From Beckett to A Christmas Carol, but not the Gate Theatre as we know it

Selina Cartmell unveils a new season featuring collaborations with Colm Tóibín, Stanley Townsend, Garry Hynes, Anu and Dead Centre

Samuel Beckett and A Christmas Carol – both with strong associations with the Gate Theatre over past decades – will return this year, but in new guises. The Dublin theatre's director, Selina Cartmell, announced them today as among her shows for autumn-winter 2019, under her Love and Courage umbrella.

As part of the announcement, some of the people who will collaborate on the productions with the Gate, from the writer Colm Tóibín to the actor Stanley Townsend to the director Garry Hynes, visited the theatre today to pose for portraits by the photographer Conor Horgan in a temporary studio on the Gate's stage. Theatre artists collided and chatted as they came and went.

Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd of Dead Centre theatre company posed for Horgan together in advance of Beckett's Room, which they are working on with Mark O'Halloran; one of three Gate shows during this year's Dublin Theatre Festival, it is described as "an invitation to bear witness to a world as it disappears".

The new play imagines Samuel Beckett in the apartment in Paris where he and his partner, Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil, lived during the second World War. There will be no performers onstage; the audience will listen through headphones while the story unfolds in front of them. Moukarzel and Kidd said it’s a “play performed by ghosts”.


This is, among other things, a technical challenge, and they talked about drawing on illusion and puppetry, along with binaural technology, to create the “ghost” action. “We’re interested in absence and presence. And we wanted to do something that the only way to see if it works is by doing it.”

In the Gate's green room they chatted with Townsend, who will reprise his one-man show Incantata, an elegy to life, love and loss, based on Paul Muldoon's poem. It was first seen at the 2018 Galway International Arts Festival. Townsend said he and and the production's director, Sam Yates, met Muldoon, who talked about his intense grief after his lover died, and about writing the poem in that grief.

They are rerehearsing, to refine it for this run, but Townsend seems to have Incantata ingrained on his soul; he recalled the advice of his wife, Orla Charlton, early on: "Know it like a prayer, she said, and then you're in charge. And then you can be imaginative and free, and wrestle and conjure."

Tóibín has written Pale Sister for Lisa Dwan, the Irish actor, who worked with him at Columbia University in the spring of 2018, presenting a course, the Antigone Project. Pale Sister is a dramatisation of the voice of Ismene, recounting her sister Antigone's defiance of the king, Creon, as pressures mount on Ismene. This is the first Irish theatre coproduction with Audible, the Amazon-owned producer of audiobooks and other spoken-word media.

The Antigone Project drew on a distillation of Tóibín and Dwan’s work, as well as on input from and collaboration with Columbia students and faculty in areas from Shakespeare studies to law to Greek. It is, said Tóibín, “the most performed play in the world at the moment”. Written for a contemporary audience, it is set against the current gender-politics background. “This is a woman defying a man, a king.”

Shortly after the 14-week course, Tóibín was diagnosed with cancer, about which he has written evocatively; he is now healthy (and going to the gym), he said; the project seems to have bookended his illness.

Hynes, dropping in for her portrait, said Jane Brennan and Marty Rea will play mother and son in the Druid and Gate Theatre coproduction of Nancy Harris's new play, The Beacon, which is also running during Dublin Theatre Festival. Part of Druid's commitment to producing a year of new writing, it is set on an island off west Co Cork, and involves secrets from the past and psychological revelations.

Crossing the road from the Gate's offices, where they are artists-in-residence, Louise Lowe and Owen Boss chatted about the Anu and Gate coproduction Faultline (which will be offsite), drawing on Irish Queer Archive and National Library of Ireland documents and capturing a moment in time. In 1982, unrelated events ruptured Ireland's LGBTQ+ community, and the privacy of 1,500 people was invaded, ultimately resulting in a mass exodus from Ireland in search of anonymity and refuge. Lowe envisages a show about the beginning of change in Ireland as "dreamline in a hallucinogenic sense, capturing the texture, taste and feeling of that time".

A Christmas Carol returns to the Gate in December. Fifteen years after the last of several productions of Charles Dickens's novel at the theatre, between 1990 and 2004, Cartmell will direct the Irish premiere of Jack Thorne's reimagined version, which questions treating poverty as a moral vice, and promises to put inclusivity and community centre stage. Owen Roe will play Scrooge, and there will be "female ghosts, I hope", said Cartmell, who plans to take the seats out and reconfigure the auditorium, for a "an adaptation that feels relevant for today".

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times