Galway International Arts Festival shines through despite Covid-19 challenges

20 September 2021

3 weeks of extraordinary artistic experiences come to an end

Festival highlights included:

A blistering theatrical tour-de-force by Enda Walsh with a cast featuring Domhnall Gleeson.

Extraordinary new visual art project by John Gerrard on a 4,000 year old bog

GIAF’s biggest ever digital programme, including the first festival theatre livestream, making the work accessible to a much wider audience

From Tony Award winning Director Garry Hynes a magnificent capture of the show performed in the historic Coole Park

A stunning major new dance work from Luke Murphy, Volcano

The 2021 Galway International Arts Festival came to a close this weekend. The festival which moved this year from its usual July slot due to the ongoing impact of Covid-19, opened on 28 August with the unveiling of the second part of John Gerrard’s stunning Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work (Derrigimlagh) 2020. Despite all the challenges which it has faced in preparing and planning during stringent Covid-19 restrictions, the festival team delivered an extraordinary programme.

GIAF Delivers Biggest Ever Digital Programme

GIAF 2021 welcomed live audiences back into venues to experience once again the thrill of live performance, while at the same time delivering their biggest ever digital programme. This included a 24/7 live stream of the virtual performance that was being shown on the LED screen of Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work (Derrigimlagh) 2020, accessible from anywhere in the world; an extraordinary evening of music as Other Voices collaborated with the festival for the first time to deliver an unforgettable concert from St Nicholas’ Church, as part of the Courage series \featuring NewDad, Anna Mullarkey, Tolü Makay, Susan O’Neill and Mick Flannery; and the first ever theatre live stream from the festival of Medicine, presented by Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival, written and directed by Enda Walsh.

Audiences can also experience again, the intriguing First Thought Talks series by checking them out the Festival website. Guests such as Misha Glenny; Bonnie Greer; Mike Ryan, Noelle Browne; Siobhan Burke, Sinéad Burke, Fintan O Toole, Peter Lunn and Teresa Lambe amongst others, discussed everything from cyber-hacking to the impact of remote working on rural Ireland to vaccine development. The 2021 Vinyl Hours series saw guests Philip King, Sinéad Burke, Niamh Regan and Brian Kerr, reveal their most treasured songs in special in-conversation events. Catch up with these conversations when they are released next month as part of the First Thought podcast series.

World-class Theatre Premieres in Galway

GIAF 2021 included 10 theatrical premieres and commissions. Standing ovations and rave reviews greeted this exciting new production which starred multi-award-winning actor Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, Brooklyn, Star Wars VIII & IX, Black Mirror, Catastrophe, The Lieutenant of Inishmore) alongside a sensational cast including Clare Barrett, Aoife Duffin and drummer Sean Carpio. Devastatingly funny and profoundly moving, Medicine examines social responses to mental health concerns, while deconstructing the fabric of theatrical performance. This remarkable production wowed critics and audiences alike in Edinburgh and Galway and will play St. Ann’s Warehouse, NY for a limited run from November 11 - December 5. Audiences in Ireland can still experience it themselves at home on demand until 26 September. The production was hailed as a‘superb production … the text is beautifully and bravely teased out by a magnificent cast’ The Scotsman ★★★★★ . The Irish Times said ‘Domhnall Gleeson is a force to be reckoned with. This performance cuts you to the bone’ ★★★★★, The Telegraph stated 'Domhnall Gleeson is soul-shuddering … the wonderfully explosive Aoife Duffin … Clare Barrett on barnstorming form' ★★★★★ while The Sunday Times said Magnificent performances…outstanding actors’ ★★★★★

Druid’s production, The Seagull [after Chekhov] by Thomas Kilroy, directed by Tony Award winner Garry Hynes with director of photography Colm Hogan. Performed in the magical surrounds of Coole Park, this outdoor production was filmed exclusively for GIAF 2021 and was available for audiences all over the world to enjoy on demand. Isobel Desmond and her son Constantine leave London to spend the summer at the family home in Ireland where they will battle artistic disappointments and unrequited love in this classic tragicomedy. This remarkable production stared Brian Doherty, Jack Gleeson, Liam Heslin, Bosco Hogan, Bláithín MacGabhann, Marie Mullen, Agnes O’Casey, John Olohan, Marty Rea, Eileen Walsh, John McHugh, Mary McHugh, Peter Shine.

The production was acclaimed as ‘enthralling’ Sunday Independent and ‘a masterful revival’ Business Post with the Irish Independent saying ‘Garry Hynes might be a perfect director for Chekhov’ .

Audiences were also enthralled by Volcano from Luke Murphy’s Attic Projects. This new work that is part theatre, part mini– series and part dance all wrapped in the tapestry of an unfolding sci–fi thriller. Two characters exist in a living room in disrepair and without a door, where they recreate the greatest hits of old lives – a night at a rave, a favourite game show, an 80’s music video – both passing the time and quietly clinging to distant memories of a life out of reach. Performed over four episodes, Volcano could be enjoyed individually or as a series.

Other theatrical events included the new production of Happy Days performed in the Irish language in the stunning landscape of Inis Oírr from Company SJ and the Abbey Theatre in association with Dublin Theatre Festival and Galway International Arts Festival, an in-person virtual reality experience from Brú Theatre, a new work part theatre, part miniseries, After Love, a new collaborative project led by Stephanie Dufresne, Kevin Barry's Little Kingdoms brought to the stage by Decadent Theatre and a new space to explore in the evolving Rooms series from Enda Walsh and Paul Fahy – Bedsit.

Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work shines in Connemara

The much-anticipated second part of John Gerrard’s Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work (Derrigimlagh) 2020 (a Galway International Arts Festival commission for Galway’s European Capital of Culture 2020) opened the 2021 Festival premiering in Derrigimlagh Bog Connemara. The first part of this mesmerizing work, Mirror Pavilion, Corn Work, premiered last autumn at the Claddagh in Galway City. The Pavilion is a beautiful and striking structure, with three sides and the roof clad in a highly reflective mirror and the fourth wall a high–resolution LED wall. This year, Mirror Pavilion hosted a new artwork, Leaf Work, which unfolded on the LED screen. The artwork is powered by sustainable energy sources.  Derrigimlagh Bog was the site of the station built by Marconi to send his new transatlantic messages and where Alcock and Brown crash landed after the first transatlantic flight in 1919. In Leaf Work a character performed a lament for the effects of these and other accelerating human advances on the non–human world. Interpreted by dancer Finola Cronin the leaf figure performed a lament for a heating planet. Cronin’s movement was motioned captured in the artist’s studio and transformed into data. This data is then constantly recombined to create an endless flow of movement, which we saw on the LED screen. In Leaf Work Gerrard has taken digital technology, usually employed by the commercial gaming industry, to create virtual worlds that simulate extremely detailed and authentic landscapes. The character and landscape we see on the LED screen may look like video or film but they are not; they hovered in what the artist describes as the ‘slippery space’ between the real and the unreal. Watch the 60 second highlights video here: Mirror Pavilion, Leaf Work by John Gerrard

The visual arts programme also included, at the Festival Gallery, Joy Gerrard who unveiled her expanded exhibition Precarious Freedom: Crowds, Flags, Barriers, featuring a number of exciting new pieces. Also at the Festival Gallery, audiences were invited to leave a token of those who have passed away in the last number of months in a unique House of Memory.

The festival team are now looking to 2022 and look forward to announcing plans in due course.

Galway International Arts Festival acknowledges the support of its principal funding agencies, The Arts Council and Fáilte Ireland, Galway City Council, its Education Partner NUI Galway, its Energy Partner Flogas, and Drinks Partner Heineken®.  

Re Mirror Pavilion: Galway International Arts Festival would like to acknowledge the support of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture for funding this project in partnership with Galway city and county local authorities, and for the additional support provided by Festival Energy Partner Flogas, and the support of Aerogen and Blue Sky Ireland.