Believe it or not, there is life beyond the pub. There are comedy clubs and classical concerts, recitals and readings, marionettes and music – lots of music. The other great Dublin treat is the theatre, where you can enjoy a light-hearted musical alongside the more serious stuff by Beckett, Yeats and O'Casey – not to mention a host of new talents.
Despite Dublin's rich theatrical heritage, times are tough for the city's thespians. Once upon a time, everybody went to the theatre to see the latest offering by Synge, Yeats or O'Casey. Nowadays a night at the theatre is the preserve of the passionate few, which has resulted in the city's bigger theatres taking a conservative approach to their programming and many fringe companies having to make do with non-theatrical spaces to showcase their skills.
The theatre scene in Dublin is rarely without controversy – in 2019, more than 300 members of the theatre community signed a letter to the Minister for Culture, condemning the way in which the Abbey Theatre has been run since the appointment of new directors in 2016. Concerns were raised about the decrease in Irish-based actors employed by what is the national theatre, founded with the intent of supporting homegrown talent. As a result, it's likely future seasons will focus more on Irish productions, many of which more than hold their own on the world stage.
Theatre bookings can usually be made by quoting a credit-card number over the phone, then you can collect your tickets just before the performance. Expect to pay anything between €12 and €25 for most shows, with some costing as much as €30. Most plays begin between 8pm and 8.30pm. Check www.irishtheatreonline.com to see what's playing.
For around three weeks between the end of September and early October most of the city's theatres participate in the Dublin Theatre Festival, originally founded in 1957 and today a glittering parade of quality productions and elaborate shows.
Initially a festival for those shows too 'out there' or insignificant to be considered for the main festival, the Dublin Fringe Festival is now a two-week extravaganza with more than 100 events and over 700 performances. The established critics may keep their reviews for the bigger festival, but we strongly recommend the Fringe for its daring and diversity.
The Irish have a reputation for hilarity – mostly off-the-cuff, iconoclastic humour – and the funniest of them generally find their way out of Ireland and onto bigger stages. Notable among these are Dara Ó Briain, Dylan Moran and Chris O'Dowd, who's a bona fide star thanks to films such as Bridesmaids (2011) and This Is 40 (2012).
Other big names to look out for include Sharon Horgan, the Irish-born, London-based creator and star of TV sitcoms Pulling, Catastrophe and Divorce, the last starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Another big talent is David O'Doherty, who's been a festival winner since the early noughties, and is now a regular on the UK comedy TV circuit. Newcomers to the scene include Kildare-born, London-based Aisling Bea, who besides comedy has also starred in crime thriller The Fall, and Alison Spittle, who also hosts an excellent eponymous podcast.
Of the five cinemas in the city centre, two (Irish Film Institute and Lighthouse) offer a more offbeat list of foreign releases and art-house films. Save yourself the hassle of queuing and book your tickets online, especially for Sunday-evening screenings of popular first-run films. After drinking sessions on Friday and Saturday nights, most Dubliners have neither the energy nor the cash for more of the same, so it's a trip to the cinema at the end of the weekend. Admission prices are generally €9. If you have a student card, you pay only €6.
Dubliners love their live music and are as enthusiastic about supporting local acts as they are about cheering touring international stars – even if the latter command the bigger crowds and ticket prices. You can sometimes buy tickets at the venue itself, but you're probably better off going through an agent. Prices for gigs range dramatically, from as low as €5 for a tiny local act to anywhere up to €90 for the really big international stars. The listings sections of both paper and online resources will have all the gigs.
Traditional & Folk
The best place to hear traditional music is in the pub, where the 'session' – improvised or scheduled – is still best attended by foreign visitors who appreciate the form far more than most Dubs and will relish any opportunity to drink and toe-tap to some extraordinary virtuoso performances.
Also worth checking out is the Temple Bar Trad Festival, which takes place in the pubs of Temple Bar over the last weekend in January. For online info on sessions, check out www.dublinsessions.ie.
Classical music is constantly fighting an uphill battle in Dublin, with inadequate funding, poor management and questionable repertoire all contributing to its limited appeal. Resources are appalling, and there's neither the talent nor the funding to match their European counterparts. But before lambasting Ireland's commitment to classical forms, it's well worth bearing in mind that this country has never had a tradition of classical music or lyric opera – the musical talents round these parts naturally focused their attentions on Ireland's homegrown repertoire of traditional music. And still they managed to produce one of the great lyric tenors of the 20th century, Count John McCormack (1884–1945).
But it's not all doom and gloom. Classical music may be small fry, but it survives thanks to the efforts of a number of (subsidised) orchestras and the Opera Theatre Company, which works to keep opera alive. Bookings for all classical gigs can be made either at the venues or through Ticketmaster.
Need to Know
Theatre, comedy and classical concerts are usually booked directly through the venue. Otherwise you can buy through booking agencies such as Ticketmaster, which sells tickets to every genre of big- and medium-sized show – but be aware that it levies a 12.5% service charge.
Look out for good-value pre-theatre menus in some restaurants, which will serve dinner before opening curtain and coffee and drinks after the final act.
- Doors for most gigs open at 7pm.
- By law, gigs in bigger venues and arenas finish by 11pm.
- The Herald (www.herald.ie) The Thursday edition has a good listings page.
- Hot Press (www.hotpress.com) Fortnightly music mag; Ireland's answer to NME or Rolling Stone.
- Irish Times (www.irishtimes.com) Friday listings pullout called 'The Ticket'.
- Irish Independent (www.independent.ie) 'Night/Day' listings pullout on Friday.
- Entertainment.ie (www.entertainment.ie) For all events.
- MCD (www.mcd.ie) Biggest promoter in Ireland.
- Nialler9 (www.nialler9.com) Excellent indie blog with listings.
- Totally Dublin (www.totallydublin.ie) Comprehensive listings and reviews.
- What's On In (www.whatsonin.ie) From markets to gigs and club nights.