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Cork Midsummer Festival week two: Reviews of Found, Freefalling, Sun & Sea and Ode to Joy

What we’ve seen so far in week two of the festival

The programme for this year’s Cork Midsummer Festival was studded with announcements of world premieres. Not everything with this designation lived up to the expectation implied by the title, which after all only means a first-ever public presentation. But there is no quarrel with the sense of privilege inspired by seeing new work for the first time, or old work interpreted by a new approach from a new generation, and this festival gave plenty of both.

An interrogation of the myths and mists of the Irish diaspora in Canada brings Aideen Wylde’s Found (★★★★☆) into what was, indeed, once upon a time newfound land, Presented by Broken Crow and the Everyman and directed by Julie Kelleher at Graffiti’s FitzGibbon Theatre, the extravagance of the writing and imagery broadens what is a minor and much-travelled theme of self-discovery into a challenging exploration of memory, dream and fantasy.

Although the navigation among these elements which connect a dolphin in an Irish harbour to an Almanac of Old Lost Land to the nightmares of childhood pinned to the Global Positioning System is occasionally and perhaps appropriately incoherent, the seeking and questioning is offered with exuberance and ownership from a cast led by Wylde herself and a talented technical crew led by Medb Lambert’s costumes and props.

Whether Georgina Miller’s Freefalling (★★★★☆) can be termed a world premiere depends on the status of its earlier presentation at the Belltable in Limerick for a Lime Tree and Belltable commission as part of Miller’s artist residency at Belltable last year. Its status will not have bothered anyone watching this ebullient flight into – again – self-announcement. Rough Magic, in association with Fidget Feet Aerial Dance, are among the headliners for its Midsummer presentation at the Everyman, where director Lynne Parker makes sure that spectacle does not outperform the narrative pattern of Miller’s debut – except where it matters.


With half-hidden José Portillo in the rigging balancing the sweeps and swoops of Miller’s borrowed mantra that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, she is kept aloft and in a tropical state of mind until she comes to earth disastrously in Samoa. Chantal McCormick, Emma Fisher-Owen, Zia Bergin-Holly and Fiona Sheil top the crew’s creative credits.

How sheep farming and artistic flair can fuse into a zoomorphic autobiography is a tale charmingly told by Einat Tuchman in Spin Spin Scheherazade (★★★☆☆) at the Crawford Gallery. Written and directed by artist and sheep farmer Orla Barry, and assisted by members of the audience chosen at intervals dictated by a toaster, this tragicomic tale of love and agricultural relationships spins according to episodes displayed on an array of storyboards. Its interactions between showing, auctioning and slaughtering farm animals introduce a gorgeous ram called Georgie doomed by his uncontrollable sex drive. Tuchman’s agile control of action and imagery doesn’t halt at the door of the abattoir, but there is a hint that Scheherazade might get weary at the thought of one thousand and one nights of this before the toaster tires of its diet of sliced pan.

In a festival packed with material guaranteed to increase the gaiety of nations, or at least of patrons and passersby, the attempt must be to please as many people as possible. The audience is vast, the programme courageously varied and mounted at venues across the city. The offerings ranged from Beckett to the Cork Community Art Link to a music trail curated by Midsummer’s artist in residence ELLLL, from Max Richter’s recomposed Vivaldi to a pop-up giant bird’s nest from Jackie Nevin, all interleaved with the Cork Migrant Centre, the National Sculpture Factory, young Traveller artists, the Cork Centre for Architectural Education and Fidget Feet with A Handful of Dreams at Fitzgerald’s Park, while inclusive popularity was further guaranteed by the grand parade along Oliver Plunkett Street almost to what is actually the Grand Parade.

The Cork Arts Theatre was the forum where the Young Critics’ Panel pronounced on the three productions they had attended during their visit to CMF 2023. In a discussion facilitated by Dr Karen Fricker the members, selected from youth theatre groups throughout Ireland, gave their reactions to the essences of Virgil’s Aeneid as the source of choreographer Philip Connaughton’s world premiere of his dance programme Trojans. “Don’t go to this show expecting to get the book,” said one well-versed critic, while the happy response to the mixture of Shakespeare and circus for Four Lovers prompted a conversation on the impact of sound and light effects on the neurodivergent – how to call the artists to account without censoring the art? The questions were brought blithely together in the panel’s impromptu choral reminder that, after all, it’s your opinion, your call.

Had they been able to take in Sun & Sea (★★★★★), already celebrated at the Venice Biennale of 2019, their quest for dramatic relativity might have been satisfied by this operatic commentary on climate change. The work of Rugile Barzdziukaite, Viava Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte and presented in its Irish premiere by Midsummer, the Everyman, the National Sculpture Factory and supported by Cork City Council, its balmy seaside atmosphere is a layer of summer’s inertia over the haunting, prophetic music and lyrics.

The first world premiere of this year’s festival was Helga Deasy’s Built on Bridges at Dance Cork Firkin Crane on June 14th. Reviewed earlier in the festival, here was another haunting production, creatively powerful in its tender evocation of a city’s dimming past, and a world premiere which might deserve a world stage. That began Midsummer 2023; then, as if to ring the closing curtain up rather than down, came Amanda Coogan, the Dublin Theatre of the Deaf and the Cork Deaf Community Choir.

For this final event the lecture theatre of the Crawford Gallery was tented with lines of clothing and fabrics in vibrant colours. The choirs were costumed in matching patterns and stood facing Coogan, with hands clasped at the waist. From their positions among the seating, from their poise and almost orchestral focus on their conductor, they personified clarity of purpose, unmoving as the introductory fusillade of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (★★★★★) from his 9th Symphony in D minor softened to that familiar anthem. The recording is from the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Brophy at the National Concert Hall last May, with soloists Amy Ní Fhearraigh, Deniz Uzun, Saimir Pirgu and Leon Kosavic and the EU50 choir. Following Coogan’s expressive gestures and led by Lianne Quigley and Alvean Jones, the silent choristers revealed a fluent articulation in their signing fingers and hands and in their responsive body movements and facial expressions as they interpreted the long, exacting repeats of Friedrich Schiller’s lyrics through the physical cohesion of Irish sign language. Their joyous triumph signalled an end to this year’s Midsummer Festival, but it also signalled its success.

Found plays at the Clonmel Junction Arts Festival from July 1st to 9th

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture