Getting it beautifully right

Heelys, soup, foreign languages, David Bowie. What made the theatre tick in 2006? Colin Murphy tries to remember.


Young Ciara Harrison floats across the stage of the Gate, as if by magic – the magic of heelys. What a simple moment, and stunning, in Selina Cartmell's production of Festen. And more wheels, in Michael Keegan Dolan's The Flowerbed. “Dance theatre” with a BMX, and a lawnmower, and shopping trolleys. The play flags, but it has moments that shine like a Chrome Burner. Standing in Claddagh Records in Temple Bar, gazing across the street through the floor-to-ceiling shopfront window, at a woman sitting along at a table on the pavement opposite, two cups of copy in front of her. And her thoughts, her voice, coming through the speakers in Claddagh, as she talked in her head to her absent brother. And people passing, looking at this woman alone, crying, and looking into the shop at this window of people, watching.

That was part of Fishamble's Whereabouts walkabout show in Temple Bar. Later in the show, standing pressed against the wall of a narrow alleyway off East Essex St, watching John Cronin's surreal comedy of one man finding another dead in the laneway, while snatches of conversation from people passing on the street outside drifted in and mixed with the dialogue. Street theatre.Tom Murphy, on his sofa, stretching, rubbing his head, speaking slowly, hesitantly, wrestling with answers to earnest questions. “If you've got the bug, and if you've got the talent, there's no choice in it. I don't think that one can be a daddy to the children or a husband to the wife: in writing a play one becomes monomaniacal.”Reading his Alice Trilogy in the National Library before the interview, slowly, seeing such anger, despair, beautifully written.“I know a number of very brilliant people. And it isn't necessarily that they went in the wrong door at some stage and couldn't get back out, but they don't seem to have taken any door in particular. Lives half lived,” he says.

Yet on stage, it seems tamer.Sitting slurping lunchtime soup in Bewleys Café Theatre, Grafton St going by busy outside, a world being opened up more slowly on the small stage inside.Backstage with the stagehands of Teatro Delusio, as they fight with each other, fawn on the stars, and are visited by the ghost of the theatre. German company Familie Flöz's puppetry and mask work is simply beautiful, and makes this the most accomplished piece of theatre in the year. Yet it runs for just a couple of quiet nights in Dun Laoghaire.New voices. Polish actress Julia Krynke confronting the new Ireland in Dermot Bolger's Ballymun play, The Townlands of Brazil. And Xia Zi Xin, confronting an older Ireland, as a miniskirted, massage-parlour Pegeen Mike in the recent Chinese Playboy of the Western World, by Pan Pan Theatre. Bring them back. Older voices: Paul Mercier, Stuart Carolan, Nicholas Kelly, Dermot Bolger, each with the ambition to tackle contemporary Ireland and try and wrestle it to the stage (in Homeland, The Empress of India, The Grown-Ups, The Townlands of Brazil).

Contemporary Ireland remains elusive, but it can be glimpsed in moments, and that is exhilerating.Wrapped in blankets in the cold grey of Kilmainham Gaol as Pearse walks to his death through the door that leads to the execution ground. Donal O'Kelly's Operation Easter is shambolic, but searing too.Aaron Monaghan doesn't make it through the door at the end of Enda Walsh's The Walworth Farce. We sit, urging him on, out into a new life, an escape from the savage lunacy in which he has been caught up. But at the last moment he turns back, stepping over the dead bodies of his father and brother, unable to free himself from their grasp. Pathos too in Everyday, by Corn Exchange, as Andrew Bennet's civil servant tries to drown himself in the canal while, upstage, Mark O'Halloran's aging punk-rocker flails around to the voice in his head singing Bowie's ‘Life on Mars'. “It's the freakiest sho-ow-ow-ow,” he sings. But it's not. It's life and, sometimes this year, the theatre got it beautifully right.