2013 - From film to visual art, from theatre to pop, our critics pick their highlights of the year in arts

MY friend Mike Dwyer recalls meeting the late Séamus Heaney and the playwright Brian Friel at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts.

It must have been in 1990 or ’91, as all were present for the launch of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. The college houses an impressive Shovel Museum, to which the three Irishmen were irresistibly drawn. Heaney took down the shovel that most resembled those he had handled as a youth at Mossbawn — the family farm in Co Derry — and struck it on the floor, exclaiming, “Hear it sing!”

Heaney’s passing in August was an immeasurable loss to our culture. His verse was loved the world over, from Oxford, where he served as Professor of Poetry, to Harvard, where he was Poet in Residence, to Stockholm, where, in 1995, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past”.

Heaney’s love of language can surely be attributed to the vernacular of County Derry as much as to his voracious reading. From his very first volume of poetry, Death of a Naturalist, to his last, Human Chain, he mined his childhood for inspiration, and his efforts paid rich dividends.

Perhaps it is these lines from an early poem, ‘Personal Helicon’, that best describe why artists create in the first place: “I rhyme / To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.”

Our best hope for the arts sector in Ireland in 2014 is that it will aspire to the same high standards as Heaney set in his life and work. The music in the poetry he forged rang out as keenly as the peal of that shovel-blade on stone all those years ago in Easton, Massachusetts. Heaney’s enduring achievement is that he set the darkness echoing for so many years to come.

— Marc O’Sullivan, Arts Editor

FILM

IN 2013, as ever, blockbusters slugged it out. JJ Abrams continued his Star Trek reboot with Into Darkness, and Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 was the year’s cast-iron box-office success.

The JRR Tolkein/Peter Jackson juggernaut returned with the first two parts of The Hobbit trilogy, ten years after Jackson completed The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Films of an intimate scale lingered longest in the mind. Our third encounter with Ethan Hawke’s Jesse, and Julie Delphy’s Celine, in Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, shifted the drama to Greece. The pair were married with twin daughters. While touched by middle-aged ennui, the mood was as tender as ever.

The godfather of such American domestic dramas, Woody Allen, returned to form with his updating of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Everything great about Blue Jasmine stemmed from Cate Blanchett’s performance as a New York socialite whose life has imploded. More winning was Noah Baumbach’s black-and-white tale of reinvention, Frances Ha, a film full of memorable set-pieces and a winning performance from co-writer, Greta Gerwig, as the vivacious and kooky Frances Handley.

Also working in monochrome was Alexander Payne, whose Nebraska was masterful and effortlessly touched upon so many themes, such as fathers and sons and small-town decay.

Controversial Cannes winner Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is The Warmest Colour portrayed the intoxicating immediacy of nascent desire and made its three-hour duration pass in a flash.

Domestically, there were a number of green shoots, as Ciarán Foy’s feral youth horror, Citadel, showed strong atmospheric touches and Gerard Barrett’s slow-burning Pilgrim Hill offered an intense portrait of rural isolation, while Lisa Barros’ and Glenn Leyburn’s Good Vibrations was as energy-filled and indomitable as the true-life character it portrayed, Terri Hooley.

— Don O’Mahony

THEATRE: CORK

Pat Kinevane’s ‘Silent’ was like a master class in storytelling and physical theatre at the Everyman.

THE suffocating claustrophobia and sexual tension made The Woolgatherer a riveting experience at the Cork Arts Theatre. While the venue’s small stage is sometimes a disadvantage for big and busy plays, it worked beautifully for this two-hander. The quest for love, in a dank bedsit, involved a towering mercurial truck driver and a fragile young woman who learnt a lesson or two in the ways of the world.

Pat Kinevane’s one-man show, Silent, produced by Fishamble, was like a master class in storytelling and physical theatre at the Everyman. The actor/writer portrayed a Corkman living as a hobo in Dublin, plagued by mental health problems and a Merlot addiction. The character, never far from devastatingly accurate mimicry and wry wit, was extremely self-aware, aided by being very much an outsider with acute observational powers.

Pat McCabe’s play for Corcadorca, The Big Yum Yum was both hilarious and tinged with desperation, featuring apparent clichéd types such as the controlling Irish Mammy, the Mammy’s Boy and the priest tainted by a whiff of sulphur. But the stereotypes became fascinating characters, playing out their fears while savaging the cake at Mammy’s ritualistic birthday party. Anarchy reigned in this macabre play that was compelling despite having no plot.

Small town Ireland featured again in The Chronicles of Oggie, a one-man show written and performed on the Everyman stage by Peter Gowen. Pakie, a naive and simple-minded orphan, proved that he was not one to be trifled with. Set during Ireland’s boom years and ending in the bust, Carmel Winters’ play, Best Man, played out in a stylish house, was about marital breakdown triggered by a lesbian affair with a Bolivian nanny. The property-obsessed Kay ended up having to deal with “the architecture of betrayal” as she succinctly described the fallout from her peccadilloes.

— Colette Sheridan

THEATRE: NATIONWIDE

LIPPY was a rare show that stood out this year. Produced by Dead Centre, the piece — inspired by a true story about a strange death pact between four women — was marred by overcooked meta-theatre, but its delirious imagery was intense and unnerving. Deservedly, it won ‘best production’ at the Dublin Fringe Festival. Another hit from the Fringe was Thirteen, ANU Productions’ series of site-specific, immersive plays, each inspired by the centenary of the Dublin Lockout.

Elsewhere, while it was flawed, Selina Cartmell’s King Lear, at the Abbey Theatre, had a deliciously guttural quality. Wayne Jordan’s staging of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, though also uneven, was buoyed by an excoriating mix of anger, pathos and dark, desperate comedy.

There was considerable hype around Mark O’Rowe’s revival of his play, Howie the Rookie, which featured Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (ie, Nidge from Love/Hate). The piece lived up to expectations. Vaughan-Lawlor put in an immense turn, while O’Rowe’s minor touch-ups to his original made it a richer play.

The most moving event onstage this year was John Hurt’s return in Krapp’s Last Tape, at the Gate Theatre. His performance was terrific, and it was affecting that the venerable Hurt — like his character in the Beckett play — was interacting with a recording of himself made many years before.

A treat during the Dublin Theatre Festival was Germinal. A French production, it played hilariously with the physical confines of the stage and the abstract limits of language, and did so with a zany, unpretentious gaiety.

No less amusing, meanwhile, was Druid’s current revival of Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn. It will tour early in 2014.

— Pádraic Killeen

CLASSICAL MUSIC

OUT of the 50 musical events I attended, two that most immediately spring to my mind are the unforgettable performances of the opera Orpheus at Everyman Palace in September, and Calefax Reed Ensemble playing Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ at CIT Cork School of Music in November.

February brought to Cork School of Music both a magnificent performance of Shostakovich’s Quartet No 11 by the Vogler String Quartet and the finest live performance by a pianist that I ever heard; Pavel Nersessian’s performance of the ‘Iberia Suite’ by Albeniz was totally mind-blowing. Similarly, in March, Maxim Rysanov (viola) and Katya Apekisheva (piano) tore the heart out of me playing Desyatnikov’s harrowing meditation on Schubert’s ‘Der Leiermann’.

The Choral Festival was a musical feast, with memorable performances by the National Chamber Choir (Ligeti’s ‘Alphabet Song’ was particularly brilliant) at St Fin Barre’s, the Real Group at the Opera House, and the Songmen in the North Cathedral.

RTE Vanbrugh String Quartet thrilled in the three recitals that I heard this year. Their performances, of Beethoven Op 18 No 1, Janacek’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ quartet, and (with ConTempo quartet) Mendelssohn’s Octet, were as wonderful as we have come to expect.

Sopranos Róisín O’Grady impressed, singing arias by Handel and Pasquali with the Irish Baroque Orchestra at the School of Music, while Majella Cullagh and Eleanor Malone thrilled in a programme of Bel Canto arias at the Crawford Gallery.

Sisters, Fiona (Flute) and Jean (Harp) Kelly gave great delight at St Barrahane’s, Castletownshend in August. October brought wonderful playing by Cork Baroque Orchestra, directed by Finnish harpsichordist, Aapo Haakinen in the East Cork Early Music Festival.

— Declan Townsend

LIVE MUSIC

Live at the Marquee witnessed an emotional turn by The National.

WHEREVER you looked in 2013 it seemed another music festival was kicking off. Oxegen returned, albeit in the radically changed guise of a straight-up dance event, with Calvin Harris and David Guetta headlining. Meanwhile, the debut Longitude at Dublin’s Marlay Park saw rare appearances by Kraftwerk, Vampire Weekend and Phoenix, and the tenth Electric Picnic welcomed My Bloody Valentine, Fatboy Slim, Bjork (dressed as a psychedelic teletubbie) and Arctic Monkeys.

Dublin’s Royal Hospital was graced by Blur, Ennio Morricone and the Forbidden Fruit festival (Kasabian, Chic).

In Cork, Indiependence continued to grow, with performances by Bell X1 and Bastille — arguably the break-out rock band of the past 12 months — and Live at the Marquee witnessed an emotional turn by The National, the stadium group trying hard not to look like a stadium group.

Away from festival circuit, nostalgia remained as lucrative as ever. Roger Waters’ grandiose live staging of Pink Floyd’s The Wall filled the Aviva Stadium, as did Robbie Williams, touting a grab-bag of smashes now going on 15-years-old.

Greying indie rockers Pixies packed the Olympia twice over (and are back next summer for dates in Cork and Dublin), and The Who reprised Quadrophenia in The O2. It was a busy year for Dublin’s largest indoor venue, which hosted diverse artists, among them Queens of The Stone Age, Sigur Ros, Depeche Mode, Beyonce and Jay Z.

Some acts, alas, continue to overlook Ireland: setting aside a performance in Belfast, Nine Inch Nails remain reluctant to play here, and there were no stand-alone bookings from Vampire Weekend or Arctic Monkeys.

Others, however, embraced the country. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore devoted January to a five-date trek, and Chic’s Nile Rodgers seemed to spend much of the autumn traversing Ireland, bringing his glitter-ball funk to the people.

— Ed Power

VISUAL ART

CORK came out in force at the start of the year to welcome Terry O’Neill (inset) for his first exhibition in his father’s home town. His black-and-white photography of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and the golden era of Hollywood graced the walls of Cork City Hall and CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery. O’Neill was so enamoured of the response, he gifted a photo of The Beatles to the city. It is displayed in the Rory Gallagher Music Library.

Ben Long’s monumental, equine sculpture was the central piece in ‘Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland’, curated by Stephen Brandes in Visual, Carlow. Made from bar scaffold, the magnificent, nine-metre sculpture existed for a short time before being dismantled, its parts re-used for a new sculpture, illustrating the artist’s interest in semi-permanence.

Galway Mayo Institute of Technology’s degree exhibition launched the career of Arlene McPadden, a sculptor in taxidermy. McPadden’s hybrid animals featured in Sarah Walker Gallery’s summer exhibition, and a pair of duelling squirrels featured in The Royal Ulster Academy’s 132nd Annual Exhibition, in the Ulster Museum.

The Crawford Art Gallery teamed up with the OPW to stage an intervention of contemporary art in Castletown House. Dawn Williams selected work from the OPW collection, as well as overseeing a new commission, ‘Prelude Speaker’, for this wonderful art-treasure hunt set in one of Ireland’s most beautiful Georgian buildings.

Gort Rua is Hughie O’Donoghue’s first Irish solo exhibition in three years. The show, in Oliver Sears Gallery, in Dublin, is a collection of paintings about the vivid landscape of Erris. He uses dramatic, saturated colour to great effect, evoking nostalgia for the rusty shed roofs that are slowly disappearing from Irish landscape. The paintings truly express the artist’s connection with the breathtaking coast of Co Mayo.

— Tina Darb O’Sullivan

COMEDY

Dylan Moran’s appearance at Iveagh Gardens a particular highlight.

IRELAND’S funny bone is definitely in Co Kilkenny somewhere. Who’d have thought there’d be laughs by gathering together economists for a four-day festival? Lots it turned out once they’re accompanied by comedians, as Kilkenomics, now in its fourth year, sold out again. Noted University of Chicago professor Deirdre McCloskey and compatriot Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist, were particular highlights.

Earlier in the year, the Cat Laughs festival in the city premiered the second series of Moone Boy, the comedy series that won International Emmy awards for Chris O’Dowd and Kilkenny native, Nick Vincent Murphy. The return of improv (both the Dublin crew and international codgers) and the advent of more standalone shows proved popular with audiences. Notable shows included Sanderson Jones, who incorporated audience members’ Facebook pages into his routine, and Kevin Bridges, the killer Glaswegian comedian who also stormed at the Galway Comedy Festival in the autumn, as did the strange and wonderful Canadian Tony Law in Galway.

Tommy Tiernan was on fire during his set at the Bulmers Clonmel Comedy Festival last month, while Bo Burnham brought his mix of music, poetry and tomfoolery to Vicar St in November. The American has played at the Iveagh Gardens Comedy Festival a couple of times before and at the Cat Laughs, but this was his first full-length show in the country. It was a memorable night.

And if there is a particular highlight from the year it was Dylan Moran’s appearance at the Iveagh Gardens during the summer. It was in a tent, it was sticky, but few can match him for ballet with words and making funny in his curmudgeonly way. Among a series of hilarious laments, he bemoaned the joyless demands of trying to maintain good health, as you grow old: “You have to be fully sober so that you’re aware that you want to die.”

— Richard Fitzpatrick



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