The Emporor’s New Clothes

October 23, 2013


It’s often a case of the emperor’s new clothes in Dublin theatre circles. And some pretty flabby bodies. Ideas are praised over execution as we put our game face on across social networks, revealing several more behind the backs of the praised. I met up with Alan Gilsenan, the award-winning documentarian and theatre director, who agreed that we could all do with being a little less satisfied with ourselves. “There’s a terrible decency in action, he says, “where we go along to something and we all think it’s crap. Yet we tell everybody its great. ‘It’s fantastic. I loved it’. Meanwhile down the pub you’re like ‘Goooood that was awful.”

If we look beyond these shores, he says, we’ll find were not all that. “I don’t think our critical faculties have been honed. A lot of the work is parochial, smug and feels formulaic. Yet you still see these shows venerated as some kind of landmark production. Revolutionary. Breakthrough. And your like “c’mon lads, this is just boring”.

Disappointed and disgruntled by theatre he found satisfaction in the dance world, particularly the Dublin Dance Festival where his new work in progress, The Burning House, will be shown next week.

“People like Jerome Bel have made pieces that I have been really struck by. That weren’t linear and literal, but were exciting and vibrant. ”

His elegy for Patrick Pearse, a collaboration with trad legend Martin Hayes, is very much visual theatre. Non-narrative, the piece is neither historical nor logical and he hopes it will have the sense and motion of jazz music. “It steps away from the politics and history and all the literal stuff we know about Pearse. This is about the emotive stuff, the intangible stuff. Martin’s music articulates that.”

It’s the first phase of what he hopes will be a much larger production staged as part of the centenary celebration of 1916. “While the piece certainly isn’t about 1916, the Rising was an artistic statement as much as a political statement. Historically it was a failure, yet symbolically and theatrically it was a success.”

With an eclectic, international company in place he is looking at Pearse as an artist turned revolutionary, who made his art his life… and his death. “Through that we are looking in broader terms at the idea, most recently manifested in the Arab Spring, of what happens when the artistic gesture becomes the political act.”

With plans a foot to commemorate 1916 the problem remains; what do we do about Pearse? “We’ve become embarrassed by him .I think we should explore him, remember him, listen to him. Do justice to his spirit.”

First Published in the Sunday Independent, May 14th 2012

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