anna Crudge’s The Reading Room at the Crawford; and Paul Gregg’s Inductive Probability: A Retrospective at Triskel.
Mark Storer worked with Creative Connections in Blackpool to transform a house into a refuge for mischievous ghosts, and, in a welcome move outside the city, Mark Garry presented Drift, a dialogue between a wind harp and a brass band, on Sherkin Island.
Given the intemperance of the climate, it was left to Cork Midsummer Festival to brighten our lives over the past few weeks. And so it did. The smiles on punters’ faces were testament to that.