RTE Arena Live at Dublin Book Festival – Review

RTE Arena Live at Dublin Book Festival

If CS Lewis was right, and the future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, then last night’s live recording of RTE’s Arena at the Dublin Book Festival tried to make that journey as interesting as possible. The rigid radio format was a reminder of just how much can be done within so short a timeframe. From readings by Irish emerging authors to discussions with young playwrights to street poetry and song writing, presenter Sean Rocks admirably juggled the live audience in Smock Alley’s main theatre with the requisite of entertaining listeners around the country. And if the hour-long show was bringing us towards a future, it was one where emigration and identity featured prominently.

Starting with an evocative and beautifully read extract from emigrant Sarah Maria Griffin’s forthcoming memoir Not Lost, the thread of leaving and returning to Ireland ran through most of the night’s discussions. Elizabeth Reapy, the Irish representative in International PEN’s New Voices Award, set her bad acid trip story in the Australian outback, where she emigrated for a year, ‘stealing bits of other people’s culture’ to bring back home with her.

Another emerging talent to leave these shores is Lucy Montague-Moffatt, whose move to Manchester to study TV and scriptwriting didn’t seem all that far away, as she referenced the thirty-five minute flight it takes to bring her home, by comparison with Gleeson’s San Francisco or Ready’s antipodean adventures. Dublin playwright and performer Shaun Dunne never left Ireland, and his reading from I’m A Homebird, written when Dunne was only twenty-one, nailed the resentment and confusion of those who are left behind, but ultimately saw the opportunity that remains in recessionary Ireland: “There is room here,” he said. “It’s a fixer upper.”

Spliced with the panel discussions were a variety of performances, each effective in their own right but elevated again by their contrasting forms. First up were street poets GI, Costello and Willa Lee, whose combination of rap (Costello) and visceral acapella singing (Lee) shone with the sincerity of two young Irish guys wanting to express themselves.

Running on to a Q&A in the IFI for the premiere of their highly-recommended film Broken Song, Costello said his lyrics are about a search for identity, noting the buzz of being able to ‘stand up in front of all these people and say who we are.’

Other musical entertainment came from singer-songwriter Fiach Moriarty’s lovely Don’t Want To Let You Down and The Late David Turpin’s excellent electro gothic mentalness, deadpan in sentiment and display but with an undertone of humour as he sang about a different kind of love, one that develops follicle by follicle, all paws and fur and hair. Taking to the same mic was Colin Barrett, the author of the much-lauded Young Skins short story collection published in September by Stinging Fly Press. Barrett’s excerpt about drug dealer Dympna and his right-hand man Arm gave a glimpse into the dark humour of the fictional Glanbeigh that his characters inhabit, ‘a Wild West, a wide open space where the people can do what they want.’

Review by Sarah Gilmartin

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