Theatre: “The Incomplete Works” – Footsbarn at the Kilkenny Arts Festival

The world-renowned Footsbarn will visit the Kilkenny Arts Festival this August with a newly-created show to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The company describe The Incomplete Works as a Shakespearean cabaret filled with humour and gravitas, magic and humour, where anything is possible – a three-headed Shakespeare, an audition of male Juliets, a duel between two of the Bard’s greatest villains, and a giant apparition of the Dark Lady from the Sonnets.

Founded in Cornwall in 1971, Footsbarn’s name comes from its original rehearsal space (a barn belonging to the Foot family) and the company settled in central France in the early 1990s. Since its foundation, Footsbarn has produced over 60 plays and has performed around the globe, becoming Europe’s leading travelling theatre ensemble. Footsbarn’s past Shakespeare productions in Ireland include A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1995), The Tempest (2005), Perchance To Dream (2005), and The Indian Tempest (2012), and this will be the company’s first visit to Kilkenny.

The Incomplete Works plays at the Kilkenny Arts Festival from August 5th-13th, 2016.

Tickets are available now from the Kilkenny Arts Festival website.



Review: DruidShakespeare at the Kilkenny Arts Festival 2015

“The lining of his coffins shall make coats/To deck our soldiers for these Irish wars” declares Shakespeare’s Richard II. Delivered in Ireland by Irish actor Marty Rea, in the surrounds of a former seat of English colonial power, these lines took on a new significance in the Druid production. DruidShakespeare was an incredibly ambitious undertaking: four history plays, performed by thirteen actors, in a seven-hour event. Directed by Garry Hynes from an adaptation by playwright and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe, the production presented Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V as one continuous saga of power and ambition. The production opened at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York earlier this summer and it then formed the main event of the annual Kilkenny Arts Festival.  In Kilkenny, the play could be viewed either as a full cycle in one day or seen over two consecutive evenings. Though a seven hour Shakespeare marathon could appear to be a daunting task for many theatre-goers, the energy and pace of the action belies the duration of the performance. Cuts to the four texts were relatively seamless. Richard II was slow and steady with greater emphasis on movement, while the subsequent plays had a faster and more abrupt pace as the narrative developed.

O’Rowe’s approach to the script initially appears to deify Shakespeare, whom O’Rowe refers to in the programme as “the greatest writer.”  He compares cutting material from a Shakespearean text to “throwing away gold”. Yet the production itself reacts to the text in a rebellious rather than reverential manner.  The event has been hailed as one of the most significant Irish productions of the decade, and Druid certainly probed the history plays from many innovative angles. In both its Irish and American setting, the production demonstrated, but completely inverted, many of the central concerns of the four English history plays. The plays explore English identity and nationality, undercut by the Irish context. The production effectively explores imperial power in a post-colonial world.

In addition to nationality, the production explored gender. The casting is entirely gender-blind, interweaving a new discourse of gender into the narrative of patrilineal legacy in Shakespeare’s Henriad. Aisling O’Sullivan plays Hal (later Henry V), with Derbhle Crotty as Henry IV, Bolingbroke, and Montjoy. The ostensibly masculine concerns of kingship and heredity examined in Shakespeare’s verse are dissected by the female actors delivering the lines.

Druid Shakespeare - Aisling O'Sullivan as Henry V

Druid Shakespeare – Aisling O’Sullivan as Henry V

The Kilkenny leg of the tour lent a new dimension to the production through the spectacular setting of the courtyard of Kilkenny Castle. The environment of the Castle Yard almost recalls original staging conditions in early modern theatre, with an outdoor performance in a walled enclosure. Beginning at five o’clock and commencing just after midnight, the production encompassed daylight, sunset, and total darkness, the tension on stage heightened by the fall of night. The setting in the grounds of Kilkenny Castle furthers the Irish dimension to the production. When Henry V asks Montjoy “What is this castle called that stands hard by?” (IV. vii) it appeared almost a gesture towards Kilkenny Castle itself, looming over the courtyard mere feet away.

Kilkenny Arts Festival - courtyard. Photo credit: Micahel Waldron.

Kilkenny Arts Festival – courtyard. Photo credit: Michael Waldron.

The location was further utilised during the interval; as spectators walked out into the second courtyard they could observe a graveyard bearing the headstones of deceased characters, increasing in number at each of the three intervals. The seeming futility of the scheming and intrigues in the play was thus demonstrated effectively off stage. The epic concerns of kingship and state formation are linked with the more mundane tasks of grave digging and headstone carving.

A particularly effective touch was the appearance of all three monarchs together towards the end of the production. At his coronation, Henry V was joined on stage by a silent Henry IV and Richard II, in a cyclical coronation where the crown was passed between the three. This poignant moment drew the four plays together in a holistic performance that questioned identity, individuality, and nationality. With this production then, Druid has certainly thrown down the gauntlet for Shakespearean drama in Ireland.

Review Essay: DruidShakespeare at the Kilkenny Arts Festival

Of crowns, nations and memory machines:

Druid reimagines Shakespeare’s histories

Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Druid Shakespeare, in co-production with the Lincoln Center festival NYC

Richard II, Henry IV, Parts I and 2, Henry V, The Castle Yard, Kilkenny Arts Festival, 6 – 15 August 2015.

Director Gary Hynes, with adaptation by Mark O’Rowe

Cast and production details:

Reviewed by Stephen O’Neill

“What ish my nation”?, asks Captain MacMorris in Shakespeare’s Henry V, in a scene that brings together an Irishman, a Scotsman, a Welshman and an Englishman supposedly united in the king’s ambitions to conquer France and thus expand his empery. It’s a scene that is frequently cut from modern productions of the play, perhaps because for directors it smacks of a Shakespeare too much the Elizabethan dramatist for modern sensibilities, or that it seems too easy a form of political symbolism. Druid follow suit in cutting the four captains scene and with it Shakespeare’s only Irish character in their ambitious production of Shakespeare’s Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V), all adapted and deftly redacted in the careful hands of the contemporary Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe, with Gary Hynes’ directing. Omitting MacMorris might seem surprising considering how the pre-publicity for DruidShakespeare foregrounds the Irish subtexts to Shakespeare’s Henriad. Gary Hynes has been quoted as saying that “At the time when Shakespeare was writing these plays, Ireland would have been to England as Afghanistan is to the U.S. today”. In his preface to the programme, Fintan O’Toole remarks that the Tudor state’s bloody Nine years War against the revolt in Ireland “looms large in Shakespeare’s history plays”. It is the Tudor period’s Vietnam, he suggests, in that Ireland and the Irish wars simultaneously haunted and are refracted in the literature of the period, sometimes by indirection and sometimes – as in the instance of MacMorris and his resonant question – by overt, topical direction.  Shakespeare’s play is alert to the risks of such topical allegory, parodying it in the character of Fluellen, whose fondness for elaborate parallels is treated comically. Other mentions of Ireland in the cycle remain – ones that are true to Shakespeare’s sources but that become charged in the context of the Elizabethan wars in Ireland. In Richard II, the capricious yet vulnerable king talks of supplanting “rough rug-headed kerns” (an Anglicization of the Gaelic word ‘ceithern’ meaning foot soldier but here a derogatory catch all term for the native Irish), a line that at once encodes Elizabethan constructions of the Irish as barbarous and also expresses Richard’s own desire to demonstrate resolve, to do what English kings historically do. The peat-covered stage, a key visual element of Francis O’Connor’s evocative set design, reinforces connections between Richard’s intent to uproot the Irish rebels, his kingly image, and his mortality too. Indeed, in the post-performance interval at Kilkenny, a hooded man hastily buries Richard’s body out the back; as he piles up the soil, we audience members become silent witnesses to usurpation and murder. Such are the “sad stories of the death of kings”.

Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Precisely how DruidShakespeare understands itself as responding to the coincidence of Shakespeare’s great cycle of history plays with the Nine Years War is not absolutely clear. Why cut Mackmorrice from Henry V but retain Richard’s talk of usurping the Irish from their land? But the lack of clarity is ultimately a good thing. Previous productions in Ireland of Shakespeare’s histories struggled to make such topically and ideologically charged allusions work in a modern context. Ouroboros Theatre’s Richard II at the Abbey in 2013 sought to make sense of play’s Irish subtexts via more recent Anglo-Irish relations, with visual cues to IRA hunger strike and inclusion of U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday. But ultimately these felt forced.

Druid and O’Rowe don’t seem concerned with forcing through connections between hundreds of years of Anglo-Irish relations (by the time Shakespeare is writing his plays, English interventions in Ireland are already three centuries old) as these are condensed and re-presented in literary texts like Shakespeare’s histories. Nor are they concerned with producing an overtly reactive post-colonialism by Hibernicizing Shakespeare’s cycle. Hynes has spoken of creating an emotional and physical landscape for the plays, an approach that she and the company also applied to their highly regarded Synge cycle. The production works because it allows us to consider how these plays make meaning on their own terms. DruidShakespeare recognizes too how a Shakespeare play is a spectral thing, made up of the ghosts of past performances, of critical interpretations, of audience expectations. Experiencing the plays over two consecutive nights (alternatively, one could see the four plays on one night), amplifies these sensations – going back to Castle Yard on the Sunday evening felt like a return to a group of people that one had got to know, and of whom you wanted to learn more.

Charlotte McCurry as Blunt, Clare Barrett as Bardolph, Rory Nolan as Falstaff and Aisling O'Sullivan as Hal. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Charlotte McCurry as Blunt, Clare Barrett as Bardolph, Rory Nolan as Falstaff and Aisling O’Sullivan as Hal. Image by Matthew Thompson.

This is, then, less an Irish Shakespeare than a production conscious of doing Shakespeare in and from Ireland. So, we hear Irish accents – both rural and urban – and one effect is to make plays that read like roll calls of English aristocratic families seem foreign. That sense of distance is created through the production choices more generally – from costumes with hints of current fashions to the welcome use of gender-blind casting to shake up what can otherwise seem like a relentlessly patriarchal, masculinist world. The audience is made conscious of the body beneath (especially in the deathbed scene of Henry IV Part 2 when Derbhle Crotty’s breasts can be seen through the nightgown). Such elements contribute to the feeling that the plays are being treated as representations, as self-reflexive constructions of history and historical figures.

To frame DruidShakespeare as an Irish approach to the plays would be to do the overall production and performance a disservice. The cycle deserves to be remembered for several standout performances. Marty Rea is captivating as Richard II. Avoiding a notable tendency of modern productions to play him in high camp or as suffering from a Jesus complex (as in Ben Whishaw in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown, 2012), Rea brings a subtlety to the role. His Richard is a man of many colours, despite his white face that recall portraits of Elizabeth as the Virgin Queen or perhaps the 1980s’ Dublin street artist The Dice Man. Rea also makes a memorable appearance at the opening of Henry V as the war mongering Archbishop of Canterbury, decked out here in graphite robes and mitre and with a delivery by Rea that recalls the booming auditory of Ian Paisley, the late Ulster Unionist politician. Derbhle Crotty’s Bolingbroke is played as proficient, intellectual and current by way of contrast to Richard who seems not fit for the times (an interpretation that may recall W. B. Yeats’s 1901 essay on the Henriad, “At Stratford-on-Avon”). Aisling O’Sullivan’s mischievous and mysterious Hal provides a foil to Rory Nolan’s genuinely funny Falstaff. In the tavern scenes, the production captures the play’s comic energy, and its recurring interest in this subversive terrain of Henry’s kingdom, as if to say this is home before any court scenes or battlefields. Gavin Drea as Poins and Clare Barrett as Bardolph bring a real presence to these supporting roles. At times, however, O’Sullivan’s Hal seems to spit out his words, and the vowels become so long and over-worked as to begin to sound like Felonious Gru from Despicable Me. The hyper-accent would make more sense in terms of Hal’s motivation to pass in Eastcheap among Falstaff and company, were it not for the fact that his soliloquy at the end of Act1, Scene 2 in which the prince compares himself to the sun obscured by clouds has been cut, perhaps to make his relation with Falstaff as surrogate father (and indeed mother) seem more enigmatic to audience members. O’Sullivan’s delivery is more effective when applied to Henry V, particularly his more jingoistic rhetoric. O’Sullivan brings an immediacy to “Once more unto the breach” which can all to easily lend itself to parody, directing the call-to-arms to the audience in Castle Yard – a space otherwise under-used in the production – as a small band of soldiers move in stylized, choreographed poses behind the young king.

Aisling O'Sullivan as Henry V. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Aisling O’Sullivan as Henry V. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Movement is another highpoint of this production. The bare stage and scaffold set is used very effectively, with the balcony put to good use especially in Aaron Monaghan’s energetic Chorus in Henry V. Mark O’Rowe’s adaptation also brings momentum to these history plays – pace and speed are achieved without the language being redacted too severely. O’Rowe’s adaptation foregrounds the essentially episodic structure of the plays, with rapid scene changes perhaps offering insight into Shakespeare’s own approach to the project of staging the complexities of the historical past.

O’Rowe’s style of adaptation is of the reverent kind. Yet, there is evidence too of a bolder, less respectful approach to the Shakespearean text. Henry V offers its audiences a double closure, the first with the king’s marriage to the Katherine of France, the second with the epilogue lamenting how Henry’s victories were quickly overturned during the reign of his son. In O’Rowe’s hands, however, we end with an interpolated, imagined scene that returns us to Eastcheap where in the company of Mistress Quickly, Pistol, Bardolph, Nym elegize Falstaff before setting off to war. The New York Times reviewer felt that this postscript over-sentimentalized the sacrifice of Falstaff to Hal’s political ambitions. Yet, the closing scene is less about sentimentality that about showcasing the affective intensities of Hal’s decision to reject Falstaff in the pursuit of power. The affect is all the more poignant given that the scene coincides with a darkening in the sky over Castle Yard that brings a stillness and focus to the stage.

In the postscript, we sense what has been lost, and watch with foreknowledge that further loss and suffering await Pistol and company on the “vasty fields of France”. We sense the casualties of war, the perils of treating a crown as a sign of immutable power, of history returning and repeating itself, and the violence done in the name of the nation. In this elegiac postscript, O’Rowe and Hynes distill the larger themes of Henry V and the entire cycle into more human terms. DruidShakespeare at once confronts and gives the lie to arguments that Irish theatre has an attenuated relation to Shakespeare. This is not an Irish appropriation of Shakespeare’s English histories so much as a rich dramaturgical and theatrical exploration of the dynamics of Shakespeare’s Henriad, and of the ghosts of history therein.

Marty Rea, Garrett Lombard, Aaron Monaghan (centre) and Bosco Hogan. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Marty Rea, Garrett Lombard, Aaron Monaghan (centre) and Bosco Hogan. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Dr Stephen O’Neill is a lecturer in English at Maynooth University. He is the author of Shakespeare and YouTube (Bloomsbury 2014), Staging Ireland: Representations in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (Four Courts (2007) and several essays on the reception of Shakespeare. Twitter: @mediaShakes

Review: Much Ado About Nothing at Kilkenny Arts Festival (Shakespeare’s Globe on tour)

Review by Deirdre Gallagher

To discover that the thing one has been most set against is actually the very thing one most desires is a dizzying shift of perspective which would challenge the most even-tempered. Admitting the revelation publicly is a feat requiring more than pluck. In this exuberant enactment of Shakespeare’s comedy of warring lovers, performed by the Shakespeare’s Globe on tour troupe using a booth stage in the outdoor space of Kilkenny’s Castle Yard, Simon Bubb’s Benedick and Emma Pallant’s Beatrice rise to the challenge and save face by means of their indomitable energy, wit and moral stature, as portrayed in this superb production.

For all the bantering humour and pleasing symmetries of the early scenes, and in spite of the happy outcome for all (except Don John), this is not, in fact, much ado about nothing. The marriages in Messina are a small, specific sample of something far more serious than the glib title asserts, and the Globe on tour production reflects this. The cheery tricks played on Benedick and Beatrice in the early scenes are presented with gusto as light-hearted counterfeits, revels created by friends purely for sport. The cast render them as so much innocent, harmless fun, and the audience willingly connives. The busy stage is full of movement and song, while hyperbolic gestures, grimaces, direct eye contact with the audience and high-pitched tones enhance the sense of rollicking good humour; all is merriment. Ours was a delighted audience, out to enjoy what seemed to be, above all, an entertainment. Yet there was more at play here, despite the smiling and joking.

The feigned conversations overheard by Beatrice and Benedick make ingenious use of props and the playing space itself. Benedick lolls comically behind a chair, moving it around the stage unseen by the tricksters as he listens, rapt, while they marvel at Beatrice’s fabricated declaration of love. He eventually upturns a cart of oranges in his shock, which spill out over the front of the stage: the calm certainty of the confirmed bachelor has been disturbed forever. ‘Is it possible?’ he repeats, but he has already swallowed the bait whole. For Beatrice’s parallel moment of false truth, she sits on the ground at the foot of the stage,  listening wide-eyed and open-mouthed, just steps from the front row; a line of washing separates her from the speakers, and as the clothes are hung water splashes about liberally, until finally the tub is emptied over her head and she is rendered briefly speechless. The gullibility of both characters is as striking as it is diverting, and yet the audience cannot but feel some unease.

After the interval, the mood deepens, becoming sober and restrained – and as daylight dims in the Castle Yard, the atmosphere darkens, the pretty wedding lights looking brave and delicate in the glooming. When Hero is grievously slandered, the language of lies and deceit suddenly resonates with a new foreboding. For while Beatrice can give as good as she gets (and more), Hero is helplessly abased: an object of scorn and shame, publicly humiliated and rejected. The language of lies is now laid bare as the insidious language of abused power, and a sense of injustice dominates. When Hero faints, the powerful men who believe the lies against her simply leave the stage, and the gravity and pathos of the scene puts the earlier clowning into uncomfortable perspective. Beatrice and Benedick’s compassion for Hero is portrayed convincingly, amplifying our sense of their moral strength. When Beatrice demands that Benedick kill Claudio in revenge there was a shout of laughter from the audience – a quick outburst which relieved the tension momentarily, reassuring viewers that this was, after all, a comedy.  But her next words hushed the audience at once; her passionate repeated wish, ‘O, that I were a man!’ made clear the power imbalance underpinning Hero’s ill-treatment.

The interplay between audience and cast throughout the production was a principal reason for its success. The ebullience of the audience was seized on and carried by the actors, who worked as if an organic whole, skilfully judging the mood and receptivity of the spectators, occasionally sidling up to those in the front row and even dancing briefly with one. Spontaneity, acute comic timing and a sense of impromptu interaction with the audience all made for a riveting theatrical experience. The actors, who are also accomplished musicians and singers, delivered their speeches, songs and music with seemingly equal ease, emitting jollity and merriment above all.

At the end of the play, Benedick, the married man, celebrates his new state wholeheartedly, even if he has had to go to ridiculous lengths to prove the rationale behind his volte-face – and this a man who is initially hurt when Beatrice refers to him as ‘the Prince’s jester’. He has proved his own assertion that ‘Man is a giddy creature’. Beatrice likewise embraces her transformation: ‘Farewell contempt and scorn, maiden pride adieu’. One may as well make the best of things, despite what went before. Ultimately, the subjective nature of human experience and human adaptability are amply expressed in this good-humoured, spirited, and beautifully choreographed production. The unsettling issues of  power and powerlessness, and the value of lies and deceit for good or ill do not evaporate completely but rather fade from view as the drama reaches its joyful resolution: ‘Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever.’

— Deirdre Gallagher

Theatre: Lear Project, Irish Modern Dance Theatre

At the Kilkenny Arts Festival, the Watergate Theatre, 15-17 August 2014, 6pm. Tickets €18, concession €15.50.


From the festival website:

In a world premiere commissioned by Kilkenny Arts Festival, Irish Modern Dance Theatre reimagines Shakespeare’s King Lear. Choreographer John Scott and an international cast explore themes of parental love, old age, loss of power, fear of death, personal transformation and enlightenment.

The title role is taken by a legend of the New York modern dance scene: Valda Setterfield, one of the original members of the seminal Judson Church movement and a long-time collaborator of Merce Cunningham and her husband, choreographer David Gordon. The performers portraying Lear’s children include Kévin Coquelard (star of the Paris Conservatoire) and Ryan O’Neill (Ponydance and Junk Ensemble).

Lear Project promises to be a deeply personal, playful and profoundly moving new work.

John Scott’s Irish Modern Dance Theatre is a pioneering and diverse ensemble that brings together Cunningham dancers with African torture survivors. Characterised by its passionate, witty and virtuosic choreography, the ensemble has toured its award-winning shows across the world.

Directed by John Scott
Designed by Eric Würtz
Composed by James Everest


Friday 15 Aug 6pm
Saturday 16 Aug 6pm
Sunday 17 Aug 6pm


The Watergate Theatre


60 mins approx.


€18 / €15.50


Book Online

Theatre: Globe’s Much Ado About Nothing, Kilkenny Arts Festival, 8-17 August

From the Kilkenny Arts Festival website, where you can get more information and book:

Over the last two years, a production by Shakespeare’s Globe (UK) has become one of the must-see highlights of the festival programme. Performing on a recreated Elizabethan ‘Booth Stage’, the company has brought two acclaimed productions to Kilkenny and transformed the Castle Yard into the finest venue in the country for open-air theatre. This year we’re delighted to welcome them back with a production of one of Shakespeare’s liveliest comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.

Claudio loves Hero and Hero Claudio, and nothing seems capable of keeping them apart. Claudio’s friend Benedick loves Beatrice and Beatrice loves him back, but because neither will admit it nothing seems capable of bringing them together. Only the intrigues of a resentful prince force Benedick to prove his love for Beatrice – by killing his best friend.

Driven along by a pair of lovers in denial, Much Ado About Nothing is a masterpiece of comic and dramatic suspense and gives us, in the bantering Beatrice and Benedick, literature’s wittiest bickering couple.

Please note: this is an outdoor performance. Please dress for the weather.


Friday 8 Aug 7.30pm
Saturday 9 Aug 7.30pm
Sunday 10 Aug 7.30pm
Monday 11 Aug 7.30pm
Tuesday 12 Aug 7.30pm
Thursday 14 Aug 7.30pm
Friday 15 Aug 7.30pm
Saturday 16 Aug 7.30pm
Sunday 17 Aug 2pm, 7.30pm


Castle Yard at Kilkenny Design


2 hrs 30 mins including interval


Full €26, Concession €22.50. Family matinee ticket €75 (2 adults & 2 children or 1 adult & 3 children)


Book Online


You can tweet the festival @kilkennyarts (hashtag #MuchAdo) or visit their Facebook page.