Dear Ireland presented by The Abbey Theatre. Image uncredited Into the final furlong and Dear Ireland: Part Four makes an eager dash for the finish line, letting loose the reins and charging home in considerable style. Featuring several strong productions, communicating digitally still dominates as a vehicle with many characters talking to, or through, devices. The dangers of technology addressed in A Letter To The Manager by Sonya Kelly, in which Deirdre Donnelly confides the daily banalities of her loneliness in a letter of complaint, highlighting the limits of technology when it comes to human connectedness. Attempts to reclaim that connectedness being one of Dear Ireland's noted ambitions. Fracturing isolation through isolated monologues to become bigger than the sum of its component parts. If there’s lessons to be learned, one must surely be that comedy deserves to feature more in any similar endeavours. Despite the most uncomfortable close-ups ever, the delightful End Meeting? by Darach Mac Con Iomaire, finds Eoin Ó Dughgaill hilariously poking fun at the narcissistic vanities of actors, now an essential service engaging in acts of charity. Deliciously irreverent and delightfully refreshing, Ó Dughgaill bursts much of the seriousness of the Dear Ireland bubble. The delightfully deceptive The Good Thief, by David Ireland, sees the recently burgled Abigail McGibbon wondering what Jesus would do with her bible thumping mother. Likely to leave you LOL, McGibbon's understatement shines in this subtle, dark comedy. Efforts to engage visually prove hugely impressive in several instances. The Golden on the Grey, reuniting Margaret Perry with Breffni Holahan, delivers a series of disjointed fragments that play like stanzas making up a complex whole. One in which Holahan is magnetic as she reflects in isolation, the camera simply adoring her. As it does Kathy Rose O’Brien’s in Joseph O’Connor’s equally fragmented Grace, as Rose O’Brien hugs her cardigan like a comfort blanket, or a sneaky cigarette, video diary-ing her life and relationship under Covid-19. Right upon to the final, cryptic image. Another reunion sees Ciara Elizabeth Smyth reunite with Camille Lucy Ross in the impressive Party Party, in which Ross boasts of her amazing life with a self-aware twist in the tale. Delivered as a staccato of lines and images, this deceptive study of loneliness over breakfast, lunch and dinner, also keeps you guessing after the end. Several character studies also deliver some clever twists. Flake, by Keith James Walker, sees a pitch perfect Ashleigh Dorrell imagining a dystopian future while remembering a night in paradise, all leading to a deliciously wicked ending. Let’s Unpack That Shall We sees Una McKevitt give a clever twist to Katherine Lynch’s profession as an online counsellor helping with Corona overload. The past and the present collide in several productions, including Joe by Mark O’Halloran, in which an aged Andrew Bennett, struggling with laboured breathing, delivers another superb study in loneliness and the hope of second chances. Conversations With… by Jody O’Neill, finds Marie Mullen condemning caring Ireland for not caring then, looking back to when children were taken from unmarried mothers, the pain revealed in Mullen’s superbly understated performance. A glorious Peter Gowen, failing to see eye to eye with his daughter, delivers monologue as personal encounter in the delightful comedy of error The Three Irishmen by Kit De Waal, in which new and old Ireland clash with unvarnished verve. Innovation, textual and visual, pushes at boundaries in Stone Mad From The Flavour Of The World by Blindboy. In which Cathy Belton’s surreal inner monologue is delivered against a pulsing beat, wondering if Michael D.Higgins might yet save us all. The Temple Is Closed, written and performed by Emmet Kirwan, opens like an Ad Exec's pitch with its graphics and images, before a wonderfully self-deprecating Kirwan spins off to play with narrative with a Pirandello-like playfulness. At the heart of Dear Ireland lie unique and diverse voices struggling under Covid-19. Dear Ireland You Will Hardly Notice My Absence by Rosaleen McDonagh might risk Sorcha Fox descending into a noise cancelling rant because the world owes her something, but listen a little closer. A prison cell, hospital ward, or hotel room, Fox finds no softness in humanity as a traveller housed in a hotel supervised by the same bigoted manager who refused her admission ten years before on her wedding day. Veering towards a life altering decision, it becomes clear that self-isolating is nothing new to Fox for whom keeping her distance was already a speciality. Heartfelt and heartbreaking, an impressive Fox, and some fine writing by McDonagh, deliver a wrenching study of a woman lost between worlds. One of McDonagh’s most compelling works to date. Setting out into uncharted waters, Dear Ireland was an ambitious undertaking. One involving a monumental amount of work, with very little time to deliver. Sure, some pieces are stronger than others, text sometimes struggles with the medium, and the unforgivable commercials look cheap and tacky. But Dear Ireland brought individuals back into community, sharing their talents in a time of need. As a first step into a new possibility, results are often impressive. Nothing can never replace live performance, but when the deserved back slapping ceases, there’s much Dear Ireland can be proud of in the cold, hard light of hindsight. Congratulations to everyone involved, including all those behind the scenes. There are six months in which all fifty monologues in this historic endeavour can be viewed online. Enjoy them at your leisure. Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre, can be viewed for six months from May 2 on their dedicated Youtube channel. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.
Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre. Image uncredited Despite Dear Ireland: Part Three delivering a more cinematic feel, several productions still found themselves mired within prose styled structures. Again, communicating digitally dominates as a format. Yet several play cleverly with the device to deliver strong performances. Making for a strong overall showing, despite one major disappointment. The drawback of text superseding screen is evident in the ploddingly paced These Four Walls by Sinéad Burke, in which Eleanor Walsh’s school teacher talks about her students, wanting to give them what they need and not just what the syllabus requires. The cautionary A Hand of Jacks, by Dermot Bolger, might kick off with the visual flourishes of a full scale movie, replete with credits and sentimental soundtrack, but again there’s a performative disparity between image and text. Throughout, action often amounts to little more than a voice over as Dawn Bradfield ponders ponderously on death and grief. Kathy Barry's by Karen Coogan, sees Siobhán McSweeney observing the impact of lockdown with the professionalism of a seasoned curtain peeper, distilling richly observed details into a literary flow laced with hope. West, by Ursula Rani Sarma, finds Owen McDonnell as a grief stricken man struggling with the death of his father back home. Dark and doom laden, the endless ‘what if’s’ posit endless negative scenarios, leaving him wondering if he’ll be able to cope if things get worst. A more successful embracing of the visual medium is very much evident in The Meadow by Jimmy Murphy, which finds a breathy Clare Dunne, with a compliant ladybird, waxing pastoral by the riverbank as she remembers her Nan. Delivered as an inner monologue, Dunne meanders in moody silence through woods as she reconnects to the forgotten earth for sustenance, even if the cows might need a bit more getting used to. Similarly, the three scened Staring At The Sun by Stacey Gregg, which sees Conor MacNeill tell a fractured tale bordering on the confusing, again built around an economic visual sensibility. Most successful of all is the sublime I Know You by Zhu Yi, in which Julia Gu’s good girl doppelgänger dishes advice like a reprimanding super-ego. Kicking literary meditations to the curb, Yi’s refreshingly smart tale kicks of with the ferocity of a Sci-Fi thriller. As Irish as a Chinese women enjoying St. Patrick's Day in America, Yi explores cultural difference and the different responses to Covid-19 with fearless good fun, exploiting visual possibilities with ingenuity. Smart, funny, and utterly engaging, humour laced with wisdom is writ large. Communicating with yourself might often be the hardest, but it’s rarely been done better. Looking beyond the immediacy of lockdown, Pom Boyd’s After This Thing channels her inner 70s to a soundtrack by Mud. As Boyd’s passionate concern for conservation plays out in black and white and colour, Brendan Gleeson’s architect looks down his nose as he advises on the ways of the world. Played with exaggerated arrogance, Gleeson’s easy target is a joy to hate. If Boyd’s embittered satire has Gleeson looking like a child making fun of the headmaster, the conservationist message is vitally important: nothing’s protected. You’ve been warned. And doubly warned with an ironic, Freudian slip of a YouTube commercial cutting an impressive Gleeson off as he wrapped things up. At least during this viewing. Guess nothing really is protected after all. Why expect theatre to be any different? The idea of looking beyond lockdown continues in Tara’s Hill by TKB, which sees Ericka Roe delivering an online video session live from a homeless hotel. Suffused with a wonderful earthiness, Roe cuts through politics like a refreshing breeze, with the common voice on her discussing Ireland, Leo, and defending her ability to write spoken word. Alone, forgotten, she’s determined not to remain that way, delivering a homage to all the Charlenes everywhere that is more than just talk, talk, talk. For Roe makes you care enough to want to listen in a disarmingly engaging performance. In What We Never Got To Lose by Dylan Coburn Gray, Leah Minto finds familiarity breeds delight when feeling loved and safe with her new boyfriend. Feeling feelings about her dead Mum, her former boyfriend, and her new boyfriend, is it racist of her not to want her future child to be white? For she has stories of old that need to be told, and hopefully there's time after the virus for them to be heard. Or time for new identities to be forged. As in A New Yorker Now? by Meadhbh McHugh, which sees Clare O’Malley as an apprentice New Yorker whose Irish life BC (before Corona), has nothing to say to her now. If only it would leave her alone, her survivors identification constantly interrupted by her concerned family and friends making her question where she really belongs. Wearing their hearts of their sleeves, two video messages to unborn children bring the curtain down on Dear Ireland: Part Three with considerable style, courtesy of two cracking scripts and two wildly engaging performances. Something Worth Saying, by Colm Keegan, sees a magnificent Owen Roe struggling to impart wisdom. Funny and heartfelt, Roe lures you in with an extraordinarily engaging performance. As does Caoilfhionn Dunne in The Rock by Philip McMahon. The internet might have made her smarter and more stupid, but she’s tired of internalising messages of worthlessness as a lesbian struggling to make a life with her pregnant fiancé. Despite the worrying intrusion of commercials being a major disappointment on the night, Dear Ireland: Part Three delivers an awful lot to be grateful for. And an awful lot to be hopeful of. But purists, and even those of a not so pure disposition, might well recoil if commercials continue to be part of the package going forward. One more to go. The final instalment of Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre, will feature on their dedicated Youtube Channel on May 1 at 7.30. All fifty monologues can be viewed online for six months from May 2. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.
Dear Ireland presented by The Abbey Theatre. Image uncredited. While Dear Ireland: Part One showed immense promise, Dear Ireland: Part Two highlights many of the pitfalls of the monologue format. Once again, meandering meditations, many centred on communicating digitally, dominate, with Covid-19 serving as the contextual background. As an opportunity to imagine, or re-imagine, theatrical possibilities and boldly go where few have gone before, Dear Ireland produces a wide array of results. With some artists rising to the challenge, some struggling, and some notable figures showing a surprising lack of inventiveness. Not least of which is Edna O’Brien’s disappointing and drawling Dear Ireland. Featuring Stanley Townsend reading a letter from O’Brien; she advises everyone to immerse themselves in one book during lockdown. Except it’s really one writer rather than one book as Townsend trots out a Wikipedia walkthrough of W.B. Yeats. Even so, the icon has her moment, reminding us that great literature is more beneficial than all the self help books ever written. Starting strong and finishing weak, renowned Italian composer Andrea Molino’s torturously tautological I Want The Things finds American composer, David Moss, delivering a found-sound performance with an array of everyday objects. Resembling the worst Ireland’s Got Talent audition ever, lyrics are used to recycle worn-out theories: words are symbols, not things, and are often ineffective. If Wittgenstein would have been flattered, everyone else might find the experience a one trick pony. Akin to being strapped into a chair in a Columbian back alley while a dentist drills threatens. It might channel Evan Parker on a bad LSD trip and momentarily appear interesting, referencing post dramatic theatre and musical experimentation, but it soon becomes clear not everything beyond words is worth listening to. No matter how charming or playful they try to be. Thankfully, several lights do glimmer and glow with varying intensity, with many expressing well intentioned meditations. Wiper at Work by Abbie Spallen, sees Jolene O’Hara meditating on the Northern Irish context in which Covid-19 serves as a distraction from Brexit. Which gets her wondering about the respect due to frontline workers, and wondering why seventy percent of deaths from Covid-19 are men? All set against an undercurrent of domestic violence hovering in the background as the wheels turn but go nowhere. Similarly Shaun Dunne’s well-intentioned The Box Room (A Meditation on Work). Here an engaging Eva-Jane Gaffney serves up meditations on her box room from her box room, with very little actual meditations on work. Remove the mantra ‘box room’ from the script, which Dunne clings to like a life raft, and you could probably reduce the whole by a third and not feel the loss. Indeed, its self congratulatory, self awareness of its own privilege is something it could loose as O’Hara suffers valiantly through her first world privilege. Manchán Magan’s Poll Mór/Big Hole, serves as a healthy reminder that Dear Ireland attempts to speak to a diverse audience: young and old, rural and urban, Irish and non-Irish speaking. Performed by Bríd Criomhthain, Poll Mór/Big Hole offers a short, Irish language meditation with enough English for anyone to catch on to. Bilingualism features again in the taut and hard hitting It’s All The Same by Zoe Ní Riordáin as a bilingual Seána Kerslake evokes a homeless woman with mental health issues, reminding you she’s still there. And in trouble. The legacy of Larkin and Parnell looking diminished in light of the nation’s failure to care for its uncared for. If Ní Riordáin’s song structured piece doesn’t pull its punches, it doesn’t spark sympathy either. But Ní Riordáin sees care as a right not a privilege, with Kerslake’s singing reiterating the central themes that ring out like a problem absent a solution. Shifting from meditations to character studies, a charmingly comic Maxwell House, by Eva O’Connor, sees the wonderfully disjointed Amy McAllister struggling with a one eyed cat and her hipster roommate, Emily, as self-isolation kicks in. Exploring the magnetic push and pull of relationships, love is blind as it struggles along the thin line between love and stalking. Night 4, by Aoife Martyn, sees an impressive Norma Sheahan venting frontline burnout with a vicious tongue. Standing against a wall of toiler paper, her calm exterior conceals an angry interior, with her nursing advice sounding like a teacher training programme from the 1950s as pain and hope collide. Your Hands by John O’Donovan, sees Nicola Coughlan’s wedding cancelled courtesy of Covid-19. Which might not be a bad thing given it wasn’t her that wanted to get married in the first place. Cracks and strains appear as she puts on her make up. Discussing the difference between socialism and capitalism, and carrying on till we can’t in an apocalyptic slow walk towards the end, she wonders if life, like her wedding, is postponed or cancelled? A theme reiterated in Dear Alex, by Deirdre Kinahan, as Bríd Ní Neachtain’s widow fighting cancer becomes intrigued by a mysterious man taking his daily constitutional past her garden. Making her wonder is there's more to life than survival, and how many chances do we get to find out? Communicating via digital media takes centre stage in Gorse, by Michael West, in which Mark O’Doherty colludes with our extinction as he participates in the nightmare of teaching via Zoom. Smart, funny, with O’Doherty’s oversharing teacher suffering world weary frustrations, West’s script is delivered with Grade A sarcasm by O'Doherty, slipping from sardonic lecture into heartfelt confessional, highlighting the strains of self isolating with a smart, heartfelt ending. The Other Side, by Arthur Riordan, finds Rory Nolan reflecting on a draft email he never sent, cleverly highlighting the early then and current now of the lockdown to ask some pertinent questions. Juxtaposing a ‘we’ll get through it’ message with ‘no we won’t,’ Nolan’s Jekyll and Hyde performance cleverly conveys the battle between hope and despair. Now at its halfway mark, Dear Ireland shows an evident leaning towards text over medium, even allowing for the restrictions imposed by social distancing, the time bound nature of the project, and the relative inexperience with the medium of most involved. Suggesting some writers might need to think outside the box if they want to engage those looking at the box. Even so, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest there’s no reason why this can’t happen. Yet never as a replacement, or substitute, for life performance. Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre, will feature on their dedicated Youtube Channel, with Part Three airing on April 30, Part Four on May 1 at 7.30, featuring a new selection on monologues each night. All fifty can be viewed for six months from May 2. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.
Spread over four nights, Dear Ireland, the Abbey Theatre’s attempt at a national conversation on Covid-19, has divided many. For some it’s a cynical exercise heralding worrying concerns for the future of theatre. For others it's an unimaginative funding mechanism to justify paying artists currently out of work. For others it really is a creative response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Whatever your position, the prospect of sitting through fifty, talking head monologues commissioned by the Abbey might understandably leave you shrinking in dread, even without lockdown burnout. But theatre and technology is a conversation that's been coming for a long time. As The National Theatre in England has shown, online offerings provide wider access and an alternative income stream. Yet they have inherent dangers. Whatever your views, Covid-19 has brought the question to the forefront of everyone’s conversation. Suggesting that old school theatre practices need to be looked at given that technology isn't going to go away. Given the wide array of online productions currently available from around the world courtesy of Covid-19, alongside innovative engagements such as Mark O’Brien’s illuminating #TheAxisChats interviews, theatre online has never been more accessible. So did we really need fifty monologues? In fairness, The Abbey didn’t get the idea first. The New Theatre’s Fight Back Festival did the same thing on a more modest level with twelve artists producing some interesting and, occasionally, forgettable results. Neill Fleming, in Stewart Roche’s Shard, with Fleming looking like he had just weathered a sandstorm, showed huge promise and raised many questions. As does Dear Ireland: Part One, airing on the Abbey’s Youtube channel. Featuring works from the depth of the soul to others that preach from the dizzying heights of a soapbox, the memorable and the forgettable are again in evidence. With several feeling like creative writing assignments speaking as much about communicating via digital media as about Covid-19. Early signs are not promising. Staying Alive, Carmel Winters’ black comedy on social distancing, sets the template for much that follows as frayed über moaner, Lucianne McEvoy, bemoans everything and everyone in an online call. Walk, Enda Walsh’s uncharacteristic cure for insomnia, finds Zara Devlin poetically willowing in pastoral nostalgia. Her soft spoken sermon on hope straining patience as you drowsily drift in and out of the homily. No such drowsiness in An Impossible Woman by Iseult Golden, which sees Marion O’Dwyer living up to the title as we, once again, witness moaning by way of digital communication. A self righteous mother sending a video message to her estranged daughter reveals a family lawyer with a warped sense of family, her admonishing tones endlessly shifting between confession and justification with the psychobabble coming hard and fast. By now, you’re almost tempted to call it a day with the moaning and switch channels. But you really shouldn’t. Shower, by Sarah Hanly, sees Denise Gough seeking phone advice on how to repair a shower. An Irish nurse living in England, Gough has front-line PTSD written all over her. With divine simplicity, Gough breaks your heart with a performance of riveting vulnerability as a woman caring for everyone around her, grabbing a fleeting breather for herself between the rounds. Her pain offset by beguiling laughter as her plumber-come-counsellor reminds us that the smallest act of human kindness make all the difference. A genuine gem from Hanly and Gough. Dear Ireland I’m Riddled With Anxiety by John Connor, once again bemoans digitally as Graham Earley waits anxiously for a Covid-19 test. Hard drinking, hard smoking, Earley laments having to social distance from his Mam, a woman born of a generation without technology. Delivering a meditation on death, worrying about worrying, and the craic in Ireland, Connor disarmingly celebrates Ireland’s resilience while speaking to its history and spirit. Arguably the most innovative and humorous production, Window, by Shane O’Reilly, sees Amanda Coogan gossiping through a window she endlessly cleans. Silent, with subtitles and sign language, Coogan’s performance is an utter joy to behold, enriched by a gestural lexicon which sees Coogan revel in talking without words. Simply riveting, Coogan is marvellous whether trying to pronounce difficult names, releasing her inner Trash Metal goddess as she toughens up, or realises what exactly the next door neighbour is up to. Saying so much more by saying so much less, Window is a real treat. As is Nancy Harris’s Dear Ireland, An Unreliable Ex Lover Suddenly Writes, in which Marty Rea’s prodigal son not looking to return meditates on Ireland from an emigrant distance. A video call with humorous overtones, Rea makes Harris’ adulterous confessional wholly endearing as a man missing where the grass grows greener. A sideways apology, an unflattering love poem, Harris and Rea deliver a gorgeous I Love You to Ireland as clever and heartfelt as it is endearing. Possibly the shortest piece, Home by Owen McCafferty, again says so much by saying less. Here Patrick O’Kane mentally rambles through a shopping list as he rambles along a wintry strand. Again the diaspora themes loom large, with O’Kane mesmerising as he mines the subtext. Stopped dead in his tracks by a phone call, his inner monologue halted by a minimum of spoken words, his final gesture saying everything silently and simply. Into the final furlong, things again begin to stumble. Pints of Milk by Frank McGuinness, sees Joan Sheehy’s flint like address remembering the good old, unwashed days of managing without. She survived those, so we can survive anything. The ritual prayer to defiance and mother earth steeped in Catholic imagery. As is To Éire, a history lesson by Felicia 'Felispeaks' Olusanya which leaves you really wishing she hadn’t. With Deirdre Molloy cranking up even more religious imagery with flint like defiance, Molloy does her best rallying from the Felispeaks’ pulpit, declaiming around a Hail Mary laced with overt patriotism. Ending with A Start by Gina Moxley, Timmy Creed brings some needed humour as he cocoons in Kerry, agreeing to partake in the Dear Ireland exercise purely for the money. Reflections on Ireland and a life half lived are offset with lessons on how to survive day to day lockdown. And how to make fun of it all. More of which would have been welcome, Dear Ireland’s format might frustrate at times, with some of its offerings weaker than others, but when it’s good it does much to scratch that theatrical itch. It runs for three more nights. But if so many back to back monologues is too much for you, after May 2 you have six months to get through them all on Youtube where they will be made available. And you should. For on the evidence of Dear Ireland: Part One, there are some real gems here. And they’re all original. And that conversation on theatre and technology is happening, like it or not. Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre on their dedicated Youtube Channel, runs April 29, 30 and May 1 at 7.30, featuring a new selection on monologues each night. All fifty can be viewed for six months from May 2. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre
There’s never been a few weeks like it. A worst of times that makes the hard times look like the best of times. Covid-19 has devastated Irish theatre, and the governments less than measured response is yet another covering of the ears while retreating into la la la la land. Arts, and artists, simply aren’t being heard. Even so, some claim artists are over-reacting. Trying to hustle the limelight by claiming people couldn’t survive the lockdown without them. Elbowing in on the medical professions fifteen minutes of fame. The arts might be vital, they claim, but they’re not essential, especially in a lockdown. They make it bearable. Like a good supply of toilet paper. The message is clear: you may be L’Oréal, but you’re not worth it. All of which leaves artists doing what artists do best: trying to survive and take care of each other. Indeed, Stephen Jones deserves all the caps tipped in his direction for undertaking a double marathon to raise money in support of artists. The New Theatre’s short season, which kicks off online tonight, is also giving most of its voluntary donations to supporting struggling artists. The examples multiple, as PR becomes everyone’s new practice as people conduct business as unusual. Leaving social media saturated with songs, dances, interviews, performances and coaching offers to say, “we’re here for you, we’re in this together, we won’t be beaten.” Even the PR event of the year, The Irish Times Theatre Awards, refused to lie down, even if it didn’t go ahead with its usual finery. Keeping it business as usual, the awards delivered some worthy, wonderful, and occasional wacky winners (well done to all), along with those curiously overlooked. And if they weren’t celebrated in their usual style, the even spread ensured almost everyone got to go home with a prize. Not everyone’s idea of how it should be done, but it would be nice if the government adopted a similar policy. It doesn’t take Covid-19 to show that the arts funding model isn’t working. Crafting viable business plans for project applications, requiring administrative this, and outcome that, and a Phd in Contract Law, has already left many bewildered or bereft. Not helped by an Arts Council who, ensuring its own running costs are covered, are trying to perform a loaves and fishes miracle with the stale crusts and soggy fish fingers handed to it. Similarly, the latest measures might look like they’re helping, but its once again a thinning out of the funding cake to look like everyone's getting a piece of the pastry. Even the language is wrong. Yes, the arts is an industry, but its most compatible business model is Research and Development. There will be outcomes, but they involve time, commitment, experimentation and creativity. Which isn’t a licence for practitioners to kick back and gather navel fluff. Any producer worth their salt knows there’s a balance. Yet, like the Covid-19 vaccine, art isn’t ready just because your funding wants it to be. You don’t get productivity without paying for it. Indeed, the more you invest, the better your chances of success. If the arts aren’t essential, they’re utterly vital. As are those who dream and sacrifice to make them happen. Indeed, the only business term that matters here is value for money. And nothing gives greater value for money that the arts, socially, culturally, and all the other -ally’s you can think of. So it might be time to kick up a storm in the middle of a storm and push back. Because when money gets thinner on the ground, as it surely will when this is all over, artists might find these were the best of times in comparison. Be strong, be resilient, be there for each other. But be careful lest your survival starts to kill you. And never forget: You’re worth it.
*** Kicking It Towards The Truth Not to be confused with Cristian Ceresoli’s mesmerising The Shit, Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius’ "Shit" offers a litany of the damned from three female prisoners. A play in which three unredeemable women recount their unredeemable lives as self-fulfilling prophesies. Each cursing in futile defiance while resigned to accepting the inevitable: they’re shit, life’s shit, it’s all shit. As, indeed, is much of Cornelius’s script. Landing, as it does, bang in the middle of a toilet paper crisis. For these women appear fearful not because of what they are, but because they can never be anything else. With what little traces of humanity they own coming to surface too little, too late. And if that was the point, it’s not a very convincing one, nor convincingly well made. Owing less to the street so much as a symposium on Pinter, Cornelius’ rat a tat, textual repetitions play like Russian roulette. Discharging lots of empty chambers with only an occasional live bullet. Yet Cornelius’ bullets will take your head off. Still, more often than not, you're likely to hear that hollow click due to predictable cursing and shape throwing. Jolts of angry electricity shooting through the script can give an illusion of life, often restarting its heart temporarily, but too often it flatlines. Not that you can always tell because of the shouting trying to pass as a facsimile of life. And often doing a good job of it too, courtesy of Kate Stanley-Brennan, Nicola Kavanagh and Aisling O’Mara. Three women strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage signifying three women strutting and fretting. Aggressively looking down their noses at people who look down their noses. Offering the illusion of three visceral perspectives on class, mysogny, and poverty, too often "Shit" delivers a tame slap. Displaying a narrowness not just limited to ideas, but to rhythms and words. Wrapped around incidents rifled from a social workers textbook, or a prison drama, everything gets reduced to cliches and all the reduced cliches are represented. Yet Cornelius gets a lot more interesting when portraying the normalisation these women nurture, and the manner in which they’re taught to self-judge, self-loathe, and self-destruct. Live rounds revealing the lessons learnt very early on. Except, in “Shit," they’re the only lessons they learn. And they can’t be unlearned. Their lives self fulfilling prophesies invariably moving from abuse, to residential unit, to prison with an unquestioned inevitablity. For the only time things change in "Shit" is when things get worse. Nothing can get better. You might as well say goodbye to the career in social care. All of which director Jennifer Jennings paints in broad, exaggerated strokes, as if unconsciously aware there’s lots that needs to be painted over. Luckily, Stanley-Brennan, Kavanagh, and O’Mara manage to carry it off, serving up more than the one dimensional mouthpieces with flickers of personality that are being passed off as characters. But often it’s a close call. Looking early on like foul mouthed versions of the witches from Hocus Pocus, the cartoonish is later traded for something of more substance. Stanley Brennan’s booming boxer, endlessly strutting, is forever getting the first punch in so she can get the first punch in. O’Mara’s world weary indifference disguises her deeper needs. Kavanagh’s jittery articulations superbly reveal a million truths far more powerfully than the script. Philip Connaughton’s choreography, suggesting overtones of Oona Doherty’s Hard to be Soft, compensates heavily for what’s not always present, giving a visceral physicality to compliment Jennings’ simple but clever staging. Oberman Knocks' composition, and Jenny O’Malley’s sound, help narrow the emotional scope. As does Sarah-Jane Shiels lights and Molly O’Cathain’s grey-is-the-new-orange costumes, running about freely in Emmet Scanlon’s minimal set. When the cursing stops, and even as it’s going on, "Shit" suggests a middle class hope of transcending class while confirming the impossibility of it ever happening. Reinforcing a blind prejudice that there's no hope for the hopeless who are beyond redemption. The longer it progresses, the more “Shit” starts to look like voyeurism. In which three women's experiences of poverty and prison see them reduced to a violent inevitability. Cornelius' puppets are powerless. And "Shit" suggests they’ll stay that way. Yet Stanley-Brennan, Kavanagh, and O’Mara suggest otherwise with performances worthy of the The Slits or Pussy Riot, subverting the reductive limits being imposed on them. Indeed, if The Slits were a theatre troupe they’d likely be Stanley-Brennan, Kavanagh, and O’Mara. For, like The Slits, they can take weak material and make it compelling by their sheer insistence on kicking the complacency out of it, and kicking it towards the truth. Making it a shame the Where We Live Festival has been cancelled due to Covid-19. For there's a lot here that could be talked about. As there was throughout the entirety of the festival. Here's hoping for its return at a later date. “Shit," by Patricia Cornelius, presented by THISISPOPBABY with St. Patrick’s Festival, in partnership with The Civic, ran at The Project Arts Centre as part of the now cancelled Where We Live Festival. For more information, visit Project Arts Centre or THISISPOPBABY. #Shit #THISISPOPBABY #PatriciaCornelius #TheArtsReview #Review #KateStanleyBrennan #NicolaKavanagh #AislingOMara #WhereWeLive
*** Red Herring In a darkened kitchen eight year old Daniel stands alone in pyjamas. He pulls on a medical glove before picking up a knife. Around him, Philip Stewart’s exceptional score haunts the shadows like a brooding threat while Aedín Cosgrove’s excellent lights suggest darker psychological depths. Tension builds, culminating in a sudden pulse of blood red light flooding Alyson Cummins’ superbly angled set wherein opposite walls repel. In The Gate’s production of Nancy Harris’ powerful and uncompromising 2012 play "Our New Girl,” suspense and tension loom and nothing is ever quite what it seems. Least of all Nancy Harris’ "Our New Girl.” For if Stewart and Cosgrove’s horror intimations are impeccable, it turns out they were scoring for the wrong genre. If you argue "Our New Girl” is a psychological thriller with horror overtones, you might as well argue it's a western. With pregnant mother Hazel, High Noon style, defending family and homestead from danger. Except the homestead is under attack from Hazel, and she's under attack from it. A battle in which psychological scars are constantly being inflicted. It’s been wisely said that when a parent sends a child for therapy very often it’s the parent who needs it, Catherine Walker’s superbly realised Hazel very much a case in point. Stressed to the point of breaking, pregnant Hazel is the kind of person blood pressure tablets were invented for, groping towards an awareness that she's not in a good place. High strung, high stressed, fussing about on an industrial strength adrenalin rush, Hazel is a London based mother with no maternal instinct, a wife whose husband is never home to help her, and a former lawyer starting a new business she knows nothing about. When not stocktaking her endless supply of olive oil she listens to haunting echoes of a responsibility free life coming from next door. Or deals with whatever next her Omen staring, Daniel child, lurking under the table, deigns to inflict upon his long suffering mother. Trying to juggle being Mom to a kid she can’t tolerate, along with a job she’s no aptitude for, Hazel’s stress factor goes stratospheric with the unexpected arrival of Sligo born Annie. A plain Jane nanny sent by her husband, Richard, to help Hazel manage. Would have been nice had Richard told her Annie was coming, but secrets have become par for the course in the tattered remnants of their relationship. An über cool, volunteer plastic surgeon always travelling to war zones, Richard has nothing to juggle as a drop-in husband and parent, aside from looking photogenic when saving everybody else. Traits Hazel can no longer tolerate. But Annie might be different. She gets him. Gets Daniel. And she’s younger, more naive, and more in need of saving than his heavily pregnant wife. All the ingredients necessary for twelve rounds of full contact, no holds barred, emotional martial arts. Where the victim receiving the most traumatic blows is usually the child caught in the middle. Under Annabelle Comyn’s direction, Harris’ tale of a family being torn apart doesn’t rely on the occasional red herring so much as frame the whole in a red herring. Leaving a bad taste for feeling you might have bought a ticket to the wrong play. Delivering a family drama dressed up as a melodramatic horror thriller, characters undergo intense emotional pummelling, creating an unbearable build up of pressure ready to go nuclear. Only for it to whisper away like a punctured dream. Impassioned and fraught, as if her blood vessels are about to burst, Walker’s pressure cooker, Hazel, is utterly mesmerising, courtesy of a tenaciously ferocious performance by Walker. Like an emotional soprano, Callas level good, Walker hits an emotional high note and sustains it. And sustains it. And sustains it. Till you want it to stop. It’s a testament to Walker she can inhabit such a highly charged emotional state with little modulation for such a long time, yet never make it feel fake or forced. Or give herself a heart attack. Even when it feels like it’s about to become unbearable. A striking contrast with her polar opposite; a restrained and underplayed Bláithín Mac Gabhann as the dull as a door nail Annie. Emotionally unflappable, Annie has the personality of a notice board. A guilty bystander landing the occasional dig, Annie has her own agenda lurking under her blouse. Meanwhile Richard, a superbly convincing Aidan McArdle, goes head to head with his unloved wife on his latest visit home. Allowing Harris’s verbal swords to flash as Hazel and Richard cut, thrust and parry with swashbuckling speed, forever drawing blood, with both combatants deaf beyond the range of their own, often dubious arguments. By the time intermission arrives it comes as a relief. Never mind young Daniel being traumatised, a brave and brilliant James Lonergan rotating with Conor Ó Hanlon, the audience are close to being traumatised too; Daniel looking like the only sane person onstage. Who you wouldn’t blame if he shouted at them all to shut up and stop. At moments you’d gladly pay him to. Till it’s round two, which delivers more of the same. Including a revealing flourish by Mac Gabhann suggesting there was a lot more there to be played with, before the fight is finally stopped by a weak judges decision. Powerful and provocative, even if not all its arguments convince, "Our New Girl" is at its best when Comyn explores its themes honestly: mothers abandoned and mothers abandoning their children, women juggling home and work and the demands of looking beautiful, and the traumas suffered by children at the hands of selfish parents. Yet it comes up short for failing to honour its own contract, Comyn setting up thriller style expectations Harris' family drama doesn’t deliver on. Building beautifully towards a blistering bang, and showing some impressive work by Comyn in getting there, "Our New Girl" ends with a less than believable whimper. The thriller tropes colouring over some real hurt and rage with an excess of emotional Crayola. Which Harris’ script didn’t need for already packing enough powerful punches. "Our New Girl" by Nancy Harris, runs at The Gate Theatre until March 21. For more information, visit The Gate Theatre. #NancyHarris #OurNewGirl #TheGateTheatre #TheArtsReview #Review #BláithínMacGabhann #AnnabelleComyn #CatherineWalker #AidanMcArdle
* Humpty Dumpty The road to hell is lined with good intentions. None more so than Arts & Disability Ireland and Project Arts Centre co-production of poet Roderick Ford’s "The Spider’s House." If the idea was to mentor an artist with a disability, Ford’s shambolic script suggests the model may need to be looked at. Ford may express an affinity with absurdism and magic realism, but "The Spider’s House" is still a lumbering mess. A story in which ghosts, hallucinations, thieving monkeys and talking wardrobes have the tortured Paulsa screaming to make it stop. A sentiment shared by many of the audience. With up to a quarter of the house, already three quarters empty, not bothering to return after the interval. Ford evidently has a poets love of words, but not the playwrights awareness of their limitations. Or of how to craft credible dialogue, characters, or story. Never mind an incredible one. Making you wonder what dramaturg Pamela McQueen’s role was exactly. Even allowing for Ford’s theatrical inexperience in writing his made unwell play, the mistakes in evidence are harrowing. Not innovative, or pushing boundaries, or probing a simpler, more direct aesthetic. The script is simply poorly written, with clunky dialogue sounding like it’s trying to chew through lumber. Take Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s Izzy, a pervert magnet with a damaged face hidden behind a Phantom’s half mask. Izzy really has no function other than to give Paulsa another titillating excuse to prattle on. When he’s not too busy groping, pawing, or kissing his sexually abused co-dependent. But Paulsa would screw anything, including a monkey: the tortured demons in his past, his head, his wardrobe, or his damp dilapidated room ensuring he talks endlessly, and often nonsensically. And not in a good nonsensical way. Leaving an uneven and uncharacteristically poor Lloyd Cooney trying to make some nonsense of it all. Ronan Leahy as a - answers on a postcard please - tries valiantly to turn his stone into gold; investing everything to try create some alchemy, but is still left holding a stone. By the time the two hours are over it comes as a release. Two hours too late. Subtitling it a ‘nightmare from a disordered mind’ might explain much, but it forgives it nothing. That Ford suffers from Asperger’s in not sufficient reason to excuse "The Spider’s House" for being as poorly put together as it is. For there’s moments of genuine promise here that are never realised for Ford being allowed free rein. A task Maisie Lee’s direction falls considerably short of managing. Leaving an experienced cast floundering despite the occasional impressive visual. For the only artist Ford allows onstage is Ford, and his inexperience shows. Allowing the script to meander into cul-de-sacs to die there. Slowly. And painfully. Despite an ambitious rally at the end. And despite the talented support surrounding him. Not even Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, Rohan Leahy and Lloyd Cooney can save this torturous two hours looking like twelve. Like Deirdre Dwyer’s well crafted set, Carl Kennedy’s creepy sound design and Stephen Dodd’s excellent lights, it all speaks to a waste of exceptional talent. For all the King's horses couldn't save this Humpty Dumpty. And if you argue it's all about process rather than product, the product suggests the process is in need of some very serious tinkering with. There’s an argument to be made for going easy here. But at least two reasons militate against that. Firstly, money and resources have been clearly invested, along with some recognised and respected talent. In the current cutback climate, "The Spider’s House" isn’t good enough given the level of investment. Secondly, as shows like What I (Don’t) Know About Autism have shown, people with disabilities can produce truly impressive work, especially with the right support. If "The Spider’s House" shows promise in a David Lynch kind of way, it never fulfils it for suffering from too many fundamental problems. Not innovations, not simplifications, just basic errors that should have been addressed. Somebody seriously dropped the ball here. And keeping silent only creates an elephant in the room and no one — not Ford, not the producers, not the audience, not the cast and creatives, and most certainly not artists with disabilities — benefits. If anything, silence will likely reinforce prejudice against artists with disabilities. Because people talk, and many talked with their feet. In fairness to Ford, he should have been challenged more. And someone should have told him his script wasn’t ready yet. "The Spider’s House" by Roderick Ford, presented by Arts & Disability Ireland and Project Arts Centre, runs at Project Arts Centre until March 7. For more information, visit Project Arts Centre. #TheSpidersHouse #RoderickFord #ProjectArtsCentre #TheArtsReview #Review
*** Death by a Thousand Cuts Churchill, misquoting George Santayana, claimed that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Corn Exchange’s political comedy “The Fall of the Second Republic,” created by Michael West and Annie Ryan, would appear to second that motion. Poking fun at the bully boy, back hander politics of the 1970s, its jokes are razor edged and very clearly aimed at today. Where if the wallpaper in the Dáil bar has changed over the years, politicians still seem to be singing the same old songs. Despite everyone knowing of their less than impressive history. Dark deeds with dodgy developers, a self-serving government failing its electorate, a scared and ineffective media, and sworn political enemies trying to form a government: is this “The Fall of the Second Republic’s” reimagined 1973, or Ireland in 2020 you might well ask? If West’s script wickedly parodies parsimonious politicians, it also parodies screwball comedies, investigative newspaper movies, Ireland in the 1970s, and much more in between. Too much perhaps, with too many references spoiling the theatrical broth. Like Father Ted meeting Network, it's an unstable marriage, resembling Halls Pictorial Weekly during its best moments: its satires and parodies proving irresistibly funny and revealing. If its clever opening speaks to a heightened theatricality, its a terrific exception to a far less interesting rule. With Katie Davenport’s disappointing set looking like a functioning nonentity suffering from bad Feng Shui. Minimally evoking a newspaper office, the Taoiseach’s office and a few places in between, the cinematic aesthetic might have sounded well on the page but looks dull on stage. In fairness to Davenport, West’s script plays more like a screenplay or a teleplay, looking like The Mary Tyler Moore Show awkwardly fitted to the stage. Giving Davenport a range to climb never mind a mountain, with “The Fall of the Second Republic” structured as a plethora of competing scenes awkwardly strung together. Some of which work incredibly well. Some not so well. Some padding the space between scenes that work well. The whole getting lost in its parts. Under Ryan’s direction, caricature more than character often define who’s who, and everything’s made viciously delightful because of it, with most of Ryan’s hard working ensemble playing a number of roles. Caitríona Ennis’ dauntless Emer Hackett might be a reporter trying to set the worlds to rights, but she also has to contend with being an unmarried woman with a baby on the way, with a misogynistic employer, and a lover that leaves you scratching your head. Investigating a listed theatre that’s threatened with demolition in order to build an Irish Business Centre (no prizes for spotting the metaphor), Ennis’ feisty fireball looks far more interesting when she’s kicking down doors rather than pleading her case for a place at the table. But it’s an uphill struggle, with Ennis facing a thankless job on more than one front. Including trying to get us to regard as serious the laughable shenanigans that are being played for laughs. Which see her ultimately reduced to a Kathleen Ni Houlihan yearning for a better Ireland to come. Screwball romances, even political ones, thrive on the cut and thrust between equal protagonists: Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant, Hepburn and Tracey, Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Yet Hackett’s lover doesn't cut it; John Doran’s damp squib, Finbar Lowe, making for too big an ask, having neither the character nor chemistry to be an equal of interest, especially a love interest. Lowe might heighten the gender inequality resulting from misogyny, but that point has already been better made, with the independent Hackett looking like she’s picking on a child when sparring with her weak willed colleague. In fairness to Doran, he’s given precious little to work with; a device just to set up Hackett with another problem or her next speech. Far more successful is Doran’s Des Lackin T.D., a high strung, high pitched, hen pecked nepotist aspiring to the position of Taoiseach. Indeed, it’s the politicians who steal the show. None more so than a superb Andrew Bennett as Taoiseach Manny Spillane, looking as if a self-serving Frankenstein made from Gareth Fitzgerald, Charlie Haughey, with a drop or two of Trump had been concocted in the basement of Leinster House. Bennett is simply brilliant, stalking every scene he’s in and stealing it. Getting some stiff competition from a superb Declan Conlon as Billy Kinlan T.D., a drunk with a penchant for boys in the Phoenix Park. Anna Healy as the unacknowledged great woman behind the greatly deluded man is terrific for being permanently understated. Indeed, performances from Niamh McCann, Camille Lucy Ross and Eddie Murphy are each superb, with Patrick Ryan being something of a comic whirlwind as a roughshod TD and an obstreperous editor. Like a boxing match where opponents circle endlessly, landing too few blows, the longer “The Fall of the Second Republic” goes on the more its impact drains as it searches for a knockout punch. But it ends with a split decision. Yet the laughs and punches that land along the way give much to enjoy. And much to think about. For Corn Exchange have a number of bones to pick. And who can blame them. In 2020 the arts, like housing, health, and the homeless, are normalising need. Where survival is deemed a measure of success, making it the best most artists can hope for. Getting through and making do, hanging in there, keeping your head above water being the mantras of the day. Except, in each instance where funding suffers death by a thousand cuts, and the issue is put on the progressively longer finger, the result is unnecessary and preventable deaths. Now Corn Exchange’s funding has been completely cut. Twenty-five years enriching Irish theatre with productions like Dublin by Lamplight, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Man of Valour to name but a few, Corn Exchange set standards others still aspire to. Even if you mightn't be always won over by the theatre they make, you are always grateful they are making theatre. For their productions take risks and are executed to the highest theatrical standards. And when they strike gold there is no-one else like them. In the global context, conspiracy theorists will wonder at the ominous silencing of artists through cuts in funding in many democracies. Maybe we should learn from history what happens when that’s allowed to happen. Michael West has written some remarkable works. Annie Ryan is one of the most generous, challenging, and brilliant directors we have. Let’s hope Corn Exchange hang in there. And there’s that mantra again. “The Fall of the Second Republic,” created by Michael West and Annie Ryan, in a Corn Exchange and Abbey Theatre co-production, runs at The Abbey Theatre until March 14. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre to Corn Exchange. #TheFalloftheSecondRepublic #AnnieRyan #MichaelWest #CornExchange #AbbeyTheatre #TheArtsReview #Review
** Rage to Stage Did you hear about Hairy Jaysus? Otherwise known as Frank the Crank? Also known as Frank Sheehy Skeffington, or Skeffy? A close friend of James Joyce who was executed by the British in 1916 for trying to put up No Looting posters in the middle of the Rising? If you answered no, you’re not alone. If Donal O’Kelly’s one man play, "Hairy Jaysus" tries to reclaim Sheehy Skeffington as some sort of symbol for a revisionist Ireland, it's unlikely to win too many converts for his canonisation. For Sheehy Skeffington might have been unfairly dismissed as a political buffoon, but Exit Does Theatre’s production suggests this may have more to do with his disgruntled personality than his principled idealism. Having the indignant tenacity of a belligerent wasp, in many respects Sheehy Skeffington should be the poster boy for a revisionist Ireland. He ticks all the isms. Feminism, socialism, atheism, pacifism: the last seeing him fall foul of the Irish rebels who saw the path to victory in 1916 as a necessarily violent one. His No Looting response suggesting a political hissy fit because no one told him there was going to be an Easter party where guns were invited. Which his eternally patient wife attended, hanging out with the bold boys and hurting his feelings. Indeed, prior to his fatal incarceration, the only wound Sheehy Skeffington seems to have suffered was to his pride. Along with a couple of rough nights in Mountjoy on hunger strike for sedition, which look about as detrimental to his health as a weekend retreat with Weight Watchers. Even Joyce affectionately lampooned him in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and O’Kelly’s selective frame does little to undo the prejudice. If O’Kelly’s writing has some wonderful flourishes, with some terrific word play and a clever use of religious symbolism, too often it sounds like an embittered tirade by a soap box trade unionist in a tone that could drill for oil. One whose jargon heavy rhetoric sees Sheehy Skeffington pontificating not so much for the left as for the left behind; most notably himself. Some smart insights by an erudite and educated beggar with a time travel sleeping bag decrying Ireland’s response to the banking crisis has some contemporary resonance. But it, too, disappears into its romanticised rhetoric. For in “Hairy Jaysus” romantic Ireland isn’t dead and gone. It’s just wearing a different outfit. What keeps you involved well past the point of sanctimoniousness is an invested performance by Paddy McEneaney playing Sheehy Skeffington and a cast of thousands. If Dee Armstrong’s direction sets a machine gun pace which can occasionally result in characters blurring, McEneaney does enough to reveal nuances that might slip by, employing a host of accents, suggesting there’s a lot more in the tank than indignation. While Armstrong’s fast track direction could use a little of McEneaney's subtlety, Armstrong's sound design proves captivating, adding some much needed texture. In under an hour, you were never going to cover everything about Sheehy Skeffington, especially the subsequent trial following his death. Yet it’s impossible to escape the feeling that now, just as then, Sheehy Skeffington is being pressed into the service of someone else's agenda, with something vital slipping through the cracks. He may profess he’s a crank in the wheels of revolution, but it sounds like sour grapes when even his sugar tastes like vinegar. Leaving you puzzled as to why Connolly cried when he heard of his death. Yet Exit Does Theatre’s production might inadvertently capture why. Having the neck to present a one man show in a dingy room to share something you believe in when others might not quite see it, or even know who you are: the defiant spirit of Sheehy Skeffington looms large. And there’s something quite impressive about that. "Hairy Jaysus" by Donal O’Kelly, presented by Exit Does Theatre in association with The Glens Centre, runs at the International Bar till Feb 29, and again March 11-14 at 6.pm. #HairyJaysus #DonalOKelly #ExitDoesTheatre #PaddyMcEneaney #TheArtsReview #Review
** Memory Lane A singer and dancer explore the notion of memory being recorded and frozen in the material world: our actions, feelings and thoughts remaining in matter eternally. It sounds like a tall order. And, unfortunately, it is. Even for celebrated choreographer and dancer Breandán de Gallaí, accompanied by singer Gina Boreham. For "Walls Talk,” directed and choreographed by de Gallaí, offers not so much a study of memory so much as a trip down memory lane. One where most of the streetlights are broken, with what remains being framed in the tropes of an easy nostalgia. It’s not walls or objects that house memory in "Walls Talk,” but songs. And overtly nostalgic songs at that. Predictable jazz and blues standards delivered with a problematic emotional down play, often to their detriment. What objects there are lie silently stacked on stage as a mountain of props that speak to no one. The paraphernalia of a past being unpacked and repacked being a well worn and conceptually unimaginative ploy. Why these particular objects is to be inferred - no hard task there - with most looking isolated, unused, and uninteresting. As silent and lifeless as the walls that surround them. Indeed, the only consistent visual of interest is Tim Feehily’s overworked and over compensating lights. Under which a mostly barefoot de Gallaí has moments that shine. Sean Nós becomes a recurring motif, as do pained stretches and recoiling slaps. Swirling in circles or shovelling earth, or echoing Playboy of the Western World, de Gallaí suggests something deeper trying to break through. But its too little and far too infrequent, with points being choreographically laboured rather than made, making the whole look visually staid. Particularly as Boreham, unfairly no doubt, comes across as the type of singer who’d be more comfortable in the studio than on the stage. If her tone has a wonderfully haunting hollowness, her range and phrasing, like her expression, presence, and movements, are often constrained within an imposed, restrictive neutrality. Causing classics like For All We Know and I’ll Be Seeing You to depress under the weight, despite some ambitious arrangements by Joe Csibi, Zac Gvi, Paddy Mulcahy and Fiachra Ó Corragáin. Throughout, de Gallaí and Boreham occupy the same stage but rarely the same space, lost in separate, if similar reveries. Rare occasions when they do connect, like the shared slow walk in a corridor of light, has all the hallmarks of a loveless marriage, as does a cold waltz. Knee deep in love, lovelessness, and the memory of love, along with ideas of wasted lives and second chances, "Walls Talk" can feel less about wanting to remember so much as trying to forget. As works like his remarkable Linger show, de Gallaí is a choreographer unafraid to dig deep. Threading over hollow rather than holy ground, "Walls Talk" never quite finds its feet, getting lost in nostalgic and choreographic tropes which never break new ground. Something de Gallaí is more than capable of doing. And will no doubt do again. "Walls Talk,” directed, choreographed and performed by Breandán de Gallaí, accompanied by singer Gina Boreham, presented by Ériu Dance Company, runs at the Project Arts Centre until January 29. For more information, visit the Project Arts Centre. #WallsTalk #ÉriuDanceCompany #BreandándeGallaí #GinaBoreham #ProjectArtsCentre #TheArtsReview #Review
*** Dragon Slayers It was once said of punk that it can’t sing, can’t dance, and can’t play. If not an entirely accurate description of the musical "Dragon," devised by Fizz and Chips Theatre Company, it’s perhaps not so wide of the mark. Singing, unquestionably better during duets and chorus, often falters to be heard, hit, or sustain the right note, especially during solos. Then there’s its incompatible tales of a standard dragon terrorising…you know the rest, and a contemporary love story about a bad boy and a good girl. In many respects there’s arguably precious little to like about "Dragon." Even while there’s everything to love about Fizz and Chips, whose raw, unabashed talent, consumes you in all engulfing waves. Looking like a slapped together review by second year dramasoc students, "Dragon" tries to get deep and meaningful about all things masculine in a juvenile kind of way. It’s standard fare: a tritely selfish Setanta and a Steinbeck loving Fiona trotting out another trite tale about commitment, friendship and betrayal. No prizes for guessing who betrays who, and for who gets the lecture and who gets a dirty look. Disrupting proceedings is a secondary tale about a dragon, a sword, sons on quests and avenging of fathers. Probably. It’s not easy to tell, less easy to care about, and completely impossible to like as it keeps interrupting the far more charming Setanta and Fiona while offering little by way of commentary or insight. Like a meaning in search of a metaphor and struggling to find it, because there wasn’t all that much meaning there to begin with, you start to wish these dragon slayers would hurry up and slay their dragon. That way the honest moments that “Dragon" seems almost embarrassed by can pepper through, without distraction, with all their heart and humour. Along with the occasional good tune. If not taking itself too seriously is one of “Dragon’s" many charms, not taking itself seriously enough is one of its crimes. Musically, structurally, and compositionally, there’s some impressive things going on. Kevin Murphy’s design might amount to twelve lightbulbs, five chairs, some shawls, swords, and the cleverest way of suggesting a phone onstage, but it does exactly what’s needed. Primarily because directors Lindsey Dawson and Martha Fitzgerald knock it out of the park with some superb choreography. Don’t misunderstand, Fizz and Chips won’t be giving Dancing with the Stars anything to worry about, but when it comes to communicating with little else to play with but your cast, Dawson and Fitzgerald are hugely impressive, crafting a physical vocabulary that enriches both dialogue and singing. And both are often in need of enrichment, even if both can be funny and smart at times. When it comes to music and singing, "Dragon" might playfully self-depreciate its musical abilities, but it really should have embraced them with greater rigour. For when it’s good, it's very very good. From Hamilton to Hollywood, Fizz and Chips know their stuff, having a strong understanding of how to structure a musical. With Ruadhan Mew’s musical compositions delivering an impressive moment or three. If individually Niamh Murphy, Gráinne Blumenthal and Orlaith Ní Chearra can prove hit and miss, their harmonies and chemistry are close to Fascinating Aida level delightful, with Ní Chearra’s Fiona proving utterly captivating. Connor Lyon might have little to do, but he shows some clever comic timing and, with Blumenthal, delivers an exquisite mother/son duet that almost stops you in your tracks. While Eoin Ó’Dubhghaill has enough swagger and presence to make his fooler than cool Setanta land the right side of credible, both presence and swagger need to be kicked up a notch. As do some rather modest vocals that can be difficult to hear, even if his comic timing and smarmy charm are impeccable. Likeable, winning, with its all kinds of everything looking to be some kind of wonderful, "Dragon" is a whimsical, musical car crash. It may look like student self-indulgence but there’s a wildly contagious, couldn’t give a fuckness about it all. A refreshing audacity that’s anarchic enough to want to try something simply because it wants to try it. It knows it’s not the finished article, but "Dragon" was never intended to sail on water so much as test the waters of what might be possible. It hopes you’ll like it, and you probably will; just maybe not as much as they’d like you to. Or, then again, maybe an awful lot more than you should. "Dragon," by Fizz and Chips, runs at The New Theatre until February 29. For more information, visit The New Theatre. #Dragon #FizzandChips #TheNewTheatre #TheArtsReview #Review
**** To Have and To Have Not The sins of the mothers come home to roost in Willy Russell’s "Blood Brothers,” as twin brothers, Mickey and Eddie, separated at birth, find themselves cursed and damned by fate. Or should that be cursed and damned by the class system? If Russell’s 1983 award winning musical begins by telling you it’s all going to end badly, such is the power of "Blood Brothers" that you start hoping it might yet have a different ending. Even if you've already seen it. For like many of its characters, you too will suffer from a fatal flaw. That of falling wildly in love with "Blood Brothers,” laughing and loving at every childhood moment, knowing you are powerless to prevent it from breaking your heart. What’s to love? You can start with Rebecca Storm’s beautifully realised Mrs Johnstone. An abandoned wife and mother of several children working as a domestic cleaner in Liverpool, trying hard to keep a roof over her head and a milk bottle on the doorstep. She once looked like Marilyn Monroe, a metaphor Russell plays with brilliantly throughout. Now she’s barely keeping body and soul together. Discovering herself pregnant with twins, she strikes a pact with Paula Tappenden’s painfully real Mrs Lyons, a wealthy woman from the opposite side of the tracks with everything except a child. But the devil is never far away when bargains are being struck, even well intentioned ones. An impressive Robbie Scotcher’s Mephistopheles styled narrator issues constant rhyming reminders, like a one man Greek chorus, that there are powerful forces at play and a price is going to have to be paid. Always it’s the children who suffer most. Made all the more poignant given that twins Mickey and Eddie, in two spectacularly winning performances by Alexander Patmore and Joel Benedict, keep finding each other no matter how hard life tries tear them apart. Ignorant of their true connection, their journey through childhood, adolescence and adulthood charms a heart aching course towards the inevitable prophesied day. One when mothers will be left to carry the legacy of pain. Including mother-to-be and air gun marksman Linda; an adorable Danielle Corlass as the childhood sweetheart who was always the love of both brothers. If "Blood Brothers" can appear dated in places, hankering back to a nostalgic innocence when Beano and Dandy kids played Cowboys and Indians and even the baddest boys daren’t use the f-word, it was a mind blowing revelation in 1983. A time when gritty TV dramas like Boys from the Black Stuff were beginning to address the plight of the unemployed. A time when theatre, let alone musical theatre, let alone musical theatre steeped in Greek tragedy, was considered too posh and having nothing to do with the working class. Till Russell decided otherwise. His first victory was to write a script rich in lived detail, especially the details of growing up. Making the first two-thirds utterly irresistible, covering the delightful early years at a steady canter. Yet the last third stumbles at times for trying to cover too much ground in a rush towards the finish. Risking both brothers disappearing behind too many political themes being suddenly shoe horned in. Joblessness, crime, prison, depression, all come charging out of nowhere, with Mickey becoming eclipsed by his issues and Eddie receding to near vanishing. But cross the line they finally do, and if the focus shifts from brothers to mothers, the end still packs one hell of an emotional wallop. Musically, "Blood Brothers" shows Russell as a master of the form. A form in which songs serve story rather than the other way round. While "Blood Brothers" has its big musical moments, they arise from the action and speak to it, rather than stopping the action to wedge in some unconvincingly cheesy tune. If "Blood Brothers" hasn’t sparked any chart topping classics over the past thirty-seven years, songs like Light Romance, Marilyn Monroe and Tell Me It’s Not True will slip into your soul. And get soldered there by Storm’s electrifying vocals. Who, like the entire cast, turns in a wonderful performance. Exquisitely directed by Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright, "Blood Brothers" is strung together like an expensively jewelled necklace; a detailed chain of individually linked diamonds that constantly sparkle. In which Andy Walmsley’s superlative design captures both the romanticism of Liverpool and its tenement poverty. For many, Willie Russell is justifiably one of the most important English playwrights of the 70s and 80s. From Educating Rita to Shirley Valentine, Russell’s working class heroes spoke to a new, working class confidence telling working class stories with passion and heart. So laugh, cry, and laugh some more. The world may deal in haves and have nots, but “Blood Brothers” has it all. An exhilarating experience with an emotional punch, delivering more enjoyment than you can possibly hope for. "Blood Brothers,” with book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell, directed by Bob Thomson and Bill Kenwright, presented by Bill Kenwright, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until February 29. For more information, visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. #BloodBrothers #BillKenwright #WillyRussell #BordGáisEnergyTheatre #TheArtsReview #Review #RebeccaStorm
**** To Wake Up Unfamiliar The word love is frequently referenced in Luca Truffarelli’s opening projections, offering a selection of playful sentences that dominate the back wall of the stage. Yet his ominous sound design suggests you better watch your back. A warning well heeded. If Philip Connaughton’s "Mamafesta Memorialising" sees him returning to the well that inspired its beautiful companion piece, Assisted Solo, it’s only because Connaughton is looking to dig deeper. Down into the muck and memories that infiltrate his personal fears for his future. Inspired by his adorable mother Madeleine’s battle with dementia, Connaughton’s latest love poem sees the lens focusing more on Connaughton and his own internal struggles. But be careful, you might miss them for being hidden in plain sight. Like Pagliacci’s tears hidden behind the smile. Or the fear concealed behind the jazz hands. The pain behind the humour and the charm. The sex whose violence can often look like hate. If everyday finds Madeleine waking up in a world made unfamiliar, exquisitely captured in a sensitive video diary, everyday Connaughton wakes up unfamiliar to a mother who has been his rock. It’s all because of the brain. A conduit for electronic impulses travelling neural pathways sending messages and signals to arms and limbs and memory, often cleverly vocalised by Gina Moxley. An experience Connaughton vividly explores with dancers Kévin Coquelard and Tatanka Gombaud in a sequence whose fractured focus sees each dancer respond like Pavlovian dogs as an electronic pulse urges them to another movement; at first the same, then similar, then separate, becoming different embodiments of Philip Connaughton. A clever ploy that sees "Mamafesta Memorialising" transcend the limits of the personal confessional. Even if its resonances feel far more immediate when being expressed by Connaughton. Yet if the sequence lacks a fixed point of focus, it releases energies that suggest scrambled signals pulling the attention in competing directions. Even if it’s a sequence that overplays its hand, lingering on long after you got the point and its foundational images have been established. Throughout, as in a delightful The Generation Game sequence, memory is shown to be problematic at best. Even if it’s very much Connaughton’s memories we’re dealing with. And his fear of losing them, and himself. Most notably during three separate narrative sequences delivered superbly by Coquelard, Connaughton and Gombaud. In which Connaughton's experience of discovering he has HIV, coming out to his father as gay, and learning to tap dance as a child sees his mother Madeleine playing a crucial role each time. Each narrative instigating a costume change followed by a dance solo that informs each narrative in greater depth. For if Connaughton is waving jazz hands, he’s also clenching both fists as he unfurls two middle fingers at the world, God, and anyone else who should have been kinder. Squaring up like a boxer ready to take on all futures, kicking out to hit back at something that’s never quite there. If Coquelard, Connaughton, and Gombaud share the same space, they’re forever dancing alone together; physical contact being almost non-existent. Embracing Connaughton’s restricted yet exacting choreography dominated by physical exercises, fragments of dance sequences, and an array of everyday gestures that weave into a scattered, yet deceptive tapestry. In which patterns emerge, or parts of patterns, being informed by a profound sense of searching through now and then and what next? Ensuring there are meanings in Connaughton’s choreographic mayhem, revealed in physical motifs and repeated images that add up to a lexicon. One underscoring specific tales of love, fear, and emotional violence. Emily Ní Bhroin’s superb costumes providing precious clues. Playful curtain and tassel suits suggesting charm, home and humour; striped pyjamas suggesting childhood or illness; the erotic beauty of the male body and it’s equally erotic feminisation cleverly captured by Ní Bhroin’s silver dress. The body, like the mind, proving both mutable and vulnerable. Even as it descends into a wild cacophony, there’s a smart cohesion to it all. For it doesn’t end there. Just as the Mona Lisa can be reduced a series of coloured pigments, the human being can be reduced to a series of brain impulses. In both cases, the explanation is accurate, but incomplete. For there is something essential that isn’t being accounted for, something vital that’s being omitted. Take Madeleine for example. If her signals are scrambled and she doesn’t always know who Philip is, Philip always knows who she is. And knows she is more than pigments, more than scrambled signals. The video diary bringing it all to a close by disclosing the real beyond the things that come to pass; that which forever will remain. With a title inspired by Finnegan's Wake, "Mamafesta Memorialising" finds Connaughton digging deeper, even if he isn’t always at ease lowering the mask. Yet if Connaughton appears to be more of a lover than a fighter, "Mamafesta Memorialising" is a timely reminder that love is the hardest fight of all, and lovers the hardest fighters. For love demands a constant willing of the good for another not matter what the personal cost. Whatever else it speaks to or speculates on, "Mamafesta Memorialising" speaks to karma. To the love you send out returning to you. An act of love in which Connaughton honours his debt to countless acts of love from an adoring, and adorable, fighter who loved him into the man he is today. Who is still present even in her partial absence. A debt that Connaughton is repaying sevenfold, even if he might be reluctant to accept the compliment. His most honest work to date, "Mamafesta Memorialising" might seem confused and a little all over the place, showing only brief moments of lucidity, but it’s all right there, loving untidily in the best way it knows how. In a production where narrative might tell the tale, but dance shows you the pain, fear, and confusion. As well as that which can conquer them all. Lovingly rendered, "Mamafesta Memorialising" delivers a performance you're not going to forget. "Mamafesta Memorialising" by Philip Connaughton, co-produced by Company Philip Connaughton, KLAP Maison pour la danse à Marseille and Cork Opera House, in association with Project Arts Centre, runs at project Arts Centre until February 22. For more information visit Project Arts Centre or Company Philip Connaughton. #MamafestaMemorialising #PhilipConnaughton #CompanyPhilipConnaughton #ProjectArtsCentre #CorkOperaHouse #KLAPMaisonpourladanseàMarseille #GinaMoxley #KévinCoquelard #TatankaGombaud #TheArtsReview #Review
*** First Past The Post No good deed goes unpunished in Eric O'Brien & Jed Murray’s "Sure Thing.” A tight paced two hander exploring a day in the life of a Dublin bookies. Featuring O’Brien and Murray in various roles, "Sure Thing" examines the agonies and ecstasies of chasing a chance. Yet if "Sure Thing" tackles gambling and addiction on the surface, underneath deeper interrogations are taking place as one of the last bastions of old world masculinity is put under the microscope. A world were loser’s dockets litter the floor as broken men bet to feel bigger than themselves. Presented with heart and humour, "Sure Thing" might stumble at the third hurdle, but it gets back on its feet quickly before galloping towards a fantastic finish. Told through interwoven monologues and dialogue, "Sure Thing" finds Wayne getting ready for his daughter’s communion. At the same time Tom, having his own estranged family playing on his mind, is getting ready to open the bookies. Wayne’s got his best suit on, his communion medal, and twenty euro in his pocket. Enough to place a bet on a sure thing which, when it comes in, will pay for his daughter’s big day and maybe help Wayne win back Tina. Meanwhile a Steinbeck like simpleton, (replete with a subtle reference to rabbits), emerges in a parallel story of gentle giant, Simon, who finds himself in a bookies for the first time. Brought there by Dean, a country boy back in Dublin after a mad weekend back home playing bingo. Simon’s never placed a bet before and Dean’s about to take the biggest gamble of his life. Before the day is over one man might never leave while the other may never come back, and two fathers on a collision course might find themselves making some serious choices. Like a day at the races, "Sure Thing” is a question of highs and lows. While director Tracy Ryan keeps things tight and moving, compositionally "Sure Thing" looks untidily staged, lacking snap and rigour. Something Mary Doherty’s cheap looking video projections compound, looking intrusive and distracting, aside from the horserace. Structurally, with its use of multiple perspectives, "Sure Thing" can weave a little all over the place when it comes to narrative. Yet the simplicity and directness of its language, with its rich veins of humour and illuminating insights, keeps you permanently engaged, the script showing remarkable robustness given its fractured focus. As do performances, which see O’Brien and Murray switching between characters whose emotional territories couldn’t be further apart. Throughout, Murray turns in a solid performance as straight man Tom, the voice of reason to the jittery, perma-squinting Wayne. If Murray’s Simple Simon is a curious delight, he risks appearing cartoonish at times, potentially undermining the hidden punch cleverly contained in the comedy by leaning too far into being comic. Meanwhile, O’Brien’s hopeful romantic Dean, sliding unevenly in and out of accents, is equally solid. Yet it’s O’Brien’s Wayne who catches the eye, an emotional tornado pulling everyone into its destructive path that sees O’Brien deliver a truly magnificent performance. Win, lose, or draw, the bookies is where men can feel big feelings and you’d happily pay money for that. Especially when everything else feels wrong. Smart, funny, with some fascinating questions about what we’re really buying in a bookies, "Sure Thing" may not be a 50 to 1 sure thing, but you’ll be hard pressed to find 50 more enjoyable minutes. Odds on favourite to being first past the post with huge laughs, smart questions, and lots of heart, "Sure Thing" is well worth a flutter. "Sure Thing,” written and performed by Eric O'Brien & Jed Murray and presented by The Corps Ensemble, runs at The Bohemian Theatre, Phibsboro until Feb 22. For more information visit The Corps Ensemble. #SureThing #JedMurray #EricOBrien #TheCorpsEnsemble #TheArtsReview #Review #TheBohemianTheatre
**** Girl Power It’s a dream week for ballet lovers as Moscow City Ballet’s The Tchaikovsky Trilogy graces the stage at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre as part of their 2020 tour. With the Moscow City Ballet Orchestra bringing Tchaikovsky’s much loved music to life, MCB present "Swan Lake," The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker performed on different days. Understandably "Swan Lake" dominates with the lion’s share of dates. Tchaikovsky's 1877 tale of the star crossed lovers Odette and Prince Siegfried, tricked by the evil Rothbart, is, for many, the standard bearer for ballet. An exacting standard which MCB’s prima ballerina, Lilia Orekhova, personifies, and from whom some of the corps des ballet could learn much. From its inception in 1988, MCB has sought to honour and preserve the traditions of classical Russian ballet, while adding some of its own personality to keep things fresh. If that freshness doesn’t quite translate to Natalia Povago’s design or Elisaveta Dvorkina’s classic costumes, it informs the choreography richly. With Lev Ivanov and Maruis Petipa’s choreographic templates forming the foundation, with added inspiration from legendary choreographers Agrippina Vaganova and Yuri Grigorovich, "Swan Lake" finds Natalia Ryzhenko and MCB founder Victor Smirnov-Golovanov adding their own choreography stylings, looking to release latent energies not always tapped into. Particularly Smirnov-Golovanov, whose fingerprints are found everywhere. Especially in the double edged principal of ‘allowing dancers to use their own character delineation, whilst adhering faithfully to the original choreography.’ Exposing the individuality at the heart of the dancer. Sometimes at the risk of the dance. It’s an approach that takes a moment to get your head around. With classical ballet being a rigorous and exacting art, relying on form and grace to craft moments of beauty, MCB’s "Swan Lake" can look a little untidy in the first act where Siegfried celebrates his 21st birthday amidst courtly friends and potential wives. Choreographically highlighting its principals and soloist, each one often excellent, the whole exudes a sense of relaxed focus. Yet under Smirnov-Golovanov and Ryzhenko direction, a flow of energy is released, offering a fresh dynamism. Even if something still feels a little off. Act Two makes things clearer as Siegfried sets off into the forest and spies the cursed Odette transform from a white swan into beautiful young woman. Here the corps des ballet, taking their lead from the incomparable prima ballerina Lilia Orekhova, are on a whole other level. It's as if Orekhova’s presence forces everyone to raise their game. And the corps des ballet respond with rigour and precision, the dance of the little swans being a little moment of near perfection. As Odette transforms back to a swan, with the evil Rothbart already plotting how to make Siegfried break his vow to rescue her, you don’t want to leave and return to the palace. Act Three makes clear why. If principals deliver some exacting solos the corps des ballet once again look ragged in places compared to Act Two. Prompting the realisation that the only difference is the inclusion of male dancers in the corps during Acts One and Three. While female corps members aren’t entirely exempt from moments of laxness, with the males it's often a case of hands and positions, landings and timing, looking like loosely agreed arrangements. Taking up Smirnov-Golovanov’s principle of individual expression while disregarding his insistence on a rigour in service of the choreography. Something female corps members understand instinctively, the entrance of arms folded at the wrists revealing an array of personalities, each subsumed during the various pas. As before, the arrival of Orekhova as Rothbart’s duplicitous daughter Odile, disguised as Odette, changes the temperature for the better. In a wonderful sequence showing some inspired costuming by Dvorkina, Orekhova’s black and white swan makes for a striking visual, mirrored in Siegfried and Rothbart whose synchronised movements suggest a host of interpretive possibilities. Finally returning as the black swan looking to trick Siegfried into swearing his love to her, Orekhova is spellbinding, her sinister and seductive transformation luring you helplessly into her divinely dark web. Dancing within restrictive choreographic parameters, one defined by repetition rather than variation, Orekhova executes movements sublimely, her fouettés being particularly impressive, as she seduces the unknowing Siegfried into proposing to her, condemning the innocent Odette to her doom. The tragic unfolding in Act Four confirms the need for the male corps members to raise their game to the level of their female counterparts. Whose rigour of execution informs rather than contains, or merely decorates, the scenes between Odette, Siegfried and Rothbart. Especially the final moments. And as any aficionado knows, there have been several endings to “Swan Lake.” You’ll just have to go along to find out how this one ends. "Swan Lake" shows both the rewards and dangers of Smirnov-Golovanov choreographic approach and gives much for innovators and classicists to ponder. Something even beginners can start to ruminate on courtesy of a terrifically informative programme. Containing a hugely accessible glossary of terms and techniques which help educate beginners cultivating an awareness of their own tastes and preferences. Ballet is a demanding and unforgiving mistress. Arguably too demanding. But she expects exactitude and rigour and accepts no apologies, even within a more expressive frame. Prima ballerina Orekhova knows this well, but some others need to learn from her example. It’s not the first time a corps des ballet has let its soloist bear the weight of responsibility. But it is unusual to see such a clear divide between its male and female members. The talent is unquestionably there. Some need to step up. For when it comes together, Moscow City Ballet's “Swan Lake” makes it clear why Tchaikovsky’s classic has remained a much loved favourite for almost a century and a half. Thanks due, in this instance, to strong soloists, a sublime prima ballerina, and a whole lot of girl power. Moscow City Ballet’s The Tchaikovsky Trilogy, featuring "Swan Lake," The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until Feb 15. For more information, visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre #TheTchaikovskyTrilogy #SwanLake #TheNutcracker #TheSleepingBeauty #Tchaikovsky #MoscowCityBallet #Review #TheArtsReview #BordGáisEnergyTheatre
*** Someone Else's Childhood It sounds like a promising idea. Theatre Lovett and Irish National Opera relocating Englebert Humperdinck’s 1893 fairy tale opera, "Hansel and Gretel," inside a noir hotel straight out of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Yet when babes in the wood becomes babes in the hotel it never quite rings true. Especially with the English libretto constantly referencing the woods that the staging is striving unsuccessfully to reimagine. Feeling curiously heavy for something aiming to lure a young audience to opera, "Hansel and Gretel" looks too scared of being scary even by today’s family friendly standards. Thankfully its impressive cast, some terrific singing and first rate musicians draw us along a rich trail of comic and musical delights, helping "Hansel and Gretel" finally find its way home. Opening like a silent movie being cinematically scored, musicians of Irish National Opera Ensemble, led by conductor and pianist Richard Pierson, perform live onstage with conical party hats, suggesting witches. Or dunces. Meanwhile Raymond Keane’s corpse like Night-watchman steals the show from the get-go, moving about in deathly, mime-like silence. If the stage hints of a haunted house, it’s not of the Frankenstein variety so much as the Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein variety. Leading to a strange juxtaposition with Amelie Metcalfe and Ronan Miller’s arrival as the silent, lost children of the Dew Fairy, sung superbly by soprano Emma Nash throughout. Stalking the stage in yellow raincoats, as if the chilling child figure from Don’t Look Now rambled into the wrong movie, Metcalfe and Miller create a momentary apology of grown up tension. Before the cartoon antics begin as the libretto goes to war with the staging. The arrival of Hansel and Gretel sees mezzo-soprano Raphaela Mangan’s cheeky Hansel, and soprano Amy Ní Fhearraigh’s adorable Gretel, with her Minnie Mouse hair ribbon, immediately falling foul of soprano Miriam Murphy as Mother. As the two hungry imps stray into the deeper, darker recesses of the hotel, they finally arrive at the beautiful witches kitchen, played wonderfully by mezzo-soprano Carolyn Dobbin. Meanwhile baritone Ben McAteer as Father worries about his children’s fate and, along with mother, sets out to find them. Unaware Hansel is being prepared to be baked alive. Under co-directors Muireann Ahern and Louis Lovett, Jamie Vartan’s suffocating set struggles to find space. While his superb sentry box proves to be a marvel of ingenuity, as are some terrific props, almost a third of the stage yields itself to a pyrrhic victory of musicians. The lion’s share of another third getting lost to an underused elevator and balcony. The final third, and most visually interesting of all, sees most of Jack Phelan’s beautifully evocative video designs being crammed into a semi shadowed corner, with Sarah Jane Shiels' retro lighting reinforcing the feeling of claustrophobia. Space at a premium, performers are forced front and stage left, elbowing for room inside a cramped playing area. A space requiring not so much imaginative leaps as imaginative pole vaults, despite some clever prompts. Yet even then it's hard to visualise the space as anything other than an overpoweringly gloomy hotel lobby. In which two kids sing about woods while standing outside a lift. That’s providing you’re not already distracted by poorly positioned surtitles angled either side of the stage. Or by yet another imperceptible shadow moving unnecessarily around the obscured balcony. The eye made restless for always missing something, likely to strain even the most ardent child’s attention. Programme notes playfully suggest that librettist rank low on the literary hierarchy. In the case of librettist, Adelheid Wette, Humperdinck’s sister, you tend to see why. Even allowing for David Pountney’s unsympathetic translation into English. Constructed into three acts from a hotchpotch of German fairytales, nursery rhymes and folks songs strung loosely around a version of Hansel and Gretel, Wette’s libretto, written with children in mind, has many fine highs. Such as Act Two’s sublime classic Where each child lays down its head. Yet it can still feel like an operatic greatest hits, a collection of well made songs, many of them dearly loved, thematically rather than organically held together. With Humperdinck’s remarkable score providing the musical gel, brought vividly alive by Irish National Opera Ensemble conducted by Richard Pierson. Across the board, strong performances and stellar singing ensure moments of genuine delight, despite less than stellar acoustics, with Mangan and Ní Fhearraigh acquitting themselves wonderfully well. Fhearraigh’s irresistible quirks and mannerisms ensuring Gretel is an unforgettable delight. As is Dobbin’s wickedly wonderful witch. Theatre Lovett’s visual sensibility and humour usually prove irresistible. And while their humour is still irresistible, "Hansel and Gretel's" hotel gets stuck in the wrong frame. Going to war for no good reason with Wette's libretto, which starts to feel like it, too, walked in from another movie. Steeped in the visual nostalgia of grandparents, or great grandparents, for whom RKO serials had the power to thrill, "Hansel and Gretel" comes to resemble someone else's childhood. Likely to be more demanding on younger children than INO’s superlative La Cenerentola/Cinderella. Especially children whose childhoods were spent with Sabrina or other such scary witches, and who are already familiar with countless reimagined fairytales given a modern twist they can directly relate to. That said, there's a lot of humour and charm to be had in "Hansel and Gretel". And singing, music, and performances are just sublime. "Hansel and Gretel" by Engelbert Humperdinck, libretto by Adelheid Wette, in a Theatre Lovett, Irish National Opera, Abbey Theatre co-production, runs at The Abbey Theatre until February 15 before undertaking a select national tour. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre, Theatre Lovett or Irish National Opera. #HanselandGretel #EngelbertHumperdinck #IrishNationalOpera #TheatreLovett #AbbeyTheatre #TheArtsReview #Review
***** Where Were You When It was a quintessential ‘where were you when’ moment. Up there with where were you when David O’Leary slotted in that penalty sending Ireland into their first World Cup Quarter Final? For many it was the most exuberant where were you when moment of them all; when Riverdance stole the Eurovision in 1994. Awe struck, people sat transfixed in front of televisions. Calling friends and family as Micheal Flatley and Jean Butler made Irish dancing look magical. Listening, enthralled, to Bill Whelan’s exuberant Celtic score that sent the soul soaring. ‘Are you seeing this?’ people called out in disbelief, it being too big to miss or to have to experience alone. As heels crashed against the stage in final, perfect synchronicity, it wasn’t just the audience bursting into ecstatic applause. Pubs, clubs, and living rooms were on their feet cheering. Caught up in a spontaneous outpouring of something pride seems too small a word for. This, finally, was what we believed ourselves to be. Exciting. Passionate. Sexy. Innovative, inclusive, and wildly confident. And it was there, on stage, for all the world to see. Thankfully that iconic first performance was a teaser for what was to come. Premiering at The Point, Dublin, on February 9th, 1995, Riverdance: The Musical cast its spell and has kept the world spellbound ever since. Which, if you do the math, was exactly twenty-five years ago this week. And this week Riverdance has come home to celebrate its anniversary back where it all began with the "Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show". If many have aged both gracefully and disgracefully during the intervening twenty-five years, with The Point reinventing itself into the 3Arena, the eternally youthful Riverdance shows no signs of ageing. Looking as young, exuberant, and as wildly intoxicating as ever. For those familiar with Riverdance, "Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show" boasts some new elements as it transitions into its next twenty-five years. Always music and dance provide the pulse as it charts a journey through heart and history. Like some mythical, half-pagan stations of the cross, or some Druidic mystery play played out in a temple cave, scenes unfold through eighteen musical and dancing vignettes. Offering images, like pictures in a gallery, charting a vision of Ireland and Irishness rolling out from under the rolling mists of time. Before travelling throughout the world and returning home richer and wiser. Learning and sharing as fiddle meets flamenco, tap meets Sean Nos, all with a breathtaking beauty. Proving Irish identity is not one simple thing, even though it is always present. Grab at it with definition and it will slip through your fingers. But watch it dance and sing through cities and caves, forest and night skies, seas and rivers, and you’ll hear its voice, and see it move, as it celebrates home, harmony, and the whole world in shared togetherness. Throughout, director John McColgan crafts moments of astonishing beauty with compositional brilliance, channeling an unending flow of energy so that even when still the stage never feels stationary. Andrew Voller’s superlative lights illuminate Alan Farquhason’s sublime set which provides a visual feast that sees all the world onstage. All costumed to perfection by Joan Bergin and enriched by Peter Canning’s High Res and Cosmo AV’s graphics. A world distinctly Irish, yet includes fiery Flamenco from dancer Rocio Montoya, and a whirling dervish of delight that is The Riverdance Russian Ensemble, whose hybrid of Russian folk dance and ballet is jaw droppingly flawless. Friday nights performance, led by principals Natasia Petracic and Callum Spencer, saw an unrelenting rigour and exactitude deliver some exquisitely executed sequences. If the Thunderstorm sequence saw Spencer deliver a masterclass in precision, the Trading Taps scene saw him finding his swagger during a delightful Sean Nos versus Tap Dance battle with the lovable Riverdance Tappers, Kayla Lomas-Kirton, Dharmesh Patel, and Rohan Pinnock-Hamilton. Whether during solos or group scenes, like the beautifully brazen The Countless Cathleen, Petracic moves with the ease of a breath, embellishing with subtle gestural flourishes of personality that transcend the purely technical. An abundance of both flowing throughout the entire company, whose displays of unparalleled virtuosity are executed with military precision. Musicians, too, light up the stage, conveying the haunting, the playful, the plaintive, the exuberant. At key moments singer Edel Murphy haunts and soothes with a voice that would silence angels. Fiddle player Haley Richardson, with a wickedly mischievous glint in her eye, invites everyone to the party with some superb playing. Who, along with Tara Howley’s excellent Uilleann pipes and whistles, and Emma McPhilemy’s superb saxophone, supplies all the strings, winds and brass you could possibly need. Yet all risk being seriously upstaged by percussionist Mark Alfred, whose endless energy and enthusiasm makes Animal from The Muppets looks chronically laid back. All of whom are wonderfully supported by Damien Mullane on accordion, Seamus O’Flatharta on harp and bodhran, and Declan Masterson on guitar, pipes, kaval and bouzouki. Over the years Riverdance has had its detractors. Some accusing it of promoting a Yeats styled Celtic romanticism, fostering mythologised notions of Ireland that keep realities like the homeless or hospital trollies far out of sight. Or of becoming a corporate brand with too many offshoots trying to rehash the original magic. But realities of the heart are as real as the day to day realties we all want addressed. And myths allow us to shape and reshape our understanding of who we are. As a nation we’ve always been romantic at heart, prone to singing, dancing, poetry, and stories. Affording us a resilience to weather the storms and keep moving forward through the dark times, always celebrating life. In which Riverdance is an act of hope, dancing defiantly towards better days. Produced by Moya Doherty, "Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show" is both a tale of Ireland and of Riverdance’s own journey. So where were you when you first saw Riverdance? Equally as important, where are you now? Because life’s too short not to embrace the richest, most rewarding, and uplifting experiences. Magical, moving, and utterly memorable, "Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show" is one such experience. And it's here for only a few days. So live, or relive, the ecstasy, energy, and exuberance. Why on earth would you want to deprive yourself of that? "Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show," produced by Moya Doherty, directed by John McColgan, with music by Bill Whelan, runs at the 3Arena until February 9. For more informatioin, visit 3Arena or Riverdance. #Riverdance25thAnniversaryShow #JohnMcColgan #BillWhelan #MoyaDoherty #3Arena #Review #TheArtsReview
**** Winning Hearts and Minds At a recent production of The Sound of Music, loud, intermittent grunting could be heard coming from somewhere in the auditorium throughout the performance. Rightly or wrongly, many attributed the sound to someone with autism. Reactions were mixed. Some people nosily whispered complaints. Some sympathised. Some complained while sympathising. Others didn’t return after intermission. The question of inclusion at live events for people with autism was being keenly felt. ‘What do they want,’ someone muttered at the bar during intermission, ‘rock concerts with no sudden movements and the sound turned down? Mandatory subtitles at movies with trigger warnings before every explosion?’ If you’re already familiar with Jody O’Neill’s "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism," you’ll likely have some idea of the many issues informing these remarks. If you haven’t already seen "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism" then you really need to find yourself a ticket. It’s not just that it’s irresistible in making its concerns heard, favouring a culture change approach rather than battering you about the head with lashing of serious, self righteous anger. "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism" is also a smart, funny and utterly enjoyable night of theatre that enlightens as it entertains. And it’s a relaxed performance. Meaning, among other things, house lights on, phones off, and come and go as you please. Throughout, the format is simple: six actors, two flip charts, some deceptively brilliant rotating blocks designed by Meab Lambert, and a bucketload of theatrical ingenuity. Take the use of charts to list scenes, allowing for trigger warnings to be slipped in almost unnoticed as each scene is introduced. All ably supported by some non-intrusive surtitles. With two egg-timed question periods during the show in case you want clarification, and a twenty minute post show discussion, you've everything you need to get answers to any questions. Along with the everyday business of talking, acting, singing, and dancing as scene after scene unfolds, unleashing lashings of laughter and insight. Fashioned from a theatrical imagination that would leave many seasoned veterans hanging their head in shame. For there are winning hearts and minds in "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism," which includes cast members with autism. Shay Croke, Paula McGlinchey, Jayson Murray, Jody O’Neill, Matthew Ralli and Eleanor Walsh continually delight playing multiple characters and offering multiple insights. Superbly directed by Dónal Gallagher, masterfully channelling movement and energy in all the right places, ably assisted by Cindy Cummings’ simple yet smart choreography. Yet it’s not all sunshine and roses. As scenes progress, oscillating between the lighthearted and the harrowing, clearer understanding emerges. Like the use of bleach and electro shock to treat people with autism in hospitals and institutions. The murder of autistic children at the hands of their parents. The painful lack of State support and the bureaucratic hoops to be jumped through. The dick pics on Tinder and wondering how to behave on a first date. Frustrated parents and teachers who don’t understand. Bars, clubs, and restaurants that you don’t want to be in. Repetitive movements like toying with your hair, tapping your fingers, or some other such type of stimming. Odd that. With everyone sharing so many of the same issues, you might almost be inclined to think that people, whatever their differences, really aren’t so different after all. So maybe we shouldn’t treat people so differently? If "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism" makes its point, it doesn’t always make its case, the happy family looking decidedly disingenuous for seeming way too easy. As if such modest accommodations where all it took. And while it’s true that often that is all you need — patience, knowledge, listening — there are other times when those simple accommodations simply aren’t enough. Indeed, if people with autism cannot accommodate to the world, the world accommodating to them won’t always be so easy. Nor will cultural accommodations that need to be teased out to define how inclusivity is to be negotiated. A spontaneous burst of applause following a superb song and dance routine being a case in point. Making the end show request that people not clap but wave their hands feel out of place. The hand wave gesture proving painfully inadequate to express the genuine outpouring felt by a hugely appreciative audience. A gesture, some argue, that can often be a problem for people who dislike sudden movements. Turning theatre from a publicly private to a publicly shared, relaxed experience might seem to offer a wonderful alternative, but theatre might risk losing an audience not prepared to sit through relaxed performances as a norm. Yet if only certain performances are relaxed, does that not implicitly reinforce exclusion? Are some relaxed performances better than none? Relax, it’s all good. In "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism" the point isn’t about offering an ultimate solution, but about suggesting small accommodations on the way to a larger conversation on inclusivity. Showing as well as telling, listening as well as sharing, to try and affect a culture change in a non-judgemental fashion. In which case, "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism" is a job well done. And then some. Leaving you awash in hope and joy, wanting to know and to do more. "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism" is an innovative theatrical experience that makes light work of heavy themes. Even if you don't want every performance to be a relaxed performance, you’ll most likely come away wanting to see more. Beginning with the outpouring of joy that is "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism." You really have to see it. Even just to witness the best reimagining of Don’t Stop Believin’ to be heard anywhere on the planet. "What I (Don’t) Know About Autism" by Jody O’Neill, presented in a Jody O’Neill and Abbey Theatre co-production in association with The Everyman and Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre, runs at The Peacock Stage of the Abbey Theatre until February 8, before transferring to The Everyman, Cork, February 11 - 13 and Mermaid Arts Centre February 15. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre, The Everyman or Mermaid Arts Centre. #WhatIDontKnowAboutAutism #JodyONeill #AbbeyTheatre #ThePeacock #EverymanCork #MermaidArtsCentre #TheArtsReview #Review
*** Flowers in the Attic The Gate’s opening salvo for its 2020 season, "Medea," signals something of a shift. Where recent years have seen a direct challenge to the under representation of women in Irish theatre, particularly playwrights and directors, "Medea" delivers an all female production team; set, music, lights, writers, director, associate director. Power sharing or power shifting, the first four productions of The Gate’s 2020 Season see three of its four plays written by women, and all four being helmed by women directors. Choices already making for interesting conversations. Which might detract from another conversation stuttering to take place, sparked by a disquieting and thought provoking "Medea" by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, from an original concept by Sarks. Premiering to huge acclaim in Sydney in 2013, "Medea" shifts perspective to the children at the centre of Euripides’ tragedy. Speaking directly to the lived experience of Ireland’s first and second generation of divorcees still figuring out how to minimise the impact of divorce on children. Many of whom are left dealing with adult sized feelings in an adult sized world where the adults have lost their footing. Yet despite this shift in perspective, the only real feelings given anything like a voice in "Medea" belong to Medea. Making the hugely engaging performances from its incredibly brave young actors all that more impressive. No sooner has the curtain risen than ancient Greece is essentially kicked to touch by a privileged child’s bedroom of the 21st century. Indeed, Euripides' tale of a wife scorned by a husband leaving her for another woman is reduced to backstory backwash, the foreground focusing on the experiences of their two young sons; the pestering younger brother Jasper, and his protective older brother, Leon. Locked in an attic while the adults argue it out, some wonderful naturalised interactions evoke the innocence and ignorance of childhood as both young boys talk out loud trying to think through the adult world beyond the keyhole. Meanwhile death and dying is forever being foreshadowed, from talk of exploding fish to playfully practicing death scenes. Some brief cameos from Medea add some much needed tension as what started out as Greek tragedy gradually begins to resemble Flowers in the Attic. Virginia Andrews chilling 1979 novel in which children locked in an attic are being poisoned by their mother. Which Alyson Cummins' detailed attic design ably reinforces. Some uncomfortable truths, such as Leon thinking Daddy’s new friend is prettier than Mammy, skirt close to making the experience visceral as a disturbed Medea struggles with her concealed tortures. But it’s the knowledge of what ultimately lies in wait that lends "Medea" its true tension, thriving on anticipation of the tragedy to come. Throughout, Mulvany and Sarks make no easy accommodation to the potential for darkness in a mother’s love, or serve up easy dismissals of the love of a father for his children, or they for him. Something director Oonagh Murphy handles superbly, pushing both script and performers to some powerful and poignant moments, often stronger for being understated. Yet while Mulvany and Sarks talk safely about unsafe things, it sometimes becomes too safe. Turning in terrifically impressive performances, Oscar Butler as Leon (rotating with Elijah O’Sullivan) is wonderfully compelling as the big brother watching out for his younger sibling, trying to protect him from dangers he himself can’t fully articulate. Jude Lynch as Jasper, (rotating with Luke O’Donoghue) a pestering ball of energy with a wild imagination is absolutely terrific. Both Jasper and Leon are utterly adorable as two well behaved, compliant children walking blindly, and unquestioning, to their doom. Yet if their cuteness heightens them as innocent victims, it also silences them. Revisioning Medea from the children’s perspective while omitting, or sanitising, their intense, emotional confusion sees it often ring hollow. Ceding Leon a single moment of anger so safely handled it looks more like a trope than a truth. Even allowing for children putting the needs of their parents first and being endlessly eager to please, here it becomes their only defining attribute, neatly sidestepping the ugly mess of their own emotions. The end result ensuring the tragedy of both well behaved children positions them as page boys to Medea’s larger tragedy. Their own pains often disquietingly unspoken. Touched upon but never explored. Their lips still sealed. Only an inspired Eileen Walsh, offering an extended sketch of "Medea," brings a true sense of the distraught, tortured anguish experienced as a family falls apart, hinting at what she imagines she's protecting her children from. If Mulvany and Sarks leave you no wiser as to who, what, or why "Medea" is, Walsh ensures there’s no denying that she is. Her litany of loves delivered to an open door a desolate cry, steeped in psychological simplicity whilst calling out to the eternal of Cummins' star studded sky. Throughout, Murphy’s directorial naturalism makes the horror all the more immediate for being utterly recognisable. Whilst making similar tragedies, such as the recent tragedy in Newcastle, feel uncomfortably close to home. In "Medea," Greek tragedy is viewed through a fractured Nickelodeon, Disney Club lens, where emotionally sanitised, well behaved children never complain even as they're locked in their room and have to piss in their own clothes. If their deaths remain brutally disturbing, they too are kept at something of a safe distance, allowing the audience to fill in the emotional blanks, or project their own. As a way of beginning the much needed conversation on the pains adults can inflict on children, “Medea” is a terrific place to start. But when it comes to dealing with the wild bloody mess of emotions that divorce, or worse, can inflict on children, its cute factor ensures "Medea" feels more like Medea's well behaved second cousin. Playing for safety even while being wonderfully brave, “Medea” still has a power to provoke and disturb, even if doesn’t achieve all it set out to. "Medea" by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, from an original concept by Anne-Louise Sarks, runs at the Gate Theatre until February 22. For more information, visit The Gate Theatre. #Medea #KateMulvany #AnneLouiseSarks #TheGateTheatre #OonaghMurphy #JakeLynch #OscarButler #EileenWalsh #TheArtsReview #Review