Summer is in the air as the Arts Fest gears up

The programme for this year’s Galway International Arts Festival which was launched on Tuesday is strong on new Irish drama, music and art while a broad range of international performers, artists and speakers will also be heading West this July. The Festival’s Artistic Director, Paul Fahy tells JUDY MURPHY what’s in store for audiences.

Theatre fans have lots to look forward to in this year’s Arts Festival programme with new works from Irish playwrights Marina Carr and Mark O’Rowe at the heart of the two-week event.

There’s also a new, hard-hitting and humorous two-hander instigated and written by Galway’s Christian O’Reilly in collaboration with the cast and director that offers a unique perspective on disability and attitudes to people with disability.

The festival programme was launched on Tuesday in the city’s Dean Hotel with many participants in attendance.

This year’s GIAF will open on July 15 and run until July 28, with the opening event being Mark O’Rowe’s Reunion, directed by the writer.

“Having new work is always important but having work of the scale of Reunion is just great,” says the Festival’s artistic director Paul Fahy. “It’s a big, big, cast and you don’t tend to get work written specifically for that size of cast,” he adds of the nine-strong team of actors. Reunion features some of Ireland’s finest performers including Galway’s Cathy Belton, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Venetia Bowe, Simone Collins, Robert Sheehan and Catherine Walker.

A co-production with longtime festival collaborator, Landmark Productions, Reunion is set on an offshore island were a family gathering is taking place.  The arrival of an unexpected visitor throws plans into disarray and within 24 hours, everything has changed.

“It really is an ensemble piece and it’s great to have such a great cast, with Mark directing,” Paul says of Reunion.

The plan is to tour it, a regular occurrence for previous co-productions between Landmark and the festival, but first up is the Galway premiere, he adds.

Unspeakable Conversations comes from Christian O’Reilly, “a writer who is committed to under-represented voices”, says Paul. It’s based on a 2002 debate between US philosopher Peter Singer – who argued that parents should have the right to euthanise disabled children – and solicitor and disability rights activist Harriet McBryde Johnson, who challenged his stance.

Disabled actors Liz Carr and Mat Fraser, both with established screen and stage careers, star in this piece and were involved in its creation with Christian and Olwen Fouéré, who co-directs with Kellie Hughes. Carr who won an Olivier Award in 2022 for her role in The Normal Heart, is known to TV viewers as Clarissa Mullery in Silent Witness. Fraser, meanwhile, has appeared in dramas including His Dark Material and he was the first disabled actor to play Shakespeare’s Richard III. These actors are also friends and this unique play is a mix of them playing the characters from the 2002 debate and also interrogating this life-and-death subject as themselves.

Pictured: Launching the programme are Galway International Arts Festival CEO John Crumlish, right, and Artistic Director Paul Fahy. PHOTO: Mark Stedman

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