With 28 productions on show over three weeks, 16 produced by Irish companies, the 2011 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival, appears to bear little resemblance to its Edinburgh counterpart, even taken alongside the Absolut Fringe festival which immediately precedes it.

Despite the “Dublin Loves Drama” banners posted around town, there’s little sense of the city-wide saturation of Edinburgh in August. Unlike the free-for-all of the Edinburgh Fringe, the Dublin event is curated, and the care taken over both the Absolut Fringe and the Theatre Festival programmes is more akin to Edinburgh International Festival. With Dublin concentrating solely on theatre, and with no crossover between the two events in terms of timing (the Fringe happens in September, the theatre festival in October), both are self-contained, with little chance of major work being swamped.

In the 2011 programme, the crossover with Edinburgh and Scotland’s theatre scene in terms of personnel is vast. There is a significant presence of Edinburgh Fringe favourites. The Animals And Children Take To The Streets, the second show by the 1927 company, who meld animation, songs and a subversive take on 1920s aesthetics, was first seen at the Traverse in January prior to a full August run at the Pleasance. Also looking to the past for inspiration is diva Camille O’Sullivan, who in Dublin joins forces with actor Lorcan Cranitch for The Lulu House, a musical installation inspired by Wedekind’s Lulu Plays.

Pat Kiernan’s Corcadorca company announced the arrival of playwright Enda Walsh and actors Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh back in 1997 when they brought Walsh’s blistering debut, Disco Pigs, to Edinburgh. Now 14 years on, Kiernan directs Eileen Walsh, now resident in Edinburgh, in Request Programme, German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz’s wordless close-up of a woman’s final hours.

All these works point to some over-riding themes running through this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival, in which women dominate both onstage and off. So while male directors such as Howard Davies, Patrick Mason and Dutch wunderkind Ivo van Hove oversee some of the key works on show, they don’t throw their weight around unless the work requires it.

Davies’s production of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and The Paycock at The Abbey Theatre, a co-production with the National Theatre in London where it will transfer, is a case in point. While such a collaboration would have been considered betrayal when the play first appeared in the original Abbey in 1924, here O’Casey’s tenement-set yarn is delivered with a confidence and brio that never avoids the underlying seriousness of the play.

Sinead Cusack is a wonder as Juno, keeping body and soul together while her emasculated spouse Johnny, played by former Citizens actor Ciaran Hinds, self-mythologises himself into the gutter. Cusack and Hinds bring O’Casey’s play to life with a rare confidence that isn’t about grand-standing, but more lays bare what happens when the poor are made even poorer.

Dutch director Ivo Van Hove is renowned for reinventing neglected classics as high-octane portraits of lives in crisis. He did this in Edinburgh with Caligula and Marguerite Duras’s India Song, and he does it again in the black box space of Trinity University’s Beckett Centre.

It would be easy to treat Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play, La Voix Humaine, in which a woman hangs on the telephone for a lover who refuses to connect, with a fetishistic eye for period detail. Having the fearless actor Halina Reijn appear behind the glass window of what appears to be a high-rise flat with her hair scraped back and wearing tracksuit bottoms and trainers, lends what follows a stark and brutal modernity.

As with Request Programme, La Voix Humaine is a painful study of what goes on before a suicide. The women in both plays have something missing from their lives. In La Voix Humaine, soundtracked here with Paul Simon’s Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover, only the voice at the other end of the telephone keeps her alive. After she’s hung up, there’s nothing left.

There are echoes of O’Casey’s Juno at the O’Reilly Theatre in Belvedere College in Arthur Riordan’s audacious new version of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. These can be seen n the flights of fancy Peer embarks on, but especially in the figure of his mother, who indulges and eventually loses her son. Peer travels to dark psychic waters in Lynne Parker’s production for Rough Magic, as O’Riordan and Parker place the action in a psychiatric ward, where Peer can give full vent to his wanderings without ever going anywhere.

A cast of eight, led by Rory Nolan as a pyjama-clad Peer, give a rollicking run through the first half of the play. Riordan’s rhyming dialogue, punctuated by five-piece band Tarab’s live score, possesses the sing-song playfulness of Dr Seuss before the fun stops. Time and again Peer is left in silence, until he too resembles Juno’s Johnny, lost and alone.

A mother’s losses find an even greater emotional outpouring over at the Project Arts Centre in Testament, Colm Toibin’s astonishing dramatic monologue, performed in Garry Hynes’s pitch perfect production by a heart-rending Marie Mullen. Audiences walk along a path of sand to enter the auditorium, suggesting we too are on the road to Calvary.

When the false ceiling rolls back to reveal projections of dark clouds with the odd shaft of light piercing through, one could be fooled into thinking this to be Mary’s story, rather than the bit-part player in the biblical legend it is actually about.

In a room bare except for a table and an empty chair, Mullen slowly unleashes a tale of warped miracles, and how the cause that robbed her of her boy made her look to the old, less dogmatic gods for comfort.

There’s something elemental at play here, which Mullen captures in the quiet rhythms of her incantations. When she mimes crucifixion, the shadows she throws up look like she’s protecting her offspring in a performance so staggering as to be worth the trip to Dublin all by itself.

Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival runs until Sunday. visit www.dublintheatrefestival.com.