Irish Heart

By Liao Fangzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2015-3-24 18:48:02

It is that shamrock-green time of year when the Irish festival Féile Shanghai is back in town, during which the diverse, 17-day program revisited some of Ireland's greatest cultural exports.

"Culture and literature were very much at the heart of last December's visit to China by Ireland President Michael D. Higgins, who himself is a poet," said Austin Gormley, the Consul General of Ireland in Shanghai. "It is appropriate that culture once again be at the heart of our Saint Patrick's Day celebration in Shanghai."

Indeed, many people from China and around the world have, at some point in their lives, fallen in love with Irish drama, very often thanks to the sharp and witty Nobel Prize in Literature winner George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and more recently, Brian Friel, often referred to as an "Irish Chekhov."

The Irish Theater event at Shanghai Grand Theatre on Saturday afternoon was an occasion to revisit these two playwrights' gifts of storytelling and dialogue. Local English-language theater production company Urban Aphrodite performed scenes from Friel's 1990 play Dancing at Lughnasa, followed by Shaw's satire Pygmalion (1913).

Even though the five actresses playing the Mundy sisters in Dancing at Lughnasa are from the United States and Canada, they managed to impress the audience, and especially Consul General Gormley, with their faux Irish accents.

In Pygmalion, a phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, played by an Englishman of Irish heritage, Paul Collins, wagers that he can train flower girl Eliza to pass for a duchess. The acting troupe performed a dramatic scene in which Eliza finds out about the bet and a confrontation at a high-class garden party breaks out.

Ann James, Urban Aphrodite's founding director and producer, gave introductions about the playwrights and their works, but highly encouraged the audience to read the entire plays.

She pointed out that the resonance of Pygmalion, a story about personal identity and societal transitions, is timeless. "Women in the 19th century were in a situation where they were basically considered property. George Bernard Shaw reflected on this and turned it into a satire," James said. "Shaw felt that women should have their own identities and ideas, and educate themselves."

The final Féile Festival event fell on Monday night to introduce Small World, an exhibition of Chinese and Irish contemporary art inspired by the romantic poetry of Ireland-born W.B. Yeats (1865-1939). It was also an occasion to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Yeats, widely considered one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature.

Fion Gunn, Brendan Jamison, and Mark Revels, representatives of the Irish artists taking part in Small World, gave talks about the exhibition, which currently takes place at M50 Shanghai's Sanwei Art Center.

Gunn said the group show focuses on the power of miniature artwork, including small-scale 3D works, to disorient the viewer and create a "Gulliver-like" awareness, referring to an 18th-century story by Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift. Yeats, who had a notably acute focus on visual imagery and a relentless exploration of intimacy, is the perfect literary companion for these innovative and complex works.

Long Fen, who attended the event on her first night back in China after teaching at a piano conservatory in Ireland for the past five years, said her fascination with Irish culture lies in its lighthearted exuberance.

"Unlike artistic events in China that tend to focus on forms and try to be perfect, Irish approaches are more relaxed and fun, just like this talk," Long told the Global Times.

Jenny, who works at an architecture firm in Shanghai, said she knew very little about Irish art before the event, but through the presentations came to appreciate Irish artists' awareness of social issues.

"Their works are reflective of political discord and social violence," she pointed out. "But I am impressed by the fact that they often balance manifestations of these negative forces with soft textures, like wool. I think it shows their hopefulness towards peace."

Féile Shanghai is a celebration of Irish culture and Saint Patrick's Day. It is supported by the Consulate General of Ireland, Irish Chamber of Commerce China, and Le Chéile (The Irish Community of Shanghai) among many others.

A performance of Pygmalion on Saturday


Brendan Jamison and Fion Gunn give a talk.

Photos: Liao Fangzhou/GT


People celebrating Saint Patrick's Day in Dublin

Photo: CFP

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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