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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Colm Toibin wraps up Galway’s literary affair

Colm Toibin, at GAF 2011

The final literary event as part of the 2011 Galway Arts Festival was certainly a resounding way in which to draw a truly amazing Festival to a close. The IMPAC award winner and Booker prize nominee Colm Toibin did not disappoint the sell-out crowd that filled the Meyrick Hotel on a sun-filled Saturday on the final weekend of the Galway Arts Festival. While the thousands were enjoying the festivities on the thronged Galway streets, those with a ticket for Toibin certainly would not swap for any prize.

Toibin was in warm and open form as he took to the lectern on stage in the Connemara Suite of the Meyrick. He started into a story recounting his experiences of regional arts festivals in Ireland. Toibin outlined how the Gorey Arts Festival , founded by his late friend Paul Funge, opened up such opportunities throughout the early 1970’s and onwards as it afforded the locals to see amazing works of theatre, hear great writers read their works and to see the works of great artists.

He talked in particular about visit to the Gorey Arts Festival by Patrick MaGee and Jack McGowran, both renowned acquaintances of Samuel Beckett and also famous actors of his work, so much so that Krapp’s Last Tape actually had a working title of ‘Monologue for Magee’. Toibin spoke of these characters, Beckett, Magee and McGowran as if he was with old friends sharing a drink and a story. This affability, genuine warmth and connection with his readers as well as with the people he is writing on paper about makes Toibin one of Ireland’s most loved and successful of contemporary writers.

Toibin read from his latest work, his collection of short stories the Empty Family (Read my review of this here ) Reading the story Two Women, Toibin presented one of the most memorable stories from the collection. Set in present-day Ireland, a divorced and middle-aged TV producer who has put all of her strength and passion into her career is brought to relive her past lost love when she encounters a woman from the past: a woman she has never met but with him she shares so much experience and people.

The Empty Family

Following this the floor was opened up for questions for Toibin. No shortage of willing volunteers as question after question were ably taken by the guest of honour. When asked about his setting out to write his IMPAC-winning work, The Master, Toibin answered he wanted to really get to know the man, Henry James, and not the outward character which people may have known. To Toibin, James was a mysterious character, often proving to be the opposite of what you thought. James was gay but loved the company of women as well as men, he was often reclusive but ate out every evening in large company. James’ writing, Toibin, described, is full of winding and snaking sentences, full of sub-clauses. You don’t get to know the Henry James, the man, from his writing, as you would be able to know James Joyce from reading his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Toibin was also asked about his inspiration about his Costa Prize-winning novel, Brooklyn. Again delving into his rich personal memory, he talks of the scene at his father’s wake. Colm Tobin is a twelve-year-old and bewildered by the streams of people calling to the house, stayed so long and talked and talked with his family. One woman in particular stood out, even after all these years. She had a pile of letters in her hand, all from Brooklyn: not from U.S.A., not from New York, but from Brooklyn. “That’s the woman whose daughter went to America but came home”, Colm heard people whisper. He never forgot this woman, even over the following forty years or so, and so Brooklyn came to be.

Speaking about the books ending (no spoilers will be given!) Toibin simply outlined how he ended the book the way he wanted to end it but crucially, he got their convincingly. He had conceived other endings but would do a disservice by inserting radical changes that would arrive at a contrived ending.

Finally, Toibin was asked about what contemporary writers he is currently reading. His first response was an American writer who actually also read at this year’s Galway Arts Festival – Willy Vlautin. Vlautin (nearly if not fully) stole the show when he shared the bill with Roddy Doyle. (read review here ) Upstaging Doyle is no easy feat but Vlautin made a new home from home for himself in Galway with his fantastic writing and engaging and humorous personality. Toibin hailed Vlautin as “a real discovery. He writes in beautiful American tones and with an absolute knowledge of rhythm, coming as no surprise that he (Vlautin) is an accomplished musician. Also singled out by Toibin were the Austrian short-story writer, Tim Wenton, Welsh writer Tessa Hadley and of course Canadian Alice Munroe.

It was a fascinating evening and a great if also rare opportunity for an intimate evening with the one and only Toibin. Evening like these are exactly what Arts Festivals are made for –probably along the lines of what Toibin felt like attending the Gorey Arts Festival all those years ago.

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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Books, Culture

 

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Review: Kevin Barry’s Debut Novel, ‘City of Bohane’.

City of Bohane

For those of you read “There Are Little Kingdoms”, the wonderful and Rooney Prize winning collection of short stories by Kevin Barry, his debut novel was perhaps the most eagerly awaited publication by any Irish writer for quite some time. Published in March of this year, the novel was launched to a sell out crowd at the Druid Theatre, Galway as part of the city’s renowned Cùirt International Festival of Literature. On that occasion, Barry himself was on hand to give a resounding reading of his latest creation, the City of Bohane and its many inhabitants.

Bohane is the throbbing epicentre of Big Nothin’. Its inhabitants are tribal, vicious, and territorial with a feral and possessive quality. The map accompanying the book to this area could be a province of Tolkien’s Middle Earth as much as this alternate western Irish seaboard of 2054. The river flows into the heart of Bohane and brings with it the smell and air the city folk breath as they go about their daily business of drinking, whoring, smoking, fighting and gambling. “Whatever is wrong with us is coming in off that river. No argument: the taint of badness on the city’s air is a taint off that river.” The city is kept in line, just back from the edge of total deprivation by Logan Hartnett and his gang The Fancy. With his heavy muscle, the exquisitely named Fucker Burke and Wolfie Stanners, things tick along as only they can in Bohane.

To read the rest of my review, which is published on Writing.ie, please click here and go to www.writiting.ie for more.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Books

 

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Emma Donoghue at Galway Arts Festival

When Emma Donoghue arrived onto the stage of the Meyrick Hotel to rapturous applause it was evident how comfortable and at home she was to be in the company of such an adoring audience. The unprecedented success of her latest novel, Room, secured her the Hughes & Hughes novel of the Year Award; won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize regional prize (Caribbean and Canada); Won the Rogers Writers Fiction Award (2010) and was long-listed for the Man-Booker Prize as well as being nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction. It is no wonder Donoghue is so accustomed to greeting large adoring crowds.

Donoghue gave the crowd a generous, insightful and honest account of the creation of Room, of the development of the characters Ma and Jack and also into her own career as a writer coupled with her life as a mother of two children. Of course one of the first points discussed was the influence of the Fritzel case on the novel. Donoghue did admit it of course did stir her to create Room  but wished it to be yet separate from the Fritzel story and from the added attention which it would also afford the evil perpetrator of confinement in that real-life case. Felix Fritzel, who is a real-life Jack, was born into captivity. In his walled prison he knew nothing of life or a world beyond his mother, siblings and his captor. Felix was five when he was freed. Jack is five at the start of his story. Donoghue noticed how in a media interview Felix said plainly “the world is nice”, – how a child, obviously scared and bewildered in his new-found freedom had any concept of the “world being nice” provoked thought to what is behind this statement.

Emma Donghue at Galway Arts Festival

Donoghue consciously made Jack to be a five-year old: old enough to communicate his story but still, quoting William Blake, full of ‘innocence and expereince’. She made Jack male also to keep the male-female balance even, creating a insight and perspective of all aspects of the story, even citing the likes of Adam and Eve and Mary and Joseph as examples of such a balance in the stories of the history of mankind.

It was interesting to hear the influence of Donoghue’s own life as a mother and watching the mannerisms, phrases and actions of her young children, thinking about the comforting and innocent lies all parents tell their children, to answer their inquisitiveness and put their mind at ease while also protecting them, as Ma tries so hard to do for Jack. Also, Donoghue examined the point where the ‘Room’ of the novel, the horrific prison space, which was a nightmare scenario for any adult who has life experience was paradoxically a near ‘idyll’ situation for Jack, who was born into this blind world and the intimacy it afforded him with his mother and the security she strove above all else to provide for him. It was a very touching point.

When questioned about the escape scene where Jack flees into which for him is the complete unknown, Donoghue wanted to explore how Jack would see, react and interact with a foreign world and also how Ma would realign herself with her child into a world  and society that she left some number of years ago. What would be totally banal to us would be wonderous to Jack. The dilemma for Ma is whether to stay obedient to her captor, keeping jack ‘safe’ in the Room but also unaware of life outside or else risk his life so that he may actually escape and have a fulfilled life experience.

Room

Donoghue discussed Room not being an overly descriptive or visual book, the space and characters are brought to life through dialogue and conversation, which is the basest form of human experience and which allows one to share and learn simultaneously. interestingly Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is mentioned as a reference as there also, the action is overshadowed by the conversation, the sharing of stories. Like Ma and Jack in Room, at least there were two of them.

For all those who quizzed Donoghue about the possibility of a sequel to Room, that would show how Ma and Jack have adapted to life in modern society, they were met with a considered ‘No’. It is obvious Donoghue has given this considerable thought. She outlined however she thought mother and son had both been through enough and now their lives were as normal and boring as anyone else’s and just wouldn’t make a good book! A consolation prize of a possible film version of Room is a much more definite agenda. She has written a screenplay which at this news arose audible yelps of joy from the audience, but Donoghue teasingly said it won’t hit screens for a few years yet, she wants to safeguard the story and protect it from becoming something it was never meant to be. That level of dedication to her story and characters and near maternal instinct over this book means perhaps Donoghue isn’t so different from Ma after all.

For my review of Room click here http://tiny.cc/pk7dc

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Books, Culture

 

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Willy Vlautin & Roddy Doyle kick off GAF’s literary side

The Meyrick Hotel overlooking Eyre Square in the heart of Galway City played host to an evening with acclaimed writers Roddy Doyle and Willy Vlautin. In front of a crowd of some two hundred people both writers took to the stage and chatted interestedly to each other while waiting for proceedings to get underway. It was this genuine bon-homie between Doyle and Vlautin that made this such an enjoyable evening.

Vlautin was first to read, choosing to take a piece from his latest and award-winning (the 2010 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction) Lean on Pete. Published by Faber, the book was received to widespread critical acclaim and looking at the crowd tuned intently to Vlautin’s stories told in his endearing North Western US accent. Vlautin outlined how he developed his love of writing and thanked the influence of his English- teacher grandmother. Describing himself as a horrible student, Vlautin’s grandmother used to read him The Count of Monte Christo and presented him with his own copy of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, which set him on course to be a dedicated follower of Doyle’s work. In fact, Vlautin genuinely did seem star-struck to be sharing the stage with one of his literary idols.

Vlautin and Doyle. Pic by Sinead McKee

As Vlautin introduced the character and narrator of his book Lean on Pete, the 15-year old Charlie Thompson, Vlautin explained how he did connect with Charlie as someone who took to the road to travel on the American highways and experience life as he would find it and as it came to him. Lamenting never having a pick-up truck or anything as ‘typically’ suitable to such driving, Vlautin never the less took the road in his ’82 Honda Civic and didn’t look back.

In his book, Charlie is a left to fend for himself by his wayward single-father and takes to the road in search of life, acceptance and also a sense of family normality. He ends up tracing the dirt-tracks of Portland, Oregan and gets work at the local racetrack. Here Charlie tends to a less than thoroughbred horse of the title name of the book. The story is rightly noted as being one of the reads of the year and sets out Vlautin as an author as credible and talented as he is a musician. His band Richmond Fontaine have released their tenth album and they played a sell-out concert at the Roisin Dubh last night, also as part of the Galway Arts Festival.

Roddy Doyle was introduced to rapturous applause. No stranger to reading at Galway’s Festivals, Doyle read at the 2010 Cùirt international Festival of Literature in Galway. Noticeably pleased to be on the bill at this year’s Arts Festival, he explained how we wanted to take a break from touring this year following the extensive promotion of his novel last year The Dead Republic, but simply could not turn down Paul Fahy’s offer to attend the Festival on the bill with Willy Vlautin. With tongue firmly in cheek he declared to the crowd he was delighted to be back in Ireland’s second best city! Doyle read a short story from his recently published collection, Bullfighting. The story, Animals, is a charming, funny and touching story of family life that can resonate with people from any background or place within the family. Mother, father, son or daughter, it matters not your age as all have those cherished, funny or even heartbreaking moments with those additions to the household: the family pet.

In the following Q & A with the audience both writers spoke candidly and indeed gave more time than you would expect to make sure everyone who wanted one got their books autographed and a few words of good wishes to boot. When asked about his writing style Doyle thoughtfully admitted he didn’t have strict guidelines he stuck to when it came to his novels or his short fiction. Simply stating he stayed at his desk in his converted attic “for as long was needed or until it is done, whichever came first”. He did however say he was much fussier at the drafting phase at least, with his short fiction, often writing a paragraph at one sitting, leaving it be and returning to it later. With his novels he would write feverously with the most work coming down the line at the editing phase.

The final question of the evening was put to both writers but fielded by Doyle. It asked where is the place of literature and writing for teenagers in teaching in Modern Ireland, which is faced with ever-growing technology, social networks and computer games. Doyle, himself a former teacher, suggested not to worry so much and outlined he has a lot of faith in today’s youth. He sees them reading a lot more than they used to. Their reading may not be big novels read from cover to cover or newspapers from front to back page, but today’s youth are extremely clued into the world and should be trusted. At his writing club for young people in Dublin, Doyle sees so many teenagers coming in and sitting and simply reading and writing for hours at end. Whilst perhaps less the norm it is still proof the desire for great stories is alive and well in today’s younger generations.

It was a fitting end to what was a truly great evening. As the crowd wandered from the Meyrick, Doyle could be spotted relaxing and chatting with a pint. It was off to the Rosin Dubh for Vlautin and a concert with his band Richmond Fontaine. It just shows there are few spare moments to be had at the Galway Arts Festival. I have enjoyed catching up with his music as much as I have with his writing and here is one of many great tracks by the four-piece alt-rock/country band based out of Portland, Oregan. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Culture

 

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The Magic of Misterman

Misterman

Seen through the eyes of loner Thomas Magill, the imagined town of Inisfree is a heinous sin-ridden place where he is moral judge and eternal juror of his neighbours. The Black-Box Theatre becomes the broken-down remnant of the town of Inisfree and also of Thomas Magill’s mind and soul. The play is a frantic and sinister retelling of Magill’s life where all who he interacts with or has some sort of relationship with is retold and relived on loop through the recordings he has made with them. 

The play opens with a farcical scene where Murphy is driven to distraction by an incessant Doris Day song. For Thomas, this is an early indication that what he is not able to control and correct outs the darker recesses of his personality.

Thomas, in his purgatorial world, repeats verbatim the recorded conversations with his beloved mother and relives the encounters with those sinners he meets on his daily walk around Inisfree. He half-runs, half-stumbles his way from tape player to tape player where each plays a conversation from the past. These aural memories become all the more visible through Cillian Murphy truly astounding performance. In such a gruelling one-man performance Murphy is simply outstanding, skipping seamlessly through a host of characters, accents and personalities, none more visceral and provocative than Thomas Magill himself.

Thomas keeps a diary of sins of those he meets – a list that includes profanity, gluttony, debauchery and uncleanliness. As Magill considers himself as being next to godliness, he is also canonised as being saintly by his neighbours and simultaneously mocked and jeered for his devotion to his God and also to his mother. I would consider Magill one of the most sinister characters I have encountered on any stage. Enda Walsh has created a man who has visions of his own deism in the face of the spiritual and moral ineptitude on his compatriots. He is, as Thomas himself says, the only kitten in a town full of dogs, or indeed also a vision of Ireland, a broken nation sinking into the sea that supports it, a-la the image on Thomas’ father’s grave.

But what exactly is it about Thomas that startles so much. Are we afraid of his temper, his subdued anger and violence that simmers and bursts through to the surface? Are we afraid of his devotion to his religion? Or perhaps is it his religion itself we are afraid of? A combination of all these questions are gelled by Enda Walsh into this enigmatic character, a self-declared avenging angel that is so forcefully portrayed by Murphy.

Thomas is a powerless individual who strives to attain what it is exactly he cannot get: power, respect and recognition for his efforts to save those around him from drowning in their own sin. He is constantly told what to do and where to go, be it by his mother, by those around him and also crucially as he is ordered to do by the catechism he preaches and by the God he worships. Thomas is an unsettling individual: to those neighbours around him he is easily forgettable, little more than a passing nod or a wave in the morning. He is anonymous. He is nameless. He is Misterman.

The soundtrack is sublimely designed and expertly staged by Gregory Clarke and Donnacha Dennehy. The dialogue that eerily is only one-way: between Thomas and a tape-recorded voice, echoes around the industrial wasteland that is Magill’s own mind. The set design by Jamie Varton uses every available inch of the expansive Black-Box and is ably filled by Murphy.

With Enda Walsh himself directing the play seldom dips below a virtuoso piece of enthralling theatre, all leading to a striking and startling final scene. As powerful a scene so portrayed by Murphy you will not readily see on stage too often. It is a fitting tribute to the collaboration between Walsh and Murphy, whose personal touches and input into the play and its development from its earlier 1999 incarnation (then produced by Corcadorca Theatre Company in Cork) makes this a truly unique and special experience. If you want to see a summer blockbuster this year, then it has to be Misterman. It runs for the rest of the coming week (18 – 24 Jul) but is long sold out. Any return tickets are now recognised as legal currency, trading as gold-dust in Galway at the moment. If you have tickets, hold on to them tightly!

www.galwayartsfestival.com

http://www.landmarkproductions.ie/

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Theatre

 

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Macnas bring the noise, the brilliance and fierce beauty

This Fierce Beauty

If it’s possible for a single group or event to sum up the spirit of the Galway Arts Festival, to really show how it connects to the city, to the West of Ireland and to its people and many visitors, then you need not look past the Macnas parade. This year’s parade entitled This Fierce Beauty attracted huge crowds as the Macnas madness and mayhem snaked its way from the Spanish Arch up Quay Street, Shop Street and along the Salmon Weir Bridge as if heading its way home to the Festival Big Top which loomed and glowed in a blue hue in the Galway dusk. The atmosphere was simply incredible. It was a purely joyous event for the thousands who cheered on the many giant beasts, mystical creatures, drummers, dancers and general unrestrained crazies.

Artistic director Noeline Kavanagh has created something truly special for the Galway Arts Festival which has for long now been recognised as just that – special. The crowd was buoyant and in real festival mood as the smoke and flares that signalled the start of the parade. Winged dragons inspired by Da Vinci, giant dogs apparently representing Shane MacGowan and Patti Smith, a huge seated rhinoceros glowering down at the people represented the poet William Blake but perhaps most striking of all was The Girl, an 18 foot tall walking effigy of hope. With her billowing hair and blinking eyes, you felt like you would blindly follow this girl and her crew wherever they were headed. With an unrecognisable Paul Fahy, dressed as a 10 foot tall navigator at the head of the parade, wherever the uncharted waters ahead may lay, we all could do well to folllow Macnas’ lead.

Click the link below for images, video and just a hint of what it was like to see “This Fierce Beauty”.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/56519887@N08/sets/72157627222072112/

http://www.flickr.com//photos/56519887@N08/sets/72157627222072112/show/

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Culture, Theatre, Uncategorized

 

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Galway Film Fleadh bringing history to the screen

This year’s Galway Film Fleadh is in full swing across the city. There is an astounding array of film from new Irish short films, new Irish features, international features and shorts, new and archive Irish documentaries and even a series of archive German films. For those with more than just a passing interest in the documentary and historical films in the Fleadh, here is a listing of just a few.

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

One of the stand-out films of the Galway Film Fleadh is “Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey”. Exploring the life of Bernadette Devlin McAlliskey, hers is a truly remarkable life who experienced life in the North of Ireland during the height of thefight for Civil Rights, the Troubles and in the North that struggled for peace in the face of an unrefined hatred. McAliskey was elected MP for Mid-Ulster in the 1960s at the age of 21 and continually fought for civil liberty and an end to the vicious sectarianism of those who lived and governed in the North. Described by the documentary maker Leila Doolan, “She (McAliskey) has always been a human rights activist. Civil rights has always been at the heart of what she has done and she is a woman of incredible eloquence and clarity.” Doolan and Bernadette Devlin McAliskey will be present at the screening and what promises to be an incredibly powerful evening.

“Blazing the Trail: The O’Kalems in Ireland” was a screening of the earliest works of fiction which depicted Ireland on screen. Produced between 1910 and 1915, the O’Kalem group were led by actor/director Sidney Olcott and actor/writer Gene Gauntier. The works used on-location filming primarily in the Kilarney area of Co. Kerry. It is amazing to consider the representation of Ireland to an American audience at the turn of the Twentieth century. At this very time in Ireland revolution was brewing and it was barely half a century since famine had ensured emigration to America by the Irish was in waves of tens of thousands. “Blazing the Trail” offers accounts of the making of these films as well as the original works themselves.

“A Door Ajar” is a dark treatise on the visit to Ireland in 1937 by French playwright and poet Antonin Artuad. Artuad is best known perhaps for his work “The Theatre and Its Double” which contained his idea and ambition for a theatre that would force his audience to viscerally experience the basic elements of human existence. ‘The Theatre of Cruelty’ as he called would expose the audience to the finest details of their emotive subconscious which would ‘cruelly’ awake them to greater sence of experience in the theatre.

A Door Ajar

"A Door Ajar"

Artuad came to Ireland in 1937 carrying a wooden staff which he believed was the true staff of St. Patrick. Folllowing an arrest in Ireland not much else is known of his visit. “A Door Ajar” discusses this journey to Ireland by Artaud and also looks at his writings, ideas and life.

“On the Box” is a selection of Irish documentaries to be screened on Saturday 9 July at the Fleadh. “Who is Dervla Murphy” follows the life and work of Ireland’s most prolific travel writer who has toured the globe for the past five decades. I attended a public interview with Murphy at the National Library of Ireland in 2009 and found her an incredibly interesting woman with an amazing life of travel and experiences.

“Neither Fish Nor Fowl” looks at the collapse of the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. The film includes intimate views into the film –maker Fiona Murphy’s own family. The film compliments well the exhibition of photography “Abandoned Ireland” which featured images of the ruins of grandeur which were previously the glamorous ‘Big Houses’. This was staged by photographer Tarquin Blake at the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway recently. http://www.abandonedireland.com/

Harry McGee’s short film “Coiscèimeanna: the Famine Walk” which discussed the journey of those who died trying to escape starvation in the West of Ireland is an interesting film which traces the devastation of famine and emigration had in the West of Ireland. Part of the ‘New Irish Shorts – Way out West’ series and this film featured earlier this week in the Fleadh.

If you have seen any of these films or plan on seeing those still to be screened please feel free to comment and leave your thoughts.

http://www.galwayfilmfleadh.com/

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Culture

 

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