Demon twins and sci-fi raves at Galway’s gobsmacking arts fest

Adapting to Covid-19 restrictions with ingenuity, Galway international arts festival has embraced hybrid forms of performance: live in theatres, streamed, filmed, recorded for headsets or available for a single audience member to encounter alone. In the case of Attic Projects’ arresting Volcano (★★★★☆), presented in four 45-minute parts, viewers have the intense experience of solo viewing in an individual booth, combined with glimpses of other audience members through glass screens. It can also be watched online in four episodes, like a television mini-series.

Cameras and screens are integral to this ambitious multimedia performance by dance-theatre artists Luke Murphy and Will Thompson, who play X and Y, cooped up in a dingy sitting room with no obvious exit. Think Sartre, Beckett or Enda Walsh, with more choreography. Memories of their lives prior to this mysterious co-dependency are played out in superbly inventive movement sequences – from tender duets to manic raves – triggered by a radio signal that becomes increasingly distorted. For a work created during lockdown, this is unexpectedly exhilarating: its sci-fi premise of a time-capsule sent into space being sufficiently expansive to encompass Covid-inspired questions of what is really of value in life, what is worth saving – and what remains when habitual bonds have loosened.

Explosive … Volcano. Photograph: Emilija Jefremova

In Decadent Theatre company’s There Are Little Kingdoms (★★★★☆) the lives of the inhabitants of a small Irish midlands town intersect all too closely, without assistance from smartphones or social media. Adapted from Kevin Barry’s debut short story collection, multiple characters rub shoulders on the main street or at the North Star Bar over the course of a single day. We are introduced to a pair of teenage girl troublemakers “the demon twins”; a sex-obsessed poultry farmer and a bewildered soul who is trying to figure out how he came to be the owner of a chip shop. With the terrific ensemble cast of seven swapping roles throughout, they succeed in sustaining comic energy, despite the subduing effects of playing to a socially distanced audience of 50 dotted around the auditorium of Galway’s Town Hall theatre.

Seeing Barry’s award-winning stories from 2007 staged now, they seem on the surface to capture a simpler time, around the turn of the millennium. A more complicated picture builds, thanks to director Andrew Flynn’s receptiveness to sudden tonal shifts, from black absurdity to queasy realisations. Barry and Flynn’s chiselled script has an intricate structure, offering shifting perspectives on a tight community in which emotion is kept at bay until it erupts ferociously, leaving damage visible like a bruise.

Decadent Theatre: There Are Little Kingdoms.
Decadent Theatre: There Are Little Kingdoms. Photograph: Brendan Foreman

Salvaged from the cancelled Galway 2020 European capital of culture programme, Branar Theatre’s bilingual Sruth na Teanga (River of Language, ★★★☆☆) takes family audiences through the history of the Irish language. Designed by Maeve Clancy and delivered with a light touch under Marc Mac Lochlainn’s direction, the production incorporates storytelling, music, visual projections, graphics and installations. Miniature figures and model ships recreate the history of colonisation, the penal laws prohibiting the use of Irish, the great famine and 19th-century mass emigration, all at child’s eye-level. While charmingly presented, more developed dramatisation – and some additional English translation – would help to keep young audiences engaged. When we arrive at an overflowing treasure trove of manuscripts, animated by actors Helen Gregg and Eoin Ó Dubhghaill playing comically earnest librarians, words spark into life, connecting language, songs and stories to lived experience.

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