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In Middletown, created and performed by Mikel Murfi. Photo credit:Agata Stoinska ***** If COVID facilitated anything positive, it allowed time for theatre makers to take stock and reflect. Something the Gate Theatre appears to have done. Making its first foray into live performance before an audience since COVID, the Gate finds its latest show operating out of the back of a van. Serving up Mikel Murfi's marvellous modern fairytale of fresh starts, In Middletown. A play where one man does nothing much, goes nowhere really, and very little actually happens. And it is the most glorious nothing and nowhere you're likely to enjoy this year. If you seriously wondered if online could compete with live theatre, wonder no more. A tale of a middling man's mid-life crisis, Murfi's old world masterpiece sees The Gate reinvigorate Fit Up theatre for the 21st century. A tale in which a man, for no apparent reason, decides to leave his home, his livelihood, and go live a life of solitude in the back of his van. Doing only what he feels like doing, like tending his bees, and travelling nowhere by way of roads to anywhere. Pulling objects from his coat in a manner to leave Harpo Marx green with envy, or playing imaginary games with his plant and fridge, day by day he gains a little more by holding on to a little less. Seeking psychic breakthrough or suffering mental breakdown, the wall between redemption and madness proves paper thin as he strips life and soul back to minimalists basics. Searching for that nothing we all leave behind, looking to keep his spirit level. In Middletown, created and performed by Mikel Murfi. Photo credit: Agata Stoinska Like the inimitable Seamus O'Rourke, Murfi has carved a niche in recent years as a one man, rural storyteller. His delightful The Man In The Woman's Shoes, and its overly sentimental doppelgänger in the attic, I Hear You And Rejoice attracting huge acclaim. It might seems he's following in his own footsteps with In Middletown, marrying the quirky and rural with his inestimable physical comedy. And in a sense that's true. Yet In Middletown is whole other level entirely. Embracing a Pirandello Six Characters...style narration, there's complexities and subtleties abounding adding depth and texture. Captured and conveyed by Murfi's impeccable physical performance evoking the silent comedy greats, and enriched by Sabine Dargent's clever set. Not that you need to understand the complexities. The chickens alone are sure to get you in the mood. Less Nomadland so much as Wanderly Wagon for grown ups, In Middletown is less a story so much as an encounter with a truly unique soul. One who marries the lunacy of a Tommy Tiernan with the laconic wisdom of a Michael Harding, and the soul stirring passion of a John Moriarty. Offering a tale as wise and deep as it is funny and heartfelt. Less than two minutes in and you know you're in the presence of a master. One telling a masterful tale deserving of becoming a much loved classic. For In Middletown is sure to travel by virtue of being Murfi's best solo work to date. A brave move putting on a play advocating solitude and a pared back life immediately after lockdown gets lifted. A lunatic move. But one that pays off handsomely. Not to be missed. In Middletown, created and performed by Mikel Murfi and produced by the Gate Theatre is on tour at the following venues: 22nd to 24th July: Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire 27th July: Town Hall Theatre, Galway 29th July: Glór, Ennis 5th August: Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick 7th August: Dunamaise Theatre, Portlaoise 10th August: Backstage Theatre, Longford 12th August: An Grianán, Letterkenny For more information visit The Gate Theatre where booking links to relevant venues are available.
Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021
A Piece Of My Heart, part of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film. Choreographer, dancer, singer, and artistic director of Irish Modern Dance Theatre, John Scott is the kind of multi-talented polymath for whom jealousy could easily get the better of you. An artist you'd love to hate if he wasn't so gifted, likeable and generous. Characteristics that informed all aspects of the Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Launched in 2019, Scott's personal crusade to promote Irish choreographers on the global stage began as a labour of love to challenge limiting, confused, and often negative notions about Irish choreography and identity. The inaugural Dancer from the Dance Festival in 2019 proved a huge success. Then came COVID in 2020. Scott, unwilling to let a little thing like a global pandemic slow him down, moved the entire festival online. Doing so again in 2021, offering workshops, films, discussions, and a series of curated, short choreographed performances to show what Irish, or Irish identifying choreographers in Ireland or abroad, have to offer. Whatever their age, locality, or ethnicity. As the third Dancer from the Dance Festival, online from July 5 to July 9, has just been brought to a close, the festival's growth over the past three years has been staggering. Never a man backward about coming forward, Scott's determination has this years festival shining a light on some of our finest choreographers, and dance film makers, positioned as part of a global practice and historic tradition, commanding form and space with the very best. And doing so with a self-assured swagger. John Scott, curator and artistic director of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film. Workshops this year, focusing on Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe and Trisha Brown, were defined by inclusiveness and innovation. A series of facilitated discussions with Irish choreographers dug deeper into their practice. If Zoom and spatters of academic jargon could momentarily make discussions feel like working from home, their liveliness and accessibility was what struck home most. There was nothing here to intimidate those not choreographically versed, and a good chance they might well be afterwards. While films like Joan Davis with Mary Wycherley’s mesmerising In the Bell’s Shadow, and longer performances, including the gorgeous Tilt, opened up serious interrogations it was the wonderful Gatherings that took the main plaudits. A daily series of short, choreographic calling cards rich in choreographic diversity, reflecting screen dance, live streamed dance, and works in progress from up and coming choreographers, ending with a lonely looking, if joyous céilí to bring it all home. At The End, We Begin, part of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film. Often featuring choreographers dancing their own works, Gathering highlights include Kristyn Fontanella's Plurabelle in which found and form marry in the spatter and slap of footsteps in the rain. Zoë Ashe-Browne, with choreographic collaborator Aaron Shaw, deliver the erotically charged Asa creating flow from touch and impulse. Mintesinot Wolde's Indian and Flamenco influenced, I'll See You In The Green challenges expectations of what constitutues dance by Irish choreographers. As does Tobi Omoteso's darling daddy/daughter dance off in which everyone's a winner when life is about Play. The sensuous sign language of Róisín Whelan's At The End, We Begin opens into a semaphore of the soul. Orlan McCarthy's Forest Gump-ish running for release sees the inner made manifest in Mind(e)scape. The unsettling Cliabh, a word alive with multiple meanings, sees Fearghus Ó Conchúir establish simple patterns evoking tensions and unease, Ó Conchúir capturing so much with so little. The simplicity of A Piece Of My Heart by Justine Doswell might initially seem like a warm up exercise negotiating people and space, but like its imaginative opening there's much more to this joyous delight steeped in charm and simplicity. Morleigh Steinberg's curiously shot Reconstruction sees an often headless, restless body, and equally restless images, jarring for your attention. Restlessness informing up and coming choreographer Mufutau Yusuf's work in progress Òwe – An Indigenous Way of Knowing. Butterfly Dance, part of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film. Traditional Irish dance informs several pieces, but its the range and complexity of interpretations that's most revealing. Morgan Bullocks beautiful Butterfly Dance sees traditional Irish dance transcending ethnicity. Nic Gareiss soft shoe shuffle gathers pace in Solo Square Dance to a Hank William's Luke the Drifter styled spoken word sound score. Ciara Sexton's delightful duet, (with a well timed swan cameo) Fáinne Óir channels the lushness of Riverdance and makes for a fascinating contrast with the delightful The Blue Heart by Anne O'Donnell, its sea swim ending still up for debate. The brilliant, generational study Modh Rúin (In Secret) by Ríonach Ní Néill/Ciotóg, interrogates Irish language, women, and culture in an English speaking environment, moving from the past towards the future, in which some masking tape speaks volumes. If, at times, it starts to feel like a get together over at Grandma's, suggesting an inclusivity omitting anything that might disturb, a little kick ass soon reestablishes equilibrium. Beginning with the standout The Becoming in which costuming and the body unleash wild, violent energies against which a spoken word mantra, and Shane Nolan's hammering score, don't so much collaborate or contribute as compete. And lose out within the first few seconds to up and coming choreographer Simone O'Toole's powerful choreography and Mollyanna Ennis' searing performance. Croí Glan Integrated Dance Company's Armour Off, choreographed by Caroline Bowditch, sees ageing, mobility, and attitudes towards both taken to task in a knockout performance by Linda Fearon. Oona Doherty and Luca Truffarelli's The Devil, arguably Truffarelli's most visually accomplished short film to date, might see Doherty and her doppelgänger trading in cinematically conventional images in a tale with a conventional twist, but Doherty's compelling performance hits a raw nerve with the whole, like a movie trailer, suggesting much more to come. The Becoming, part of Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021. Image from film. Which is what Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021 was really all about: what is to come. Suggesting that Irish choreography, like being Irish, like dance itself, and dance on film, is everything you thought it was and everything you thought it wasn't. And lots in between you never thought possible or never thought of at all. Shaping identity, and dance, well into the future. One hopes many Gatherings will be available online. In which case, check them out. And make sure to pencil Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2022 into your calendar. Dancer from the Dance Festival of Irish Choreography 2021 ran online from July 5 to July 9. For more information visit Irish Modern Dance Theatre.
To the Lighthouse
Derbhle Crotty in To the Lighthouse. Image Darragh Kane ***** Language, its flow, density, and malleability is vital to Virginia Woolf's 1927 classic To the Lighthouse. So when Hatch Theatre Company's production commences with crashing waves drowning out words, immediately followed by an overbearing musical soundtrack, portents aren't good. Whatever Marina Carr is trying to establish in the opening moments of her adaptation gets mostly lost. But cause for concern is momentary, for Carr eventually takes over. And when she does she matches Woolf's modernist eloquence with an eloquence uniquely her own, delivering a play whose prose shows all the power of poetry. Arguably Carr's best adaptation to date, To the Lighthouse remains faithful to the narrative thrust of Woolf's original, even as Carr adds some twists and ideas of her own. Set over two visits spaced ten years apart, The Ramsey family visit their holiday home in the Hebrides hoping to pay a visit to the local lighthouse. In the intervening years there's the First World War, a number of deaths, and new accommodations to be made. Most especially that of Mr Ramsey adjusting to the loss of the exceptional Mrs Ramsey. A relationship which defines, taints, and informs all other relationships. Declan Conlon and Aoife Duffin in To the Lighthouse. Image Darragh Kane While events are important, they serve to inform ideas, of which Carr, like Woolf, has an abundance. Throughout, the plight of women as artists, as mothers, as desired or not desired is writ large and questioned. As is marriage, seen as the end of it all and the end all and be all. Along with art, death, love, validation, male and female insecurities; the list goes on. Creating a labyrinth of themes explored rather than shallowly skipped over. Poetically crafted to allow you pick your own pathway, to follow whatever mantra of meaning resonates most. Yielding recognised realisations and fresh discoveries, not all of which are comfortable. Yet all of which are incredibly rich in theatricality, courtesy of top drawer direction from Annabelle Comyn, and director of photography José Miguel Jiménez. The visual aesthetic often recalling Peter Greenaway at his best, with Aedín Cosgrove's design looking painstakingly brilliant. Housing some powerful performances, most especially an electrifying Derbhle Crotty whose Mrs Ramsey leaves you speechless. Which is saying something, given the calibre of performances from Declan Conlon as Mr Ramsey, Aoife Duffin as Lily, Olwen Fouéré as Augustus Carmichael and a divine Nick Dunning as William Banks and Mrs McNabb, each one extraordinary to say the least. Nick Dunning and Olwen Fouéré in To the Lighthouse. Image Darragh Kane At just over two hours To the Lighthouse asks a little indulgence, more so if you're not a Woolf fan. But it rewards like few others. Under Comyn's assured direction the juxtaposition of a stiff upper exterior with a jumbled unsettled interior is wonderfully rendered; clashing conscious with unconscious, text with subtext, thought with expression, art with life. Carr's inclusion of a cameo from Virginia and Leopold Woolf will surely raise comparisons with Michael Cunningham's 1998 novel The Hours, which explores Woolf's writing of Mrs Dalloway. But any comparison leaves The Hours looking like the poor relation. In To the Lighthouse Crotty, Carr and Comyn craft an extraordinary tour de force. Capturing that which cannot be captured in language, and putting on stage, and screen, that which cannot be seen. Unmissable. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, adapted by Marina Carr, presented by Hatch Theatre Company and The Everyman, in association with Pavilion Theatre and Cork Midsummer Festival, is available on demand as part of Cork Midsummer Festival till June 27. For more information visit Cork Midsummer Festival.
One Good Turn
Aoibhéann McCann, Catherine Byrne, Shane O’Reilly, Liz FitzGibbon and Bosco Hogan in Una McKevitt’s One Good Turn. Image: Ros Kavanagh *** Meet the McKennas. Mam, Brenda, martyred with children and a sick husband, sees all around her revert to childlike incapacity, with both daughters notching up their sibling acrimony tenfold now they've moved back home. Fiona, who gave up her job to find herself, seems to have mislaid herself in her bedroom given the inordinate amount of time she spends there. Aoife, a repeat offending parasite, gave up the perfect boyfriend in London simply because he was perfect. Yet compared to their dissatisfied Dad, Frank, these tarnished golden girls are amateurs when it comes to a self-centred, lack of consideration for others. Displaying the personality of an entitled wasp, Frank is miserable with emphysema, needing daily care which he doesn't take any responsibility for. In Una McKevitt's dark comedy, One Good Turn, caring is an onerous duty to be undertaken under duress, for fear of great personal cost and a lack of gratitude, and is to be avoided whenever possible. In which warring family members writhe on their crosses competing for the title of greatest put upon, all the while journeying down a road to nowhere. Liz FitzGibbon and Aoibhéann McCann in Una McKevitt’s One Good Turn. Image: Ros Kavanagh If One Good Turn hopes to generate sympathy and understanding for caring, it sadly misfires. With eternal pettiness, Frank, a worryingly convincing Bosco Hogan, could single-handedly advance the cause for involuntary euthanasia, never mind voluntary. Two minutes spent in his insufferable company and the legislation would be hurried through immediately, and you'd be happy to kill him yourself. Home help Helen, an underused Pom Boyd, and sensitive neighbour Ciaran, an equally sensitive Shane O'Reilly, don't so much show you how caring is done as remind you its easier to care when you can walk away at the end of your shift, or whenever you choose to. The reality of care etched deep in Catherine Byrne's high octane Brenda, a woman so frayed she has to exaggerate every movement just to keep herself moving forward. Even when she tries take a break from caring she ends up caring for someone else. Because if she stops… If comedy needs laughter to give it energy, One Good Turn faces an uphill struggle in an auditorium working to a tenth of its capacity. Something director Emma Jordan doesn't always get to grips with, shifting between understated and overstated with comic timing not always being sharp. And with McKevitt's writing not always comedically robust enough. Even its wonderful No Limits moment take place mostly off stage, like its shy and embarrassed about it. Still, when its funny, One Good Turn is very funny. Yet its darker underbelly, captured in the clever title and the death of a neighbour, underscore where most caring ends, including that of Frank. Yet such themes are understated for the most part, as if uncomfortable talking about them. Luckily One Good Turn has two naturals in the irrepressible Liz Fitzgibbon and the inimitable Aoibhéann McCann who sizzle as selfish sisters, finding that balance between comedy and drama. Shane O'Reilly is no slouch either, usually for having most of the funniest lines. Even grumpy old Hogan gets in a few good comedic shots alongside moments of connection, lightening this world of normalised misery. Liz FitzGibbon and Bosco Hogan in Una McKevitt’s One Good Turn. Image: Ros Kavanagh If One Good Turn signals a departure for McKevitt, it's not an entirely successful one. Her documentary style works, like the adorable Singlehood, looking far more confident than her attempt at a kitchen sink drama. One resembling an episode of a classic American sit com with its grumpy Dad, martyred Mum, and selfish siblings. Or the first half of a Neil Simon play for which the second half never got written. Not ending so much as running out of steam in the middle of nowhere with nothing resolved. Like it had somewhere it wanted to go, lost the map, but decided to keep going till it used up its half tank of petrol. That said, there's a lot of heart and humour here, and it was a perfect night. The Abbey's reopening a tonic for the soul. One Good Turn, by Una McKevitt, was streamed live from the Abbey Theatre on June 25 and 26, having been available in person from June 21. It is available on demand till July 10. For more information visit The Abbey Theatre.
Marie Mullen and Brian Gleeson in The Saviour. Image Jed Niezgoda. *** Few can write people as well as Deirdre Kinahan. In Halcyon Days, or Spinning, characters leap of the stage, grab you by the scruff and don't let go. Yet a polar tendency to have characters pontificate as representative mouthpieces, à la The Unmanageable Sisters, never lands nearly as well or as convincingly. If her latest play, The Saviour, falls untidily between both poles, it doesn't spend overly long battering you directly to make its points. Instead, Márie, a Magdalene Laundry survivor with some six or seven decades behind her, gets to talk about sex, religion, motherhood, and the changing face of Ireland. Wondering, in the name of the mother, the son, and the holy lover, what would Jesus do? If Márie likes talking about sex, The Saviour seems to prefer to talk around it. Sex being the face it puts on a host of other issues Kinahan really wants to talk about. Sat up in bed, a prolonged opening finds Márie enjoying a post-coital smoke without any real trace of coitus. More like a Legionnaire of Mary enjoying a sneaky, masturbatory sex fantasy. Establishing, notionally, a flimsy tension between guilt and the pleasures of the body. Glowingly, Márie monologues about her mysterious lover Martin and his magical birthday present. A man who clearly knows where the clitoris is and what to do with it. Unlike her cumbersome dead husband, Colm, who clearly never found it in forty odd years. Still, if one man knows how to please her, she's still preoccupied with how best to please the men in her life. Like her gay son, Mel. The lusty Martin. And, of course, her first love, Jesus. Who gets an earful on which we eavesdrop as Márie recounts her first sexual encounter with Martin just prior to us meeting her, as well as her early life experiences. And who can blame her. In her pick and mix religion, a spanking, brand new loving Jesus may well be her shiny saviour, but Martin might well be her salvation. Marie Mullen in The Saviour. Image Jed Niezgoda All goes wonderfully well till we arrive at Stanhope Street. At which point Kinahan gives Márie a manifesto to recite on behalf of everyone who experienced the horrors of the Magdalene Laundries. In which Márie becomes eclipsed for being a mouthpiece, speaking less for herself, and less for everyone else as a result. Recalling a litany of evil passed off as salvation, suddenly we're in another play, one we swing in and out of, oscillating between intimate eavesdropping and a history lesson in horror. The introduction of Mel flips The Saviour into yet another play, one about a mother and son. If a doll sees the past being dragged into the present, a woman reclaiming her childhood and sexuality simultaneously feels a little disturbing. Yet it's a catalyst for some cracking crossfire between Mel and Márie, with the childlike doll creating an interesting, if obvious commentary. As does the introduction of Lucy and Sean to a world where the suffering of children never ends. Not even when they get older. When the victim enables, or continues, the legacy of abuse, sometimes out of a sheer and desperate loneliness. Like two separate stories cobbled together, The Saviour switches from monologue to duologue at around the half way point, like a lazy switch from exposition to action. Yet Marie Mullen manages the switch seamlessly, being extraordinarily compelling as a woman whose spirituality amounts to a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome and all that that entails. Including desires that have a dark streak. Plant Marie Mullen in a bed and comparisons with Tom Murphy's Bailegangaire will never be far away, and never to any writers favour. Yet under Louise Lowe's impressive direction, Mullen's fabulous floozy with a fire in her belly transports us through her childhood and her womanhood, reliving each moment vividly while excavating some dark places. Unleashing her hellish venom onto her son, Mel. A man for whom the lights come on slowly, slower than it takes him to get to the point. Beaten down over the years into a soft submissiveness, yet not quite into submission, Mel delivers some home truths and tough choices. All conveyed wonderfully by Brian Gleeson in a superbly understated performance. Yet with camera favouring the screen rather than the stage, we usually only see one action/reaction during even the most intense scenes, with something vital getting lost in the transaction. Brian Gleeson in The Saviour. Image Jed Niezgoda. If The Saviour walks an unsteady line between "lets talk about sex" and "shut up and kiss me," its sexiest strength is Marie Mullen's invested performance. Even if, in the end, The Saviour opts mostly for talking. Talking about sex in order to talk about other issues, when you were hoping for an experience, and not the experience of talking about the experience. Which, now I've had to explain it, the mood's wore off. Still, in writing of Márie - her joys, girlishness, and viciousness - and with lines like; "Is that your idea of love? No, that's my experience of marriage," Kinahan can knock you sideways, with Mullen and Gleeson displaying wonderful chemistry. If the end strains with sentiment to the point of snapping its heart strings, its points have been made, if not always as powerfully as they might have been. But Mullen rises above all such drawbacks with a crowning performance, well worth the price of admission. The Saviour by Deirdre Kinahan, directed by Louise Lowe and presented by Landmark Live/Landmark Productions, was streamed live from The Everyman Theatre as part of Cork Midsummer Festival on June 19 and 20. It is available on demand from June 21 till June 27. For more information visit Landmark Productions or Cork Midsummer Festival
Mespil in the Dark
Mespil in the Dark. Image by Ros Kavanagh. **** Dublin. Once a thriving hub of artistic activity. A place where artists, musicians, and all manner of performers lived, drank, made art and hung out in shared spaces. Which COVID handsomely put paid to. Truthfully, the rot was setting in long beforehand. For years now the city has been pushing artists, studios and venues out by making it too expensive to be in. And near impossible to access if you live off the Dart and Luas lines. Turning parts of itself into a lifeless business campus by day and a soulless ghost town by night. The rest becoming a tourist theme park. With trumped up attractions and the obligatory overpriced food and beverages. Its few, remaining artists haunting the shadows like friendless Caspers. Often working for the theme park to pay the rent. Those who can find somewhere to live that is. Such concerns inform the hugely ambitious Mespil in the Dark, four fifteen minute episodes by Pan Pan that explore the artist living under COVID in a city intent on marginalising them. In which frenemies with few benefits are presented in a series of overlapping character studies defined by shared loneliness and fleeting connections. Like La Boheme, or In The Heights, location proves vital in establishing the tone of their everyday lives. In this case a cramped and creepy Mespil Estate, looking lost to what was or what is. A place both haunted and liminal. Mespil in the Dark. Image by Ros Kavanagh. Its cheerless atmosphere established by the photographic detachment of Gavin Quinn's direction and Ros Kavanagh's editing. In which cold, almost clinical images define the dominant vocabulary, and which actors work to serve. A brave choice which often works given that much of Eugene O'Brien's script, despite being obsessed with the voice, relies on silent images establishing context rather than on text or performer. Be they the daily rituals of Mespil's rather conventional Bohemians, their cramped living conditions, or the dreariness of both Mespil and Dublin. While there's a unifying vision, there are competing voices, with the whole feeling like its suffering an identity crisis. Haunting, comedic, cinema verité, its genre blending often subverts to wonderful effect. Almost as often as they find themselves colluding uncomfortably, like shaking salt into your cornflakes. Something Jimmy Eadie's impressive sound design both contributes to and, at other times, smoothes over. Looking like the sole survivor following a very tidy, zombie apocalypse, Episode One sees Andrew Bennett's Adam inhabit a near deserted Dublin, a place as bleak as a summer's day in Belmullet. While striving for pathos, and galangal, Adam confirms your worse fears that actors are self absorbed and self obsessed. So come the clever, striving for poignancy twist at the end you're as likely to think, "what did you expect? You're an idiot Adam." Indeed, Adam might be ducking and diving and smoking something illegal, but a scene stealing cameo by Olwen Fouéré as Olive leaves you wishing you had two pints of whatever she's having. A timely testament that the most damning indictment against Irish arts is that they are not clamouring to raise statues to Fouéré, whose immeasurable contributions since the 1980s have been defined by consummate skill and generosity, being continually fresh for always taking risks, even when they don't pay off. Mespil in the Dark. Image by Ros Kavanagh. Money is the root of all misery, and misery loves company in Episode Two as a couple struggle with their confining conditions. Like a declaiming, demented Goth, Anna Shiels-McNamee's Shiela, and Tadhg Murphy's Viking looking Turlough, struggle to raise their child, their spirits, and a part of the male anatomy waning as fast as their careers. A prolonged Tarot reading, unlikely to convince even the most enthusiastic practitioners, feels like a narrative opportunity wasted when set against Quinn's images and O'Brien's silences, which often prove far more effective. Not though, when Ned Dennehy's alcoholic architect takes flight in Episode Three. Then you want all the words. Delivering a searing indictment against cheap feats of engineering passed off as architecture, Dennehy's Francis delivers what is essentially an embittered, interrupted monologue. As sharp, smart, and unswervingly brilliant as Dennehy's delivery. A visual comic moment midway through proves genius and allows you to come up for air. For Francis has more pain weighing on his mind than failed architecture. Like the larger failure of Dublin City Council and property developers towards the city, its artists and its residents. The latter given face and a voice in Dennehy's mesmerising performance, albeit a frustrated voice. Venting in a room, alone, to an audience that isn't there. Mespil in the Dark. Image by Ros Kavanagh. Arguably the most poetic and poignant of the four, Episode Four sees Lans, a young man from Sierra Leone, being constantly distracted from his studies. He is torn between too many worlds; the past and present, family and isolation, science and witchcraft, what he says and what's repressed. Once again, the incomparable Fouéré steals the shows as the mysterious Olive, lighting up the screen with a rare intensity, the camera not just loving her, but seeming in awe of her. Leaving Ahmed Karim Tamu as Lans facing something of an uphill struggle, on which he stumbles at times, yet finding his feet more often than not. Indeed, rarely has eating porridge been more deeply affecting. Despite its many strengths, were Mespil in the Dark a TV pilot it's unlikely to get optioned. Spread over four consecutive nights, the novelty of tuning in soon wears thin. Probably because we're a binge culture wanting our next episode yesterday. More relevantly, it's COVID context already feels of a time most want to move on from, like a really bad ex. As for its larger issues, it might seem like a conversation that's still happening, but mostly, like Ned Dennehy's Francis, its shouting after a bus that's already left us behind. Unless you seriously believe a government that tut tuts while condoning vulture buying is going to offer genuine support to artists rather than another token gesture. A quarter of ministers, or more, are landlords. These are the people making decisions on affordable housing. In any other business it would be considered a conflict of interests when you work for one company but have a personal investment in its competitor. Mespil in the Dark might shed a little light on the plight of artists, but some dark hearts brought us here. Making Mespil in the Dark less a cry for fairness, or a love letter to Dublin, so much as an embittered Dear John to a town without pity. And who'd want to live there? Mespil in the Dark, by Pan Pan, directed by Gavin Quinn and written by Eugene O'Brien, was streamed over four consecutive nights from June 16th to June 19th as part of Coiscéim Coiligh/Brightening Air. An alternative 360 online version of Episode 1 will be available on Vimeo on 20th June. For more information visit Pan Pan or Brightening Air
Ericka Roe in The Messenger. Image uncredited *** Dermot Bolger helped shape modern Irish literature. From Raven Arts to New Island Press, Bolger introduced, and supported, many new writers of distinction. Including himself. Novelist, poet, playwright and publisher, Bolger was prolific. An unstoppable, one man impresario who had the last laugh. Working class, from Finglas, Bolger helped give voice to the unheard and unseen when the odds were stacked against him. He didn't care. He let the work speak for itself, and some of it is still speaking. As is Bolger, in his latest play The Messenger, a tribute to those who died in the North Strand bombings on Whit Weekend, 1941. If, over the years, the tone of Bolger's work has shifted many times, The Messenger retains his love of social realism touched by the supernatural. Yet like his Last Order at the Dockside, it's a work heavily steeped in nostalgia. And it's a look that doesn't quite suit him. With a Dublinese closer to Ronnie Drew than Roddy Doyle, Bolger takes us on a North Dublin saunter, geographically and sentimentally. Clutching her Sacred Heart Messenger magazine, a sort of Time for Irish Catholics during much of the twentieth century, a young woman is preparing for a date with the apple of her eye, Eamonn O'Connor. Except the apple of his eye is her younger sister Gracie, who she addresses throughout. As if that wasn't complicated enough, a German Messerschmidt dropping bombs thinking Dublin is the UK is about to unleash a whole new set of complications, ensuring the love hate, secret sharing sisters will never be the same again. Yet, in a strange twist of fate, the real, long term victim might well be O'Connor. Those of an unkind disposition might dismiss The Messenger as nostalgia for the elderly. Yet it attempts to speak to history, and at the heart of history lie people. Many often written out of history, or reduced to statistics. Something Bolger is mindful off, with The Messenger offering a character study as memorial, making her both messenger and message. One in which an apparent simplicity conceals a wealth of depth. For Bolger's character is a woman in between. Between this world and the next, old Dublin and its newer suburbs, childhood and womanhood, home and new horizons. In images stepped in ghostly tones, courtesy of a spartan, shadowed design from Suzie Cummins, and simple sparse camerawork from Ger Kellett, language is left to do the heavy lifting. Yet with dollops of nostalgia dripping from every description, wedged in references, and words sounding self-consciously literary, it often steps uneasily. Like walking with stones in your shoe, feeling rhythmically forced and uncomfortable a lot of the time. But then you haven't factored in Ericka Roe. Under Mark O'Brien's nuanced direction, Roe is simply mesmerising. The rouge does not flatter her, nor the spinster styled costuming, and she only has language and expression to work with. But she trips nimbly along, finding rhythms even when buried, accentuating with a smile, a shift of the eyes, a bob of her head. Negotiating Bolger's verbal hurdles with conviction, bringing to life a character as much her own creation as Bolger's. It breathes and demands your attention, present even at the other end of the camera. Close your eyes and it's a radio play, but you'll still see Roe. The Messenger serves as an Axis swan song for director Mark O'Brien, who leaves his post as Axis Artistic Director for the newer shores of The Abbey Theatre, where he takes up position as Executive Director, Co-director with Caitríona McLaughlin as Artistic Director. Leaving behind an impressive legacy that helped shape the Axis into the vibrant theatre it is today. In many respects, The Messenger serves as fitting swan song as older and newer talents meet in a work rooted in history and community that's unafraid to take a risk. Like a lot of O'Brien's work. The risks don't always pay off. But Bolger and O'Brien know that already. But risk aversion never pays off. They know that too. The Messenger, by Dermot Bolger, presented by Axis Ballymun, is available online for free (though donations are appreciated) until May 31. For information visit Axis Ballymun.
Lobsters. Image uncredited ** Since Darwinism, we often get defined in terms of our shared characteristics with animals. Not that we weren't anthropomorphic to begin with, projecting human qualities onto our furry friends. Such as calling them furry friends. A selective process to lend dubious legitimacy to whatever we're selling, saying, or sanctifying. We share 99% DNA with chimpanzees. So what? We share 50% DNA with bananas. When either produces a play worth seeing the comparison might have more going for it. Lobsters are monogamous. So what? They get boiled alive and pair well with a good chardonnay. Boiled alive proving a fitting metaphor for Nyree Yergainharshian's Lobsters, a comedic take on relationships under COVID which drowns in its own hot ambitions. The name playfully references how we project monogamy onto lobsters. Except Yergainharshian wants to project something else onto lobsters. Something that speaks to the modern experience of love under lockdown, searching for a new metaphor while recycling old tropes. In Yergainharshian's first venture into theatre film, co-directed with Jocelyn Clarke, relationships, theatre, and film are self-consciously meta, with a lot of deliberately wonky camera work to enhance the overall sense of wonkiness. Reading anecdotes from hand held pages directly to camera from onstage, Yergainharshian, Brian Bennett, and Peter Newington find the pains of technology writ playfully large. Courtesy of some mildly amusing visual gags as it all goes haywire. Looking like a low budget version of The Play That Goes Wrong, only with far less cleverness or hilarity. Nyree Yergainharsian. Image uncredited Slipping into something like Friends hosting an afternoon chat show during a blackout, relationships, dating apps, lockdown and haircuts provide thin verbal filler between thinner visual fodder, being predicable and fun without ever really being funny. Even the relationship cake predictably ends up where you expect it to end up. Flipping into a series of serious interviews near the end, cute as they are, looks like shoehorning as Lobsters tries to recover what it never got to grips with in the first place. For all its good intentions, Lobsters doesn't do what it says on the tin. Talking of striding confidently into a new world of theatre film and exploring relationships as they relate to today, what emerges is thematically old wine in theatrically, and cinematically, older wineskins. As the laughs come soft and slow, it begins to look like an extended blooper reel. But some things it does well. There's a charm to it, a fun factor, a playful chemistry between its three strong cast and a most endearing love of theatre. Whose relationship with its audience has become strained these past twelve months. 'We miss you, it feels lonely here without you,' Lobsters says to camera. Well, we miss you too. The poignancy is keenly felt. But as one interviewee observes, aptly describing dating online, 'nothing is real till you get into the room.' The same might be said for Lobsters. Lobsters by Nyree Yergainharshian, presented by Project Arts Centre and Mermaid Arts Centre, is available online till May 29. For information visit Project Arts Centre or Mermaid Arts Centre.
Dublin Dance Festival 2021: Forme(s) de Vie/Farmer Train Swirl - Étude/ Breathing
Breathing - Hiroshi Sugimoto/Aurélie Dupont. Photo Les Films Pelléas Is all movement dance? What about when mobility isn't possible? In Forme(s) de Vie/Form(s) of Life (***) three short films back to back see dance approaching physiotherapy. In which choreographer Eric Minh Cuong Castaing (Shonen) and his crew move and position persons with reduced mobility like human puppets. A boxer ducks and weaves, his eyes magnetising, his breathing distressed; a woman sways silently like a tree in a forest; following a forest hike, a group find connection as arms and hands speak to being touched and untouched. Visually, there might appear to be little on offer, even if the third film is cinematically more ambitious. But surrender to them. Go with their flow; slow, easy, and assured. To a place deeply moving, deeply unsettling, and deeply human. It may not be dance, but there's dancing. Forme(s) la Vie - Eric Minh Cuong Castaing/Shonen. Photo Victor Zebo From physiotherapy to music video, Farmer Train Swirl - Étude (**), sees Belgian choreographer and dancer Cassiel Gaube explore House dance looking for fresh possibilities. Lights in the dark, all moody, broody and blue; this short piece wastes considerable time getting out on the dance floor. When it does, camera angles spend more time creating a club mood than establishing a lexicon. Initially resembling a badly blurred video of a Northern Soul dancer, the comparison comes to an abrupt end and not in Gaube's favour; rooted to the spot, practicing what resembles half hearted voguing whenever the camera offers a clear view. When motion occurs, Cassiel drags himself around the floor like a mad scientist's assistant. Throughout, Gaube is the half focus of attention, or at least has arms are. Along with some workaday video, lights, and music by Amer, Clément Chalm and Gaube, and Omar S respectively. In Farmer Train Swirl - Étude, House dance comes very near the bottom of a very long pecking order. Surfacing as snippets between what look like badly taken headshots; or dancing captured on a cheap phone by someone three sheets to the wind. If it ends looking like it wants to be Northern Soul again, the best you can say is at least they're both dances rooted in the street. Farmer Train Swirl - Étude by Cassiel Gaube. Photo Luc Depreitere Entering it's final few furlongs, DDF2021 offers a number of free shows, beginning with Breathing (****). Shot by Hiroshi Sugimoto on the glass roof of the Odawara Art Foundation, it features Artistic Director of the Paris Opera Ballet, Aurélie Dupont, performing the solo Ekstasis, a work choreographed by Martha Graham in 1933 and reimagined by Virginie Mécène. It's all in the hips as Dupont fuses grace to movement like some classical greek goddess. Poised, elegant, under Dupont's skilful execution Mécène reimagined choreography hints of flamenco and slow moving katas. A swirl of passion near the end of its brief 7 minutes sees Dupont return slowly to stillness; aloof, sensual, distant. Many will try, but few will grace a stage, or camera lens, with the same grace and elegance as Dupont. Forme(s) de Vie, by Eric Minh Cuong Castaing (Shonen) /Farmer Train Swirl - Étude, by Cassiel Gaube/ Breathing by Hiroshi Sugimoto and Aurélie Dupont are available online as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2021. For tickets or more information, visit Dublin Dance Festival 2021. Dublin Dance Festival 2021 runs May 18 to May 30.
Dublin Dance Festival 2021 - Dancing at Dusk - a moment with Pina Bausch's The Rite of Spring
Dancing at Dusk. Photo © polyphem_Filmproduktion **** There are a handful of choreographers who have shaped the face of modern dance. While some names might be disputed, none would dispute Pina Bausch being amongst the top five of that list; her seminal works still being performed today, almost 50 years later. In spring 2020, Bausch's The Rite of Spring (1975) was due to tour the world, performed by a company of 38 dancers from 14 African countries. Till COVID shut theatres down. Making Florian Heinzen-Ziob's film Dancing at Dusk- a moment with Pina Bausch's The Rite of Spring something of a bittersweet, if invigorating experience. Capturing the last rehearsal on a beach in Senegal, it reminds us of what we missed, and why Bausch is so important. Following a set up that drags its cinematic feet, a large squared off area sees a line of men standing opposite a line of women on the other side. Inside the square, off centre, a woman lies alone on red cloth. For the next thirty-five minutes a universe is fashioned from the interplay between male and female energies. Women enter the space, bodies rise, shudder, and patterns culminate in an energised group sequence. Men join, the dynamics and patterns changing as connections fraught and dangerous, powerful and moving are established. Throughout, Stravinsky's electrifying score informs movement, and is informed and enriched by it, as individuals and groups shape and reshape; smaller individual movements being part of the shared harmonies and disharmonies of the whole. Even the final solo speaks to the whole; the individual part of something grander than themselves. Dancing at Dusk. Photo © polyphem_Filmproduktion Perhaps the greatest gift Dancing at Dusk presents is a timely reminder that Bausch's work is defined by raw experience imbued with considerable style. If some later works have been accused of being stylised experiences, or style as experience, or favouring style over experience, The Rite of Spring is pared back to Rolf Borzik's simple costumes - black trousers for men, a cream coloured dress for women - and stripped right back to the body. Experience translated into form, choreographed by an intervening deity, and graced with style. Like the pull of the universe, in which cosmic bodies are drawn and repelled by seemingly haphazard energies, there's an underlying choreographic cohesion that holds The Rite of Spring together, resolving chaos into power and harmony; the simplest gestures and configurations shaping a universe that is its own, unique experience. An international co-production between Pina Bausch Foundation (Germany), École des Sables (Senegal) and Sadler’s Wells (UK) The Rite of Spring should have opened in March 2020 in Dakar as part of a double-bill with a new work created and performed by Malou Airaudo and Germaine Acogny, common ground[s]. While Dancing at Dusk, shot with unadorned simplicity, is a terrific document of record and an invigorating experience in its own right, it still feels like a trailer for a far richer experience. There have been too many great productions that never were this past year. Dancing at Dusk is a reminder of what could, without doubt, have been one of the greatest. We can only hope the universe gifts us a second chance. Dancing at Dusk - a moment with Pina Bausch's The Rite of Spring, presented by Pina Bausch Foundation, École des Sables and Sadler’s Wells, is available online as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2021. For tickets or more information, visit Dublin Dance Festival 2021. Dublin Dance Festival 2021 runs May 18 to May 30.
Dublin Dance Festival 2021: Revisor
Revisor: Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young/Kidd Pivot. Photo by Michael Slobodian ***** From Meyerhold to Roddy Doyle, Gogol's 1836 classic The Government Inspector has had many admirers and interpreters. Joining that illustrious list is Canadian dance theatre company, Kidd Pivot, whose extraordinary Revisor takes Gogol's tale into some strange and wondrous places. Choreographed and directed by Crystal Pite, and created in collaboration with playwright Jonathan Young, Revisor offers a cartoon take on all things corrupt. If it covers a lot of familiar ground, Revisor's strength lies not in its tale but in its telling. Which features an eight strong ensemble delivering an outstanding piece of dance theatre. A tale of bureaucracy, betrayals, and mistaken identity, Gogol's comic tale sees an opportunist taking full advantage of all that bribery and deceit will allow. Superbly directed for screen by Jeff Tudor, recorded during its run at Sadler's Well, London in March 2020, Revisor sees dancers lip-syncing words to perfection as their characters respond to stage directions and exposition issued by an invisible narrator. A "fixation with the mouth and its emissions" provides both a narrative and physical impetus, with words replacing music as the impulse towards movement and gesture. Which superficially look cartoonish, often borrowing from the exaggerated comedic stylings of early silent comedy, But Revisor is way smarter than that. As Gogol's tale unfolds, so do some terrific performances, with Cindy Salgado's Anna, and Ella Rothschild's Desouza scene stealing simply by taking to the stage. Revisor: Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young/Kidd Pivot. Photo by Michael Slobodian If Revisor doesn't take itself too seriously, it takes its craft very seriously indeed. As intrigues and deceits pile up Young's script fractures, allowing un-costumed history to repeat and reimagine itself. Story giving way to mantra like phrases, words giving way to movement, with both refusing to be limited by meaning. A series of superb solos, duets, and group pieces by dancers Doug Letheren, Jermaine Spivey, Gregory Lau, Rena Narumi, Ella Rothschild, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado and Tiffany Tregarthen serve up unforgettable, breath taking sequences. As the tale re-emerges in costume, its ending is weakened for having dragged us back from a place where words weren't up to the task. Better to end the night with a kiss than an explanation. As with the brilliant Betroffenheit, at the heart of Revisor lies some astonishing dancers, and Pite's inimitable choreography which is touched by genius. If Kidd Pivot were a racehorse, you'd bet on them every time. From lights, to costumes, to sound, to design, in performance and in terms of choreography, Revisor reminds us that Kidd Pivot are not just standard bearers for dance theatre, they set the standard bearers strive to emulate. Not to be missed. Revisor: Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young/Kidd Pivot, is available online as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2021. For tickets or more information, visit Dublin Dance Festival 2021. Dublin Dance Festival 2021 runs May 18 to May 30.
Dublin Dance Festival 2021: Childs| Carvalho | Lasseindra | Doherty
Lazarus by Oona Doherty, Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Didier Philispart **** When a show is named after its four choreographers rather than their works, you're making a particular kind of statement. But then the company is (LA) HORDE of Ballet National de Marseille. Brainchild of Marine Brutti, Jonathan Debrouwer and Arthur Harel, the idea of the collective informs their practice as they set about questioning a variety of artistic disciplines. Juxtaposing works revolving around the body in movement to address often radical contemporary themes. Original premiered in April 2021, this mixed bill features choreographers Lucinda Childs, Tânia Carvalho, Lasseindra Ninja, and DDF Artist in Residence, Oona Doherty. Throwing up some fascinating contrasts, it makes you wish you'd been there as ballet converses with a variety of alternate voices. Tempo Vicino by Lucinda Childs, Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Théo Giacometti Beginning with Tempo Vicino by Lucinda Childs you might be forgiven for thinking you stumbled onto a contemporary ballet sequence for a new musical. Something suited to Bernstein's On The Town, with John Adam's Son of Symphony evoking the moods and energies of a street scene. Except this street is a little more restrained for retaining much of its formality, music providing the impulse to which form is shaped in a relatively safe manner. If precision in pose and positioning proves crucial, flow allows more freedom as bodies often move like a murmuration of starlings (birds recurring in each of the first three pieces), in which eight dancers reform into four perfectly harmonised duets. Throughout, the camera invites us in like a studious choreographer, alighting on a scene or dancer as if to ensure things are as they're supposed to be, before flitting on to the next or pulling away. Coloured screen changes and changes in tempo might introduce shifts and variations, including a superb walking sequence, but reverting to the underlying eight becomes four pattern remains intact. If it all looks rather conventional, its beauty lies in its precision and execution, which always look flawless and effortless. One Of Four Periods In Time (Ellipsis) by Tânia Carvalho, Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Théo Giacometti Divided into two parts, One Of Four Periods In Time (Ellipsis) by Tânia Carvalho might start in chaos, but it ends in mesmerising harmony. One in which Carvalho's gender fluid costumes use red socks to superb effect. Like an elaborate game of Freeze, dancers initially snap in and out of momentary tableaux, exploring jumbled bodies in stillness as much as in motion. Faces are fierce, frightened, forced to smile as tortured tableaux are shaped and bodies shift through shadow and amber light. A wonderful, chaotic, stop/start subversion that crafts strange and often strangled images. Often the flow of the camera dominates over the flow of bodies, almost as if it wishes it were one. A light and costume change midway leads into a series of entrances suggestive of a gymnastics floor routine performed to a tribal beat. If the camera is initially less intrusive, it's only for a time, often framing movement so you miss the bigger picture. With so many rich focal points informing each other, being told where to look feels restrictive. Distracting as much as informing the harmony developing in the background. One in which the disparate become united, after a final flurry of competing solos, the effect as hypnotic as it mesmerising. Mood by Lasseindra Ninja Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Théo Giacometti With crashing thunder and thunderous club beats, the gorgeous Mood by Lasseindra Ninja sees ballet meet the gyrations of voguing and striptease in a series of sparkly, glitter filled snapshots. The camera again looks like it to wants to play too, or at least command the viewing. As three dancers pulse and slink, shoulders, arms, and hips slip their ballet reins, but a twirling dancer visits frequently to remind you. The introduction of a fleet of dancers looking like extras in a low budget, sixties sci fi movie, replete with big blond wigs and bigger boots, ratchets up the fun factor. Which an energised solo in half shadow, leaning more into contemporary ballet, loses a little, even if it loses nothing in attitude. Which is hugely present in a clever shotgun themed duet. A final orgy of candy floss pink and piled high pony tails plays a double hand, cranking up the sex and voguing before leading intriguingly into a costume change. Highlighting the dancer, and their body, along with the forms they explore, as mutable sites. Lazarus by Oona Doherty, Ballet National de Marseille. Photo by Didier Philispart Ending with Oona Doherty's Lazarus, the best wine is indeed kept till last. Defined by precision and economy, Lazarus employs a recognisable, everyday phraseology that forces us to recognise the scarred, the scared, and the sacred. Voices, harsh and laughing, float over bodies lying like inmates sleeping, all uniformed in white, like a patchwork of cloud in the semi-dark. A Gregorian chant against which dancers rise, pose, shape, and challenge gesturally, sees the secular and spiritual collide. Dancer's looks, sounds, and movements speak to individuals normalised and institutionalised to violence, in all its power, horror, and terror. Given expressive form through a series of shared repetitions and fractured, often angry gestures; hand thrust down the front of track suit bottoms, posing defiantly, running scared. As the siren wails, the body as a site of violence has transformed into one of vulnerability following a journey towards changed perception. A journey of eight haunting minutes, brilliant in its simplicity, that overflows with attitude, power, and perfection. One thing DDF2021 is making clear is that dance on film is its own unique thing. Less a twin of dance so much as a favoured second cousin. The camera might foster unusual intimacy, or unnatural distances, but it blinds as much as it reveals in its framing and editing, guiding the viewers preferred wanderings by deciding what it can and cannot see in a given moment, making for an entirely different experience. Indeed, films often prove most successful, as in The Love Behind My Eyes, when they fully embrace film making. You might even argue that DDF2021 is less a dance festival so much as a dance on film festival. If some say film is not as good as dance; it's still something good. Often very good. Something more than a document of record. Childs | Carvalho | Lasseindra | Doherty presents not just ways of dancing, but ways of viewing onscreen, important in the current climate and for going forward. Like a sachet of chocolates from a bespoke chocolatier, this hand picked selection speaks to both its individual flavours - some silky smooth, others toffee tough - and the manner in which opposing tastes can inform each other. A little like Dublin Dance Festival 2021. Childs| Carvalho | Lasseindra | Doherty by Ballet national de Marseille - direction (LA) HORDE, is available online as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2021. For tickets or more information, visit Dublin Dance Festival 2021. Dublin Dance Festival 2021 runs May 18 to May 30.