THEATRE / An agitprop Oliver]: Dublin Theatre - Festival

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The Independent Culture
A pyrotechnic staging, big names and a local (and incendiary) story combine to make Peter and Jim Sheridan's revival of James Plunkett's The Risen People the most alluring production of this year's Dublin Theatre Festival.

The brothers' latest overhaul (the play has been reworked as a novel and a TV drama) installs an entirely new piece of dramatic architecture, in which a couple of tenement dwellers watch Aida performed by candlelight in a blacked-out theatre, and in the process rebuilds Plunkett's play as a sort of agitprop Oliver] When the Egyptian singers and their slaves vacate the stage, the wastrels of old Dublin ooze on to lament the cause of the working classes. But no matter how smoothly the steel green sets of interlocking Constructivist doodles shimmy around the stage, they can never quite disguise the fact that, unlike Verdi's Aida, Plunkett's tale is far from timeless.

The critical reinstatement of the comedy of Hugh Leonard and Bernard Farrell in the self-consciously serious canon of Irish theatre has coincided with a younger generation's first experiments in bedroom farce. Hidden Charges aims to be a snappier version of the sort of sideswipe at middle- class Dublin life in which Farrell once specialised. Unfortunately the play falls gratingly short of even this modest ambition. Having brought together his bundle of emotionally distorted Irish stereotypes (sophisticated urbanites unsettled by a bungling country cousin), Arthur Riordan sets about rummaging through the embers of over familiar Irish themes, before consumating the drama in a manoeuvre of such lumbering inevitability that the evening finally flips from humourless to risible.

Marina Carr's The Mai, directed by Brian Brady, became the Abbey's festival centrepiece by default, when Sebastian Barry's The Only True History of Lizzie Finn was cancelled. If this burden wasn't enough, The Mai also found itself bearing the unsought standard for Irish women's drama. Happily for the local reputation of the National Theatre, and for anyone else who saw Carr's play as crucial, The Mai proved to be as convincing a theatrical event as Dublin has seen in some time. Key performances from Olwen Fouere and Joan O'Hara hold together Carr's vision of a gathering of four generations of addled Irish women, brutalised by lost and found love, reeling in the slipstream of their fantasies.

The Mai marks the maturing of a hugely valuable dramatic voice but, surprisingly, not one entirely free from the traits of more familiar Irish dramatists - this is yet another play spurred to its grim climax by intoxication. Other Irish voices are perhaps beginning to be heard, but they are still speaking with a familiar slur.

'The Risen People', Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. Booking: (010 353 1) 677 1717 to 20 Nov; 'The Mai', Peacock Theatre, Dublin. Booking: (010 353 1) 878 7222 to 5 Nov; 'Hidden Charges', Project Arts Theatre, Dublin. Booking: (010 353 1) 671 2321 to 5 Nov, then touring