top of page

My Items

I'm a title. ​Click here to edit me.

Mask Monologues

Mask Monologues

Rex Ryan in Stephen Jones's Ghost Story. Image by Wen Driftwood  **** With Mask Monologues Glass Mask Theatre close out their latest season. In truth it hasn’t been their best, but it’s certainly been their bravest. Hanging in there despite no funding, experimenting with new, if not always entirely successful ways of making theatre, producing three male monologues exploring masculinity. Talk about going against the grain. But as always, there’s a sincere search for something vital in what Glass Mask do. Evident in Mask Monologues, an exploration of masculinity that might not rise above the anecdotal, but begins a much needed conversation. Three tales of broken men unable to live up to the roles society assigns them, seeking redemption without realising the dice were loaded from the start. That if they don’t understand how they’ve been duped, history might well be doomed to repeat itself. With minimal staging, and with each monologue speaking confessionally to the audience, there’s a sense of attending a Masculinities Anonymous Meeting. But Ghost Story , by Stephen Jones , sees director Ross Gaynor playfully puncture the dilemma with his opening image. A cartoon ghost costume whisked off Rex Ryan beginning proceedings with a playful elbow to the ribs. We’re serious, but this is theatre, so let’s enjoy this tale of a Richard Carver loving widower waiting for a blind date. A widower with a past you might have heard about, made more suspicious by his liking Guinness Zero. Waiting for the beautiful Adele, to whom he may never be able to say I love you. Jones’s sensitive script, more character study than story, tripping along nicely towards its final twist. Ryan delivering a smartly understated performance. Never insistent, never definite, just someone thinking out loud trying to make sense of where they are, how they got there, and what might come next. Michael Glen Murphy in Eva O'Connor's Her Dad is Old.  Image by Wen Driftwood  A trait echoed by Michael Glen Murphy in Her Dad is Old  by Eva O’Connor. A tale of an aging Lothario and his upper class daughter trying to reconnect. Murphy, under Ian Toner’s confident direction, successfully negotiating the most demanding of the three pieces, though a little less flailing and interruptions by an unnecessary soundscape wouldn’t hurt. Murphy at his best when you just let him be. Crucially important given O’Connor’s uneven script struggles with character as character and character as narrator. Murphy negotiating two distinct voices and vocabularies rather than one organic whole. His seductive charm and presence, like a warm embrace, bringing forth the latent, paternal undercurrent in O’Connor’s smart script. Whose ending overworks the final moments. Murphy, holding us in the palm of his hands in a moment of utter poignancy, reveals a multi-verse of heartrending humanity. Only for a final, soul crushingly unnecessary line nailing meaning to the ground. Undermining the power of O’Connor’s class conscious script which raises many fascinating questions. As does the daddy daughter relationship which fuels Her Good Side by Rex Ryan . Dan Monaghan’ s Carl, sitting on a park bench with a camera beside a children’s playground causing the occasional shift in the seat as he reveals his self-pitying life story. Ryan’s deceptively smart tale of a wannabe, never was, never gonna-be film maker addicted to addiction. Drugs, drink, seeking the perfect shot, Carl zones out of the real world looking for he could not tell you what. His ex-wife Claire, and his daughter Sophia long suffering victims of his victimhood. Monaghan’s masterful performance proving irresistible as a man whose delusions mask, then mangle, his inert goodness trying to manifest but not knowing how. Loving his daughter, who is his art. Not understanding that what she needed was a father. Resolution lying in a bittersweet end where hope, as in all the other monologues, looks thin on the ground. Dan Monaghan in Her Good Side by Rex Ryan. Image by Wen Driftwood  Like Clare Keegan’s short stories, there is a wealth hidden beneath the ordinariness of these three distinct, yet interconnected vignettes. Addressing questions no one else seems to be asking. You don’t have to love Glass Mask, and God knows I’ve had my fair share of issues, but you can’t deny they are the only venue doing what they do. Yes, it’s theatre in a bistro, and the demands of the latter might annoy some. But the smoked almonds are to die for so there’s that. Either way, Glass Mask continue to experiment, succeed, fail, then try again. Give space to new voices and new works by old voices. Produce works we might not otherwise have seen. Elevate bistro theatre into a distinct pleasure. Did I mention the smoked almonds? If for no other reason than they’re the only one doing what they do, Glass Mask deserve support. On the evidence of Mask Monologues alone, they’ve earned it. Roll on next season. Mask Monologues runs at Glass Mask Theatre until June 22. For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre

Sole Flower, Spidered Soul

Sole Flower, Spidered Soul

Sole Flower, Spidered Soul. Photo: Robbie Reynolds ** You’d imagine Lucia Joyce must be sick of it by now. Press ganged into service every June for the Bloomsday bandwagon. Eager to reclaim Lucia’s tragic life and to redeem or indict Joyce. Passing mystery off as history. Reading her as wronged woman and gifted dancer whose mental illness and subsequent internment resulted from an unsupportive, and possibly creatively jealous father. Or being spurned by Beckett. Or add your own male based causality. Lucia’s revisioned history reducing her to a feminist trope. For the truth is we know little about this hugely promising young woman and her mental health, who spent her later life in an asylum. Or of her father’s position with regards to her mental health. Mostly, we infer. Imaginatively speculate. Telling us more about ourselves than Lucia or Joyce. As is the case with the well intentioned but tediously trudging Sole Flower, Spidered Soul by multidisciplinary writer Fèilim James . An imaginative “what if” that shoehorns old world Daddy/Daughter dynamics into a moral debate framed a century later. One forever ignoring the many elephants it drags into the room. When it comes to “what ifs” James is unafraid to grab the imaginative bull by the horns. What if Joyce and Lucia met in the afterlife? What if Joyce was presented with the choice of a second, healthy chance at life for Lucia at the cost of his literary legacy? Following a series of hurried quotes and the introduction of a Master of Misrule, the jester-like Clown, imaginative inventiveness pretty much disappears once the coffined corpses greet each other. Instead, weak argument ensues only to blunder on unconvincingly. Self-serving diatribes side-stepping the questions glaringly raised. Lucia and Joyce devices to facilitate a loaded, half baked debate on parental responsibility rather than characters real or imagined. The only voice heard being James’s, saying very little of interest. Joyce made to fit the parental crime. Lucia played as outraged victim. All delivered in overworked language set against overworked abstract theatrics. If Joyce is presented as possessing an immeasurable ego, the priggish Lucia’s self-righteous, overly entitled ego eclipses him. Her self-aggrandising arguments sounding hollow for ignoring larger questions into which James never digs deep. Keeping it simplistic, interrogations get buried beneath the author’s verbal avalanche. Patrick Joseph Byrnes’s direction as off putting as it is occasionally ingenious. Michael McCabe’s Beckett-like Clown’s initial stomping being a case in point. Fiona Bawn-Thompson and Daniel Mahon frequently staring off into space while the other talks, with McCabe pressed to the wall like a frozen spider looks like an immature stunt. A last ditch use of projections, of which the stage become an extension, sees visual cliches offset by impassioned dancing cleverly choreographed by John Scott. But by then it’s too late. Lucia’s creativity momentarily glimpsed before the final decision, whose reconciliation is difficult to buy into. And more difficult to care about. Commissioned by Smashing Times and developed with dramaturgical support, Sole Flower, Spidered Soul sees characters that never ignite indulging in an unsustainable argument impossible to believe. Looking as if developed as a creative writing exercise, or end of term essay, James clearly shows talent and promise. Yet Sole Flower, Spidered Soul leaves you wondering at the role of the dramaturg, who frequently do not deliver in Ireland to the level of other countries. What are you being paid for exactly? What do you bring to the table beyond being a questionable sounding board? What damage might this income stream of dubious merit result in? Often it seems that anyone who wrote, or even read a play qualifies. Even those with qualifications can seem like teachers who should never be allowed anywhere near a pupil. Dramaturgy has real value when the job is done properly. Alas, too many dramaturges are like unregulated, self-proclaimed life coaches, full of borrowed and half baked ideas which leave the writer poorly served. As a playwright James has some work to do. Yet those supporting him need to bear their share of the responsibility. Sole Flower, Spidered Soul by Fèilim James, presented by The New Theatre, Smashing Times and Bloomsday Festival 2024, runs at The New Theatre until June 15th. For more information visit The New Theatre

Carline

Carline

Emma Campbell and Caoimhe Kavanagh in Carline. Image Molly Behan *** It’s dispiriting news coming out of The Abbey. Our National Theatre going dark till late September. The reasoning spurious, the fact undeniable. As if Dublin doesn’t already suffer a shortage of venues. Especially those that facilitate young artists looking to test themselves and grow. To try things first without having to rely on the Arts Council lottery with its demands, conditions and restrictions. Many inexperienced, wanting to learn by doing and not be reliant on slim apprenticeship or mentoring models, or talk tanks that lead to too few real opportunities. Exhibiting a punk-like enthusiasm to get onstage having taken things as far as they can. As was the case for many formative decades in Dublin. Remarkable venues like the legendary, and now derelict City Arts Centre much missed and needed. Around the corner from a black box space that’s recently been peering above the parapet. Where aspiring writer and director Úna Nolan tests their mettle with a predictable tale of an independent woman accused of witchcraft in the hugely promising Carline. No frills, just thrills, The Pearse Centre Theatre on Pearse Street has a small stage and impressive light rig that says budget doesn’t solve everything. Artists failing to properly utilise the space not suffering from a lack of money but imagination. Which is in abundance here. Entering the space, the scent of incense greets you before you see the stage. Jade McNutt and Jack Donoghue’s detailed interior of a seventeen century cottage resembling a new age coffee shop designed by Laura Ashley. Not for the last time will the past be gentrified by the present. Sitting onstage like a scullery maid sporting a Bane mask, Emma Campbell’s vibrant Maud waits patiently as the customary housekeeping takes place. Every trigger warning is given, except a trigger warning warning you there are going to be so many trigger warnings. Followed by Ruairí Nicholl’s Vicar moving through the dark auditorium talking theological. About possession and love. But listen close, the heart of Carline beats within Nolan’s dark, mantra-like phrase. Emma Campbell in Carline. Image Molly Behan In what follows, a budding relationship blossoms between the independent midwife Maud and conventional housewife Florence. Caoimhe Kavanagh marrying frail delicacy to Florence's larger desires for being compelled to play life safely. For this is a world where a spoonful of Basil or a questionable birthmark is enough to get you burnt at the stake. A. Coveney as the villainous John Price eager to strike the match. His enthusiasm tempered by Nicholl’s impassioned Vicar trying to do the right thing in the right way and properly investigate. But it’s all just rationalisation. Making up reasons for the unreasonable in order to justify the unjustifiable. Leading to a predictable, and somewhat rushed conclusion, with a visual epilogue of touching beauty. Channelling The Crucible and Kissing The Witch , Carline's structure is of an abridged novel adapted into a screenplay. Carline’s cinematic flow interrupted for spending too long on unimportant areas whilst leaving others underdeveloped. Including its hurried ending. One where story and message make for uneven, but not uncomfortable bedfellows. The past, sanitised and gentrified, judged through a modern lens, even allowing for Florence’s impressive speech on her day to day life. Jumping through time, scenic shifts evoke the screen rather than the stage, even as Nolan as director proves compositionally impressive, crafting many a mean image. Maud’s physical examination, or several acts of violence, highlighting Nolan’s impressive eye. Still, you can’t help but feel they look intended for camera, consciously or unconsciously. Begging the question if Nolan might have benefited from someone other than themselves as director. Someone who would have pushed at the script more. For whilst Nolan crafts a credible story issuing wonderful lines and moments, there's room for digging deeper. And while they make compositionally impressive use of the space, eliciting strong performances proves not to be their strong suit. Carline. Image Molly Behan Grand Guignol and hammy in execution, Nolan’s single focus characters act up their acting. The independent Maud, the impassioned Vicar, the conflicted Florence and the villainous Price all portentous and exaggerated in tone and gesture. Indeed, Price’s menacing sneer is only a moustache twirl away from silent movie villian. If exaggeration was intended, it’s a poor choice, leaving its cast looking unsupported, lost between realism and artifice. Still, Nolan’s superb use of props, costumes, hair and make-up go a long way to compensating. Nolan again strongest when visual, reinforcing the sense of Carline as less theatrical and more cinematic with its scenes and close ups. A hugely impressive light design by Clare McLoughlin adding fuel to an already commanding visual fire, using light and shadow to terrific effect. Carline gets things wrong, but mainly through inexperience. Yet how else do you get experience except by doing? Mostly, it gets things right. Including the most important thing of all. Having the courage to put new work before an audience having developed it is far as you can to see what you can learn. What we learn is that Nolan is criminally talented across the board, bringing a signature rigour to everything they touch. Like all those involved, Nolan is on a learning curve. Learning what works and doesn’t. How to never turn your virtues into vices, either moral and theatrical. Learning by way of forty-five delightful, richly invested minutes. True, some of that delight stems from Nolan’s refreshing, go get it, David and Goliath bravery. But Carline has a lot going on, a lot to be proud of, and promises a lot to come. Carline , by Úna Nolan, runs at The Pearse Centre Theatre until June 7. For more information visit Carline

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz. Image credit unknown. *** You can’t improve on perfection. And there are few movies more perfect than 1939’s The Wizard of Oz . ‘So good it should never be remade or reimagined,’ claim the purists. Seeming to forget the 1974 musical The Wiz . Made into a 1978 movie staring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, spawning the hit Ease On Down The Road . The Wizard of Oz reimagined in Harlem with an almost all black cast. The film a financial and critical flop, becoming a cult classic in later years. Now we have another reimagining, this one again bearing the title The Wizard of Oz . One following the story of the original movie but in the style of The Wiz . Delivering a car crash of kitsch, glitz, and wildly relentless energy in a production unlikely to become a classic. In fairness, its target audience appears to be children and those with a less reverential relationship with the original. Judy Garland’s doe-eyed, innocent good girl replaced by Aviva Tulley’s girl boss Dorothy. An outsider with attitude growing up in depression era Kansas whisked to the land of Oz by a tornado. On an adventure to get home and standing up to anyone who gets in her way. Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion also given a more contemporary twist even as they recite large chunks of the original dialogue. Completely sacrificed is the charm and eccentric voices of the Muchkins whose Lollipop Guild give the first indication that if Dorothy’s not in Kansas anymore, we’re not in any recognisable Oz. Rather, Colin Richmond’s retro set suggests a first draft design for Fallout , its Las Vegas styled Oz heavily influenced by 50s Americana, including a pink moped for Glinda. Douglas O’Donnell’s video projections referencing Back to the Future: The Musical’s simulation technology, similar to that used on the Universal Studio ride Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey . Whisking us through time and space and everything in between with barely a chance to catch your breath. All the while the stage resembles the docking port in a spaceship. Whilst the Oz themed Wicked is a truly great musical, The Wizard of Oz proves to be pure pantomime. Its classic songs by Harold Arlen (music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics) drowning in a mix of uncharacteristically forgettable tosh by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics). Tulley’s commanding presence and voice wasted on the duo’s half baked songs trying to raise feel good vibes. Tulley, along with a scene stealing Craig Revel Norwood as the Wicked Witch of the West, shouldering much of what makes The Wizard of Oz engaging. Norwood's Witch irresistible for being an unapologetic pantomime dame. Meanwhile, director Nikolai Foster keeps the action frenetic and energised. Foster deserving double his salary for shaping Webber and Jeremy Sams’ messy adaptation into something workable. Similarly Abigail Matthews’s War Horse inspired, puppet dog Toto. Matthews likely to need physiotherapy for slipped discs and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the years to come on account of the loveable mutt. Fast, furious, but rarely fabulous, The Wizard of Oz might ooze Eurovision kitsch, yet next to Oz musical Wicked , coming to Bord Gáis Energy Theatre later this year, it's very much pantomime minus the audience shouting at the stage. Whirlwinds of colour delivering a musical theatre sugar rush, its technological touches and pantomime antics are likely to delight a much younger audience. Or those with an insatiable passion for kitsch. For everyone else, if this is what over the rainbow looks like, then there really is no place like home. Even so, Horwood and Tulley make it a trip worth taking. The Wizard of Oz , produced by Michael Harrison Entertainment, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until June 8. For more information visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

Circle Mirror Transformation

Circle Mirror Transformation

Niamh Cusack, Imogen Doel, Hazel Doupe, Risteárd Cooper, Marty Rea in Circle Mirror Transformation. Image Ros Kavanagh **** Some meet for a reason, some for a season, some for life. Yet even ships that pass in the night make us better for having known them. The bittersweet lesson underlying Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Baker’s charming sit-com Circle Mirror Transformation . Baker’s tele-play styled script following a group of five people attending a drama class over a six week period. Played out over a series of acting exercises and tea breaks, what they learn about each other isn’t revealed in what they say, but in silences, secrets, the unspoken. Teased out, tricked out, coaxed into the light to be mirrored, healed and transformed. Ideally. For the road to redemption isn’t always an easy one, and where it leads might not be where you want to go. Imogen Doel, Marty Rea, Risteárd Cooper, Hazel Doupe in Circle Mirror Transformation. Image Ros Kavanagh While Circle Mirror Transformation doesn’t sing exclusively to the theatre choir, it resonates more deeply with those who’ve been through the drama workshop experience. The Boal games and Meisner exercises, the icebreakers meant to free participants who often wonder why they don’t have a script in hand and why they aren’t engaged in real acting. Lying on the floor counting to ten. Creating tableau images from their life. Recounting someone’s story back to them. Sharing secrets in unsafe ways. People left open, vulnerable and raw, often unsure what to do with what the exercise brings to the surface. Still, the eternally youthful Niamh Cusack as Marty, sporting a perma-smile of encouragement for her floundering class, is blind in her belief that drama makes a difference. A superb Risteárd Cooper as her self-aggrandising husband James, trying to salvage their marriage, tries half heartedly to engage. A brilliant Marty Rea as recently divorced carpenter Schultz, and a flawless Imogen Doel as the uber-commited, hula-hooping Theresa more than make up for James’s self-indulgent narcissism giving each lesson their all, hoping no one sees what they don’t want them to know. Meanwhile Hazel Doupe’s Goth-like Lauren, a sixteen year old aspiring actress, listens in silence with teenage vulnerability writ large on her uniform of black. All working their way to the final day of class when everything, and everyone, will be made different. Niamh Cusack and Risteárd Cooper in Circle Mirror Transformation. Image Ros Kavanagh Whilst the classroom format has many precedents, an overriding sense of The Kominsky Method meets The Breakfast Club looms throughout, right down to the popular girl and the silent, dark dressed geek. Five awkward archetypes in a classroom environment looking for answers to life. If Baker’s televisual script relies heavily on blackouts and short scenes, her writing has a brutal, mesmerising economy that’s hugely refreshing. Róisín McBrinn directing life into Baker’s taut script by eliciting five impeccably detailed performance. Still, the traverse arrangement, with the audience sitting either side of Paul Keogan’s stage mirroring each other, frustrates more than facilitates. And given these are such gorgeously judged, rigorously detailed performances, being frustrated by poor sight lines, or listening to someone’s expressionless back, doesn’t sit well. Which proves too often the case. Imogen Doel, Niamh Cusack, Risteárd Cooper, Marty Rea, Hazel Doupe in Circle Mirror Transformation. Image Ros Kavanagh Offering drama as drama therapy, Circle Mirror Transformation is safe bet, no risk theatre. Aside from its Pulitzer pedigree, its story of humans trying to make sense of life is supremely relatable and enjoyable. Made irresistible by McBrinn and an ensemble delivering pitch perfect performances. It might be a no frills script, but there’s immense depth to Baker’s humorous and heartfelt slices of life as her flawed characters discover themselves through drama. Ensuring Circle Mirror Transformation is a genuine joy from beginning to end. Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker, presented by The Gate Theatre runs at The Gate Theatre until June 30th. For more information visit The Gate Theatre

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black

Mark Hawkins and Martin James in The Woman in Black. Image, Mark Douet *** There are two opposing viewpoints when it comes to the stage version of The Woman in Black . The defence claims it is an excellent stage adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 gothic horror novel, that it is the scariest play ever, that it is inventively theatrical, and given that it's the second longest running play in the history of the West End, second only to The Mousetrap , nothing remains to be said. The prosecution, however, attest that it is a horrendously clunky adaptation by Stephen Mallatratt, about as scary as a ghost train ride for under sevens, so theatrically uninventive as to constitute a dressed up movie, and what it says everything about is the problems in theatre if this is being held up as some kind of benchmark. On the evidence of the current touring production at The Gaiety, the division is alive and well, sparking stand ovations amongst some and heavy dozing and clock watching amongst others. Begging the question, were the case to go to trial for a decision, who’d likely win? Alas, sifting through the evidence, the jury might well find in favour of the prosecution. As a Gothic scare, The Woman in Black proves less Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein so much as Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein . Or Carry on Screaming . More laughs than scares, with what scares there are cheaply achieved and laughable. Indeed, those hoping for something akin to the genuinely scary 2012 movie starring Daniel Radcliffe will need to manage their expectations. Mallatratt’s play within a play making for a remarkably dull slice of story telling theatre. A two hander, with a ghostly third and a scene stealing dog name Spider, begins with a prologue to a prologue to the setup for the story. For what feels like half the show all we really learn is it was 9.00pm on Christmas Eve, old Mister Kipps urgently needs to tell his five hour ghost story (which he obviously survived) and an actor is trying help him do so in a theatre in the 1950s. Exposition heavy, it’s tell-not-show, short scene narrative is structured like a screenplay with scenes forever fading in and out of black. The action jumping back and forth in time as the young solicitor Kipps visits a scary mansion where a women recently died. Throw in a handful of Gothic tropes; islands accessed only when the tide is out, quicksand, dead children, spooky graveyards, suspicious villagers, pea soup fog and things that go bump in the night, and we’re off at the banshee races. Falling over countless hurdles as it trundles along till its twist in the tale ending. Martin James and Mark Hawkins in The Woman in Black. Image, Mark Douet Take Michael Holt’s clunky design aspiring to be a movie set; a grey draped stage with a gauze curtain, a multi-purpose basket and door of mysterious import. Relying on shadowed projections and The Gaiety’s iconic interior to do most of the mood setting. Meanwhile Kevin Sleep's hyperactive lights play Russian roulette with mood and accuracy. Robin Hereford’s fretful direction rushing about like a terrified child trying to dodge raindrops. Leaving Mark Hawkins as the histrionic actor doubling up as the younger Kipps to keep things moving along. The whole putting immense weight on Malcolm James as the reluctant Olivier. The superb James as the older Kipps shouldering responsibility for what makes The Woman in Black work. James turning in an award worthy performance as a veritable cast of thousands. First produced in 1987, The Woman in Black’s 'jumping from the shadows shouting boo' scare tactics can still jolt on occasion, especially for those nervously inclined. But that’s because of the shock of surprise. Granted, a rocking chair and curious locked door try generate a little tension. But too many long pauses and ghost train theatrics leave its endless pregnant pauses turning out to be phantom pregnancies. But it’s theatre, they say. Use your imagination, they tell us often enough. You might be imagining what a good design, writer and director might have looked like. Even so, The Woman in Black’s old world ghost story is infused with old nostalgic charm. And nostalgia never goes out of fashion. The Woman in Black , adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the novel by Susan Hill, runs at The Gaiety Theatre until June 1. For more information visit The Gaiety Theatre

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: Night Dances

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: Night Dances

Night Dances, by Emma Martin/United Fall. Image, United Fall *** You can sift through Night Dances finding references to Emma Martin ’s other works. Including a veiled woman on a white horse during the opening moments. But they only draw attention to themselves as references. Finding the trees, you might not see the forest. Which turns out to be rather sparse. Artspeak promising hot, sweaty energies. Martin’s choreographic quartet posturing and posing but looking far more tame in a universe inhabited by Oona Doherty's Hard to be Soft or THISISPOPBABY'S Party Scene . Jonas Krämer stalking downstage, removing safety ropes evocative of a boxing ring, throwing a confrontational glare beyond the fourth wall. But is he really watching us? Is the fourth wall not his mirror? Krämer alone in a studio, or a bedroom, enacting a dress rehearsal for a display on the dance floor later? All swagger and shapes. Pops, flails, and strutting in silence; the gaze fixed, the expression defiant. Movements bleeding in and out of contortion as Krämer desires approval whilst pretending he doesn’t care. A Hammer Horror styled organ score by Daniel Fox cranking up the volume towards the end, but offering little of excitement or interest. The arrival of a Billie Barry styled troupe sees seven young dancers shifting the gaze from private to public. All cute sass, shorts pants and mile high pony tails, they strut to the stage, strike a pose and claim it as their own. Performing impressive gymnastic floor routines, synchronicity, snap, and positioning might suffer from excited nervousness, but sequences are performed with youthful vigour and lots of gravity defying flips. What that has to do with fury, rebellion, hope and freedom might leave you baffled, but dancers Anne-Marie Lambert, Sarah Kathleen Lambert, Romie Rose Moynihan, Casey O’Reilly, Tiffany Owens, Annie Jane Tarzan and Gabriella O'Neill Visibelli are each fabulous and deservedly cheered off the stage. Seceding it to Ryan O’Neill with their brazen stares. O’Neill crafting the most moving of the four pieces. There, but not there. Conversing with the music performed live. Movements bursting from the conversation. Not the polished performance of the professional but the impulse that gives rise to shaping something. Each movement an experiment organically leading to the next. Creating flow. A pattern. A sequence. A statement. Overhead a broad, circular light looms like a portal to heaven, or an alien spaceship. Beneath which O’Neill dances alone as if his sanity depended on it. Nothing big, just digging deep against a dynamic score by Fox, playing live with Brian Dillon and Jamie Hyland. Stephen Dodd's atmospheric lighting hugely successful in adding texture and weight. Katie Davenport's one focus design less so. Night Dances, by Emma Martin/United Fall. Image, Sean Breithaupt In the final sequence a coven of three, ghostly Salome’s arrive in veils which are soon discarded. Robyn Byrne, Aoife McAtamney and Jessie Thompson’s individual and collective routines melding strip club with night club at times. The blaze of red, the seedy shadows, twerking and other conventional tropes showing a loose synchronicity. Their solos, like individual showcases, merging with lots of loosely coordinated group work. Some imaginative flourishes standing out even as they never take your breath away. Till it all dissolves in a durational rhythm, rising briefly to a loud, thumping finish. Premiering in 2021, an underlying tension links Night Dances quartet. Or rather its two diptychs. Two contrasting male solos as well as two female group pieces. A contrast suggesting women dance together, men dance alone. The feminine public, the male private. Krämer, like a younger version of O’Neill, dancing by himself, the more mature O’Neill dancing for himself. The young dance troupe and trio of older girls creating a more challenging contrast around sexualised innocence. But that’s the thing with Martin, she’s unafraid to risk it. The indefinite. The unclear. The interpreted and misinterpreted possibilities. It’s a tidy position, creating work open to multiple readings. Yet if Night Dances was ‘anything goes’ there’d be no need for its programme promises. In which Night Dances promises a ferocity that will grab you and kiss you hard. It certainly grabs you, but only to graze its lips past your cheek with the flimsiest of brushes. Night Dances , by Emma Martin/United Fall, presented by Dublin Dance Festival and the Abbey Theatre,  ran at The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2024 . Night Dances features in Cork Midsummer Festival 2024, June 13 - 15. For more information visit   The Abbey Theatre , Dublin Dance Festival 2024 or Cork Midsummer Festival 2024

La Traviata

La Traviata

Aebh Kelly (Flora) and Amanda Woodbury (Violetta) in INO's La Traviata. Image, Ros Kavanagh **** There are operas, there are popular operas, and there's La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) . Verdi’s classic which premiered unsuccessfully at La Fenice, Venice, in 1853 before going on to become one of the world’s best loved operas. A rollicking tale of a good girl with a bad reputation dying for love that puts the drama into melodrama, the opera into soap opera. Impassioned, improbable, wildly implausible, Francesca Maria Piave’s reversal rampant libretto, adapted from the play La dame aux camélias by Alexander Dumas fils , doesn’t require you to suspend disbelief so much as set it on fire then scatter the ashes. Opera’s eternal tension between the wiles of social convention and the wilds of a passionate heart running riot in Irish National Opera’s current production. Olivia Fuchs’s direction delivering an emotional rollercoaster ride constrained by conservative conventions. Framed by Katie Davenport’s stage within a stage design and carnival coloured costumes that prove mostly successful. Leaning into tradition, La Traviata whirls with a twist of datedness, like a musical hall Can-Can routine that brims with irresistible charm. Even as Verdi’s music and songs remain forever timeless. Sorry Amanda Woodbury (Violetta) in INO's La Traviata. Image, Ros Kavanagh Under Killian Farrell’s gently assured baton, Irish National Opera Orchestra play savoringly slow or trip along nicely. Meanwhile arias, duets, and chorus flow with bel canto ease as the lovelorn Alfredo pursues the adored Violetta at a Parisian watering hole, immortalised in the drinking song The Brindisi (Libiamo ne'lieti calici) . Like watching an old silent movie, it’s stiff, clunky, full of outdated conventions and implausible antics. Yet its very datedness seduces you. Soprano Amanda Woodbury's Violetta and tenor Mario Chang's Alfredo both social butterflies who’ve been around and seen a few things, including better days as they approach their best by date. Violetta’s consumption speeding up her body clock like a frantic time bomb whilst Alfredo’s estrangement from his Father risks him being ostracised. His love for Violetta sparking a desire to leave the high life of Paris for a quiet life together in the country. Yet Violetta requires convincing. Her resistance to Alfredo's Un felice de, eterea proving fruitless given it could melt even the most hardened heart, echoing from offstage like a memory. Mario Chang (Alfredo) in INO's La Traviata. Image, Ros Kavanagh Initially, singing gets off to an unsettled start generally speaking, sounding thin, not rounded or robust enough in places. Yet confidence grows with each passing note, even as staging means passion looking strained for modern audiences. Which proves a victory of sorts. Fuchs’s staging might forgo physical intimacy for classical convention, but the effect heightens the sense of two awkward souls unsure how to express their true desires. Confirmed in the duets delighting Act Two between Violetta and baritone Leon Kim’s Giorgio, Alfredo’s father. Initially unsettling given its two singers sing together but sound apart. An unease compounded by Kim’s attempt to age his voice. Yet if space between the two is noticeable, it reflects the narrative’s insurmountable space as Giorgio asks Violetta to forego Alfredo and cease living in sin for his family’s honour and Alfredo’s reputation. Which Violetta reluctantly agrees to. A distance made all the more enriching when, in the final Act, one of the longest death scenes in opera, Violetta and Giorgio, along with Alfredo, sing movingly together as one. No spoilers here. Davenport’s hospital bed and Fuchs’s initial stage image foreshadowing the inevitable from the first curtain rise. Amanda Woodbury (Violetta) in INO's La Traviata. Image, Ros Kavanagh But there’s a bit to go beforehand. Violetta’s return to Paris and her old suitor Baron Douphol, baritone Graeme Collins, sees her trying to trick Alfredo into believing she no longer loves him. Whilst promenading at the vivacious Flora’s costume ball, Alfredo’s arrival and inevitable confrontation brings Act Two to a glorious, swooning close. Violetta, caught by a superb Irish National Opera Chorus who enchant and energise crowd scenes. Highlighting Fuchs’s love of pictorial composition and classic tableaux, which prove superb throughout. As does a divine Aebh Kelly, announcing herself as a mezzo-soprano to watch in what little stage time she enjoys as Flora. Yet La Traviata is all about Violetta. Soprano Amanda Woodbury rising to the challenge with aplomb. Violetta not singing so much as travelling the entire emotional spectrum, usually in the same scene. From carefree party girl to devoted lover. From domestic bliss to renouncing joy for a higher cause. From despairing heartbreak to spiritual redemption. If leaning into traditional conventions limits Woodbury’s physical expressiveness, Woodbury’s spry singing negotiates Violetta's emotive expressiveness superbly. INO's La Traviata. Image, Ros Kavanagh If, on the rollercoaster ride that is INO’s La Traviata , a rare note sounds like a wheel slipping loose from the rails, the whole stays on track right till the end. Richly textured by Katie Davenport’s costumes. Sumptuous, colourful, Davenport’s tailored twist on period style suggests bespoke Vivienne Westwood. Paul Keogan’s lush lighting adding further opulence. Yet Davenport’s cartoonish design doesn’t all, or always work, even as flickers of flair and signature touches help foreground individual characters. The costume party suggests Halloween at Coppers. The Baron an oversized leprechaun, Giorgio a Russian peasant, and Violetta’s black lace skirt and bloomers a less than flattering, hen-party look that never looks good on anyone. Yet individual blemishes aside, the whole is magnificently realised. Including Davenport’s stage within a stage set, capturing the music hall look and mood of the period. Even if the hovering bed looks peculiarly juvenile. Yet even when it doesn't all work, you never confuse Davenport with another designer. Musically, this is Verdi’s La Traviata . Visually, it’s Davenport’s. A designer growing in confidence and vision with each new production. Aebh Kelly (Flora) and Ben McAteer (Marchese d'Obigny) in INO's La Traviata. Image, Ros Kavanagh La Traviata marks the final production of INO’s current season. There are those who begrudge opera its hefty financial investment. Citing examples like Verona Opera Festival's 100th season opener Aida , which delivered an ugly, unjustifiable waste of ostentation. Yet with INO it is money well spent. INO’s commitment to innovation for the future married to reverence for the past addresses the twin demands of opera, whilst also developing Ireland's future opera stars. Like Davenport. Or soprano Megan O’Neill, illuminating the chorus whilst honing her craft. Yet it's simplier than that. Opera is one of life’s great love affairs. Like love, we are sometimes blind, or too accepting of its great and little failings. Like love, we can sometimes get moody wth it. Like love, it's supremely impractical, doesn’t make sense, and can be bloody expensive. Yet it is vital and joyous, even when bittersweet, turning tragedy to delight whilst it brings us all together. At what cost? How do you put a price on what’s priceless? Amanda Woodbury (Violetta) in INO's La Traviata. Image, Ros Kavanagh INO’s Artistic Director Fergus Shiel and Executive Director Diego Fasciati deserve to be hugely commended. La Traviata has been around since 1853. Verona Opera Festival is a century old. INO turns seven this year. It may appear older and wiser, but it’s a very young opera company. Holding its own on the international stage. Whose La Traviata risks brave, bold, and often beautiful choices, many of which succeed on the terms they set out for themselves. Passionately wild, unapologetically sumptuous, La Traviata might experience the occasional rattle, but it can still mesmerise completely while taking your breath away. Roll on INO's next season. La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesca Maria Piave’s, adapted from the play La dame aux camélias by Alexander Dumas fils , is currently on tour. For more information visit Irish National Opera. This review relates to the performance on Thursday, May 23rd, at The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. Primary roles are rotated during the tour. Check INO’s website (link above) for details, and for information on their forthcoming season.

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: Carcaça

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: Carcaça

Carcaça by Marco da Silva Ferreira. Image, Freepass. *** It’s a common audience complaint. Politicised productions promoting the current important message. Politicised programme notes promising much but delivering less. Productions where you want to say; “I know you’ve got a message. Just give me a pamphlet so I can read it on the way home. Meanwhile, artistically, what have you got?” Sometimes, not a lot. Or, in the case of Marco da Silva Ferreira’s durational Carcaça , not enough. And, also, too much. Like ankle rolls. Ten dancers in black, stage right of a large, white floor mat, warm up as if for a rehearsal. A lone drummer, downstage right, taps out a rhythm. Presently a dancer takes to the stage. Drummer and dancer marginally, but distinctly out of sync. But as the dancer’s movements show greater rigour you start to doubt the drummer. His drummer-boy drum rolls evoking a parade ground. On which other dancers arrive creating a carnival-like marching routine with loose synchronicity. I say loose, some might say sloppy. As dancers negotiate travelling the edges of the space towards the back wall, expanding and contracting as a unit becomes a recurring device. Forming and reforming after whirling off into collaborative duets, trios or quartets. Rolling on the floor as one to downstage, the sense of a hive mind emerges. Not of one and the many, but of the many as one. Like a team. Or a mob. Carcaça by Marco da Silva Ferreira. Image, Freepass. Following one of several forgettable solos, whose chief function is to provide recovery interludes, a durational sequence commences. If modern is married to the traditional as advertised, allusions to Hip Hop battles prove thin on the ground. Some might say invisible. Initially engaging, the sequence soon resembles a durational aerobics class, or a Guinness Book of Records attempt at ankle rolling. Meanwhile, the insistent drumming, hinting of tribal percussions, makes it clear that there’s a thin line between trance-like, hypnotic rhythms and putting you to sleep. The metronomic patterning proving closer to the latter. The durational, repetitive rocking on ankles adding visual fuel to the dozing fire. Till the message arrives to sing to the choir. A beer hall, Marxist shanty sung as dancers drag red tops, like Communist flags, across their faces. Becoming a collective mouth delivering a party political call-to-arms on behalf of the Anti-bourgeoisie Party. Their heavy handed lyrics projected as surtitles. Dull, trite, awash in populist anti-populism, you soon understand why they don’t give out pamphlets; they’d never make it past the first waste paper basket. Including the baskets of many in agreement with Carcaça’s anti-fascist, anti-capitalist sentiments. Following a clever visual that costs too much and delivers too little it all ends with a Céile of endless ankle rolls to a tune reminiscent of a Mexican organ grinder. The audience jump up with glee. Some asserting their wholehearted support for Carcaça’s political devotions. Some glad it’s all over. Most applauding the dancers durational vigour, hard work and commitment, even if some seemed more vigorous, hardworking and committed than others. McLuhan claimed the medium is the message. In Carcaça, the message undermines the medium and sells both short. Flattering to deceive, preaching to the converted, Carcaça’s low level propaganda tactics employed for the highest of intentions leaves it artistically short-changed. A shame, given that its choreographic interplay occcassionally crafts visually impressive moments. Carcaça by Marco da Silva Ferreira, presented by Dublin Dance Festival and the Abbey Theatre, a Big Pulse Dance Alliance Co-Production , runs at The Abbey Theatre until May 22. For more information visit   The Abbey Theatre or Dublin Dance Festival 2024

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: BLKDOG

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: BLKDOG

BLKDOG by Botis Sava. Image, Camilla Greenwell **** When it comes to introducing young audiences to dance, Hip-Hop is an obvious avenue. Which explains why Dublin Dance Festival has enjoyed a long relationship with the genre, featuring several battles and showcases over the years. Arising out of the US in the late 70s, its since become the dance darling of Tik-Tok, with several of its components becoming distinct styles in themselves. The genre evolving whilst remaining connected to its origins on the streets. Which are often gritty, violent and dangerous. Very much in evidence in director & choreographer Botis Seva’s sensational, Olivier Award winning BLKDOG . More Top Boy than L.A., Torben Sylvester’s brilliant industrial score, along with Ryan Dawson-Laight’s grim, grey tracksuits and hoodies are as far from the American Dream as you can get. California Dreamin’ maybe. But dream on. Tom Visser’s street-lit hell a cold, traumatised, Brutalist backdrop. Where hope abandons all who enter here, having little chance of escape. Visser’s black-and-white scenes using soft-spots to scratch images from the midnight dark. In which unseen and unmentionable things crowd near a huddled, lone figure isolated in a circular cell of white. Like a creature from a Playstation game, or a child crouched under a street light. The darkness pressing in, hiding brutalities the eye might not be able to handle. The imagination filling in the terrible, torturous glimpses as bodies struggle to rise, gunshots ring out, and people scamper and scurry about like mice. The frightened and the feared. The child and the monster. The child made monster. BLKDOG by Botis Sava. Image, Camilla Greenwell Throughout, Seva’s choreographic lexicon establishes a powerful fusion of signature Hip-Hop moves (the foot grab, pointing, the bring it on swagger) with clear, recognisable gestures (the pointed gun, the baseball bat swung, giving CPR). The dancers achieving low status by seeing much of their movement compressed to the floor; scurrying across the stage in yoga squat like silent Gollums. Then freezing like animals caught in a searchlight. The synchronisation of body, sound and light unparalleled. Fast, fleeting, or frozen in time, dancers shift in and out intermittent tableaux. Recurrent ideas of children, therapy, guilt and depression, of fatal violence being played and replayed. Movements oscillating between a Matrix attention to slow motion detail offset by jagged, restless energies. Soloist and group always sharing the space. The lone dancer desperate to belong, yet desperate to escape, BLKDOG’s hybrid style might leave some Hip-Hop purists put out, whilst its 'feet in the street' narrative might put off others who want the genre to tell different stories. But BLKDOG remains true to its cultural and creative roots, and to the wild, dangerous experiences that inform it. To how street dance is an effort to elevate. To escape to a better place. Perhaps even a better life. If BLKDOG falls down, it’s in giving too much of a good thing. Overplaying its hand, it overstays its welcome. What was initially riveting suffering from rinse and repeat as the end approaches. Whose final image might say more about you than the work. A chance at a new beginning or for history to repeat itself? Whatever you see, walking out into the light you know you’ve been witness to something. Something primary, visceral and transformative. Don’t be afraid. Don't worry about story. Just look at the fleeting, fierce images and all will become clear. Let them imprint themselves on your imagination. The haunting light and the soul swallowing dark. The body's expressiveness. The searing sountrack to crimes we'd rather not see. The faintest flicker of hope. It ’s all there. BLKDOG will blow you away. If you let it. BLKDOG by Botis Sava, presented by Dublin Dance Festival and the Abbey Theatre, runs at The Abbey Theatre until May 18. For more information visit   The Abbey Theatre   or Dublin Dance Festival 2024

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: Cellule

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: Cellule

Cellule. Image Dainius Putinas *** To the maxim ‘don’t believe the hype’ might be added ‘be wary of the blurb’. Too often posturing jargon or academic Artspeak trying to pass as insight. Talking big to inflate exceedingly small concerns. Rather like the blurb for Cellule , by French choreographer and dancer Nach. A solo dance work which purports to speak to Krumping, activism, racism, individual expression and to two pints of whatever you're having yourself. Instead, it speaks little to the above and says even less. Yet when it speaks to the dancer’s body, it’s both mesmerising and beautifully articulated. When future dance histories are written, the influence of Afrika Bambaataa must be acknowledged. His promotion of Breakdance back in the early 1980s the precursor for Hip Hop and its many generic offshoots, including Krumping. A high octane mix of body popping and electrifying robotics full of swagger and threat that’s often violently charged but never violent. Not that you’d know it here. A dull intro finds a loud, disembodied crowd offset by blurred, black and white images evoking a museum space or empty gallery. Projections done, Nach finally takes to the stage. Opening with detailed articulations of Krumping in slow motion with Tik-Tok levels of facial expression. Which is like saying it’s Formula One driven at a snails pace with exaggerated visage. Fach’s hands raised above her head in prayer, in pleading, or following police instructions. Till it soon becomes clear this was never about Krumping, or activism, but Fach. Cellule. Image Dainius Putinas Confirmed as the first level of disrobing begins. Fach losing her tracksuit top, and, shortly, bottoms, as sinuous silhouettes converse on the back wall followed by a cliched projection suggesting Fach giving birth to herself. Leading into a sublime sequence. Objectification denied as Fach invites us not to look at her but to look with her at the dancer’s body. Emmanuel Tussore’s masterful use of light crafting every tension and extension. The body's musculature etched in shadow; the crafted calf, the distended belly, the ankle twisted, the back arched. A wash of red reinforcing the body’s bloodied musculature before it all descends into cliche. The blurred images returning supported by asinine text trying to supply meaning only to sound hollow and immature. Meanwhile, Fach bends backwards inside a rectangle of red light like an Amsterdam sex worker on a quiet night. A lazy set up for the nudity that follows. The body’s vulnerability rendered two steps removed behind the dual frame of stage and screen. A black and white projection of Fach dancing naked whilst her immediate, semi-dressed body sits still on stage. Movements hinting at a power to be guessed at but never felt. Suggestive of the work of Fitzgerald and Stapleton, but with none of their bravery or visceral immediacy. Efforts to pare it back to basics in the final sequence falling short. Krumping again delivered in Disney slow motion. This time to a soft piano score and another excess of facial expression. The house lights brought up as if to say, ‘no more artifice, this is me.’ But it’s a ruse. A spiritual burlesque as Fach’s fluttering face conceals what the blurb purports to reveal. Fach a good girl slumming in a tough neighbourhood. Her eloquent investigation of the dancer’s body finding her guilty of backing down when she needed to keep going and front up. A major faux pas in the world of Krumping. Backing off from the rage, the rawness, the relentless energy. From the place Krumping speaks from, which Fach only glimpses, then sanitises. Cellule , ultimately, offering glimpses of a glimpse. The distance between street and stage reimposed for being imagined along tired, old lines. The street once again sanitised in service to the stage. Cellule by Nach, presented by Dublin Dance Festival, runs at Project Arts Centre until May 15. For more information visit Project Arts Centre or Dublin Dance Festival 2024

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: 13 Tongues

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: 13 Tongues

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan's 13 Tongues, Inage by Liu Chen-hsiang **** 13 Tongues. Choreographer Cheng Tsung-lung’s homage to Taipei's historic Bangka district in Taiwan, and to its 1960s street artist and storyteller, Thirteen Tongues. The number 13 likely to unsettle the overly superstitious as haunting, clanging chimes open proceedings. A repeated two note, monastery call rung out on a handbell. The stage dark and cavernous, dwarfing the eleven dancers dressed in black. Lining up before descending into a damned and demented cacophony of movement married to shrieking cries. As if the inmates in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest had decided to make some frenetic martial arts movie. One can detect, or impose, an underlying narrative. A Divine Comedy journeying from the darkened hell of egoist insanity to the glittering heaven of communal relationship. Duets and quartets of shared movement gradually emerging from the chaos. The cohesion of the group coming to dominate even as the soloist remains. Lim Giong’s diverse score offering musical moments channeling everything from gospel to blues, electronica to tribal rhythms, providing a poetic, stanza-like structure. In which further juxtapositions play against each other. Solos next to group see the soloist never alone. Darkness against light uneasily divides the stage. Sharp, pulsing gestures against easy flowing movements. Extensions and lifts informed by graceful, wave-like motion. Vigorous waving, clapping, and laughing bringing the rhythms and sounds of the street onto the stage. And so it goes, the soloist becoming more and more subsumed as the ensemble dominates. The whole built less on repetition so much as rinse and repeat. Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan's 13 Tongues, Inage by Liu Chen-hsiang As the end nears, Wang Ethan’s projections elaborate the modicum of colour allowed onstage. Assisted by Shen Po-hung’s twilit lights and Lin Bing-hao’s wildly contrasting costumes. The simplicity of black, martial art styled uniforms giving way to a flash of colourful fluorescence. Flourishing into a carnival of neon as a giant goldfish swims past. The dancers glowing like fabulous fireflies trapped inside a lava lamp. The final, synchronised sequence a chorus line flaring like fireworks, dazzling briefly before the inevitable fizzle. The diverse many becoming a synchronised whole. The collective's colourful uniformity somehow less intriguing than their diverse, individual characters. The sum not quite as powerful as its individual parts. 13 Tongues themes of inclusion, of dissolving barriers, echo the aspirations of festival director Jazmin Chiodi. Barriers between the trained dancer and the lover of dancing. Between stage and street. The past and now. The practiced and natural merging in a series of vibrant vignettes. In which movement as powerful as gravity proves as light and graceful as smoke. The flavours of Taiwan’s hustling, bustling street life, its people and characters, richly conveyed in this heartfelt love letter. 13 Tongues' Irish premiere getting Dublin Dance Festival 2024 off to a hugely promising start. Whilst also proving 13 can be a very lucky number. 13 Tongues by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, presented by Dublin Dance Festival and Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until May 15. For more information visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatr e and Dublin Dance Festival 2024

bottom of page