Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gary Duggan's new stuff

It's not easy being a full time playwright, y'know. There's all that writing to do for a start. And then of course, there's the real business to keep abreast of. Ask Gary Duggan, the author of the wildly successful E monster drama, Monged, who has now been writing full time for more than a year.

"You have to be a lot more careful about how you spend you time, and not spend too much time dossing. And I really have to make sure I'm on top of every Arts Council application, every prize entry deadline. That's a huge part of the job now..."

As it happens, it is an approach that has always paid off rather well for Duggan, who grabbed the Stewart Parker Award for Monged, and has just recently been chosen as one of the young Irish playwrights who will take part in 20:LOVE, the National Theatre's new writing initiative for 2008. For this season of rehearsed readings (which will also feature something new from Philip McMahon) Duggan has switched his focus from the debauchery of an average night in Dublin, to a more extended period of hedonism with a Manhattan backdrop.

"The play is sort of autobiographical, I spent some time in New York in '99 and it really reflects that…I suppose when I was there, I was always thinking more about blending in as a New Yorker, rather than hitting the Irish bars, and the characters are a bit like that too."

"It is about an Irish guy who is living in New York and is visited by his ex. And they sort of hit the town: so it's a whistle-stop tour of Manhattan…like in Monged, the city is very important in the play and the locations are very specific places, clubs, bars..."

That play, Stopover, will open at the beginning of March, but before that, Duggan's Dedalus Lounge (which is set in a bar based on George's Street's Long Hall) is currently back on the stage, in the Mill Theatre in Dundrum. The play is, by most standards, a pretty grim piece of Christmas theatre, though relieved by nicely worked comedy and a decent Freddy Mercury impersonation.

"I think it has a good blend of comedy and the darker material, in a way that most people kind of find true to their experiences of this time of year...."

It is, indeed, a seasonal play in almost the same way that Fairytale of New York is a Christmas song: you can't quite believe anybody wants to rub your nose in such grimness at this point of the year, but it has enough verve and skilful humour to make you rather enjoy the underlying bleakness.

"Actually, Fairytale of New York is one of my favourite songs," says Duggan.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Abbey's New Year

It is not easy to get a grip on the Abbey's program for next year, which was announced this week. There is a liberal dose of the old guard at its mustiest, but some new faces, particularly in the playwrights' stable, as well as a significant number of imported shows.

If this is the real flavour of Fiach MacConghail's ideal national theatre, it's one that keeps the definition of what might be performed on the Abbey stage appealingly wide – including as it does, contemporary dance and circus. But it doesn't quite break with the bad old days either – someday soon, hopefully, staging a Brian Friel 'version' of a play by Chekov will be as unacceptable as it is unimaginative. But for now, that's what will hold the Abbey stage for the Summer months in 2008.

Elsewhere, there is an unashamedly American flavour to the program. A least part of the reason for this is the Abbey's new relationship with the New York Public theatre, designed see a procession of American works fetch up in Dublin, and a corresponding raft of Irish dramas wash ashore in New York. The first fruits of that exchange will drop when Mark O'Rowe's brilliant verbal fireworks display, Terminus, opens in New York next January.

British production outfit Crying Out Loud, who supplied circus-inspired shows to the Abbey over the past couple of years – including last year's delightful acrobatic show from the Hammichs family, Taoub – are back again with another 'new' circus presentation, Circo De la Sombra, an pan-European acrobatic show performed to the music of a Neapolitan band.

The big local show of the year will quite possibly be Conor McPherson's belated arrival on the Abbey stage with The Seafarer, due to dock next April. McPherson's absence from the Abbey over the last decade was perhaps one of the most obvious indicators that the theatre had lost touch.

But McPherson isn't the only newcomer to the National Theatre this year. One of the most promising sections of the program for the coming year is a season of short commissioned work from writers making their debut at the theatre. Called 20:Love, the season will feature rehearsed readings of plays by younger talents, all 20-minutes long and all on the theme of love.

Among those making the jump to the big league via this route will be Gary Duggan, best known for Monged, his elegiac rendering of a debauched night of necking yokes around boomtime Dublin, and Philip McMahon, best known for Danny and Chantelle (Still Here), his elegiac rendering of a debauched night of necking yokes around boomtime Dublin. Spot the connection?

Duggan and McMahon are also, to the best of our knowledge, the first Abbey playwrights to be on Facebook. But maybe I'm wrong there. Maybe Brian Friel is lurking there somewhere too.

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