Review of Dublin Theatre Festival

Niall Toibin remembers 'Gargantuan Galas of Gargle'.

I have heard the Dublin Theatre Festival dismissed, before its time, as an assemblage of Thespeans, Lesbeans and Has-beans. As a sporadic participant in one (possibly two - take your pick) of those categories, my own recollections are of a gargantuan gala of gargle.

Financially, (apart from the City of New York), the Festival is the world's most spectular and persistent disaster, applauded each year by its aghast observers for its last performance prior to its ever astonishing plunge into final and irretrievable penury.

This annual rodeo has little to do, professionally, with actors. The bronco bucks no better or worse for the Festival brand on its rump. Actors see very few Festival shows; they have not the time, or are re. ting, in which case they have no desire to see what their less talented fellows are up to.

The Press is especially suspect at Festival time. The proliferation of productions makes impossible demands on the few literate assessors around and requires the recruitment of extra reviewers. There is no public competition for these posts, auditions are not held on pent-house couches, nor are the candidates press ganged from the exchange like temporary postmen at Christmas.

In any case, the prospect of fresh critical talent emerging is one of the perennial threats of the Festival, so the hardened mummer gloomily plays spot the Balls amid the forest of fresh initials that sprout all over the Theatre pages. There is a morbid pride in being panned by some long-established jackkass, incorrigibly misinformed and of proven inanity. But a terrifying unease accompanies a notice signed with what seems like an incomplete car registration number.

Apart from the drink which seemed to flow fairly freely in the first years, one can summon up a rosy recollection of one or two early Festivals when the promised land shimmered on a horizon dimly glimpsed through the windows of the London quality press. The barrierrbreaking triumph of "Stephen D." released a stampede of Irish talent upon the lush plains of the West End and.for years Mr. Hugh Leonard was the sole prop of the Festival Export Mart.

In an odd way the real stars of the Festival became the foreign pressmen, who could trumpet one's talent over the Great White Way. Some garret walls are doubtless still brightened by a ].W. Lambert, an Irving Wardle, perhaps a coveted Walter Kerr. This attachment to alien approval irks the local scribes, so is better kept to oneself.

Reputations were made overnight for actors, writers, directors and in a curiously timeless Dublin fashion still survive, as overnight reputations. (No, thanks, you name them). Time has been less preservative of similar sudden fame gained by a handful of critical enfants terribles. Let me not name them to you, chaste Stars, lest the very mention summon them fulminating from deserved oblivion. But where are they now, those Agates of another age?

But back to the Drink. Early on the Catholic Stage Guild opened its doors to the Festival Club, which then made its way by syncopation, "an irregular moveement from bar to bar", to the Gresham, the Shelbourne, J urys, the Sunbeam Wolsey Warehouse, the Mansion House, the Ballerina, The Garda Club, the Tailors' Hall and other venues for its away games, playing at home as ever in Groome's, with undiminished vicciousness. But that was the Night Drink.

The morning drink, for those most closely involved in a production, posed an agonising choice. One could procure the hair of the dog for a modest outlay in Sinnots and savage the critics amid the concurring rhubarb. But it was cheaper to go to the morning Press Conference, a curious and wounding blood-sport peculiar I believe to Dublin, in which the opposing factions were plied with free hooch by the Festival, and then at the drop of Brendan Smith's hankie, let loose upon each other a torrent of recrimination until such time as rehearsals, or a lunch-time reception at the Buttery caused one side or other to withdraw.

And it's all on again, folks. Yes Once more, we are proud to announce the return of the Amazing, the Indestructible Brendan Smith and his Death-defying Festival. .