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Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition - Initiation

Initiation. Image by Hannah Gutman A Little Devil They say the greatest trick the devil ever played was to make people believe he didn't exist. In Initiation, Matthew Bratko and Frank Sweeney try to make you believe he does. Or, at least, that there are mysterious powers at play in the universe. Knee deep in cliches and stereotypes, Initiation knowingly plays with horror tropes. Delivering an audio-immersive, choice filled experience that drags you into strange places. Built around Zoom and a series of ever demanding challenges, a devilish narrator guides potential acolytes towards the moment of initiation, wherein failure to complete any challenge results in the player being expelled from the ritual. A little devil playing at being a grown up demon, if not quite as scary as you might expect, Initiation proves to be much more fun than you might at first have imagined. Showing hints of Eyes Wide Shut, Suspiria, and The Devil Rides Out to name but a few, Initiation puts a decidedly modern spin on meeting a sexy stranger in a cool club and waking in a dungeon. Beyond that it wouldn't be fair to say as spoilers would diminish the experience. For anticipation is the real catalyst here, with the blurb and pre-show build-up doing much of the heavy lifting. Like an adult themed rollercoaster the thrills are safe unless you're extremely prone to scaring easily. Indeed, part of Initiation's charm lies in its knowing humour. At times you can't help but imagine Bratko and Sweeney, ensconced in a dark room before a black screen, breaking their hearts laughing. With narration sounding like a pitch for a bad horror movie, and with scares nearer to The Addams Family than The Amityville Horror, Initiation relies heavily on gimmick and novelty. Testing the notion of the audience playing a dangerous game safely online, Initiation has some good fun doing it. Should it return, make sure to read the log-in email in full. With Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition drawing to a close, one has to applaud all those involved. Those who kept strong and produced work, or kept strong when they were told they were no longer allowed to. To many this came as a surprise. Throughout Dublin Fringe Festival 2020 the casts, crews, creatives and volunteers have adhered to the highest standards when it came to keeping audiences socially distant and safe. Given that Covid is likely to be around for some time, finding ways to live with it seems the only way forward. In that regard, Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition has shown how it can be done for theatre. Initation, by Matthew Bratko and Frank Sweeney ran as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition

Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition - Mustard

Eva O'Connor in Mustard. Image by Jassy Earl Fifty Shades of Yellow Sex and Cigarette Area Man make for a pained combination in Eva O'Connor's Mustard. In which an eponymous Eva walks a tight rope of infatuation, lured by a lover with beautiful skin. Unable to see what's in front her, or unable to break free, her self-loathing keeps her stuck there, or coming back for more. A tale of a woman scorned and a woman scarred, Mustard does heartache by the numbers as one woman struggles to find a way to walk on the earth again. Weighted and ponderous at times, Mustard can lag for reliving more than living its tale. But with Eva O'Connor being just that little bit spellbinding, you're very quickly entranced. Not that it’s all plain sailing. O'Connor's tautly structured script often loses momentum for dragging its descriptive feet. Yet, at its best, O'Connor's tale of an English cyclist and a not so good, lapsed Irish catholic girl finds her writing on the borders of poetry. Her word sensitive scenes are as much stanzas as episodes, the opening sequence showing all the power of an incantation. One in which Eva reveals her addiction to mustard, and to one man. The arrogant, English cyclist who has asked her to come back to him from rural Ireland. Quickly established, the bulk of the tale is taken up with remembering all that went before their reunion; their first meeting, the ugly sex, the mustard, and her strained relationship with her religious mother. Eva O'Connor in Mustard. Image by Eimear Reilly Performatively, events being relived, or remembered, can rob the images of some of their intensity. Hildegard Ryan's direction keeps pace moving, but compositionally the stage images come to read like clear signposts for what's up ahead, which often arrive like a bus you've been expecting. Yet it's the mustard at the heart of this sandwich that gels everything together into something extremely tasty. That being O'Connor's hugely invested performance, in which Eva proves to be far richer than the events she speaks of. All the more impressive given Eva's immediacy being dulled a little on account of narrative distance. With its repeated colonial references, O'Connor's tale of the selfish Englishman and the Irish girl from religious, rural Ireland is sure to provide those inclined with a welter of potential readings. Yet at its heart Mustard is still a tale of girl standing before a boy asking him to love her. With a twist or two. You may not love it all of the time, but you're sure to enjoy it. And sure to love O'Connor who cuts the mustard, and then some, with considerable style. Mustard by Eva O'Connor presented by Fishamble: The New Play Company in association with Sundays Child, runs at the Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition until September 19. For further information visit The Abbey Theatre or Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition.

Reboot Live: Episode Six

Reboot Live: Episode Six.Image Uncredited Don't Kill Spiders/A Time For Healing/Lie Low After three weeks, six episodes, and eighteen short plays the curtain finally falls for Reboot Live 2020. Keeping some of its best wine till last Reboot Live: Episode Six sets out to send everyone home wanting more. And does so exceptional well, as each show asks how much fun can you pack into 25 minutes? Witt Tarantino and Emma Rose Creaner in Don't Kill Spiders. Image by Cate Reid. With just a dash of the absurd and a sprinkling of the surreal, Witt Tarantino's Don't Kill Spiders sees a man taking life advice from the spider who shares his apartment. Insights might be flimsy, and its depth only skin deep, but there's a lot of heart in Don't Kill Spiders, as well as the best cigarette gag in years. The kind of show that would thrive in the gay pubs of The East Village, where its not about how good it is but about how brave you are. What the writing lacks in rigour, even admitting its use of rhyming couplets links nicely with the nursery rhyme form, it more than makes up for in novelty and charm. If director Leo Hanna struggles with pace and transitions, Emma Rose Creaner as the slinky spider, and Tarantino as the man child in her care turn in wonderfully engaging performances. You'll never look at the spider in your bathroom the same way again Steve Gunn in A Time For Healing. Image by Cate Reid. Following on from his superb short play A Christmas Matter as part of The Corps Ensembles Christmas Craicers, Gary Duggan makes it two for two with the utterly irresistible A Time For Healing. Through the device of a Group Therapy Session Duggan, as director, cleverly engages the audience without their direct participation and cranks up the investment tenfold. But it's easy to become invested when it's done this well. Sure, there's a few lags when some things overrun a little, but in the hands of Steve Gunn and Aenne Barr you have to look very closely to notice. Barr's pained widow might be projecting onto Gunn as session leader, but the soft spoken Gunn, exercising the patience of job, is one twist of the coil away from snapping. Measured and memorable, Gunn turns in an astoundingly good performance and his chemistry with an impressive Barr sparkles. Full of heart and humour A Time For Healing is arguably one of the better works addressing the losses experienced during Covid. One which confirms Gary Duggan as a master of the short play form. Michael Patrick and Aoibhéann McCann in Lie Low. Image by Cate Reid. Ciara Elizabeth Smyth's Lie Low suggests it's very nice to be naughty. And when it isn't it makes for serious good fun. Serious because there's a sense of Smyth pushing against an unhealthy puritanism, shaking the sexual tree to see what laughs can still fall out. Incest, masturbation, revenge porn, celibacy, all are given a good, respectful rib-tickling. Throughout, Smyth's sketch styled script functions to set Michael Patrick's wannabe stand up comedian, and his soon to be married sister, a frustrated Aoibhéann McCann, on a collision course in which their separate lives dovetail in a rather unusual way. Directed with pace by Oísin Kearney, monologues with moments of dialogue set McCann and Patrick off on a rollercoaster ride where the wheels feel like they might come off at any second as they steer into the next, unpredictable curve. But Smyth ensures you're always in safe hands. If Lie Low is not a show for your sainted grandmother, unless she has a wicked sense of humour, even she will have to admit that McCann's invested carol singing is worth the price of admission alone. It's been wild, it's been weird, it's been wickedly good fun. It's been messy, its been mayhem, its been marvellous. It's been Reboot Live 2020 and it's been live theatre. And it's great to have it back. From early next week, shows from Reboot Live 2020 will be available online for €3.00. Log on to www.thelockinn.io/rebootlive for more information.

Reboot Live: Episode Five

Reboot Live: Episode Five. Image uncredited. Hump/Saudade/Melody Entering into its final few furlongs, Reboot Live 2020 finds itself well on course to cross the finish line. Even so, Reboot Live: Episode Five shows a few tired legs as it heads into the penultimate hurdles. Beginning with Lisa Walsh's Hump, which might more accurately be called The Tingle Redux. Originally called The Tingle and featured as part of The Corps Ensembles delightful Christmas Craicers in 2019, Walsh's once charming tale of two midlife lonely hearts is obviously no believer in 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. Tagging on a frenzied opening and dispensing with Jed Murray as barman, among other things, where The Tingle lived up to its name, alas, so too does Hump. A tale of two lost souls which risks being little more than misery loving company. Deirdre Wiseman in Hump. Image by Cate Reid. A midlife crisis with a beard, Michael Bates's Oedipal American busker has been twice left stranded by Tinder dates. And it's easy to see why. Forever lamenting his sacred mother, a former nurse, Bates's Dan is hoping it's third time lucky when he meets up with Deborah Wiseman's widowed nurse. As drinks are sipped and compliments given, the audience eavesdrops on talk of death, spirituality, and grief as the funless daters find common ground. With Hillary Dziminski's direction looking as jittery and nervous as the unsettled daters, the whole feels unsure of itself, with a hardworking Bates and Wiseman often working too hard at times. Which is a shame, for first time round Walsh's play had much more going for it, with direction and performances looking a lot more assured. This time, if you get the occasional shudder, you don't feel the tingle half as much. Rodrigo Ternevoy in Saudade. Image by Cate Reid. Showing a lot of talk and too little theatrics Saudade, written by André Silviera & Rodrigo Ternevoy, delivers a seated letter reading switching between Brazilian and English. One in which Ternevoy as a gay Brazilian man, experiencing self isolation in Ireland, relays his thoughts and experiences which are then relayed in English by Barry John Kinsella. As a literary device, the approach is not without merit; theatrically though, it's quite dull. Reciting lots of overly long Brazilian passages risks the audience zoning out while waiting for a translation. Which, when it arrives, rarely has enough meat on the bone. Waiting to talk, Ternevoy and Kinsella sit like cyborgs on mute. It's not that Ternevoy's character isn't likeable, or his subjective experiences without personality, its just, objectively, they don't make for visually arresting theatre, with the writing pitched at the level of a warm inspirational quote. Director Peter Reid's attempt to load the ending delivers too little too late, hinting at what should have been. For there's a lot of charm in Saudade, but it needs to get up and dig deeper. Neill Fleming and Deirdre Wiseman in Melody. Image by Cate Reid. Travelling full circle the night ends with another bout of eavesdropping on two dating oddballs in Deirdre Kinahan's untidy Melody. Looking like a screenplay in development, two hopefuls meet, eat, and share a passion for listening to music outdoors. And maybe a secret or two that could trip them up. Though any half alert audience member will spot the secret a mile off. Resembling a charming, madcap Ealing comedy at times, Kinahan's tale of Eat, Eat, Love sees William and Kathleen gorge on food while disgorging exposition in which some obvious plot details are planted. Clunkily directed by Jed Murray, the whole is salvaged by strong performances from Neill Fleming and Deborah Wiseman who deliver enough edible moments to make for a tasty snack. With one episode to go, Reboot Live 2020 has gone a long way in bringing live theatre back before a live audience. Episode Five might not be its greatest moment, but it's still great seeing such moments being played out on stage. Reboot Live 2020 runs at The International Bar on various dates till September 13. Episode Five runs till September 13. For more information, visit Reboot Live 2020.

Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition - Transmission

Transmission. Image by Jason Byrne. Time Flows Still Time. Tech. Memory. And fifteen minutes of fame. Which, when measured as a percentage of the average life span amounts to approximately zero percent of a life. So what should become obsolete and what's worth keeping? Is memory like a videotape being constantly recorded over? In Caitríona Ní Mhurchú's meandering Transmission, the former, bi-lingual, RTE Continuity Presenter weaves three distinct strands into one untidy thread, reflecting on her fifteen minutes, her grandfather the lighthouse keeper, and the past, present, and future, otherwise known as time. Surrounded by an underused screen, a cluttered table, and a robot vacuum called Mother, Ní Mhurchú flaunts her once upon a time B-list status with all the panache of an A-list celebrity. And why wouldn't she, Janet Jackson once gave her cosmetic tips in case she should ever decide to come to LA. Playfully unperturbed if people don't remember her now, Ní Mhurchú executes costume changes, tosses memories in the bin and regales with insider gossip with such captivating humour you're unlikely to forget her afterwards. Her story, like Ní Mhurchú herself, is utterly engaging. If only she hadn't so many other things she wanted to talk about. Like Tenet, only better, Ní Mhurchú frequently steers off into lightweight meditations on all things time. What it is. How it works. How it moves slower and faster depending where you are. Dovetailing untidily into a tale about her grandfather, a lighthouse keeper and possibly the last man to see the Titanic before she sank, it all begins to feel unfocussed and flimsy. If the three strands tentatively hold together, they never collectively crackle. As time and memory collide, physics soon begins to border on metaphysics until the moral finally arrives wrapped in a predictably hope-filled finale. Even so, Transmission can be utterly captivating. Or rather Ní Mhurchú can, her biographical selections stealing the show, even if you feel sold short left wanting to know what happened after. From using the C word on TV to recounting bopping to Bananarama in a boiler suit, Ní Mhurchú is always funny and endearing. Even if the song she's dancing to, Magic Fly by Space, was released two years before Bananarama had actually formed. A subtextual reinforcing of the vagaries of memory no doubt, but this lack of rigour, like the questionable claims about the first SOS transmission, can leave things feeling unclear and unfocused and undermines confidence in Ní Mhurchú's scientific claims. Like the perfect stranger to be sat beside at a dinner party, Ní Mhurchú makes for perfect company. She might ramble off on curious tangents, but her charm, humour and self-deprecating honesty see you forgiving Transmission much. Indeed, even if you're not blown away by it all, the red headed cailin will still lure you in simply by raising her eyebrow. Transmission, by Little Wolf/Caitríona Ní Mhurchú runs at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition, until September 12. For further information visit The Abbey Theatre or Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition

Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition - Twenty Fifty

Fionnuala Gygax in Twenty Fifty. Image by Pastricio Cassinoni Telling Lies That Tell The Truth Arguably one of the more disappointing trends resulting from theatre closures was the often unimaginative reliance on Zoom and Skype calls as vehicles for online performance. In no time at all many began to look like dressed up versions of The Brady Bunch. Not that the approach was without merit. Caitriona McLaughlin, impressively directing Darren Murphy’s The Gifts You Gave to the Dark as part of The Irish Rep's online season, featuring Marty Rea, Seán McGinley and Maria Mullen follows a journey into the afterlife in a soul searing production not to be viewed without several boxes of tissues. Some have pushed hard at Zoom's theatrical possibilities. Few faring better than Fionnuala Gygax and Dan Colley whose cleverly subversive Twenty Fifty takes Zoom in an entirely fresh direction. Running till September 19 as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition, Twenty Fifty sees Gygax interviewing one well known artist per performance in front of a live, Zoom audience. Looking to recreate the experience of live theatre, there's even a gentle element of audience participation for those that way inclined. Which you're quite likely to be by the end. For as events proceed, little turns out to be quite as you'd expect. Yet that's the point of Twenty Fifty. It wants to challenge our often unsafe assumptions, especially those concerning ourselves and our unstable futures. Monday evening saw a somewhat guarded Tom Gilmore carefully weighing his answers in response to Gygax's loaded, probing, and often rapid fire questions, many of which were improvised. Like a naive talk show host with their own agenda, Gygax gently extracts information, which Gilmore surrenders in short, sometimes single syllabled sentences. At times resembling an online counselling workshop, a sudden turn midway reveals it's really not about the particular artist, even though it is. Did you know in 2050, if the temperature rises by even three degrees, 79 million people will be displaced? Did you know that the safe future you're imagining is quite likely never going to happen? If you should never regret getting old for it being a privilege denied to many, did you know it may be a privilege denied to us all? Interweaving details on climate change with Gilmore's likes, dislikes, views and feelings, Gygax and Colley are smart enough not to lecture directly for too long. Even so, there comes a time when it seems like it's rambling towards an apocalyptic dead end, before Gygax flips it on its head. In one deft moment Gilmore's answers are brought vividly to life, his story becomes our story and the world, like theatre, is something we all share together. Gygax might tell lies to tell the truth but, along with Colley, she does it with such conviction and cleverness it draws you in. All so passionately executed even the occasional online glitch seems barely noticeable. Twenty Fifty might not make you a convert to Zoom, but it might encourage another look for being one of the closest, smartest, most innovative approximations of live theatre online. Not harmed in the least by Gygax's infectious love for theatre. Twenty Fifty, by Dan Colley, Fionnuala Gygax, and guests, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition wherever you can take a Zoom call until September 9. For further information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition Link to Darren Murphy’s The Gifts You Gave to the Dark, directed by Caitriona McLaughlin, which is available online till October 31. https://irishrep.org/show/irish-rep-online-2020/the-gifts-you-gave-to-the-dark/.

Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition - Will I See You There

Will I See You There. Image by Anthony O'Connor. All The World's Their Stage In murmuration's production Will I See You There, all the world's their stage. Or, at least, Meeting House Square is, serving as the perfect backdrop for this ingeniously well-told play. Reuniting the team behind the joyous Summertime, writer James Elliott again joins Finbar Doyle and Danielle Galligan, the latter credited as co-deviser, to fashion a tale where listening is at least as important as seeing. Along with Nessa Matthews, and the entire murmuration company, Elliott, Doyle and Galligan deliver a small story with a big heart built around a brave and brilliant premise: tell a story to a private audience from a public space. A story which asks how can we hope be there for one another when we're so badly crippled by our own pain? Living up to the company's name, Will I See You There opens with a lot of murmurs. Heard through headphones from the socially distanced confines of the Gallery of Photography. Here the audience sit facing a screen. As the curtain screen is lifted the windowed distance makes voyeurs of us all. Like witnesses at an execution, the audience peer down at the curtain peeped square with its pigeons, people, and passers-by. And an engaging Finbar Doyle as Fin, sitting, reading Sartre, with a bag by his side. He's waiting for a call from someone he's hoping to meet. Yet the very person he hopes never to meet is about to stroll into Meeting House Square. Walk on by, or walk this way, the troubled Dee has just returned from Berlin; a measured performance by an equally engaging Nessa Matthews. Should she say something to Fin about the last time they spoke, when she called needing a friend? Examining themes of home, friendship, and failure, especially our failure to communicate, there's many things to admire about this bittersweet production. Yet its innocuous story isn't necessarily one of them. Structurally similar to Summertime, this lightweight tale of crossed wires and lost connections again sees characters trying to deal with something left unspoken. Yet, in this instance, if things become different, nothing really changes, with its adorable characters stepping aside to make way for the heavy handed moral of the story, which risks eclipsing all else. Throughout, a mic-ed Doyle and Matthews do superb work playing fictional characters in a real world environment, all of which ensures you never see the same performance twice. Immersive yet distant, clear yet confused, Will I See You There finds Elliott and co. pushing their theatrical boundaries. Relayed through headphones, along with Jennifer O'Malley's effectively understated sound design, a cacophony of competing monologues set against fractured dialogue allow inner worlds to viscerally converge in the listener's mind. Out on the square, the public immediacy presents challenges director John King handles with aplomb, including a well paced memory sequences whose simplicity proves incredibly effective. Performing live in a public space without the public's awareness, mic-ed in yet separate from the audience, performances ripple with added tension due to the unpredictability of it all. Indeed, Monday's 1.00pm performance delivered a wonderful happenstance right at the end to which Finbar Doyle responded beautifully, inadvertently suggesting another layer to Fin in response to a real time event. Whose details can't be revealed for being a spoiler. Despite the openness of the performance space, framing is still very much in play, with the often curious, puzzled glances of passers-by begging some fascinating questions as to who is watching what, and watching who? Indeed, as theatrical experiences go, Will I See You There raises some fascinating questions about theatre, space, audience and framing, as well as those questions its modest story concerns itself with. Ensuring there is something that little bit special about the Will I See You There experience. A lightweight, bittersweet tale, Will I See You There is a theatrical treat, likely to lodge in the memory for many years to come. Deserving of a much longer run just as soon as conditions allow. Will I See You There, presented by murmuration, written by James Elliott and the company, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition at Gallery of Photography, Meeting House Square, until September 9. For further information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition.

Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition - Before You Say Anything

Before You Say Anything. Image Molly O'Cathain She Sells Sanctuary 'In my head there's a universe,' Maeve O'Mahony chants with liturgical solemnity, striding down the aisle of the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle with funereal gravitas. In MALAPROP'S Before You Say Anything, written by Dylan Coburn Gray and MALAPROP, and running as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition, there are a number of heads, and universes, but no loving God to be found in any of them. Yet left to our secular devices, we're even worse at taking care of each other. Built from three short tales, MALAPROP's provocation asking how can we all stay safe at the same time transitions through the failure of the spiritual to the failure of the secular to offer shelter and safe haven. Including The State, who sell sanctuary when those responsible for our safety threaten the well being of our most vulnerable. If Jennifer O'Malley's droning, three note score underscores a brooding mood at the outset, Peter Corboy dashing nude up the aisle, clutching his clothes like some discovered lover, punctures it without letting all the heavy air out. Indeed, dressing as a Victorian man about town, a camp Corboy relates his character's experience of being gay with beguiling charm. Jump forward a century and Ghaliah Conroy rushes into a church seeking refuge from an abusive husband minus her clothes. Meeting a caring priest, another superb turn by Corboy, this second tale proves the weakest of the three, with Conroy functioning mainly to set up questions for Corboy's gay priest struggling to be all he can be for others. If there's a notable absence of nudity opening the third tale, that might well be because the nakedness this tale references speaks to the horrific treatment of journalist Dara Quigley, to whom the show is dedicated, by members of An Garda Síochána in 2017. Filmed naked on CCTV walking in a distressed state along Harcourt Street, Quigley was taken into preventive custody where CCTV images of her were posted to Facebook and a WhatsApp Group by members of An Garda Síochána. Shortly afterwards Quigley committed suicide. To this date, no member of An Garda Síochána has been held accountable for the images posted online. While Before You Say Anything has a political bone to pick, theatrically it doesn't always come together as well as it might in picking it. Flashing past, its use of nudity looks uncomfortable and awkward, never speaking to either vulnerability or desperation. Something director Claire O'Reilly struggles to get to grips with in a production which might go nude but rarely gets naked. Yet when O'Reilly finds her anger, her cast can hit, and hit hard. Peter Corboy is simply brilliant throughout, and Maeve O'Mahony may not do much, but when she bursts forth in a torrent of rage she sweeps all away in her pain. Dancer, Ghaliah Conroy, convinces far more compellingly when she moves, even if her simple patterned sequences don't always ignite choreographically. Yet when they do Conroy brings an added dimension, along with the liturgical style singing, that makes for a far richer theatrical experience. One whose impact is greatly influenced by where you sit. With action taking place in the aisle, functioning as a traverse, placing people at opposite ends of pews because of social distancing has its issues. If you're on the aisle, you're golden, with a terrific view of the action, along with Molly O'Cathain's design and Suzie Cummins' lights. Sitting by the wall you can often be faced with compromised sight lines and problem acoustics, left grasping at what you can, when you can. So get there early, but not too early, to secure the best seats. MALAPROP, along with Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition deserve huge credit for having the resilience and perseverance to keep going, despite several body blows.  Staying strong to bring live performances back to the city. Which they do in some style. For, if visually less than ideal in places, thanks to social distancing, Before You Say Anything is richer than its restrictions, delivering a thought provoking, theatrical experience. Before You Say Anything, written by Dylan Coburn Great and MALAPROP, presented by MALAPROP, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition at the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. September 5 to September 11 - 6.00pm and 9.00pm. For more information, visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2020: Pilot Light Edition.

Reboot Live: Episode Four

Reboot Live: Episode Four. Image uncredited. Medusa Untold/Finding Love in an Abattoir/The Lodge House It's part of the terror and joy of live performance, especially when it comes to theatre. That not knowing what you have until you put it before a live audience. Ordinarily, previews and showcases can help reshape and redefine the work before opening night. But with Reboot Live 2020 there are no such luxuries. All of which racks up the tension. In Reboot Live: Episode Four we see the Goldilocks principle very much at work in another three new pieces. One which proves slightly underdone, one slightly overdone, and one cooked to near perfection. Michelle Costello and Graham Coughlan in Medusa Untold. Image by Cate Reid. Feeling just a tad underdone Medusa Untold, written and directed by Grace Kelley Fitzgerald, plays cleverly with the Peter at the pearly gates motif. Here a weary Medusa suffers the bureaucratic tediums of a decidedly Dublin Hermes as she seeks admission to the underworld. Frequently emphasising that you should never shoot the messenger, Hermes recounts Medusa's failings for which she has some very different explanations to offer. A feminist reimagining of the snake headed monster, dramatically Medusa Untold can feel weak for having nothing at stake and nowhere really it can go. Which leaves it relying heavily on its charm, insights, and humour. If always smart and funny, though not quite as smart or funny as it could be, it delivers lashings of charm courtesy of two engaging performances from Graham Coughlan and Michelle Costello. Looking as if Colin Farrell had strayed into an episode of Republic of Telly, the contrast between the down to earth Coughlan and the more performatively largesse Costello lends for some engagingly funny moments as fame and infamy battle for dominance. Suggesting that, with a little more work, Kelley Fitzgerald could have a cracking little show on her hands. Matthew O'Brien and Alexandra Conlon in Finding Love in an Abattoir. Image by Cate Reid. A cracking dish cooked to near perfection is Melissa Nolan's gripping Finding Love in an Abattoir. Here the life loving Ivo, working in Ireland away from wife and family, and the walking wound Oona, find themselves facing up to a wrong under grey Bundoran skies. Using scenes alternating with monologues, Nolan's smart thriller unfolds with superb moments of heightened theatricality including song, smart transitions, and a scene-stealing abattoir scene which Matthew O'Brien executes to split second perfection. Indeed, O'Brien's Ivo is simply adorable, contrasting superbly with Alexandra Conlon's strained Oona. If Conlon always has you rooting, she is robbed of showing just what she can really do by Oona disappearing just as she begins to emerge. For, without warning, it all suddenly, and annoyingly stops. Feeling like a first Act, or the pilot episode of a TV series you can't wait to binge watch, Finding Love in an Abattoir leaves you cursing under your breath for wanting more. Due in no small part to director Matthew Ralli, evoking spaces both beyond and within as he unfolds worlds with utter conviction on a few square feet of stage. Ciaran McGlynn and Ashleigh Dorrell in The Lodge House. Image by Cate Reid. Feeling like a decidedly overdone novel Katie McCann's The Lodge House nods a little too respectfully towards works like The Woman in Black, and looks somewhat pale for doing so. A supernatural tale of a young doctor travelling to a remote island to tend a stroke victim, a fallen woman comes to haunt him without him having done any wrong. With Ciaran McGlynn's doctor often functioning more as narrator than character, it's left to an energetic Ashleigh Dorrell, playing a cast of thousands, to pick up the slack. Frequently resembling a Victorian Missus Doyle in greater or lesser stages of excitement, Dorrell tries hard to show what McCann, as director, seems more intent on telling. With staging and story both looking staid, and the end making for a bit of an ask, the sense that The Lodge House is a work in development is very much to the fore. But it's a work that will need to ratchet itself up another few levels if it's to deliver to the standards of McCann's own theatrical ambitions. Supported by Fishamble. In each of the above, it took huge courage to put work out there without any of the usual safety nets. It took huge courage to put Reboot Live 2020 on its feet knowing this would be the case. All are to be hugely commended. And supported. Only two more episodes to go. Reboot Live 2020 runs at The International Bar on various dates till September 13. Episode Three runs September 4 and 6, live streaming on September 6. For more information, visit Reboot Live 2020.

Reboot Live: Episode Three

Image uncredited. But You Stopped Their Hearts/Tired and Emotional/The Representative If no one questions Reboot Live's value in putting live theatre back before a live audience, some have questioned its wisdom. And not because of Covid. Marrying firm favourites with fresh faces might make for a terrific learning experience under ordinary circumstances, but when the stakes are so high in securing a live, and a streaming audience it raises questions. Reboot Live 2020 might argue that they're keeping it real by supporting artists right across the spectrum, including new, relatively inexperienced writers. But the inclusion of work that requires a little more development can seem a curious choice. Amy Kidd in But You Stopped Their Hearts. Image by Cate Reid. A case in point is Amy Kidd's admirably ambitious But You Stopped Their Hearts. One of the hardest working young people in theatre with theatremaker.ie, Kidd's tale of a young woman returning to Dublin to face the father she hasn't seen in fourteen years has enough to warrant inclusion in any number of workshops. Which, alas, it would benefit immensely from. Opening as a monologue delivered by Kidd, it quickly drifts into a kind of dodgy TedTalk on trances and twelve year olds before doing a lot of unnecessary work to set things up while not really going anywhere. Exposition heavy, Kidd's script trades in information which could have been delivered far more effectively. Like its character, it soon seems to be doing everything it can to avoid confronting the very feelings it wants to confront. Amy Kidd and Liam Carney in But You Stopped Their Hearts. Image by Cate Reid. The arrival of a carefully understated Liam Carney establishes where the play really should have begun, making all that went before fill like filler. Yet even here feelings are often recounted like facts reported after the event from the safe distance of knowing and hindsight. Under Ronan Leahy's impressive direction, the hidden heart at the core of Kidd's script flashes across the stage at times as a lived experience, with Leahy's clever use of the wings proving to be a masterstroke. Yet, ultimately, But You Stopped Their Hearts is a story for another day. A day when Kidd has had time to work through the issues tripping up her fascinating tale. Which she is more than capable of doing. Supported by Fishamble. Byron Hayes and Monika Pacholec in Tired and Emotional. Image by Cate Reid. If a return to live performance had you hoping to say farewell to those endlessly annoying Skype performances, think again. Tired and Emotional, written and directed by David Butler, sees a late night Skype call between Ed, away on a Team Building exercise in Scotland, and the pregnant Jan being played out onstage. Why, theatrically, put a Skype call onstage? God knows. It's visually weak and uninteresting. Butler's script, however, is often smartly written and richly observed, bouncing an energised Ed off of a jealous Jan as they play around with the truth. Indeed, where Tired and Emotional really succeeds is in the dynamics between Byron Hayes and Monika Pacholec who turn in two engaging performances as the liars dragging secrets out into the open. If it all feels like an excerpt from a larger work, it's a testament to Hayes and Pacholec that you want to know what happens next. Though you do wonder why Butler didn't wrap it up rather than jumping out midstream. Leaving something of a taste for it all feeling like a scene being tested for a work yet to be completed. Sarah Kinlen and Neil Watkins in The Representative. Image by Cate Reid. Rounding out Reboot Live 2020: Episode Three, a weird and wacky The Representative, written and directed by Sean Millar, delivers the most theatrically satisfying production of the night. A sort of Beckettian absurdist tale of bullies, big monkeys and birthdays, The Representative's real treasure is its two crowning performances by Sarah Kinlen and Neil Watkins. Juxtaposed as visual opposites in black tuxedos, minus the bow, Kinlen restlessly paces back and forth as the laconic Watkins remains seated and still, both expounding their nonsensical observations. Unafraid to venture down non-realist boreens, The Representative delivers quite the humorous little treat. As well a delightful musical interlude all for your listening pleasure. Reboot Live 2020 runs at The International Bar on various dates till September 13. Episode Three runs September 3 and 5, live streaming on September 3. For more information, visit Reboot Live 2020.

Reboot Live: Episode Two

Reboot Live: Episode Two. Image uncredited. FM/Cynthia's Lamp/Waiting For The Man Reboot Live: Episode Two sees a host of familiar faces deliver three short works performed under Covid restrictions. If two make for an awkward fit for the shorter format, one finds itself cracking the short format code far more successfully. With each delivering some memorable moments, and some genuinely outstanding performances. Kicking off with Finbarr Doyle and Jeda de Bri's engaging FM, this taut tale proves the most successful, structurally, for confining its action to real time. That time being 3.00 am as a late night, pirate DJ invites callers to talk about their problems. A Jeremy Kyle in the making, Frank is a talk radio disaster, played by Doyle himself, who won't be getting a job with the Samaritans anytime soon. The woman with the dream of drowning, the woman who watched a man die, or the woman who gets tongue tied every time she calls reveal Frank's penchant for sensationalism overriding his sincerity. If it all has a donut sized hole that makes for a bit of an ask at the end, it still crosses the line with distance to spare. Due, in no small measure, to a compelling Meg Healy, scrolling through characters with convincing ease. Director de Bri's framing might feel more like two conjoined monologues rather than a dialogue at times, but it's a strong choice that reinforces FM's standing as a study in loneliness. Something the end rushes a little too quickly, and not all that convincingly, to resolve. But, by then, this production supported by Fishamble, has already won you over. Meg Healy in FM. Image by Cate Reid Victim of its own ambition, Ken Harmon's meandering Cynthia's Lamp sees a terrific Sorcha Furlong deliver a scintillating portrayal of a broken woman trying to get out from under controlling men. The abusive Marsh, whom she loves, and the Accidental Magic practitioner, Jordache, each know what's best for Cynthia. Yet Cynthia is beginning to discover her own inner magic, so the men may want to watch out. Feeling like chronological scenes from a much larger work, often with gaps in between, Harmon's fractured script trips over itself as it slides in and out of being a compelling drama and an episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch. In which a delightful Colm O'Brien delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance as Cynthia's guru without a clue, Jordache. Throughout, Furlong and O'Brien are a joy to watch, and under Peter Reid's direction Harmon's script has more than a few fine moments, even if it tries, too often, to cover far too much ground. Sorcha Furlong in Cynthia's Lamp. Image by Cate Reid Another engaging study in loneliness sees Pat Nolan deliver a wonderfully sensitive script in Waiting For The Man, in which a lot gets said by two men often to avoid saying anything serious. Set in a Men's Shed, Waiting For The Man explores a friendship between men reared never to feel anything good about themselves. Retired for different reasons, the older Paddy, a sublime Pat Nolan, and the younger Gerry, a terrific Steve Gunn, discover one morning that they might have some things in common. As bird boxes get built and the shovel gets breast fed, will there be time enough for them to learn how to really talk and connect? If director Sean Roper Nolan elicits strong performances from his superb cast, juxtaposing Nolan's loud agitation with the resigned restraint of Gunn, some overly busy staging proves hugely problematic. Even allowing for opening night snafus, overworked song and light changes are often shoehorned in, disrupting flow into awkwardly fragmented scenes begging for simpler, cleaner transitions. Even so, the calibre of performances keep bringing you resolutely back, and Nolan's script, which has huge potential for further development, has some very fine moments indeed. Steve Gunn and Pat Nolan in Waiting For The Man. Image uncredited. Even without allowing for the conditions under which these works were created and performed, the standard is impressively high. Indeed, seeing a live body in a space performing to an audience is just a joy after so long, especially when performances are this good. Each infused with an unadulterated love for the stage. For "Reboot Live 2020" is not about getting the perfect show onstage, but about getting back onstage and trying to work under new, imposed conditions. They deserve your support. Not just in principle, but because the work is good enough to justify buying a ticket for a show or a live stream. You know you should. Reboot Live 2020 runs at The International Bar on various dates till September 13. Episode Two runs August 28 and 30, and will be live streamed on August 30. For more information, visit Reboot Live 2020.

Reboot Live 2020: Episode One

Reboot Live 2020: Episode One. Image uncredited Juliet Loved Her Romeo/The Greatest Story Ever Cast/This Is How Term Ends There are venues you never forget. The International Bar is one such venue. Comedians might like to claim it as theirs, but theatre makers can regale you with tales from long before the advent of stand up. With so many legendary venues now gone - City Arts Centre, Andrew's Lane, Theatre Upstairs, add your own - The International Bar's ability to stand the test of time without ever changing is remarkable. Its blacked out windows and DIY ethos offered a home to many of the greats and forgotten of Irish theatre who got their first start there. So it's perhaps no surprise that as Irish theatre tentatively returns to regular live performances, The International Bar is again welcoming fresh starts with "Reboot Live 2020," which serves up a host of little reckonings in this still great room. Offering six individual episodes from now till September 13, each featuring three short plays, "Reboot Live 2020" was designed specifically to respond to Covid by embracing social distancing for audience and actors. Playing to an audience of ten and adhering to strict guidelines (contact tracing, temperature taking, masks, social distancing) Reboot Live: Episode One kicked off on a wet and windy Tuesday with Juliet Loved Her Romeo, offering a playful riff on what might have happened had Romeo and Juliet lived. Written and directed by Peter Reid, if love is a battlefield, a middle aged Romeo is suffering from severe PTSD, played with sensitive understatement by Paul Kealyn. Romeo might be having a mid-life crisis, but Juliet, a vibrant and vivacious Noni Stapleton, looks like she's hitting her sexual peek. On the night of their thirtieth wedding anniversary, the lure of the past pulls at them both as they begin to realise that getting together was the easy part. Staying together might prove to be an entirely different story. Paul Kealyn in Juliet loved her Romeo by Peter Reid. Image by Cate Reid. Honouring Shakespeare with some healthy irreverence, Reid shows hints of the vagabond troubadour in his tightly scripted tale. With a sparing economy that borders on the beggarly, alongside a love for a good story, Reid conveys surprising depth with little to play with, leaving an opportunity for humour under exploited in favour of dramatic depth. If the ending could use a little more meat, Juliet Loved Her Romeo proves remarkably robust, succeeding well beyond its gimmicked device, courtesy of two terrific performances and some searingly smart insights delivered with Shakespearian finesse. Edel Murphy (Mary) and Jennifer Laverty (BB) in The Greatest Story Ever Cast by Paul Elliot and Edel Murphy. Image by Cate Reid. In Paul Elliot and Edel Murphy's The Greatest Story Ever Cast heavenly angels audition for a movie about the Messiah, whose tale is told via a mildly salacious screenplay written by a decidedly kinky angel Gabriel. Following the format of an audition, Edel Murphy turns in a strong performance as Mary, an aspirational wannabe trying out for the role of Messiah. Meanwhile BB, the casting agent from hell, a superb Jennifer Laverty, thinks Mary would be better suited to playing a whore. Less a short scene so much as an extended sketch, the one trick device doesn't quite have the durational strength to sustain itself. Even so, it shows a lot of promise, courtesy of some clever lines and two strong and committed performances. Alison Oliver in This Is How Term Ends by Gavin Kostick. Image Cate Reid. Rounding out Episode One, This Is How Term Ends finds recently graduated Marta, a soon to be midwife with a passion for jogging, longing for the banks of the Lee. And longing for him. You know, the cyclist who might be the one. He's on the verge of graduating too, and over a meeting at Grand Canal Dock they'll both confess their hopes and feelings, looking to fashion a future. Written by Gavin Kostick, Kostick brings his considerable skills to bear on this short form piece which overflows with texture and depth. It might be a small offering, but it's a gourmet treat, loaded with taste and flavour. And with a delicious twist to boot. If the narrative commentary can feel unnecessary and leading in places, its bright buttoned cast play well with the occasional forced moment. Ben Waddell turns in a terrific performance as the boy who wants the girl and a future. But the night belongs to Alison Oliver. Utterly irresistible, Oliver is astonishing as the Cork girl dreaming her future, seducing the audience into being her willing, personal confidants. No doubt top class direction by Bryan Burroughs had something to do with it all, but Waddell shows some serious talent, and Oliver crackles with natural presence in a wonderfully mesmerising performance. "Reboot Live 2020" is a gloriously insane endeavour. Sure, it can feel like a preview at times, and the forced separation onstage leaves some looking like they're acting against the grain. Yet there's something wonderfully audacious about it all. Something enchantingly irresistible about it all. Which has everything to do with that live, immediate experience, right here, happening now, unfolding before you onstage under less than ideal circumstances. Looking to defy the odds. Brought to life by a committed cast, supported by some first rate creatives and crew. It might prove to be a pyrrhic victory, but it is the kind of victory that wins hearts and minds and lives on in the memory. Dusted with romance and magic, and just a smear of greasepaint for good luck, Reboot Live 2020: Episode One reminds you why you fell in love with theatre in the first place. Go see it. Or, at the very least, donate and support it. "Reboot Live 2020" runs at The International Bar on various dates till September 13. Reboot Live: Episode One runs August 27 and 29, and will be live streamed on August 27. For more information, visit Reboot Live 2020.

The Saints Are Coming

There's a charge of excitement in the air. Rumbling in the distance, Reboot Live 2020, Dublin Fringe Festival 2020, and Dublin Theatre Festival 2020 are getting ready to herald a return to live theatre. True, it won't return in its full, bedlam filled glory, and there will still be an online dimension. But for the first time since March the immediate, intimate, and unrepeatable experience that is live performance finds its way back to a space near you, performed under strict Covid-19 guidelines. Offering hope to the beleaguered arts sector. As does a brave new venture soon to open on Dawson Street. Beginning with Reboot Live 2020, commencing August 25, Peter Reid's ambitious brainchild takes to the pop up theatre above the International Bar. Featuring 50 artists performing live in 18 new plays by 18 writers, Reboot Live was developed as a direct response to Covid-19. Premiering six triple bills of short plays on various dates until September 13, Reboot Live 2020 delivers the visceral immediacy of live performances while also streaming its shows online. Featuring many of the best and brightest of Irish theatre, Reboot Live 2020 could hopefully signal the start of some beautiful relationships. September 5 to 20 sees Dublin Fringe Festival 2020, Pilot Light Edition sprinkle its annual, innovative magic across the city. Working to a vastly curtailed programme, DFF cranks up the innovation in an effort to ensure quality if not quantity. A thankless task at the best of times, recent Government flip flopping between restrictions has made the lives of festival organisers an unnecessary nightmare. And continues to do so, with DFF announcing it has been compelled to cancel all outdoor events. If you've already purchased tickets for these shows, refunds are available. But if you were to donate, the hard working, keeping her lit people at DFF promise to keep you in their novenas and prayers as a gesture of eternal gratitude. Joking aside, if it's insane trying to run a festival at the best of times, its sheer lunacy during a pandemic, so every little helps. If the indefatigable spirit that insists the show must go on is being keenly felt, it's also being keenly tested. Yet as Dublin Theatre Festival's Artistic Director, Willie White surmised, 'it's liveness that makes theatre special…we don't want to shrink into our homes and be reduced to watching the world through a screen.' To this end Dublin Theatre Festival 2020, which runs from September 24 to October 11, has taken up the challenge of reimagining a smaller programme of 'new work made for a new reality,' and does it with some style. Promising to deliver some highly impressive productions. As does an exciting new venture soon to open on Dawson Street. Driven by Artistic Director Rex Ryan, The Glass Mask Theatre offers Dublin's newest theatrical experience in Dublin's newest theatrical venue, at a time when the need for new venues has never been more crucial. With a mission of presenting plays for now, plays for everyone, plays that uplift, Glass Mask Theatre promises a new writing venue catering to some of Ireland's finest playwrights and actors, including Stephen Jones, Philip Doherty, Ali Hardiman and Jimmy Murphy. Working in conjunction with Bestseller, the coffee and bookshop, a full food and wine service will be on offer, kicking off Sept 21 with its inaugural production, One Hour To Ron Montana by Keith James Walker, a surreal, one man comedy featuring Rex Ryan. Theatre has taken a beating in the past few months. And nothing, absolutely nothing online has come close to presenting a viable alternative or a sustainable way forward. The people behind these projects, and countless similar projects, have shown incredible determination, resilience and strength in the face of overwhelming odds. Sainted lunatics who could have thrown in the towel, but didn't. They're ready to bring live theatre back to the city. So book your tickets now. If shows are sold out, then donate. If you can't attend for whatever reason, donate. The hard work's already been done. Do your part now to support live theatre, in whatever shape that might take. Money is always good. For more information on tickets, and to receive updates and announcements, visit: Reboot Live 2020 Dublin Fringe Festival 2020 Dublin Theatre Festival 2020 Glass Mask Theatre

This Beautiful Virtual Village

This Beautiful Virtual Village by Lisa Tierney-Keogh. Image uncredited. Little Boxes *** Welcome to Woke 101. Otherwise known as Lisa Tierney-Keogh's "This Beautiful Virtual Village". More woke than Dear Ireland continues, or a truck load of caffeine, "This Beautiful Virtual Village" has all the isms covered. Feminism, socialism, racism, all will be properly explained just as soon as you shut up and get over yourself. For you might think you're woke, but you're not. Or at least not as woke as "This Beautiful Virtual Village". Adapted from her award winning play, This Beautiful Village, Tierney-Keogh's online version certainly plays tighter than the original staged offering. Featuring several new cast members, it cleverly shifts its timeline to during the Covid lockdown for a more immediate resonance. Yet the longer it goes on, the more its carefully framed arguments, once again, come to obliterate everything in their path. Till it all begins to border on the condescending. Which is a shame, for it gets off to a cracking good start. An informal Zoom meeting of the Willow Residents Association soon degenerates into all out war. Scurrilous graffiti, missing money, a passionate lasagne, the ties that bind steadily unravel as friends and neighbours undertake a woke power struggle. Well, sort of. When the baddies are so clearly delineated, like Native Americans in an old Western movie, you're really not required to struggle. Or think. Just go with the woke profiling and let it do all the work for you. Really, it's that simple. Originally scheduled to remount at the Abbey this summer, arguably the biggest issue facing "This Beautiful Virtual Village" is its themes eclipsing its theatrics, which are very much top class. Beginning with a wonderful cast which sees Amy Conroy, Steve Blount, and Luke Griffin join original cast members Pom Boyd, Michael Ford-Fitzgerald, and Bethan Mary-James to deliver six stunningly engaging and perfectly paced performances. A production which uses the Zoom format superbly (though saturation level is such that many are now praying for other ways of putting work online), immediacy and intimacy are richly palpable. Indeed, under David Horan's impeccable direction the opening song, Little Boxes, takes on a whole other layer of meaning when played over a Zoom chat. Narratively, Tierney Keogh's script might have little going on, but when it stops self-consciously lecturing it often has fascinating things to say. The initial back-biting and bitchiness prove wonderfully insightful, before a series of handbrake turns spin it off into a creepy language interrogation of white male privilege and white supremacy. Referencing George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, racist Ireland isn't all that different just because police don't carry guns. And every woman knows what it's like to be a second class citizen in Stillorgan. If it's tempting to dismiss Tierney-Keogh's attacks on misogyny as old hat, recent events in the US have shown it's a sordid song that's still being sung at the highest level. The high profile insults directed at US Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by one of her male colleagues confirms that the notion that men have now moved past misogyny doesn't equate with the lived reality. Even so, many men are appalled by such vile misogyny. And many Irish aren't racist. Not that you'd know it here. Leaving "This Beautiful Virtual Village" steeped in the tropes of propaganda. Propaganda, woke or otherwise, frames its arguments to favour its case while reviling its opponents as a homogenised unit. And it really is pitched that obviously. So much so you can't help feeling like you're being set up to be played by a dishonest reductiveness. Leaving "This Beautiful Virtual Village" aspiring to something of substance, while its revolutionary Puritanism ensures it never rises above the level of the next social media post. A lecture dressed up as a debate, hung on a bare boned skeleton of a story, "This Beautiful Virtual Village" evangelises to the converted. The dominant, final image might claim 'we're done here,' but many will come away thinking; 'no, we're not. I'm listening. I want to fix the world too. But, like you, I won't be told to shut up or be put in a box. Which gives pause for concern, wondering what exactly is your vision for achieving a brave new Ireland?' And, once again, themes eclipse theatrics. Which really are top class, and so worth the price of admission. Lisa Tierney-Keogh's "This Beautiful Virtual Village" is available at The Abbey Theatre Online until September 17th. Tickets/Digital Pass: €5.00. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.

Dear Ireland continues

The Abbey Theatre's Dear Ireland - Damien Dempsey. Image uncredited. The recent announcement of Abbey co-artistic directors Graham McLaren and Neil Murray's departure in July 2021 has been greeted by some as a disgrace, by others as long overdue. Wafting in like a breath of fresh air to take the Abbey's poisoned chalice in 2016, the likeable duo's open armed approach aimed to kick open the doors of the Abbey in favour of a new inclusiveness, their introduction of free previews proving a universal success. Yet many argue they should have closed the doors shortly after to better shape the Abbey's future. A trail of productions and co-productions with outside companies might have made the Abbey a welcoming venue, but the welcome was sometimes more impressive than the quality of the work, or the opportunities being offered, with the Abbey often resembling an undiscerning venue for hire. Complaints were made at the highest level. Heaven only knew what might come next. Concerts possibly? The audience writing shows? Funny you should mention that. In "Dear Ireland's" fifth instalment a welcome is extended to the Abbey audience to respond and reflect on the current difficulties brought on by Covid. A welcome is also extended to musician Damien Dempsey, who, along with a host of readers, including actors and politicians, shares in an evening of song, spoken word and poetry built around the relatively dead practice of letter writing. Having invited written responses from the public, and received in excess of 400 letters, twenty were then selected to be read by a cast of rotating voices. Always one body on stage at any one time, the finished readings to be broadcast on the Abbey's Youtube channel for six months. Whether the Abbey should double up as a music venue is a question for less troubled times, though an impressive Lankum, by all accounts, did the cause no harm at the weekend. For now, Dempsey's musical interludes see his muscular vocals delivering heartfelt songs to compliment "Dear Ireland's" diverse array of stories. Yet with many of the letters sharing striking similarities in tone and theme, the end result often sounds like a prolonged, no craic, party political broadcast. Or a Dail sessions you might find yourself wanting to sleep through in places. The Abbey Theatre's Dear Ireland - Minister Catherine Martin TD reading 'We Must Create' by Stephen James Smith. Image uncredited. With many letters berating the past and/or present of Irish society, the future looks none too bright neither, given that nothing seems to have changed, or changed enough, despite referendums, rebellions, and whatever else you have. Gay, immigrant, trans and other voices lament what's been done, what's not been done, and what needs to be done as we try reshape what it means to be Irish. Raising questions about whose voices you're being allowed to hear, whose voices are shaping the culture, and about the deafening silences, political, cultural, and personal, surrounding them. If it all sounds like misery loving company, there's a lot of heart here too. Holly Lusted's letter, read by Florence Adebambo, is utterly captivating. Be Safe, Be Seen sees dead words coming back to life as award winning journalist, Fintan O'Toole, delivers a self penned reminder to look out for those forgotten during Covid. As is to be expected, O'Toole's prose is theatrically, politically, and poetically robust, like gossamer threads of interconnection. And his delivery isn't half bad either. Indeed all non-professional performers, including Dublin Lord Mayor, Hazel Chu, and Minister Catherine Martin TD, hold their own with the professional cast. Non-professional writers, whose letters constitute the majority of the readings, also impressively hold their own as they discuss Covid's impact on an aspiring leaving cert student, a socially distant immigrant, the elderly, and a host of other ordinary people experiencing extraordinary circumstances, delivering a series of solo performances to dip in and out of over the coming six months. The Abbey Theatre's Dear Ireland - Florence Adebambo reading a letter by Holly Lusted. Image uncredited. Concluding with a letter by President Michael D. Higgins, read by Mrs. Sabina Higgins, the plight of cultural spaces and those who work in them, and how artists have been negatively impacted by Covid, are superbly rendered. The importance of recognising the arts as an essential basic service is wonderfully emphasised. A letter addressed to all the heads of state in Europe, and to the European institutions, advocates for reimagining our commitment to supporting the arts. Moving and inspirational, it's a rousing call that begs engagement. Even when the cultural space "Dear Ireland" inhabits often forgets that politics is not the only cultural song worth singing. That even boxers take a break between the rounds. No one can fault the unbridled enthusiasm of McLaren and Murray who wear their hearts and best intentions on their sleeves in "Dear Ireland". Often delivering in the strangest places. Like the tops and tails song by Ray Harman and Lisa Lambe, sung in Irish, which is toe curlingly gorgeous. Still, in this instalment, politics loom heavy and large, and the craic isn't quite up to ninety, often being strangled lifeless within the political zeitgeist's vice grip. Like sitting next to that self-serious expert who has a problem for every solution, you might find yourself, at times, wanting to switch barstools. And not because of your privilege, or personal discomfort. Yes, he's some pertinent things to say. He's nothing if not having pertinent things to say. But it can all get reductively dull for saying precious little else. Undoubtedly "Dear Ireland" is important and good for you. Like a large dose of Syrup of Figs. A little more wine, or whiskey, to wash it all down, even a cultural giggle or two, would have been nice. You'd wager there were one or two amongst the other 380 letters. You'd certainly hope so. "Dear Ireland's" fifth instalment premiered 7.30pm on Monday, 10 August 2020. It is available on the Abbey's Youtube channel for the next six months. Link included below: Dear Ireland continues

My First Holy Covid

Image uncredited Bridging The Distance Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the arts community have been enduring some desperate times in recent months. Indeed, if necessity is the mother of invention, it proved to be the handmaiden of reinvention as many took their trades online. Sometimes to interesting effect, particularly dance and opera. Theatre, not always so much. From The Abbey Theatre's Dear Ireland, to Fishamble: The New Play Company's Tiny Plays 24/7, Lyric Theatre Belfast's Splendid Isolations to The New Theatre's Fight Back Festival, there were certainly some impressive highs. But also quite a few lows. Moments whose lack of invention spoke to an obvious desperation with working online. The new abnormal did not suit everyone. Now, just as many artists are coming to terms with the challenges of working online, the first strainings towards a return to live performance are making themselves heard. Brainchild of Peter Reid, Reboot Live aims to create live performances before a socially distanced audience. Artistic Director of the No Touching Theatre Festival, Belfast based Ciara Elizabeth Smyth is looking to do something similar. Bewleys Cafe Theatre @Irish Georgian Society and Smock Alley Theatre are also preparing for live audiences, and more are on the way. But beating them all to the punch is Breadline and Dublin City Council's "My First Holy Covid," which brings live performances to socially distant, residential audiences in South inner-city Dublin. Written and starring TKB, and featuring Ericka Roe, this timely two hander explores the impact of Covid on the biggest event in the Irish fashion calendar. Forget Paris Fashion Week, the real style is to be found during Holy Communion season, when boys and girls, and those who identify differently, become catwalk Catholics. Strutting their style, making their first confession, Summer-Breeze Fagan and Reece Howard (whose full name sounds like a Welsh village) are determined to make it the best day of their short lives so far. Culminating in the best party ever. Only they hadn't factored in Covid-19. Image by John Fay Showing TKB's hallmark exuberance, "My First Holy Covid" comes at you with fast laughs, funny insights and observations of utter fabulousness. With costumes designed by TKB, executed to perfection by Ericka Roe's impressively talented mother, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd arrived at a wedding. But it soon becomes obvious that if Summer-Breeze and Reece have been friends most of their lives, its only been for the last four years when they started school. Yet the comic chemistry and call-and-response timing between TKB and Roe is again so palpable, at moments they resemble an old married couple. Or Des Keogh and Rosaleen Linehan. Or Abbot and Costello. But with nerves of steel. With shades of Give Up Your Aul Sins, and evocative of Eoin Colfer's Holy Mary, "My First Holy Covid" offers a respectfully irreverent take on making your first Holy Communion. Produced as part of Dublin City Council's Story On Your Door initiative, which aims to reimagine residential areas in the city and bring theatre to new spaces, the twenty minute piece is performed several times each day at a number of secret locations for resident of South Dublin's inner city. On Tuesday, Oliver Bond House saw the twenty minute show move to various locations in the flats. And if front of house audiences didn't always look huge, the balconies more than compensated. At twenty minutes you are never going to get huge character or narrative depth. Yet what you do get is a really good time that tries bridging the distance created by Covid. As well as other, exclusionary distances. If less a story and more a sketch, "My First Holy Covid" delivers two hugely engaging performances with lots of laughs. The end might rush itself a little, but the build up is often terrifically good. A song, dance, and comedy double act with vaudevillian stylings, "My First Holy Covid" delivers good fun, good laughs, and hopefully signals a return to more good times ahead. "My First Holy Covid" by TKB, featuring Ericka Roe, presented by Breadline and Dublin City Council, plays at a number of secret locations in South inner-city Dublin until July 31.

Dear Ireland: Part Four

Dear Ireland presented by The Abbey Theatre. Image uncredited Into the final furlong and Dear Ireland: Part Four makes an eager dash for the finish line, letting loose the reins and charging home in considerable style. Featuring several strong productions, communicating digitally still dominates as a vehicle with many characters talking to, or through, devices. The dangers of technology addressed in A Letter To The Manager by Sonya Kelly, in which Deirdre Donnelly confides the daily banalities of her loneliness in a letter of complaint, highlighting the limits of technology when it comes to human connectedness. Attempts to reclaim that connectedness being one of Dear Ireland's noted ambitions. Fracturing isolation through isolated monologues to become bigger than the sum of its component parts. If there’s lessons to be learned, one must surely be that comedy deserves to feature more in any similar endeavours. Despite the most uncomfortable close-ups ever, the delightful End Meeting? by Darach Mac Con Iomaire, finds Eoin Ó Dughgaill hilariously poking fun at the narcissistic vanities of actors, now an essential service engaging in acts of charity. Deliciously irreverent and delightfully refreshing, Ó Dughgaill bursts much of the seriousness of the Dear Ireland bubble. The delightfully deceptive The Good Thief, by David Ireland, sees the recently burgled Abigail McGibbon wondering what Jesus would do with her bible thumping mother. Likely to leave you LOL, McGibbon's understatement shines in this subtle, dark comedy. Efforts to engage visually prove hugely impressive in several instances. The Golden on the Grey, reuniting Margaret Perry with Breffni Holahan, delivers a series of disjointed fragments that play like stanzas making up a complex whole. One in which Holahan is magnetic as she reflects in isolation, the camera simply adoring her. As it does Kathy Rose O’Brien’s in Joseph O’Connor’s equally fragmented Grace, as Rose O’Brien hugs her cardigan like a comfort blanket, or a sneaky cigarette, video diary-ing her life and relationship under Covid-19. Right upon to the final, cryptic image. Another reunion sees Ciara Elizabeth Smyth reunite with Camille Lucy Ross in the impressive Party Party, in which Ross boasts of her amazing life with a self-aware twist in the tale. Delivered as a staccato of lines and images, this deceptive study of loneliness over breakfast, lunch and dinner, also keeps you guessing after the end. Several character studies also deliver some clever twists. Flake, by Keith James Walker, sees a pitch perfect Ashleigh Dorrell imagining a dystopian future while remembering a night in paradise, all leading to a deliciously wicked ending. Let’s Unpack That Shall We sees Una McKevitt give a clever twist to Katherine Lynch’s profession as an online counsellor helping with Corona overload. The past and the present collide in several productions, including Joe by Mark O’Halloran, in which an aged Andrew Bennett, struggling with laboured breathing, delivers another superb study in loneliness and the hope of second chances. Conversations With… by Jody O’Neill, finds Marie Mullen condemning caring Ireland for not caring then, looking back to when children were taken from unmarried mothers, the pain revealed in Mullen’s superbly understated performance. A glorious Peter Gowen, failing to see eye to eye with his daughter, delivers monologue as personal encounter in the delightful comedy of error The Three Irishmen by Kit De Waal, in which new and old Ireland clash with unvarnished verve. Innovation, textual and visual, pushes at boundaries in Stone Mad From The Flavour Of The World by Blindboy. In which Cathy Belton’s surreal inner monologue is delivered against a pulsing beat, wondering if Michael D.Higgins might yet save us all. The Temple Is Closed, written and performed by Emmet Kirwan, opens like an Ad Exec's pitch with its graphics and images, before a wonderfully self-deprecating Kirwan spins off to play with narrative with a Pirandello-like playfulness. At the heart of Dear Ireland lie unique and diverse voices struggling under Covid-19. Dear Ireland You Will Hardly Notice My Absence by Rosaleen McDonagh might risk Sorcha Fox descending into a noise cancelling rant because the world owes her something, but listen a little closer. A prison cell, hospital ward, or hotel room, Fox finds no softness in humanity as a traveller housed in a hotel supervised by the same bigoted manager who refused her admission ten years before on her wedding day. Veering towards a life altering decision, it becomes clear that self-isolating is nothing new to Fox for whom keeping her distance was already a speciality. Heartfelt and heartbreaking, an impressive Fox, and some fine writing by McDonagh, deliver a wrenching study of a woman lost between worlds. One of McDonagh’s most compelling works to date. Setting out into uncharted waters, Dear Ireland was an ambitious undertaking. One involving a monumental amount of work, with very little time to deliver. Sure, some pieces are stronger than others, text sometimes struggles with the medium, and the unforgivable commercials look cheap and tacky. But Dear Ireland brought individuals back into community, sharing their talents in a time of need. As a first step into a new possibility, results are often impressive. Nothing can never replace live performance, but when the deserved back slapping ceases, there’s much Dear Ireland can be proud of in the cold, hard light of hindsight. Congratulations to everyone involved, including all those behind the scenes. There are six months in which all fifty monologues in this historic endeavour can be viewed online. Enjoy them at your leisure. Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre, can be viewed for six months from May 2 on their dedicated Youtube channel. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.

Dear Ireland: Part Three

Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre. Image uncredited Despite Dear Ireland: Part Three delivering a more cinematic feel, several productions still found themselves mired within prose styled structures. Again, communicating digitally dominates as a format. Yet several play cleverly with the device to deliver strong performances. Making for a strong overall showing, despite one major disappointment. The drawback of text superseding screen is evident in the ploddingly paced These Four Walls by Sinéad Burke, in which Eleanor Walsh’s school teacher talks about her students, wanting to give them what they need and not just what the syllabus requires. The cautionary A Hand of Jacks, by Dermot Bolger, might kick off with the visual flourishes of a full scale movie, replete with credits and sentimental soundtrack, but again there’s a performative disparity between image and text. Throughout, action often amounts to little more than a voice over as Dawn Bradfield ponders ponderously on death and grief. Kathy Barry's by Karen Coogan, sees Siobhán McSweeney observing the impact of lockdown with the professionalism of a seasoned curtain peeper, distilling richly observed details into a literary flow laced with hope. West, by Ursula Rani Sarma, finds Owen McDonnell as a grief stricken man struggling with the death of his father back home. Dark and doom laden, the endless ‘what if’s’ posit endless negative scenarios, leaving him wondering if he’ll be able to cope if things get worst. A more successful embracing of the visual medium is very much evident in The Meadow by Jimmy Murphy, which finds a breathy Clare Dunne, with a compliant ladybird, waxing pastoral by the riverbank as she remembers her Nan. Delivered as an inner monologue, Dunne meanders in moody silence through woods as she reconnects to the forgotten earth for sustenance, even if the cows might need a bit more getting used to. Similarly, the three scened Staring At The Sun by Stacey Gregg, which sees Conor MacNeill tell a fractured tale bordering on the confusing, again built around an economic visual sensibility. Most successful of all is the sublime I Know You by Zhu Yi, in which Julia Gu’s good girl doppelgänger dishes advice like a reprimanding super-ego. Kicking literary meditations to the curb, Yi’s refreshingly smart tale kicks of with the ferocity of a Sci-Fi thriller. As Irish as a Chinese women enjoying St. Patrick's Day in America, Yi explores cultural difference and the different responses to Covid-19 with fearless good fun, exploiting visual possibilities with ingenuity. Smart, funny, and utterly engaging, humour laced with wisdom is writ large. Communicating with yourself might often be the hardest, but it’s rarely been done better. Looking beyond the immediacy of lockdown, Pom Boyd’s After This Thing channels her inner 70s to a soundtrack by Mud. As Boyd’s passionate concern for conservation plays out in black and white and colour, Brendan Gleeson’s architect looks down his nose as he advises on the ways of the world. Played with exaggerated arrogance, Gleeson’s easy target is a joy to hate. If Boyd’s embittered satire has Gleeson looking like a child making fun of the headmaster, the conservationist message is vitally important: nothing’s protected. You’ve been warned. And doubly warned with an ironic, Freudian slip of a YouTube commercial cutting an impressive Gleeson off as he wrapped things up. At least during this viewing. Guess nothing really is protected after all. Why expect theatre to be any different? The idea of looking beyond lockdown continues in Tara’s Hill by TKB, which sees Ericka Roe delivering an online video session live from a homeless hotel. Suffused with a wonderful earthiness, Roe cuts through politics like a refreshing breeze, with the common voice on her discussing Ireland, Leo, and defending her ability to write spoken word. Alone, forgotten, she’s determined not to remain that way, delivering a homage to all the Charlenes everywhere that is more than just talk, talk, talk. For Roe makes you care enough to want to listen in a disarmingly engaging performance. In What We Never Got To Lose by Dylan Coburn Gray, Leah Minto finds familiarity breeds delight when feeling loved and safe with her new boyfriend. Feeling feelings about her dead Mum, her former boyfriend, and her new boyfriend, is it racist of her not to want her future child to be white? For she has stories of old that need to be told, and hopefully there's time after the virus for them to be heard. Or time for new identities to be forged. As in A New Yorker Now? by Meadhbh McHugh, which sees Clare O’Malley as an apprentice New Yorker whose Irish life BC (before Corona), has nothing to say to her now. If only it would leave her alone, her survivors identification constantly interrupted by her concerned family and friends making her question where she really belongs. Wearing their hearts of their sleeves, two video messages to unborn children bring the curtain down on Dear Ireland: Part Three with considerable style, courtesy of two cracking scripts and two wildly engaging performances. Something Worth Saying, by Colm Keegan, sees a magnificent Owen Roe struggling to impart wisdom. Funny and heartfelt, Roe lures you in with an extraordinarily engaging performance. As does Caoilfhionn Dunne in The Rock by Philip McMahon. The internet might have made her smarter and more stupid, but she’s tired of internalising messages of worthlessness as a lesbian struggling to make a life with her pregnant fiancé. Despite the worrying intrusion of commercials being a major disappointment on the night, Dear Ireland: Part Three delivers an awful lot to be grateful for. And an awful lot to be hopeful of. But purists, and even those of a not so pure disposition, might well recoil if commercials continue to be part of the package going forward. One more to go. The final instalment of Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre, will feature on their dedicated Youtube Channel on May 1 at 7.30. All fifty monologues can be viewed online for six months from May 2. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.

Dear Ireland: Part Two

Dear Ireland presented by The Abbey Theatre. Image uncredited. While Dear Ireland: Part One showed immense promise, Dear Ireland: Part Two highlights many of the pitfalls of the monologue format. Once again, meandering meditations, many centred on communicating digitally, dominate, with Covid-19 serving as the contextual background. As an opportunity to imagine, or re-imagine, theatrical possibilities and boldly go where few have gone before, Dear Ireland produces a wide array of results. With some artists rising to the challenge, some struggling, and some notable figures showing a surprising lack of inventiveness. Not least of which is Edna O’Brien’s disappointing and drawling Dear Ireland. Featuring Stanley Townsend reading a letter from O’Brien; she advises everyone to immerse themselves in one book during lockdown. Except it’s really one writer rather than one book as Townsend trots out a Wikipedia walkthrough of W.B. Yeats. Even so, the icon has her moment, reminding us that great literature is more beneficial than all the self help books ever written. Starting strong and finishing weak, renowned Italian composer Andrea Molino’s torturously tautological I Want The Things finds American composer, David Moss, delivering a found-sound performance with an array of everyday objects. Resembling the worst Ireland’s Got Talent audition ever, lyrics are used to recycle worn-out theories: words are symbols, not things, and are often ineffective. If Wittgenstein would have been flattered, everyone else might find the experience a one trick pony. Akin to being strapped into a chair in a Columbian back alley while a dentist drills threatens. It might channel Evan Parker on a bad LSD trip and momentarily appear interesting, referencing post dramatic theatre and musical experimentation, but it soon becomes clear not everything beyond words is worth listening to. No matter how charming or playful they try to be. Thankfully, several lights do glimmer and glow with varying intensity, with many expressing well intentioned meditations. Wiper at Work by Abbie Spallen, sees Jolene O’Hara meditating on the Northern Irish context in which Covid-19 serves as a distraction from Brexit. Which gets her wondering about the respect due to frontline workers, and wondering why seventy percent of deaths from Covid-19 are men? All set against an undercurrent of domestic violence hovering in the background as the wheels turn but go nowhere. Similarly Shaun Dunne’s well-intentioned The Box Room (A Meditation on Work). Here an engaging Eva-Jane Gaffney serves up meditations on her box room from her box room, with very little actual meditations on work. Remove the mantra ‘box room’ from the script, which Dunne clings to like a life raft, and you could probably reduce the whole by a third and not feel the loss. Indeed, its self congratulatory, self awareness of its own privilege is something it could loose as O’Hara suffers valiantly through her first world privilege. Manchán Magan’s Poll Mór/Big Hole, serves as a healthy reminder that Dear Ireland attempts to speak to a diverse audience: young and old, rural and urban, Irish and non-Irish speaking. Performed by Bríd Criomhthain, Poll Mór/Big Hole offers a short, Irish language meditation with enough English for anyone to catch on to. Bilingualism features again in the taut and hard hitting It’s All The Same by Zoe Ní Riordáin as a bilingual Seána Kerslake evokes a homeless woman with mental health issues, reminding you she’s still there. And in trouble. The legacy of Larkin and Parnell looking diminished in light of the nation’s failure to care for its uncared for. If Ní Riordáin’s song structured piece doesn’t pull its punches, it doesn’t spark sympathy either. But Ní Riordáin sees care as a right not a privilege, with Kerslake’s singing reiterating the central themes that ring out like a problem absent a solution. Shifting from meditations to character studies, a charmingly comic Maxwell House, by Eva O’Connor, sees the wonderfully disjointed Amy McAllister struggling with a one eyed cat and her hipster roommate, Emily, as self-isolation kicks in. Exploring the magnetic push and pull of relationships, love is blind as it struggles along the thin line between love and stalking. Night 4, by Aoife Martyn, sees an impressive Norma Sheahan venting frontline burnout with a vicious tongue. Standing against a wall of toiler paper, her calm exterior conceals an angry interior, with her nursing advice sounding like a teacher training programme from the 1950s as pain and hope collide. Your Hands by John O’Donovan, sees Nicola Coughlan’s wedding cancelled courtesy of Covid-19. Which might not be a bad thing given it wasn’t her that wanted to get married in the first place. Cracks and strains appear as she puts on her make up. Discussing the difference between socialism and capitalism, and carrying on till we can’t in an apocalyptic slow walk towards the end, she wonders if life, like her wedding, is postponed or cancelled? A theme reiterated in Dear Alex, by Deirdre Kinahan, as Bríd Ní Neachtain’s widow fighting cancer becomes intrigued by a mysterious man taking his daily constitutional past her garden. Making her wonder is there's more to life than survival, and how many chances do we get to find out? Communicating via digital media takes centre stage in Gorse, by Michael West, in which Mark O’Doherty colludes with our extinction as he participates in the nightmare of teaching via Zoom. Smart, funny, with O’Doherty’s oversharing teacher suffering world weary frustrations, West’s script is delivered with Grade A sarcasm by O'Doherty, slipping from sardonic lecture into heartfelt confessional, highlighting the strains of self isolating with a smart, heartfelt ending. The Other Side, by Arthur Riordan, finds Rory Nolan reflecting on a draft email he never sent, cleverly highlighting the early then and current now of the lockdown to ask some pertinent questions. Juxtaposing a ‘we’ll get through it’ message with ‘no we won’t,’ Nolan’s Jekyll and Hyde performance cleverly conveys the battle between hope and despair. Now at its halfway mark, Dear Ireland shows an evident leaning towards text over medium, even allowing for the restrictions imposed by social distancing, the time bound nature of the project, and the relative inexperience with the medium of most involved. Suggesting some writers might need to think outside the box if they want to engage those looking at the box. Even so, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest there’s no reason why this can’t happen. Yet never as a replacement, or substitute, for life performance. Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre, will feature on their dedicated Youtube Channel, with Part Three airing on April 30, Part Four on May 1 at 7.30, featuring a new selection on monologues each night. All fifty can be viewed for six months from May 2. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.

Dear Ireland: Part One

Spread over four nights, Dear Ireland, the Abbey Theatre’s attempt at a national conversation on Covid-19, has divided many. For some it’s a cynical exercise heralding worrying concerns for the future of theatre. For others it's an unimaginative funding mechanism to justify paying artists currently out of work. For others it really is a creative response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Whatever your position, the prospect of sitting through fifty, talking head monologues commissioned by the Abbey might understandably leave you shrinking in dread, even without lockdown burnout. But theatre and technology is a conversation that's been coming for a long time. As The National Theatre in England has shown, online offerings provide wider access and an alternative income stream. Yet they have inherent dangers. Whatever your views, Covid-19 has brought the question to the forefront of everyone’s conversation. Suggesting that old school theatre practices need to be looked at given that technology isn't going to go away. Given the wide array of online productions currently available from around the world courtesy of Covid-19, alongside innovative engagements such as Mark O’Brien’s illuminating #TheAxisChats interviews, theatre online has never been more accessible. So did we really need fifty monologues? In fairness, The Abbey didn’t get the idea first. The New Theatre’s Fight Back Festival did the same thing on a more modest level with twelve artists producing some interesting and, occasionally, forgettable results. Neill Fleming, in Stewart Roche’s Shard, with Fleming looking like he had just weathered a sandstorm, showed huge promise and raised many questions. As does Dear Ireland: Part One, airing on the Abbey’s Youtube channel. Featuring works from the depth of the soul to others that preach from the dizzying heights of a soapbox, the memorable and the forgettable are again in evidence. With several feeling like creative writing assignments speaking as much about communicating via digital media as about Covid-19. Early signs are not promising. Staying Alive, Carmel Winters’ black comedy on social distancing, sets the template for much that follows as frayed über moaner, Lucianne McEvoy, bemoans everything and everyone in an online call. Walk, Enda Walsh’s uncharacteristic cure for insomnia, finds Zara Devlin poetically willowing in pastoral nostalgia. Her soft spoken sermon on hope straining patience as you drowsily drift in and out of the homily. No such drowsiness in An Impossible Woman by Iseult Golden, which sees Marion O’Dwyer living up to the title as we, once again, witness moaning by way of digital communication. A self righteous mother sending a video message to her estranged daughter reveals a family lawyer with a warped sense of family, her admonishing tones endlessly shifting between confession and justification with the psychobabble coming hard and fast. By now, you’re almost tempted to call it a day with the moaning and switch channels. But you really shouldn’t. Shower, by Sarah Hanly, sees Denise Gough seeking phone advice on how to repair a shower. An Irish nurse living in England, Gough has front-line PTSD written all over her. With divine simplicity, Gough breaks your heart with a performance of riveting vulnerability as a woman caring for everyone around her, grabbing a fleeting breather for herself between the rounds. Her pain offset by beguiling laughter as her plumber-come-counsellor reminds us that the smallest act of human kindness make all the difference. A genuine gem from Hanly and Gough. Dear Ireland I’m Riddled With Anxiety by John Connor, once again bemoans digitally as Graham Earley waits anxiously for a Covid-19 test. Hard drinking, hard smoking, Earley laments having to social distance from his Mam, a woman born of a generation without technology. Delivering a meditation on death, worrying about worrying, and the craic in Ireland, Connor disarmingly celebrates Ireland’s resilience while speaking to its history and spirit. Arguably the most innovative and humorous production, Window, by Shane O’Reilly, sees Amanda Coogan gossiping through a window she endlessly cleans. Silent, with subtitles and sign language, Coogan’s performance is an utter joy to behold, enriched by a gestural lexicon which sees Coogan revel in talking without words. Simply riveting, Coogan is marvellous whether trying to pronounce difficult names, releasing her inner Trash Metal goddess as she toughens up, or realises what exactly the next door neighbour is up to. Saying so much more by saying so much less, Window is a real treat. As is Nancy Harris’s Dear Ireland, An Unreliable Ex Lover Suddenly Writes, in which Marty Rea’s prodigal son not looking to return meditates on Ireland from an emigrant distance. A video call with humorous overtones, Rea makes Harris’ adulterous confessional wholly endearing as a man missing where the grass grows greener. A sideways apology, an unflattering love poem, Harris and Rea deliver a gorgeous I Love You to Ireland as clever and heartfelt as it is endearing. Possibly the shortest piece, Home by Owen McCafferty, again says so much by saying less. Here Patrick O’Kane mentally rambles through a shopping list as he rambles along a wintry strand. Again the diaspora themes loom large, with O’Kane mesmerising as he mines the subtext. Stopped dead in his tracks by a phone call, his inner monologue halted by a minimum of spoken words, his final gesture saying everything silently and simply. Into the final furlong, things again begin to stumble. Pints of Milk by Frank McGuinness, sees Joan Sheehy’s flint like address remembering the good old, unwashed days of managing without. She survived those, so we can survive anything. The ritual prayer to defiance and mother earth steeped in Catholic imagery. As is To Éire, a history lesson by Felicia 'Felispeaks' Olusanya which leaves you really wishing she hadn’t. With Deirdre Molloy cranking up even more religious imagery with flint like defiance, Molloy does her best rallying from the Felispeaks’ pulpit, declaiming around a Hail Mary laced with overt patriotism. Ending with A Start by Gina Moxley, Timmy Creed brings some needed humour as he cocoons in Kerry, agreeing to partake in the Dear Ireland exercise purely for the money. Reflections on Ireland and a life half lived are offset with lessons on how to survive day to day lockdown. And how to make fun of it all. More of which would have been welcome, Dear Ireland’s format might frustrate at times, with some of its offerings weaker than others, but when it’s good it does much to scratch that theatrical itch. It runs for three more nights. But if so many back to back monologues is too much for you, after May 2 you have six months to get through them all on Youtube where they will be made available. And you should. For on the evidence of Dear Ireland: Part One, there are some real gems here. And they’re all original. And that conversation on theatre and technology is happening, like it or not. Dear Ireland, presented by The Abbey Theatre on their dedicated Youtube Channel, runs April 29, 30 and May 1 at 7.30, featuring a new selection on monologues each night. All fifty can be viewed for six months from May 2. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre

© 2016 Chris O'Rourke