Mayor of Waterford City and County Council, Cllr John Cummins, recently welcomed members of the High Hopes Choir, Focus Ireland and St Vincent De Paul to City Hall to congratulate them on the High Hopes Choir TV Documentary being awarded Best Documentary at the 2015 IFTA awards. | Photo: John Power.

Mayor of Waterford City and County Council, Cllr John Cummins, recently welcomed members of the High Hopes Choir, Focus Ireland and St Vincent De Paul to City Hall to congratulate them on the High Hopes Choir TV Documentary being awarded Best Documentary at the 2015 IFTA awards. | Photo: John Power.

Waterford Film Festival
Now in its 9th year, the Stephen Byrne-organised Waterford Film Festival is still as low-key as ever, but it lets the films do the talking. Not a lot of ‘meet-and-greet’ or PR hype but I did get to talk to several of the film makers over the course of a 3-day weekend.

The opening session was a fine mix of films and a cracker of a start with Barty Carty, about a primary school teacher trying to revive Chess in the school. I laughed long and hard at the antics and dialogue. Julie Kelleher starred in a curious The Trouble With Aoibhe. I last time I saw her was in Ian Wild’s play Mrs Shakespeare in Brewery Lane.
Niall Dempsey, who used to compete with Dublin musical societies in the Opera Festival, was excellent as a rogue cop, driving a W reg car in Positive Discrimination by Charlo Johnson. I enjoyed the Facebook perils in the chiller Cage by John Woodside, starring Ruairi Douglas and Alex English. A stylishly filmed story with punch and attraction.
An Irish language film about two young lads with a crush on a girl, Cead Ghra by Brian Deane was a gem; that won a Best Irish Short at the Gaze International Festival.

I saw about 18 of the 30 short films shown in three slots on the Saturday and enjoyed again (saw it at Youghal Festival) Wasted, about teenagers dabbling with drugs and a boy so high on them that he seemed able to play music on the table top. Clever ‘take’ on an issues subject. A tribute documentary to Dublin harmonica player Paddy Smith was excellent and Kilmeaden poet Eabha Rose read her poem over the telling images in The Elephant Is Contagious, about a social get-together with a sting in the cocktail. This was a beautiful film, co-produced with Simon O’Neill. Her artwork is excellent as well.
The actress Sarah Jane Lynch was wonderful in the sad story of a fifty-something who felt taken for granted as her life passed her by in Solitaire. I saw two fine dance films: Static by Mary Keane, where two dancers brought life back to a derelict airport terminal; and the beautiful film The Nymph, a fantasy dance set in a moonlit forest by Damian Byrne. A Cork entry from a member of Broken Crow Theatre, Enrique Carnicero, impressed with an experimental film with voices, Hang Up.
I didn’t get to the last session that day but thanks to Kilkenny director Ross Costigan, who downloaded his film Swerve to me. This was a brilliantly edited and acted comedy thriller using well-known Kilkenny and Devious Theatre actors to provide laughs and thrills in a great story about inept thugs and a leather briefcase. This was quality work.
A disappointing set of short films, some I had seen before. I enjoyed seeing Co Waterford actor Moe Dunford in Mike Hayes’ film Leave, but it was over-edited to convey a tension it didn’t have over 15 minutes and I laughed out loud at the ‘scumbag baddie’ who turns to the acquiescent girl in bed and says ” Me and you against the world babe”. I liked Spacer about a guy sleeping rough and a stray dog from Jeda de Bri. At Home by Liam Burke was a sad documentary that I saw on television recently.

Additional Film
During the weekend, I saw on YouTube a harrowing, but well-made short film by Waterford film-maker Mick Daniels to promote a new book by Tom Darcy called Waiting For The Sheriff. The film showed a modern eviction with a father, mother and children being driven from their house. The husband took his life in a wood, and the funeral was a tragic, harrowing sequence.
Photographed by Anthony Kelly, it featured Jamie Murphy as the tragic husband at the end of his tether. Karina Thompson was excellent as the emotional mother. Ioana Ritchie, Alex Healy and Adam Mervin played the children. Sean Simon was the Sheriff and James Rockett assisted him.

Separated At Birth
I had such fun at the Theatre Royal with Separated At Birth from PJ Gallagher and Joanne McNally as they told about being adopted and how that shaped their lives. Gallagher is an established comedian and he still manages to portray a vulnerable innocence as he shares his story with great situational and confessional jokes. McNally is a rising star on Republic Of Telly and I saw her with Gallagher in Una Mckevitt’s Singlehood. McKevitt had an input to the Separated At Birth script and I like her way of using real life stories as an essential part of her theatre-making.
An Edinburgh Festival award-winner of So You Think You’re Funny + 5,000 pounds, Aidan Strangeman opened the show with one of the best and funniest singing comedy acts I have seen in a long while. He even sang the fire and phone announcements and got the audience singing along to Let Me See Your Boobies, My Kids Are Better Than Yours and the closer, We Are A Tough Audience.
After an early interval, PJ and Joanne just walked on and talked about being adopted and the audience loved it and laughed and maybe a few brushed away a tear. They were a class act, with hilarious shared and alternating routines about seeking out their birth parents. You could feel the love in their story, even if it was about being ‘threatened’ to be given away again if he didn’t behave. McNally did the posh Southside routines of Prosecco and partying and never seeing joined up houses before.
I was in floods of laughter for the routine about PJ’s father ‘losing’ the car and ending face down in a rose bush. And the insults they hurled at imaginary people “I hope your whole family get verrucas and not have a sock between yiz”. This was a night to remember.

It was a mixed night of humour and polemic up Andy Jordan’s Lane where Central Arts presented Paddy Cullivan’s Solutionism. His 50 Solutions to save the country, from the politicians who have ‘gombeened’ and ‘gomballooned’ it. This was a slice of Kilkenomics with less comedy, some satirical songs of the Joe Duffy Funny Friday variety. But it went on with a break until 22.45 and then there was some Q&A that I didn’t stay for.
He got the audience to sing along with the chorus of “We’re turning the corner” from the start. I liked his satire of ‘why work for change’ when you can either complain or acquiesce with “Ah Shure it will be grand”. His continuous video clips were fun and I loved his Fine Gael stats, promises and Blue Shirt adverts, where a follower looked like Les Dawson.
Then he used his ‘tweets’ to repeat points about ‘hard decisions’ and about a Limerick company who made the drills used in the Chilean mine rescue. I loved his Cavan Cola and liked his Irish Shipping rant and the clamped car with the graffiti “Fucking Keep It”. A song about John Delaney brought the show to half time and during the interval I enjoyed tracks from taped Avant Gardai an 80s satirical band – Think Happy Thoughts.
He restarted at 21.30 and he got less humorous and more Swiftian with populist stuff about Irish water, Garth Brooks and the claim that a Brooks audience, over five days, could change the trend in Irish politics. Yee Haa Ha Ha. He used Twitter a lot to support his loopy logic and it got crazier with personal gripes about banning Christmas and reviving National Service. He went from a Ben Elton to a Russell Brand style.
He spilt a glass of water and got a small shock from a baseboard and two techies from Central Arts stepped up and changed the leads very efficiently. I was well impressed.
His final joke was a ‘good wan’ about ‘superior’ people who stay in bed all day with the mantra: “If there was work in the bed, they’d sleep on the floor”.
It was after 22.45 when I left, after the applause.

Miss Emily
There has been rejoicing that author Nuala Ni Chonchuir has achieved an American publishing deal with her novel Miss Emily being published in America by Penguin Random House for Sandstone Press Ltd Scotland. Three cheers for Nuala!
There has been some Irish literary sources complaining that the American publishers had difficulties with her name as Gaeilge and that she had to become Nuala O’Connor. During Galway Arts Festival, someone suggested to me that she should have chosen Nuala Nee. I know it raises ‘chattering classes’ talk about identity as if writers have some special ‘handle’ on identity when they so often live and work in a ‘fictive/factive’ world and are taking the next step to greater readership.
Irish authors have to accept title changes, like the one of the late John McGahern allowing That They Shall Face The Rising Sun become, By The Lake, in America. Reminds me of the time the first book of Liam Clancy’s autobiography for Virgin Books was The Mountain Of The Women but became Irish Troubadour in Ireland and UK.
Nuala O’Connor dedicates Miss Emily “For Emily, for poetry” and a quotation “She was not daily bread, she was stardust”. The novel alternates chapters in the initial story of Irish servant girl Ada Concannon, the daily ‘bread maker’, who comes to work for the Dickinson family in Amherst.
Thus, it becomes not just Ada’s story but Emily’s story and the ‘stardust’ of her poetry. It seems to give equal weight to both lives and while one is going on to fame and literary elevation, the other is a lesser life better lived.
Early on you get Emily explaining why she writes and how she writes “Oh chimerical, perplexing, beautiful words! I love to use the pretty ones like blades and the ugly ones to console. I use dark ones to illuminate and bright ones to mourn”.
In a central chapter, they both bake to celebrate shared birthdays and it seems to be a literary conceit to look at snow through both their eyes. Then, just as their lives take on a rhythm, Ada has troubles and old patterns and stereotypes emerge. Emily has to accept that in so many ways Ada’s life is “dirt before the broom”.
Ada gets the last word. As she ponders (Emily like) “if freedom is possible for anyone in this life, or if we are all doomed to imprisonment, one way or another”.

It’s Met Opera Live season in the Odeon Cinema and, as the evenings darken, it seems to add to the pleasure. Wagner’s love and redemption epic Tannhauser started at 4 pm and caught some patrons off guard.
Tannhauser is based on a historical story of a Minnesinger in central Germany, Thuringia, that had significance for Martin Luther and Saint Elizabeth for whom Tannhauser returned from the unearthly, romantic place of the Gods where Venus attended to his needs. A ‘minnesang’ was a traditional ‘love’ song and minnesingers composed love songs, often to order for titled people. Wagner wanted to keep alive aspects of German song, music, and folklore.
This Live Stage to Screen version is a return to the 1977 Otto Schenk production and it has pleased many who had been annoyed by the crazy ‘piano keys set’ for The Ring Cycle. I found it dull and stodgy but with beautiful singing and at times the music seemed ‘ponderous’, as musical director James Levine continues to conduct from his wheelchair.
There was a languid richness to the long overture and ballet of love and poetic carnality in Venusberg. Tannhauser is unhappy with too much pleasure and returns to Thuringia to an uncertain future, where he has to go as a pilgrim to Rome to seek redemption from the Pope.
Johan Botha was impressive vocally as Tannhauser and Eva-Maria Westbroek was bright and expressive as Elizabeth. I enjoyed the wonderful singing to harp accompaniment by Swedish baritone, Peter Mattei as Wolfram.
The final act was magnificent, and the chorus were splendid and the dramatic solos had majesty and power.
Berg’s Lulu on 21st November will be a more modern production.