This year, the Imagine Festival came into its own with a variety and quality that belied the very low cost or funding base this festival actually has. Its own story will need telling one of these days, from rain sodden tents at Newtown School to messy hands-on art workshops at Parnell Street or drive-in cinema at Millar’s Marsh.
This year, the programme was ambitious across several disciplines and I managed to catch the glorious thread of artists and writers telling stories of journeys and expectations. Youth and family events were to the fore. A new exciting dance company, Animated State, got off to a glorious start, Stagemad Theatre premiered two new plays and showed audiences the bright prospects that are actor/playwright Adam Wallace and Anna Jordan. Waterford Youth Arts were magnificent with drama-on-a-bus, a mystery tour of theatre and as in all good festivals there was more – much, much more.
The theatre programme had a good family feel to it as well as a strong commitment to new writing in a local context. Red Kettle completed a run of Climb and Garter Lane followed that with a short sell-out run of Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer. Children and families were catered for at the Granary where the lighting played tricks on two Oscar Wilde dramatised stories by Michael James Ford.
Mephisto Theatre Company impressed with a wordy The World’s Wife based on the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy. This ninety minute piece tried and tested the cast of three young women with Caroline Lynch in fine interpretive form. This was fine acerbic feminist work and at times the clever use of verse was hypnotic.
The young actor/playwright, Adam Wallace, was the hit of the theatre programme. His piece on the bus with Waterford Youth Arts’ excellent and impressive Diversions was fresh and entertaining and his forty minute performance in his own play Catch The Wind was a beautiful evocation in song, dance and story of a young boy’s rite of passage that lovingly and poignantly covered three generations, grandfather, father and son of the Swann family. His one-liners were very effective and by the end I had a tear at the corner of my eye, which a vigorous standing ovation helped to mask.
This was one of two impressive productions of new work from the Stagemad Theatre Company, who are still disappointingly without Arts Council funding. The second was another new author, this time female playwright Anna Jordan, who is also an impressive actor. Her thirty minute play, Misery, is a very poetic take on a boy/girl meeting or series of meetings on Mount Misery overlooking the city of Waterford. This is a stumble of the heart where each person, no matter how lonely, is somebody’s child.
The work has a sexual frisson, well caught by Anna Jordan and the fine James Whelan. Some of the references to growing old could be a little mawkish but I loved the evocation of the American bar and places to go when you are old and free and the first thing you find is that paradox of what you left behind.
The two performance/readings by the world famous Liverpudlian poet, Roger McGough, was another personal highlight of a fine festival, even if the College Street Campus venue leaves a lot to be desired with its cold unwelcoming chapel.
McGough made magic and recreated the wonder I felt reading the small Peguin Modern Poets, Mersey Sound, all those years ago. When he read the Auntie Marge poem Hearts And Flowers I was transported to a very happy place. He also had the audience in knots and folds of laughter with his wry twists on life – having fun playing the fool.
Waterford Youth Arts has one of the hits of the Imagine festival with an exciting Diversions – a series of seven short plays, commissioned from local playwrights and directed by young people – set on a single deck bus. Running for about ninety minutes, the journey starts at Barrack Street and characters step on and off the bus at stops like Mayor’s Walk, Paddy Browne’s Road, Upper Grange, Ardkeen, Jordans and off into Ferrybank and back to Barrack Street.
Adam Wallace is on a roll at the moment and his piece, The Safety Dance, directed by Jamie Flynn, is excellent about two young people discussing their possibly first sexual encounter. The dialogue is crisp and very funny and Victoria Paperovska and Kealan Foley are very impressive.
Conor Nolan’s riff on The Scottish Play was hilarious and Joe Meagher as Mrs Macbeth was a howl. Aisling Walsh directed a spoof highjack by Patrick O’Sullivan with two inept robbers Pat O’Connor and Mark O’Keeffe.
Edward Denniston gave us a pastiche of the Theatre Of The Absurd, Robert Brown got a bit moralistic with Common Scents.
Two young directors excelled with Paul Dillon in terrific form in a Noel Kelly play, directed by Sinead Bolger with wonderful understanding.
Ciara Dower is a new director and she caught the edgy menace of two Pat Daly characters who menace a young boy at the back of the bus. The direction was full-blooded and Jamie Flynn and Freddie Quinlan shone as they bullied Luke Brennan’s schoolboy with his De La Salle head on him.
The end piece, when Kealan Foley returned to Victoria Paperovska with flowers, a dodgy video and a back pocket of condoms, was a video moment from Adam Wallace.
Robert Browne co-ordinated the difficult logistics and this event was a shining example of the reward in investing in young people and challenging their acting and directing skills.
Tealights and low lights created a good mood at the Patrick Street Church for the legendary Andy Irvine as he mellowed the hearts of die-hard acoustic folkmeisters, pure tone pluckers, new believers, old woodie and old woolie hipsters and reconstituted folkies.
The support act of Kate Falvey and Eoin Dalton warmed the gathering with some originals and a fine Say Goodbye To It All. Then Irvine caught the ramblin’ mood, with ballad forms, come-all-yes and some sharp social commentary that restored memories of Sweeney’s Men, Planxty and Patrick Street. Northern ballads formed a background for The Girl I Left Behind , Woodie’s Song, Ye Ramblin’ Boys Of Pleasure, The Braes Of Moneymore.
Sweet Miltown Malbay was nostalgic and for a sweet hour you could never tire of the road beloved of red bandana folkies. You could hear Way up yonder calling me and it was sweet goodbyes for Glad To Meet / Sorry To part. The Dubliners of O’Donoghue’s were fondly remembered as the night slipped into late with Arthur McBride, a search in encore for times past in bitterness, regret and pain and a rousing Johnny Mackildoo. It don’t get sweeter folks.
The Waterford Music concert with pianist/composer Philip Martin at the Large Room, gave the Imagine festival a fine touch of the classics. Martin spoke to his audience and shared moments of interest making the concert more intimate. Opening with two Henri Herz nocturnes, the mood was set with sad but warm feelings of regret, regret for a faded summer but boosted by a welcome for a relaxed winter. A time to count blessings and a Chopin selection was light floaty and frothy – a touch of what could have been.
It is always a pleasure to hear a composer play and talk about his own compositions and martin’s Prism is a contemporary selection of runs and riffs, heavy jarring notes, undertones and fragmentary tones building up to a lucky bag of bagatelles and ending in an angry clog dance of energy.
After the interval the Chopin Funeral march worked its fine magic and his selection of Gottschalk Victorian exotica was a wonderful finale in pins and barrels style, a touch of ragtime and a crescendo of Minstrel music as the piano imitated a series of banjo styles like O Suzanna.
I enjoyed Martin in New Ross recently and this concert was a further pleasure and richly entertaining.
Highlight of the visual programme was the chasm of contrast shown by two artists who began their explorations by studies of pregnant nudes, where there was beauty expectation and the full roundness of happiness. Photographer Ciaran Conneely at Geoff’s with Delta And Omega showed the bare-assed cheek of proud bodies, beads, breasts, dreadlocks, finger nails and purple masks. This was a joyous celebration, while at Greyfriars Tony Ryan’s grim and deeply sad images of a dying woman in The Lisa Drawings, was an uncomfortable reminder of the fragility of life and the depths of despair. Sitting in that space, an old church, reminded me sadly of attending a funeral just before the coffin is closed.
The Kerry-born storyteller, Eddie Lenihan, charmed two capacity audiences at The Granary with stories of Halloween and Biddy Early. This was another world-class event as he left audiences make up their mind as to whether fairies were kind or malevolent and there was no sense that such creatures did not exist. He showed the timeless power of the folktale as he re-counted the stories he had gathered so lovingly from fading if not already departed generations. His humour was always in evidence especially, the story about a man with a boil on his backside.
The dancer/choreographer Libby Seward previewed her new professional dance company, Animated State, with a promenade performance, Close Encounters at Greyfriars Gallery where during the week a visiting and curious public got a chance to contribute to the creative process and in doing so welcome a much needed company to the boards in Waterford. Using mirrors, fabric lights and shining commitment this company showcased the quality audiences can expect on November 13th where Animated State launch their careers with a new work, Rag And Bone Shop Of The Heart, at Garter Lane.