Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunday, Sunday

How much can you fit into a Sunday?
Sometimes Galway lounges back laconically, and seems to wait for you to do something. Other times, it throws so much at you that it’s hard to know what to do. Neachtains switches from being the city’s sitting room to a place that offers respite from over-stimulation.
Because this town loves a festival. Arts, oysters, horses – whatever’s going, really. Over the October Bank Holiday Weekend, the Galway Theatre Festival and the Galway Comedy Festival took centre stage. Both are relatively new to the scene, but have quickly become fixtures in the city’s cultural calendar.
This year’s Comedy Festival boasted an insanely impressive line-up. Tim Minchin, Rich Hall and Dylan Moran topped the bill, with each of them selling out two shows each. There were also sets from Rubberbandits, Ardal O’Hanlon and David O’Doherty.       
Now in its fourth year, the Galway Theatre Festival was set up by Andrew Flynn and Páraic Breathnach. In 2009, Róisín Stack stepped in as festival director. GTF showcases local talent (which this year included Galway-based companies Mephisto, Tyger and Fregoli), as well as bringing in some emerging national groups. This year there, Stack invited Louise White and Kate Nic Chonaonaigh to put on their show All Things Considered It’s A Nice Place To Start,  which turned heads at this Absolut Fringe festival. Dundalk firebrand Jinx Lennon was making his first foray into theatre with an audio/visual show that incorporated his folk-punk-songs.
I decided to squeeze all my festival shenanigans into one sacrilegiously hyper Sabbath day. Making my way through the drizzle that looms over Galway like an over-protective parent, I land up at the Studio Theatre in the Town Hall. Adventures of a Music Nerd: 1 Guy, 3 World Cups ,written by Corkonian Ronan Leonard, is an affectionate ramble through the Irish World Cup songs of the nineties. The premise is simple – Leonard stands in front of a laptop with a mic, playing snippets of songs – but he is such an amiable host that rarely a moment of the hour long show passes without a chuckle.
With the shower lifted, it was time to leg it down along the Corrib and head towards Áras Na nGael, for the second Theatre Festival show of the evening. Presented by TrueWest Theatre, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead was co-written by Patrick Collins and John O’Dowd and was making its debut at GTF. The aptness of staging a ghost story was augmented by the novelty of the play being a promenade piece. Two people in dog-masks guided the crowd through the building, bringing them upstairs, downstairs and outside.
The play centred around Conor McDonagh (Jerry Fitzgerald), a reporter at a regional newspaper who is asked to investigate the death of a young farmer who spent big during the Tiger. Although the dialogue in the newsroom scenes was a little clunky in places, Seona Tully put in a well-pitched performance as Ciara Deignan, McDonagh’s more urbane colleague.
But the show was always leaning towards the supernatural, and the show was at its most compelling during these darker scenes. The maverick journo is taken by malevolent fairies into a hellish world that reveals the details of the case. John O’Dowd excels as Michael Cleary, a man who murdered his wife because she believed she ‘gone away from herself.’ Old Irish superstition is melded with modern scenes of farmyard slaughter that play on televisions in the backround, and  the audience is lulled into a chant by one of the spirits. It’s genuinely haunting, and the audience go back on to Dominick Street a little shook, but chuckling murmurs suggest TrueWest have done well here.
Now, it’s time to get stuck into some comedy. Andrew Maxwell brought his Fullmooners show to the Radisson, with a top-heavy bill of Rich Hall, Mike Wilmot and the Rubberbandits.
Maxwell is an anarchic, but extremely relaxed compere. He deftly juggles jokes about the presidential election and midget porn; a software engineer in the crowd called Damien is quickly re-cast as the kid from The Omen. The Dubliner is much better in the flesh than he is on the small screen; his years of experience and enthusiasm for the most demented of tangents elicit belly laughs throughout the evening.
Rich Hall is Maxwell’s first guest of the evening, and his set is a masterclass in deadpan from beginning to end. The election of Michael D. has not flown under the irascible Virginian’s radar, but Hall feels that ‘being the President of Ireland is like calling Budweiser the king of beers.’ The cantankerous persona can’t mask how effortless he makes stand-up look, however. He tells the crowd not to cheer as he leaves the stage, but applause is a knee-jerk reaction to someone like Hall.
After the intermission, Maxwell comes back on and carries on with the ramblings that he peppers the evening with. He invited on Canadian comedian Mike Wilmot, one of the hardest gigging comedian’s going. Wilmot delights in the fact that he can use the word ‘cunt’ without reproach in Ireland, delighting in the way some people use it as a term of affection. He then launches into loving descriptions of his wife’s breasts (they’ve been married for over 20 years) and other material that anyone who’s seen him before will be familiar with. But many in the room are seeing him for the first time, and Wilmot show’s his craft by delivering older material as if it’s brand new. He gets a chorus of deserved whoops when his set ends.
It’s well past midnight but, ladies and gentleman, it’s about to get even darker. Bouncing on stage like something from a delinquent Donnie Darko, Rubberbandits tear through a set of what we can probably now call hits. Their visuals don’t work, but they make light work of the technical mishap with their surreal banter. Was this hitch part of the show? It’s hard to know – these guys are too clever, and way too funny, to buckle under second-guessing.
Eamon DeValera is double-dropping yokes; random figures from Irish public life are outed as being ‘in the ‘RA’; Róisín’s father is challenged to a scrap. This is life according to the Rubberbandits. People are sitting down but the urge to get up and throw some shapes is hard to suppress, with Blindboy  and Mr.Chrome trying to out-rave each other.
            It’s some performance, and the Bandits rough-as-fuck approach is at home in the somewhat shabby venue. But they could play on the back of a truck, and still give a hell of a show. They bring the evening to a close, of course. How could you follow that?
Well, you could go for Sunday: The Directors cut and extend your festival into Monday evening. Earlier that day, a surprise Dylan Moran show was announced in the Róisín Dubh. He normally fills rooms many times the size of the Dominick Street venue, so it’s no surprise that it quickly became the premium ticket of the weekend.
And Moran delivers, in his own spectacularly nonchalant way. He gives the impression of carrying on a discourse whose exact beginning has long been forgotten, and whose end, though inevitable, will never explain what went before it. Moran is a comedian par-excellence, a man who fires out so many immaculate lines that it’s hard to keep up. At one point, we are asked to imagine an Irish rugby team made out of Wagon Wheels, flinging themselves against the corners of Dana’s mind. Both weary and wonderful, Dylan Moran is an artist who may well slap you for calling him one, but that’s what he is.
            So, how much can you fit into a Sunday in Galway? Too much, but not nearly enough.