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Amanda Coogan in Possession. Image by Patricio Cassinoni **** Even Possession ’s pre-show announcement sounds hollowed by the ghosts of our Celtic past. Complimented by a haunting, musical dissonance composed by Linda Buckley, played and sung live throughout. Against which a huddle of writhing arms gradually assemble in the centre of the traverse. At one end of which a mobile of white, motionless clothes-hangers hover over a woman sitting at her desk writing incessantly. From the Artspeak programme you gather guidance, or tunnel vision. Possession is inspired by deaf playwright Teresa Deevy ’s play of the same name which Deevy described as a ballet based on the mythological story of Queen Meabh from The Táin . Who was fuelled by a desire to posses the brown bull of Cooley. Created and performed by internationally renowned performance artist Amanda Coogan , performed with collaborating artists Alvean Jones, Lianne Quigley and the Dublin Theatre of the Deaf, Possession also claims to speak to the expressive potential of ISL (Irish Sign Language). The programme claims a lot of other things too. But we’re not here for the programme. What stands out most through all the justifying jargon are two words: Amanda Coogan. Who, like a conductor, transforms the space the moment she enters it. Parading towards the writhing mass with strutting confidence, Coogan owns the space, her body, and everyone else’s as they follow her articulate lead, trying to emulate it. Throughout, no words are said. No words are necessary. Yet nothing is silent, nothing is still. Like some mystical coral, arms undulate without touching, which, over time, evolve into shared gestures and patterns. As the group opens up, turning to face a three headed being, gestures and expression no longer flow aimlessly. Rather, they cohere to become language, communicating in silence across distance. Similarity, not synchronicity, underscoring a shared vocabulary in which voices are individual and distinct. Some whispering, some declaiming, others annunciating, some too fast, too slow, or not clear enough. A language belonging to the initiated from which outsiders try to piece together meaning. Often an everyday experience for deaf people which is here reversed. Possession. Image by Patricio Cassinoni Throughout, Coogan’s signature trademarks are much in evidence. Durational extracts see coloured cords flailed with intensity. One of many images that touches on ritual. Echoed in cultural references grounding the past, and the ancient past, in the present as when two bulls prowl the stage preparing to fight. A neat subversion courtesy of some noticeboards allows a modicum of text into the mix, as playful as it is helpful. The result might not be visually groundbreaking, even allowing for Coogan’s encompassing set, like a refugee tent with clothes littering the wall, but it has its own quiet power. As does movement and gesture. Part of a programme begun ten years ago to reclaim Teresa Deevy from obscurity, Possession proves double edged in that regard. To call Deevy’s contribution a libretto is to play fast and loose with what constitutes a libretto. Also, its grounding in The Táin tends to muddy the authorship waters. What emerges most is Coogan’s passion for Deevy and, therefore, Coogan herself, along with her passion for ISL. If, as Marina Abramovich claimed, there’s a distinction between performance art and theatre, in Possession Coogan seems happy to subvert both. If theatre is at least one body performing in a space to at least one other body, Coogan is less about the performing body so much as the body as performance. Present. Sensual. Distinct. Communicating with other bodies without speaking. The body as immediate as now and as ancient as myth. Ensuring that if multiple interpretations of Possession exist, many more will come into existence with each new performance. And each new spectator. Possession , created by performed by Amanda Coogan, performed with collaborating artists Alvean Jones and Lianne Quigley, composer Linda Buckley and the Dublin Theatre of the Deaf, runs at The Project Arts Centre until Feb 24. For more information visit The Project Arts Centre
Fiona Keenan O'Brien and Leah Rossiter in Belfast Girls. Image by Sean McMahon *** There’s no overstating the importance of regional venues like Dundalk’s An Táin Arts Centre . Both to their community and to the wider arts community. Offering opportunities to meet up and engage with a myriad of diverse performances, several directly assist in the development of local artists by offering significant practical support. Like An Táin Arts Centre’s resident Quintessence Theatre , who get to hone their craft through practice and experimentation. To celebrate ten proud years, An Táin Arts Centre recently presented their biggest production to date, the Irish premiere of Belfast Girls by award winning Dundalk writer, Jaki McCarrick . A tale of five women in 1850 aboard the Inchinnan as it sets sail for Australia. Each eager to escape Ireland for the imagined freedoms, and food, of the new Promised Land. Which, like Belfast Girls , isn’t quite all it promises to be. The cast of Belfast Girls. Image by Sean McMahon Topical, with overt feminist leanings, Belfast Girl has enjoyed several productions internationally. Begging the question, why not here? Well perhaps because, despite its good intentions, its front loaded political messaging undermines its dramatic medium, despite some spirited work by its five strong cast. Or rather, its six strong cast. True, there’s only five bodies onstage, but there’s six distinct voices. The dominant one being McCarrick, determined to hammer home her politics often at the expense of everyone and everything onstage. Unapologetically Marxist, McCarrick divines an astute connection between the banking crisis and Ireland during the Famine. Both being times when women and children suffered severely under austerity measures, the guilty were let walk free, and the victims were penalised with many forced to leave home. Her characters trying to serve two competing mistresses; their story which they’re trying to tell, and McCarrick’s political grandstanding. Which often reduces them to ventriloquist dummies offering commentary, or declaiming mouthpieces for an unchallenged Marxist manifesto. Undermining story, its power, and its people, all in the name of power to the people. The cast of Belfast Girls. Image by Sean McMahon How so? Narratively, nothing much happens. Five Irish women pressed into a hull of a ship undertake a three month journey to Australia. Over time secrets emerge, one leading to injury, till all arrive at their destination a little older, a little wiser, and a little more politically aware. Dramatically, there’s little onstage action, less real conflict, and hardly anything at stake till near the end. The bulk of the play’s concerns having happened before the play started. Instead, the past is recounted when the future is not being divined like a party political broadcast. Tales of fathers selling their daughters, of sexual and emotional abuse, of dead and dying children are all reduced to political fodder, like babies in a politician’s photo op. Even a burgeoning lesbian relationship proves more political than personal, being all about the points being made. And so it goes, more or less, for the guts of two and three quarter hours. As the end arrives, it’s less a case of gears finally clicking into place so much as a house of cards toppling as it all makes a mad dash for the finish line. Working hard and fast to try bring its characters safely to land. Which it does by allowing their humanity shine through. Carla Foley and the cast of Belfast Girls. Image by Sean McMahon Whilst director Anna Simpson is conscious of the dichotomy between medium and message, she compounds rather than resolves the disconnect. Indeed, talk of Quintessence’s unique style of physical theatre raises its own issues. While Simpson is often brilliant at creating movement onstage, an effort to speak to something beyond words via choreographed musical moments, looking straight from the ANU playbook, ranges from the genuinely interesting to showing an unforgivable lack of rigour (a scene in which all characters sway during a storm suggests they’re each standing on separate ships). Compositionally, while Simpson can be strong on intimacy, too often she resorts to actors cheating (placing actors facing the audience when they talk rather than the characters they should be speaking to). Her cast frequently positioned like opera singers undermining their own power. The visual image compounding the experience of Belfast Girls as essentially one long, laboured lecture trampling all over the interesting play that’s trying to get out. The cast of Belfast Girls. Image by Sean McMahon Indeed, the less characters have to say politically, the far greater they, and their stories, are realised. Placing a hard working Donna Anita Nikolaisen as the rebellious Judith at a serious disadvantage. Spending much of her time as one of McCarrick’s mouthpieces, playing the lines so the points get made rather than the scene in which Judith lives and breathes, Nikolaisen frequently compensates with an animated performance in an effort to express something more than a diatribe, or else to enliven it. Resorting to, or encouraged to perform too large gestures when less would have been so much more is something Simpson should have addressed. A tendency that also afflicts Siobhan Kelly’s secretive maid Molly, whose schoolmarmish tone and mannerisms reinforce a lecturing trope. Yet Nikolaisen and Kelly are both utterly sublime when their characters are allowed to breathe rather than being corseted inside someone else’s borrowed ideas. Equally sublime is a terrific Carla Foley as the duplicitous Sarah, who conveys guilt, spite, pride, and jitteriness that speak far more eloquently than Belfast Girls political rallying call. Similarly a superb Fiona Keenan O’Brien as the will of iron Ellen, and an outstanding Leah Rossiter as the brash, loudmouth, whiskey swilling Hanna. Frenemies whose comic duelling and front and centre personalities are a joy to watch. No surprise that the character most removed from political lecturing, Hanna, proves the most enlivened and memorable, with Rossiter announcing herself as a serious talent. Simpson shining when her direction leans into the story instead of back burning it to accommodate McCarrick’s overt political posturing. Donna Anita Nikolaisen and Siobhan Kelly in Belfast Girls. Image by Sean McMahon Which is not to discount anyone’s political beliefs, but rather the belief that the writer’s political ideas can take precedence over the play they’re grounded in, making it a vehicle for a dressed up pamphlet at the expense of the people whose politics it’s meant to represent. If that’s the way you want to go, go Brechtian. Having characters perched on McCarrick's soapbox, Belfast Girls divides them against themselves. Never clearer than when they slip free of their reins and are allowed speak rather than recite. McCarrick’s humanity, which underscores everything, made beautifully evident in her humans being human. Trapped in the confines of Sinéad O’Donnell-Carey’s stunning set and costumes, which suggest a serious talent in the making. The cleverly tiered and angled frame, basked beautifully in Sophie Cassidy’s majestic lights, sees both contributing to the richness of the experience. O’Donnell-Carey and Cassidy two artists you’re sure to hear more of. The cast of Belfast Girls. Image by Sean McMahon If Belfast Girls often gets in its own way, An Táin Arts Centre are to be applauded for allowing young artists experiment, fail better, and find their feet. If the experiment doesn’t entirely come off this time, always a risk with experiments, there’s still much to admire and enjoy here. Especially when performances are unencumbered by an excess of political baggage. For having the courage to take such risks, allow artists on and off stage to experiment, and introducing us to works like Belfast Girls, An Táin Arts Centre deserve every congratulations. As well as thanks for nurturing rising talents and promising companies like Quintessence Theatre. Here’s wishing An Táin Arts Centre many more years of continued success to come. For more information visit An Táin Arts Centre This review refers to the production at Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, February 16, as part of Belfast Girls tour which also visited Lyric Theatre, Belfast, the Droichead Arts Centre Drogheda, following its premiere at An Táin Arts Centre, Dundalk on January 24.
Rachael Dowling and Sorcha Furlong in Elizabeth Moynahan's Happiness Then... Image by Al Craig *** Misery loves company in Elizabeth’s Moynihan’s delightful two hander, Happiness Then… even if misery might be better off without the company. Like snuggling up to a wire brush, estranged sisters Frances and Bridget are more likely to cut each other to shreds than dish out sibling consolation. Meeting in a wine bar, the two sisters try to talk about their mother’s death, her will, an ex-husband, a vanished son and the new woke normal that is modern life for the older woman. In which Happiness Then… serves up lightweight meditations on transitioning from male to female along with questions about alcohol and addiction. Yet what it lacks in depth it makes up for in heart, it’s touching portrayal of two warring sisters striving for connection full of tender moments. In a story about binary opposites, Happiness Then… relies heavily on binary opposites. It’s odd couple of straight-laced, uptight, control freak Bridget and wine swilling, mad aunt, devil may care Frances being a format as old as the hills and as recent as Grace and Frankie . Indeed, like Grace and Frankie it commences with a former husband coming out. This time as female; Frances’ former husband looking to be addressed as she/her. A lengthy argument on drinking, transitioning, and fidelity in marriage flips midway to facilitate Bridget’s concerns. Namely her missing son and why he ran away. No lead in, just a contrived switch that comes out of nowhere to switch character focus. Not for the first time will Happiness Then… reveal itself as structurally contrived, even as Moynihan crafts lines and scenes brimming with charm. Rachael Dowling and Sorcha Furlong in Elizabeth Moynihan's Happiness Then... Image by Al Craig If there’s little at stake, and if it doesn’t end so much as run out of road leaving too many questions unanswered, director Liam Halligan sensitively negotiates all this to emphasise the generosity in Moynihan’s undercooked script. We may not quite believe that these women want to be around each other in what they say, but we glimpse why they might in how they behave. Due, in no small measure, to two riveting performances. A ying yang dynamic of dark and light (those opposites again) with Rachael Dowling’s suffocating, green tea drinking Bridget, looking exaggeratedly high strung on occasion, enough to turn anyone to drink. Yet when Dowling beautifully evokes the pain of women trying endlessly to be perfect you glimpse the source of the rage that fuels her. Sorcha Furlong grounding it all with a captivatingly brilliant performance. The world weary Frances delightfully understated, adding calm to Dowling’s distress. Throughout, Moynihan's “let’s talk it all better” approach skims the surface of its heavier issues. Yet its exploration of two sisters whose loneliness reminds them there just might be someone in the world who gets them is genuinely heartfelt. An estrangement reflected in Toni Bailey’s clashing costumes. If Eoin Lennon’s set looks like a cáfe closer to home than a wine bar, it adds to a sense of eavesdropping. In which Dowling and Furlong shine. In the end Happiness Then… is a snack, not a meal. But it makes for a tasty lunchtime treat none the less. Happiness Then… by Elizabeth Moynihan, runs at Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre until March 9. For more information visit Bewley’s Cáfe Theatre
Sister Act. Image uncredited. **** How do you solve a problem like Delores? A big dream, big voiced wannabe singer who’s just witnessed a murder. Disguised as a nun she is sequestered away to a convent as part of a witness protection program. The worldly Delores a disruptive influence on the resident sisters, all oblivious to her secret. Whipping the ten strong church choir into shape, she turns them into national celebrities. Leaving Mother Superior at her wits end. Proving be careful what you pray for, you just might get it. In Sister Act, A Divine Musical Comedy , based on the Whoopee Goldberg 1992 movie of the same name, a nun on the run serves up tonnes of fun, but it’s the songs and singing that prove heavenly. Sister Act. Image Mark Senior Set in the late Seventies and heavily referencing The Sound of Music at times, Sister Act is not the equivalent of musical fine dining. Clunkily finding its feet, with Bill Buckhurst’s direction doing just enough, as does Alastair David's choreography, and with Morgan Large’s set looking distractingly like the portal in Stargate SG1, spectacle leaves a little to be desired. Book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane a bare bag of narrative bolts you don’t want to think too much about. Narratively and visually it just about holds together. But Sister Act was never intended as musical fine dining. Rather it’s the musical theatre equivalent of street food. Relying less on presentation and more on strong, tasty flavours, Sister Act’s songs and singing serve up some sumptuous treats. Sister Act. Image Mark Senior While it's the energised nuns who run the show, aided by a terrific Ruth Jones as Mother Superior and an excellent Landi Oshinowo as streetwise, disco diva Delores, the men also have their moments. A scene stealing Alfie Parker as Steady Eddie Souther, the cop responsible for protecting Delores, near brings the house down with I Could Be That Guy , channelling Village People , disco balls, and more glitz and glamour than any one person should be allowed. If its gangsters look like pantomime clowns, making Ron Burgundy and his crew look like geniuses, leader Curtis Jackson (Ian Gareth-Jones), along with henchmen TJ (Elliot Gooch), Joey (Callum Martin) and Paolo (Michalis Antoniou) turn on the style like an overdose of cheap cologne. Channelling heavy Seventies vibes, including referencing The Floaters , they set out to prove why no woman can resist them, and fail to make their case. If some men struggle in the upper register, it’s more than compensated for by its ten strong women's choir showing hugely impressive range. Most notably the exquisite Eloise Runnette making her professional debut as postulate Sister Mary Robert. Runnette’s sensational voice, especially her show stopping rendition of The Life I Never Led , living proof of the existence of angels. Sister Act. Image Mark Senior It’ll come as no surprise that all’s well that ends well, with Jones and Oshinowo shining during the great, big, glittery kitsch finish. Wherein lies the secret of Sister Act ; it throws all its eggs into its singing and song basket. Staging might look average and story patched together, but songs and singing are simply sensational. Given they’re built from music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater, you shouldn’t be too surprised. Let your heart and soul go with it, and you will find Sister Act joyously uplifting. Go, be part of this terrific Sister Act . It does the soul a power of good. Sister Act, A Divine Musical Comedy presented by Jamie Wilson, Kevin McCollum, Gavin Karin, Robbie Wilson and Curve, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until February 24. For more information visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
Pattie Maguire and John Cronin in Country Music by Simon Stephens. Image by Wen Driftwood ***** It might run for only seventy minutes, but Country Music by Simon Stephens serves up a four act masterclass. Charting a painfully familiar tale, Stephens’s little ditty about Jamie and Lyndsey speaks to hard times and hard people trying to survive. Of scared and scarred young boys hiding behind violence. Of young girls trying to negotiate their rage. Of the love, pain and hope that underscores the humanity and inhumanity of their world. First produced in 2004, Country Music comes with so much legacy you’d want to be insane, or rather brilliant, to think you could stage and do it justice. Which is exactly what Glass Mask Theatre have managed to do, delivering seventy minutes of theatrical dynamite. Not that it will conform to everyone’s idea of how you should tell a story from a disadvantaged socio-economic background. Its emphasis on personal choice rather than environment and conditions, on learning to submit to the rules and play the game rather than questioning the rules and game itself will have some tut tutting. But there’s more than enough context here, and relocating the setting to Ireland raises its own questions about the primary importance of environment. But that’s a different play. Those with experience in the field know there’s the issues, and then there’s the people effected by those issues. In Country Music Stephens's focus is on people. John Cronin and Callan Cummins in Country Music by Simon Stephens. Image by Wen Driftwood Given the play’s heightened intimacy Glass Mask Theatre makes an ideal venue by bringing you up close and personal, giving its cast nowhere to hide. Under Ross Gaynor’s assured direction they don’t need to. Gaynor, still a young director, successfully navigates to the heart of Country Music by eliciting four outstanding performances. Even so, not all Gaynor’s choices will conform with everyone’s preference. If pre-show music hits up Country and Western classics with their bittersweet tragedies and bad choices, use of an oppressive instrumental score throughout creates mood rather the capturing the humanity at the heart of Stephens's script. Similarly with the positioning of Jamie, a brilliant John Cronin, charting the journey of a rebel without a clue to regretful father rueing the choices he's made. Positioning Jamie as less of a bad boy so much as a good boy with a bad attitude in a bad situation trades his danger for damage. Losing his sense of threat leans into heightening his personal loss and his possibility for redemption. Cronin navigating the characters intricacies with stunning ease as Jamie moves from car to prison visiting room, to dingy apartment, all the time growing a little older and wiser. Cronin making light of the acid test that is the glorious cigarette smoked in silence scene. Not that’s he’s alone smoking in a stolen car. The spirited Lyndsey, absconding from her care home, serves as aspiration, inspiration and counterpoint to Jamie’s pain fuelled recklessness. A light in the dark that the dark can never have, Lyndsey is beginning to realise love isn’t all you need. Or that maybe there are other kinds of love, like those of a parent for a child. Ciara Ivie breathtaking and brilliant as the lonely Lyndsey, revealing her heart, soul, pride, resilience and secret self through a myriad of gestures, expressions, tones, smiles, grins, subtle shifts in body and positioning. Ivie's chemistry with Cronin performative gold. Similarly Callan Cummins as the hyper energised Mattie, Jamie’s younger brother who visits him in prison, their chemistry palpable. Likewise Pattie Maguire as Belfast Child Emma, Jamie’s daughter he never got to know. Maguire extraordinarily moving channelling Lyndsey’s spirit and Jamie’s nail-biting. Heartbreaking during an attempt at reconciliation when maybe it's too late for shared everydays like making tea. Proving murder is just the first tragedy of the many smaller tragedies it leads to. John Cronin and Ciara Ivie in Country Music by Simon Stephens. Image by Wen Driftwood Stephens has talked about writing plays not as scripting language but as mapping energies. He sells himself short. Stephens does both, being an excellent cartographer and a world class master of language and craft. Like a pocket watch, countless pieces need to tick and click at the same time, unseen behind a face that keeps perfect time. Take the notion of being caged or trapped, reinforced by scenes being played in a car, a prison visiting room, a dingy apartment. Offset by the final bittersweet scene, hinting at freedom, being played outdoors. Balanced by the right amount of words in exactly the right place. That doesn’t happen by accident. That’s craftsmanship of the highest order, and just one of Country Music's many ticking parts. You can argue about its brevity, but Country Music has all the hallmarks of a modern classic. Done terrific service here by Glass Mask Theatre. Not to be missed. Country Music by Simon Stephens runs at Glass Mask Theatre until March 2. For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre
Hugo Weaving and Kate Gilmore in The President. Image by Ros Kavanagh **** Most likely receiving its Irish premiere and first performance in English, The President , by controversial Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, is an absurdist comedy inspired by the political landscape of Europe during the 1970s. Most notably the terrorist attacks and assassinations carried out by The Baader Meinhof Group. A laboured indictment of totalitarian dictatorships, Bernhard's neglected play from 1975 will surely whet the tedium of those uninterested in political theory. Thankfully Tom Creed’s firm direction delivers top tier theatre courtesy of two outstanding performances. Even as two near silent performances almost steal the show. Julie Forsyth and Olwen Fouéré in The President. Image by Ros Kavanagh Exploring an assassination attempt on an unnamed President in some unnamed country, Bernhard’s clunky script, a clunkiness preserved in Gitta Honegger’s translation, serves up two interrupted monologues, beginning with the First Lady. Repetition a device that soon becomes dreary as she reflects, ad infinitum, on the Anarchists assassination attempt which killed her dog. All to facilitate a dated discussion on art and politics, the art of politics and the politics of art. Olwen Fouéré’s demented First Lady, a trophy wife who looks great in black, sits before her dresser in her hall of mirrors bedroom abusing her servant Mrs Frolick, a scene stealing Julie Forsyth. Class conflict clearly informing their relationship, power and terror informing its subtext, with Fouéré and Forsyth making for a formidable pair. The chilled bedroom phase one of Elizabeth Gadsby's stunning design, illuminated to perfections by Sinéad McKenna. Meanwhile, offstage, the President hacks so many coughs you wonder if he’ll make it to intermission. Daniel Reardon, Hugo Weaving and Kate Gilmore in The President. Image by Ros Kavanagh For a single, short scene there’s an electrifying hint of the play The President might have been. Fouéré parking her monologue for a bout of verbal fisticuffs with a mesmerising Hugo Weaving as The President. Fouéré at her most visceral when not trapped behind a table looking like a disinterested news anchor. Weaving exceptional as the megalomaniac President whose lengthy monologuing soon bores his actress lover, a sultry Kate Gilmore, as they party overlooking a holiday postcard backdrop. Phase two of Gadsby’s brilliant design again suggestive of a fragile, self-reflecting universe. Like Forsyth, Gilmore provides the audience with connection and commentary whilst saying practically nothing. And so it goes, more or less, till the final scene whose theatrical sleight of hand catches you by surprise. Here’s what you can say about it: if you think you should, you should. Julie Forsyth and Olwen Fouéré in The President. Image by Ros Kavanagh With The President , Bernhard doesn’t make things easy. A dramatically dull tale about two despicable characters, engagement is further hampered by Bernhard playing literary Tetris. Like a lacklustre libretto lacking a musical score, mantra like lines are spun this way and that looking to establish connections. Monologues confirming it’s only ever Bernhard's voice you hear. Yet Creed, whilst acknowledging the device, makes sure not to fall into its trap and fleshes out its two central characters, ensuring Fouéré and Weaving are thrilling to watch. Even so, it's the mostly silent Forsyth and Gilmore who risk stealing the show. Forsyth’s brilliant comic maid saying everything with a sigh. Gilmore’s gold digging actress weaving revelations from an empty champagne glass. Both showing how to say so much when given so little to work with. Who, along with Bryan Burroughs, Chris McHallem, Will O’Connell and Daniel Reardon, add rich moments of humour. Hugo Weaving and Kate Gilmore in The President. Image by Ros Kavanagh Presented by The Gate Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, The President isn’t likely to be everyone’s cup of tea. Some will see it as a forgotten European classic long overdue a revival that speaks to the political landscape of today. For others it’s a political and post-dramatic drag as dated as the 70s where it should’ve remained. To call it Kafkaesque an insult to Kafka. What’s not in doubt is Tom Creed’s superb direction, an exceptional cast, and top class production values that elevate The President into something theatrically intriguing. Making it, at the very least, a worthwhile curio. At best, a risk that paid off. If you’re still unsure, its four central performances make it a risk well worth taking. The President by Thomas Bernhard, translated by Gitta Honegger, presented by The Gate Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company, runs at The Gate Theatre until March 24. For more information visit The Gate Theatre
São Paulo Dance Company
São Paulo Dance Company, Goyo Montero's Anthem. Photo Iari Davies ***** To that endless list of things that often resemble buses, as in you don’t see one for ages then two come along together, you might add five star dance performances. Following Junk Ensembles wonderful Dances Like A Bomb , the internationally renowned São Paulo Dance Company take to the stage of Bord Gáis Energy Theatre to show why they’re one of the world’s best. For this, the Brazilian company’s first Irish show, three contemporary pieces, each roughly twenty minutes in length, from three choreographers rooted in Latin American or Spanish culture, create a truly memorable experience. To say each one is exhilarating would be like saying Frida Kahlo dabbled at drawing, it would be a massive understatement. São Paulo Dance Company, Goyo Montero's Anthem. Photo Iari Davies Despite three individual choreographers, the overall tone is one of a shared aesthetic. One grounded in the vision of artistic director Inês Bogéa , reinforced by chiaroscuro lights and a wardrobe dusted with desert hues from different authors. Opening sequence Anthem, by Spanish choreographer Goya Montero , sees fourteen dancers traverse the stage like a murmuration of starlings, or a shoal of fish. Arms extending, hands flapping, bodies swerving, whirling, flowing; the individual subsumed within an organic collective breathing as one. Till breath dissolves into music, Owen Belton’s score a patchwork of mesmerising moods. As sequences progress, unravellings occur as bodies separate, reform into groups, duets, trios. If ballet and contemporary provide the choreographic foundations, whatever is useful, from gymnastics to squaring off in a Jerome Robbins styled, West Side Story street battle is allowed play. Poetry in motion, no doubt. But choreographer Montero is a painter as much as a poet. Images forming like fleeting tableaux, then dissolving, endlessly reforming into others before returning to stillness. São Paulo Dance Company, Nacho Duato's Gnawa. Photo Iari Davies To underscore the company’s commitment to collaboration and diversity, Gnawa by Nacho Duato , artistic director of the Mikhailovsky Ballet, based on Moroccan ritual songs and rhythms, sets a tone as beautiful as it is haunting. Again a minimal costumed palette, again a large body of dancers. Yet Gnawa , despite its North African score, is rooted in ballet, being dominated by sublime duets in which lifts, glides, extensions are executed with consummate care. Once again, if movement is the paint endlessly reforming into patterns, light is often a chiaroscuro of timeless mystery. Not so in Brazilian choreographer Cassi Abranches’s Agora, which again sees group work dominate. A metronome ticking faster setting up an open marriage of movement to beat and rhythm, built on a fidelity that likes to stay true but isn’t averse to a little flirting outside the rhythmic form. Fosse-like hip pops and swivels, backward struts, like a playful wink, achieve divine synchronicity at times. Costumes afforded a modest splash of colour, allowing for a sexier hang around the hips, lights now a sunlight of celebration as the night draws to a delightful close. São Paulo Dance Company, Cassi Abranches's Agora. Photo Camilo Munoz and Iari Davies Throughout, the mix of male and female energies merge into an organic whole larger than the sum of their superb individual parts. Like Plato’s hermaphrodite, the two make for a complete soul. Indeed, along with being technically excellent, creatively brilliant, and choreographically exhilarating, São Paulo Dance Company are also one the most soulful. Like watching a murmuration of starlings, to watch São Paulo Dance Company is to be a privileged witness to something of life’s beauty and mystery. Not to be missed. São Paulo Dance Company , presented by Dance Consortium, perform at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre as part of their Irish and UK tour until Feb 6. For more information visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
Dances Like A Bomb
Finola Cronin and Mikel Murfi in Dances Like A Bomb by Junk Ensemble. Image Luca Truffarelli ***** Thank God for remounts. For opportunities to catch those shows you missed first time around. Like the sublime Dances Like A Bomb . The inimitable Junk Ensemble , along with performers Finola Cronin and Mikel Murfi, exploring the uphill struggle of the body’s decline. The ageing process with all its joys, aches and ultimate finality. Seeing life lived large through letting go in this gorgeously judged piece of dance theatre. Less a narrative so much as a series of loose linked vignettes, Denis Clohessy superb score reinforces the separation of sequences into moods and themes. Beginning with two bodies sat onstage, like some dystopian Adam and Eve, discovering each other. Or rather, re-discovering each other. Prodding flaps of unfamiliar flesh, pulling alien pouches of skin. For these are not new, youthful bodies airbrushed and romanticised. Rather Saileóg O'Halloran costumes convey less the seductiveness of a first date so much as the unflattering undergarments you lounge around in when you’re not expecting visitors. A quick change into a suit and dress speaks more to practicality than costuming, though a pair of red high heels and a little gender bending later on help make the sexually covert overt. Finola Cronin and Mikel Murfi in Dances Like A Bomb by Junk Ensemble. Image Luca Truffarelli Interspersed between solos and duets, text recited by Murfi and Cronin borders on the Beckettian via examinations of a life lived and meditations on life’s absurdities while waiting to die. Indeed, living proves the real challenge, with a glorious playful sequence revealing death as child’s play, dying a child’s game. Heavy themes humorously handled throughout. But text proves secondary to some sublime movement sequences. Soft, explosive, energised, calm; choreographers Megan and Jessica Kennedy’s fingerprints are everywhere in evidence. Yet Murfi’s exuberant clowning and prat falls, along with Cronin’s formidable talent for taking ordinary gestures and crafting extraordinary patterns are visibly in play. The familiar made magical in some outstanding routines, including a touching trio with an IV drip. A profoundly moving sequence in which Cronin seems to find peace in the betrayal, or delighting, of the body smoking a cigarette. If the opening duet is defined by distance, the penultimate duet is informed by proximity, as if both bodies have become a single, shared entity. Leading into the final celebration. Murfi and Cronin's energised exuberance looking like the dance equivalent of a Dad joke. A cover your eyes, they’re not my parents, cringe making abandonment which sees both determined to dance like a bomb and defy the ageists. The experience uplifting, joyous, exuberant. Profound in its simplicity, finding beauty in the banal, showing strength in delicacy, Dances Like A Bomb is The Bomb. If remounts allow you catch shows you missed, they also allow you to see great work again. Dances Like A Bomb is nothing short of extraordinary. Don't miss it. Dances Like A Bomb by Junk Ensemble is currently on tour. Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire | Wednesday 31st January & Thursday 1st February Hawk's Well, Sligo | Saturday 3rd February The Everyman, Cork | Thursday 8th February & Friday 9th February Backstage Theatre, Longford | Tuesday 13th February VISUAL, Carlow | Thursday 15th February Town Hall Theatre, Galway | Monday 19th February Siamsa Tíre, Tralee | Thursday 7th March Project Arts Centre Dublin | Thursday 28th March & Friday 29th March For more information check local venues
Fionnula Flanagan and Sade Malone in Sive. Photo credit Patrick Redmond **** There’s no escaping it, John B.Keane’s canonical Sive is a problem play. One that can pose challenges for a modern audience, especially a younger audience. Written in 1959, its tale of an orphaned teenage girl forced into an arranged marriage is not something most Irish women can relate to these days. Nor are the trials and tribulations of the 1950s, like the scandal of children born out of wedlock. Or living in a cramped, smoke drenched cottage with your grandmother, your uncle and his vicious wife, though there are many modern parallels in fairness. Structurally, there’s other issues. The eponymous Sive, more talked about that seen, is little more than a narrative device in her own story. A victim of poverty, a mean spirited community, and the controlling patriarchy, the agency-less Sive is the opposite of a twenty-first century girl boss. Not too much to see here it would seem. Yet look a little to the side, at the adults that surround her, and there’s a whole lot to see. Including a malignant, self-justifying community brought vividly to life by some of Keane’s liveliest and most visceral characters. Squaring off as they prepare their sacrificial lamb in a dark hearted production loaded with fun. Norma Sheahan and Denis Conway in Sive. Photo credit Patrick Redmond If Sive has been framed in many ways over the years to highlight many issues, most notably gender, director Andrew Flynn opts to forego all that, for the most part. Instead, he places characters front and centre and lets their stories unfold. It’s a rewarding decision which allows confrontational sparks to fly as what can be one dimensional villains are given greater nuance and depth. Nanna Glavin, an often holier than thou victim trapped in her own cottage might still be Sive’s guardian angel, but Fionnula Flanagan laces her with a streak of bitterness matched only be her pride. Which underscores the endless battle with her daughter-in-law Mena. Too often a hardbitten harridan, here given poignant subtlety by a terrific Norma Sheahan who allows the pain, the missed chances, and the woman Mena might have been to inform her rage and bitter hatred. Even Sive’s gormless uncle Mike, wonderfully rounded by Patrick Ryan, sees his betrayal of Sive offset by his belief he is protecting her from a crueller fate. His relationship with Mena hinting of a couple rather than two villains. Their humanity magnifying the inhumanity of their actions which they go to great lengths to rationalise. Sade Malone and John Rice in Sive. Photo credit Patrick Redmond Not that the cartoon villain is completely dispensed with. Denis Conway, brilliant as the belligerent, bombastic Thomasheen Seán Rua, who brokers the deal to marry off Sive, cranks up the humour with gusto. Making for a striking contrast with John Olohan’s superbly sleazy Séan Dota, a human oil slick you wouldn’t want to sit near let alone marry. Throw in two travelling tinkers in Steve Wall’s Pat Bocock and Larry Beau’s singing Carthalawn, who, with Sive’s true love Liam, a delightful John Rice, conceive an ill hatched escape for Sive, and the cast of characters that inform Sive’s life are complete. Leaving only Sive herself. Posing challenges for any actor or director given what can be huge asks in accepting her initial compliance and her final choice which are textually left underdeveloped. Sade Malone as Sive looking sublime as a young, vulnerable, almost ethereal teenage girl. Malone’s soft yet commanding presence completely captivating. Yet Sive’s near total resignation, which enhances her victimhood, comes at a price as Malone leans heavily into it. Coming, at times, to resemble a too passive, too good to be true, doe eyed Disney princess. One who doesn’t quite fit with the harsh realities unfolding. Leaving the dark ending looking contrived. Yet Malone’s mixed race Sive proves hugely effective in highlighting mixed race Irish children, many born out of wedlock during an oppressive time, that rarely gets addressed. Alas, if the gesture is noble, it compounds the problem by making Sive, once again, the cipher at the centre of someone else’s conundrum. The child at the centre of it all eclipsed beneath thematically bigger claims. Ensemble in Sive. Photo credit Patrick Redmond That Sive’s Kerry is a dark and threatening landscape is wonderfully captured by Maree Kearn’s angular set. The warmth of the grey walled cottage contrasted with a rear wall smeared with darkness. Ciaran Bagnall’s atmospheric lights like tenderness trapped in overwhelming shadows. In which old ghosts loom, laughter and sorrow reverberate, songs are sung to broken hearts and lost souls whilst the dark sees all and says nothing. Flawed, yet still a fabulous tale fabulously told, Sive makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Sive by John B. Keane, a Gaiety Production, runs at The Gaiety Theatre until March 16. For more information visit The Gaiety Theatre.
Luke Casserly in Distillation . Image by Patricio Cassinoni *** When is theatre no longer theatre? Performance no longer a performance? Or are such terms redundant in a hyper collaborative, post-modern, everything including the multidisciplinary sink approach to art? Where such terms become subsumed under the jargon coverall of ‘artist’ or ‘theatre maker’? Or do they retain some essential essence despite greater fluidity around their definition? Take Luke Casserly‘s Distillation . A personal journey exploring the bogs of Longford where Casserly grew up and revisited during COVID. Where he reflects on the closure of the peat cutting industry in 2020 and its impact on local culture and community. The tension between economic decline and environmental recovery seeing Casserly taking the anthropomorphic route. Giving the ancient bog a 'poor me' voice to say what it supposedly wants to say. Even if the only thing we ever really hear are Casserly’s projections. Like an awkward dinner party, the audience avoids looking at each other whilst seated around a circular table covered in earth. At the head of which sits Casserly with a thick tome before him. Doreen McKenna’s costume evoking less King Arthur so much as an inmate at Arkham Asylum. Or a hospital orderly delivering an outreach educational programme for Bord Na Mona. Casserly, like the bog, claims he’s not that great a performer. Turns out he’s not that great at icebreakers either. Everyone taking turns at sniffing a jar, followed by some soil, prolonging the awkward silence. Broken when Casserly talks about his recently removed cyst and his body’s effort to heal. Setting up a tidy relationship with the bog, the body and healing. Not for the last time will this relationship be revisited. As its fifty minutes pass slowly you glean less about the bog than you do about Casserly. Like a pagan ritual tea is drank, smoke appears, and patterns are traced on both the body and the soil as Casserly talks about his father, legacy, recovery and responsibility without anything akin to depth. Like a public relations presentation on a factory tour, or the Edinburgh Whiskey Tour, there's a little sniff here, a little sample there, and a whole lot of lightweight information before you head off with a warm fuzzy glow inside. Amidst light laughter and easy confessions the oddball dinner party draws to a close. The host generously proffering a parting gift of perfume, one for everyone in the audience, courtesy of Casserly and perfume maker, scientist, artist, take your pick, Joan Woods. Like Distillation it’s a neat and clever idea, but again the question asks itself; what exactly is this? To which your answer might well echo Mister Burns after Marge Simpson painted his portrait; “I'm no art critic (or theatre, or performance, or performance art critic), but I know what I hate. And I don’t hate this.” In the case of Distillation, you might not be swayed by the underwhelming charms of the bog or its theatrical merits, but the charming and likeable Casserly proves somewhat irresistible. Distillation , created and performed by Luke Casserly, in a Luke Casserly, Abbey Theatre, Solas Nua Production, runs at The Peacock stage of The Abbey Theatre until February 10. For more information visit The Abbey Theatre
Anthony Kinahan in Unguarded. Image by Rob Fay *** The absent father uninvolved in their children’s lives. Often an uncomfortable truth, yet just as often a convenient cliche concealing a comfortable lie. Namely that the Irish legal system serves the best interest of its children. It's outmoded notions of family unquestionably favouring the mother. Meaning that for children born out of wedlock the mother is legally deemed the de facto best parent. The father having no rights unless granted guardianship by the mother who can deny visitation, or take the child to live abroad, and there’s nothing the father can do about it. Even when granted guardianship the mother’s parents can claim custody should she die. Even if the child is happily living with the father. A situation complicated when families with infertility issues, or gay parents, resort to surrogacy. A shocking and disgraceful state of affairs which performer Anthony Kinahan purports to explore in in his one person show, Unguarded . Except he doesn’t. Instead, Kinahan serves up a touching tale of a widower struggling with grief. Stephen, a frayed nerve end wrestling with the new normal of being a single parent tries to juggle work while raising his musical theatre obsessed child Tadgh, his neurodiverse son with more energy than a Duracell bunny. Little of which is explained directly, Kinahan cleverly trusting his audience to do the unpacking. For a long period little happens beyond exposition, with even less being at stake, resulting in slice of life character studies. Tadgh, showing passion more than prowess, is gearing up to audition for a school musical as Stephen struggles to cope following his husband Conor’s death. A cameo by Conor’s parents near the midway mark introduces the villains of the piece. An alleged homophobic couple set on getting custody of their grandchild as, legally, Stephen is recognised as Tadgh’s guardian given he was born of a surrogate mother. With Tadgh’s grandparents never getting to state their case, the question of could they get custody as opposed to should they get custody should have dominated. But given Stephen’s secondhand relationship with his nuisance son, you’re likely to feel the grandparents might better serve their grandkid. Evident when strain hits breaking point and Stephen lashes out verbally at Tadgh. But Kinahan recovers somewhat by having Stephen ask deep question of himself as the ending nears. Kinahan’s rigour in this instance challenging his tendency to lean into cliched emotional descriptions leading to a far too easy, happy families ending. The legal issue left looming. Looking like a dramatic device rather than the fully explored theme it claims to be. Under Anna Simpson’s direction, Kinahan’s unchallenged text, like a novel without description, or an early draft of a screenplay, never quite finds its theatrical frame. This despite Simpson throwing quite a few frames at it. Compositionally, from Kinahan self-consciously morphing into other personalities like John Carpenter’s The Thing, to lacklustre movement sequences it would be a stretch to call choreographed, stage images look shoddy and poorly realised. Yet when Simpson finds her moments she holds her weaker ones to account, especially her perfectly timed sound design. Colin Doran’s lights might likewise fall short in places, yet smart projections, vastly underused, provide a hugely effective counterpoint. All of which places a huge responsibility on Kinahan, who, whilst buckling at times under the writer, performer, producer weight, still carries it over the finish line. With Unguarded, part of its joy comes from seeing young theatre makers setting out to pave their way on their own terms. Failing at times, as they must, they hopefully take the lessons and hone their craft. Like Tadgh, Kinahan might not be quite the finished article just yet, but his passion, enthusiasm and utter commitment carry you along. Unguarded might not have its theatrical head screwed on quite right in places, but its heart is large and loving, making Unguarded just that little bit adorable. Unguarded, written and performed by Anthony Kinahan, presented by Droichead Arts Centre and An Táin Arts Centre, is currently on tour. For more information check local venues.
Krapp's Last Tape
Stephen Rea in Krapp's Last Tape. Image by Patricio Cassinoni. **** There’s something eminently attractive in the combination of Stephen Rea, Landmark Productions and Samuel Beckett’s 1958 classic Krapp’s Last Tape . Beckett’s one man masterpiece performed by one of Ireland’s foremost performers, produced by one of its outstanding companies enough to whet any appetite. Yet despite powerful moments, superb staging and strong directorial decisions, the end result can feel a little like foreplay starting to get you there only for your partner to announce they’ve already arrived. Which is not to say Krapp’s Last Tape is an anti-climax so much as not quite the full bodied experience it might have been. Which probably has as much to do with expectations and anticipation as with director Vicky Featherstone’s choices. The collaboration of Featherstone and Rea, outstanding in Cypress Avenue , setting the expectations bar high. Yet exchanging a realist context for a liminal space takes its toll even as staging is again steeped in bleak minimalism. The grey rectangular table of Jamie Vartan’s set bathed in Paul Keogan’s rectangle of grey light. Sharp edged shafts of expressionist white, like a bridge to a door over a darkened abyss, reinforce the surrounding darkness. In which Krapp doesn’t act so much as react, either understatedly as he listens to recordings of himself from long ago, or over theatrically as he moves about. Heavy theatrical sighs, forced laughs, examining his pocket watch to press home the pressures of time all gestures that look large and clunky. Krapp unconvincingly wrestling to eat a banana dealt with via cartoonish gestures that overcook the action. Around which the deadening space and darkening silence thicken. Stephen Rea in Krapp's Last Tape. Image by Patricio Cassinoni. Much has been made of Rea recording Beckett’s text twelve years ago, used here to modest effect, as if it were recorded by Krapp himself. Still, if it’s a conceit, it’s a tidy one that opens up additional connections as the limits of language set the limits of meaning. Krapp’s diary-like revisiting of selective moments speaking to time and its passing. To the making of memories of who we are, were and never could be. To small, insignificant moments signifying everything and judged to be nothing. Love, death, hope, loss. The wisdom of age made as foolish as youth for thinking itself wise. Krapp’s last tape, like a dying grasp at substance, telling yet another story about the other story. Struggling to eat a banana, Rea might evoke Beckett’s love for the silent era comedy, but it’s less Chaplin so much as a cartoon version of Chaplin. Katie Davenport’s glorious white boots reinforcing the cartoon visual. Still, if its minimal visual vocabulary and emotional neutrality don’t always prove satisfying, they make for a fresh, intriguing and challenging production. Krapp’s Last Tape a fitting choice for Landmark Productions to launch their celebration of two exceptional decades in the business. Landmark, as with Beckett, Rea and Featherstone, reminding you that you might not like everything they do, but you can’t ignore them, and much of it you are sure to love as they help set the standards for great Irish theatre. Here’s to many more years of entertainment and provocation to come. Krapp’s Last Tape , by Samuel Beckett, produced by Landmark Productions, runs at The Project Arts Centre until February 3rd. For more information visit Project Arts Centre or Landmark Productions