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Dublin Dance Festival 2022: Encantado

Dublin Dance Festival 2022: Encantado

Encantado, choreography by Lia Rodrigues. Image by Sammi Landweer **** God, but Encantado takes forever to start. As a wide carpet is slowly unfurled, rolled from upstage to eventually cover the entire stage, there's a deliberate absence of urgency. Or ceremony. Or ritual. Just a pained suspicion that the tech crew forget to roll out the patchwork carpet and are now trying to do so as quietly and as inconspicuously as possible. Yet as lights rise it becomes apparent that this is not a carpet. Rather it's an impressively interlinked tapestry of individually separate sheets, like a giant un-sewn coloured quilt being rolled out with considered care. A glaring indication that things are never quite as they seem in Brazilian choreographer Lia Rodrigues' Encantado, presented by The Abbey Theatre and Dublin Dance Festival. Even so, at the very least they could've started at the half way mark. Presently the stage empties. Just as you're stifling that first yawn, the first naked body appears. Nine more follow. Male and female. Each slips beneath a sheet, wraps it about themselves, draping them as cowls, dresses, shrouds, and other visually impressive nonsense, like a Robin Williams improvisational routine. At some point a sole dancer moves to the front and emits an animal howl, received like a Zen master's slap to the face. More follow, accompanied by facial expressions evoking a joyous haka. Dancers begin to move as a percussive tribal rhythm takes hypnotic hold, built from excerpts of songs of the Guarani people. In what follows mermaids, giants nine foot tall, and other weird and wonderful creatures carve out archetypal shapes, sounds and images that resonate across cultural barriers. Joy soon ensues, and ensues, and ensues, till Encantado overplays its hand and ultimately overstays its joyous welcome. Encantado, choreography by Lia Rodrigues. Image by Sammi Landweer With moments that evoke the late, great Irish performance artist Eleanor Lawler, the versatility of textiles and a reclamation of the body see Encantado reimagining fabric and bravely shaming those who would shame the physical. Throughout, an Eden like innocence suffuses every moment. Choreography by Rodrigues might seem loose and aimless, but individual movement signatures are returned to repeatedly, as well as short ensemble pieces that juxtapose and feed off each other. Three women talking about money, three rear ends flashing briefly, a campish catwalk, strike-a-pose routine all helping to root the experience. If the clean organisation of the opening explodes in a chaos of disorder, under Rodrigues' command the effect is ordered chaos. Revealed in the way the ensemble moves, expands, and contracts as a unit, playfully utilising sheets to traverse the stage. Nothing random here. There's improvisation, but always on Rodrigues' well established structures. Despite listing eleven performers, (Leonardo Nunes, Carolina Repetto, Valentina Fittipaldi, Andrey da Silva, Larissa Lima, Ricardo Xavier, Dandara Patroclo, David Abreu, Felipe Vian, Tiago Oliveira, Raquel Alexandre) only ten appeared in Friday's performance. If it's not clear who the missing dancer was, what can be said with absolute confidence is that dancer Dandara Patroclo is an absolute revelation. Her fierce haka and energised movements informed by a detailed facial lexicon, built from a choreography all its own, creating a standout performance. Dandara Patroclo (front) in Encantado, choreography by Lia Rodrigues. Image by Sammi Landweer Encantado is proof, were proof needed, that you do not need to understand dance to enjoy it. And that dance can often be other than what you think dance is. Encantado purports to be about reconnecting us with the beauty and power of the natural world. Grand. I can see that. But it offers so much more. Yet all its ideas look moot compared to its cacophony of colour and its erotic, exuberant, exhilarating joyousness. To the parading, peacocking, and posturing of wild infectious energies. But go ahead. Wallflower in the corner arguing what Encantado is about. But know, as you do, that Encantado is infinitely richer than what it, or you, claim it to be. Mostly, Encantado is a party. Inviting everyone to get naked and come play with the blankets. Uplifting, breaking moulds, challenging expectations, and sheer good fun. Which is also an apt description for Dublin Dance Festival 2022. Encantado, choreography by Lia Rodrigues, presented by Dublin Dance Festival and the Abbey Theatre, runs at The Abbey Theatre until May 21. For more information, visit Dublin Dance Festival 2022 or The Abbey Theatre.

Constellations

Constellations

Sarah Morris and Brian Gleeson in Constellations by Nick Payne. Image by Ros Kavanagh. **** There's a buzz around The Gate Theatre currently. And if Nick Payne is to be believed, at several other moments too. The recent appointment of Róisín McBrinn as Artistic Director and Colm O'Callaghan as Executive Director has well wishers wishing them every success. As does The Arts Review. Meanwhile, the Irish premiere of Payne's award winning Constellations from 2012 is also generating a buzz. Suggesting that while incumbent Artistic Director Selina Cartmell is in the final furlongs of her tenure, she's going out in considerable style. Payne's thoughtful two hander about love, the universe, and everything in between being something of a dazzling little jewel. Less Stephen Hawking's The Theory of Everything so much as Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, Payne embeds his user friendly science in a variety of deeply human stories. Or, rather, in variations of the one story. The one where bee keeper Roland meets data analyst Marianne. They cheat, break up, make up, then marry till death do them part. The twist in the tale being there is no one version of any one story. Rather destiny gives way to density as every possible variation of a story has its own existence in a multiverse somewhere. Each nuance seeing Brian Gleeson and Sarah Morris shift effortless between universes with an ease even Dr Strange would struggle to manage. Sarah Morris and Brian Gleeson in Constellations by Nick Payne. Image by Ros Kavanagh. In Payne's thought provoking script the language of love is the language of logic, serving as a lukewarm substitute for poetry. Structurally rich with musical complexity, its jazz styled improvisations on a basic melody offer refrains, repetitions and variations on themes, opening up hitherto unheard phrases, and doing so beautifully. Till even the idea of a central melody starts to lose ground. Opening a Pandora's Box of metaphysical, moral and scientific musings. To its immense credit, or to knowing when to back away from an unwinnable fight, Constellations never hammers home one position. Rather it encourages the audience to intelligently determine theirs. Even as love, when reduced to choice, can feel like a badly made bargain. Like Roland. Loveable guy, but would you want him in your corner when the proverbial fan gets hit? Much of the time Marianne wouldn't seem to either. His proposal speech on bees being something of a worrying red flag in any universe. Even as Payne's delightful humour enriches every universe it touches. Throughout, there's something other than relativity in Payne's assessment. Scenes are never viewed neutrally. Always there's a lens through which events are being judged. Some scenes showing greater emotional or moral integrity, others signalling undesirable outcomes, based on judgements that don't feature on any Periodic Table of Elements. Yet there they are, uniting all universes, determining whether a slap, sleeping around, staying together in the darkest moments are nearer to something true. Begging the question where did the lens come from? It wasn't from The Big Bang. Sarah Morris and Brian Gleeson in Constellations by Nick Payne. Image by Ros Kavanagh. Under director Marc Atkinson Borrull, Roland and Marianne's relationship is infinitely restrained. Reflected in the dull efficiency of Molly O'Cathain's costumes, and realised in two shrewdly judged and perfectly paced performances. No extremities here, no wild declarations of impossible love. Just the subtle shifts that can change the trajectory of a life, or a universe. The question pressed or not pressed, the phrase uttered or left unsaid. Yet the reining in comes at a cost, neutralising the intensity and scope of possibilities. More chemicals than chemistry, love becomes a pragmatic affair, an arrangement to be negotiated and discussed more than experienced. Desire for a cuddle more likely than a wild night of abandon. Like all good companions. When it comes to evoking a multiverse, Molly O'Cathain's cleverly raked set, with its mirrored ceiling and walls, and a multitude of chandeliers, proves a stellar piece of gorgeousness and ingenuity. Given depth and dimension by Paul Keogan's superb lighting. Performances too are stellar, slipping deftly between emotional landscapes. Brian Gleeson being instinctively aware his Roland is foil to Sarah Morris's Marianne. Her journey richer and more probing, on which Roland is but a passenger. But a gifted actor like Gleeson can allow Morris to shine without looking threatened, highlighting his own, superbly understated performance. Meanwhile Morris is simply magnificent. Plumbing depths and shifting through a wide emotional range without even changing gear. Sarah Morris and Brian Gleeson in Constellations by Nick Payne. Image by Ros Kavanagh. When it comes to love and physics, Constellations will leave many unconvinced. If there are countless multiverses in which, once I'm gone you will never see me again, then we're all just dust whatever version you run with, just getting through these carbonising days. In which love, like calling life a miracle, becomes a confidence trick to sweeten the bitter pill. Colonising the language of poetry under the guise of liberating it, while really making it redundant. Consequently, some will disagree with much of what Constellations proposes. Yet none can argue that it makes its arguments beautifully, deftly and with considerable charm. They've been made before, but rarely with such potency. Best seen in a sublime sign language scene, hinting at more than science understands. Think, feel, laugh, maybe even cry a little. Constellations. Currently at The Gate and at a universe near you. Constellations, by Nick Payne, presented by The Gate Theatre, runs at The Gate Theatre until June 2. For more information, visit The Gate Theatre

Magic Goes Wrong

Magic Goes Wrong

Magic Goes Wrong. Image by Pamela Raith **** Mischief Theatre. Crafting their own brand of award winning shows that have become global phenomena. Magic Goes Wrong, younger sibling to the excellent The Play That Goes Wrong, continuing their trend of making a comedy of errors. Co-written with magicians Penn and Teller, Magic Goes Wrong serves up some garden variety magic while leaning heavily into old style gags. Pantomime meeting variety performance in a show that delights more than excites. Serving up a feel good evening safe for all the family, courtesy of some bad magic and some good laughs. Magic Goes Wrong. Image by Pamela Raith Like an extended blooper reel, the Disasters in Magic Charity Fundraiser sees everything going wrong. A sort of Comic Relief for magicians, its host with the least, a panicked Sophisticato, aims to raise money for magicians hurt during their career. Judging by the calibre on display, they're going to need it, though their doves and swans might need it more. Looking like David Blaine's idiot cousin, Blade undertakes dangerous tricks that see him more a danger to himself. The Mind Mangler, a man who can taste names, smell jobs, and touch your dead relatives, has fallen foul of the technical crew and his audience plant, Brian. German sisters Spitzmaus and Bar take sibling rivalry to dangerous levels. Meanwhile there's plain bad luck to contend with for not breaking the wand of a recently deceased magician. Such is the thin thread of story stringing it all together so that madness and mayhem can ensue. Magic Goes Wrong. Image by Pamela Raith With frenetic pace and rigorous attention to detail, there's never a slack moment in Magic Goes Wrong. The gags may be simple, but they're meticulously and cleverly executed. If the magic is unlikely to impress anyone over the age of seven, leaving you wishing for one really mind blowing trick, it serves as a reminder that Magic Goes Wrong is a comedy with bad magic rather than a magic show with good comedy. Both merging in some terrific Health and Safety jokes. Will Bowen's glorious set, with its millions of moving parts, proves terrifically versatile. In which Daniel Anthony (Brian), Valerie Cutko (Eugenia), Sam Hill (Sophistcato), Keifer Moriarty (Blade), Rory Fairbairn (Mind Mangler) and Jocelyn Prah and Chloe Tannenbaum (Spitzmaus and Bar) shine. The mighty Tannenbaum a scene stealing joy as the Ja Ja loving strong girl with a vicious streak. All deftly directed by Adam Meggido. Like a travelling circus, magic often attracts misfits. But even misfits need a family. With more spills than thrills, Magic Goes Wrong makes everyone happy and welcome. Serving up theatrical comfort food for all the family. Just make sure you watch out for the bear. Magic Goes Wrong, by Mischief Theatre and Penn and Teller, a Mischief Theatre Production presented by Kenny Wax Ltd, Stage Presence Ltd and Kevin McCollum, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until May 14. For more information, visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.

Bloody Yesterday

Bloody Yesterday

Elizabeth Moynihan and Sinead Keegan in Deirdre Kinahan's Bloody Yesterday. Image uncredited. **** Somedays you can't turn a corner without bumping into a play by Deirdre Kinahan. To call her prolific would be an understatement. To call it a cause for concern an overstatement. Yet her widespread popularity raises questions about what makes for a successful play? One thing's for sure, Kinahan's works, by and large, are extremely enjoyable. Especially when they steer clear of the didactically political and delve into the intimate and personal. Like her latest, Bloody Yesterday, currently at Glass Mask Theatre, a modest tale of a mother and her abandoned daughter. Told as a series of alternating monologues, a cobbled chronology emerges in which Lily, an Englishwoman, falling for an Irish farmer, is swept off her feet into a new life slumming on the West Coast of Ireland. A woman in love with a romantic idea of Ireland, of living on a farm, of painting by the mountains and sea. Brought down to earth with a mud and mist soaked plop. Motherhood becoming the rock on which she almost perishes, Lily not prone to the maternal instinct. Leaving young daughter, Síofra, mystified as one day mother, Mammy, Mam, Lily, gets into a shiny red car and never returns. Not heard of again until a card lands in the postbox over two decades later, revealing a hidden family secret. Narratively, very little takes place in real time, with introspection and reflection being the storytelling devices of choice. Aside, that is, from Síofra getting her groove on to a number of scene break songs which offer subtle subtextual connections. Yet what Bloody Yesterday lacks in action, Kinahan compensates with brilliantly astute detail. Language that conjures everything before your eyes whilst doing an emotional deep dive. Even though, at times, drowning in a deluge of detail can diminish the power of a key moment, hearing about it a little too long rather than letting it breath. Making the moment, like Lily, seem uncomfortable with intimacy. Its opposite, too little detail, undermining the play's greatest moment of intimacy in an untidy and unsatisfying ending. Like reaching the cliffhanging, last episode of a brilliant TV series only to discover they won't be renewing it. Elizabeth Moynihan and Sinead Keegan in Deirdre Kinahan's Bloody Yesterday. Image uncredited. Written specifically for the Glass Mask Theatre venue, this deft two hander fits neatly into the space. Director Rex Ryan positioning mother and daughter either side of a physical divide, emphasising the sense of distance. As for performances, given the talent Ryan had to work with, it was probably the easiest directing gig of his life. Elizabeth Moynihan as the stiff upper lip, Lily, is marvellous, making you understand someone for whom selfishness and her survival are her best attributes. Moynihan expressing so much while reining it all in. Meanwhile Sinead Keegan as Síofra is a revelation. Delivering each line as if it just occurred to her, making every sentence a shared discovery and us her co-conspirators, complimented by a beautifully judged physicality. Bloody Yesterday marks the final instalment in Glass Mask Theatre's 2021/2022 season. Ending May 29 with a one night only musical performance by Don Mescall and Band to wrap it up. Safe to say it's been something of a thrilling, insane, rollercoaster season. Rex and Migle Ryan likely to sleep for two weeks come May 30. Refreshingly brave and hugely committed, Glass Mask Theatre has been successful not only in creating a space for new writing like Bloody Yesterday, but in recognising and promoting new acting talent. Many benefiting from working with seasoned pros like Moynihan, or Clelia Murphy. All of which is in evidence in Bloody Yesterday in which Kinahan, Moynihan and a phenomenal Keegan shine. Roll on next season. Bloody Yesterday by Deirdre Kinahan, runs at Glass Mask Theatre until May 28. For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre.

Standing In Lifts With Strangers

Standing In Lifts With Strangers

Jennifer Laverty and Nessa Matthews in Standing In Lifts With Strangers. Photos by Keith Jordan *** It's a risk mirroring your inspirations. For every Bridget Jones Diary there are countless others to confirm that imitation isn't always the highest form of flattery, looking like cheap knockoffs of all the original's best bits. While no cheap knockoff, Jennifer Laverty's ambitious Standing In Lifts With Strangers borrows heavily from its chief influence, Daphne du Maurier's masterpiece of suspense, Rebecca, immortalised by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1940 movie of the same name. Where the eponymous Rebecca, never seen, is idolised and idealised yet casts a dark shadow. Dying under mysterious circumstances, she exerts a brooding influence over those who remain behind. An apt description of Standing In Lifts With Strangers, Laverty's contemporary tale of another unseen, recently deceased Rebecca. Tired and emotional, Rebecca's shy and sensitive sister, Jo, is surprised by Fiona in Rebecca's bedroom immediately after the funeral. The mysterious Fiona, a manipulative, motor-mouthed, movie buff maniac, sporting a bottle of vodka and a faint hint of menace, seems unwilling to go home. With everyone else gone, they soon proceed to talk ill of the dead. Under the influence of that old reliable, alcohol, both women let their guard down to disclose secrets. The kind you'd feel comfortable sharing with a stranger on a long bus journey, not the kind that could get you arrested. All bar one. Yet it loses power for having lacked a smarter conceal. And for a jack-in-the-box reveal that looks juvenile and gimmicky. The play swerving suddenly into a narrative brick wall, bringing its 21 grams of promise to a crashing cop out. Just as the most interesting piece of road was coming into view. Selling Laverty and her truly promising tale short. Nessa Matthews and Jennifer Laverty in Standing In Lifts With Strangers. Photos by Keith Jordan It's a testament to Laverty that despite Standing In Lifts With Strangers having no plot to speak of, only an eccentric woman who won't go home, it sustains considerable interest. Similarly when it comes to being a dark comedy, the acid test being is it robust enough to stand when the audience don't always laugh? Laverty succeeds, even if she does give herself all the best lines. Yet a little generosity in Jo's direction would have served her and her script better. Jo and Fiona's relationship negotiated via a comedy double-act dynamic. Laverty's Fiona, quirkier than life, perfectly offset by Nessa Matthews' Jo, the sidekick come straight person of the routine. Both negotiating their emotional claustrophobia differently. Fiona spreading hers to fill the room, Jo, stiff as a rod, wishing she could be anywhere but with herself. Matthews turning in a strong performance whose subtle nuances can easily be missed on account of being dazzled by Laverty's Fiona, a force of nature writ loud and large in a marvellous performance. If her performative choices frequently pay off, others, by director Jeda de Bri, often leave you wondering. Pai Rathaya's set might be detailed, its bed for sleeping in and not for sex, but it swallows over half the stage like a cramped IKEA showroom. Leaving Laverty and Matthews pressed together like strangers in a lift. De Bri’s compositionally poor decisions achieving a phyrric defeat, honouring the metaphor at the cost of strangling spacial possibilities. Colm Maher's lights might be a masterclass in mood, impressively achieved given the size of Bewley's rig, but de Bri's attempts to punch out big moments, like the singalong-an-80s segment that overstays its welcome, look forced and bereft of imagination. Jennifer Laverty and Nessa Matthews in Standing In Lifts With Strangers. Photos by Keith Jordan Comedy, thriller, and a character study of outsiders, Standing In Lifts With Strangers has plenty of meat on its respective bones. Bewley's Café Theatre, nominated in this years Irish Times Theatre Awards, are to be commended for supporting new works with their two year Percolate Programme. Offering writers an opportunity to try, fail, learn, get better and finally thank Bewley's at a future award ceremony. If Standing In Lifts With Strangers is unlikely to win an award just yet, it shows Laverty is a writer of considerable promise, and a terrific performer to boot. Someone long overdue an award is Colm Maher, whose light designs for a wide array of Bewley's productions are consistently excellent. You probably won't notice them, but you rarely do when they're that good. Standing In Lifts With Strangers by Jennifer Laverty, runs at Bewley's Café Theatre until May 21. For more information visit Bewley's Café Theatre

Luck Just Kissed You Hello

Luck Just Kissed You Hello

Jamie O’Neill, Riley Carter and Ross O’Donnellan in Luck Just Kissed You Hello. Image: Ros Kavanagh *** Big Ted is dead. Brain-dead that is, lying comatose in a bed as his three children bicker. On the evidence of their endless arguing, Ted might be better off. Though they say people can hear you in a coma. Oh well, tough luck Ted. In the current revival of Amy Conroy's 2015 play Luck Just Kissed You Hello there are moments in which interest kisses you goodbye. It's ninety minutes of onstage debate about whether to sign a release for your dead father's organs, as he wished, making for a modest commentary on masculinity and a lot of hard going. Textually, and sub-textually, there's complications due to family history and notions of gender, but they might have carried more weight if something more pressing was happening in real time instead of three people bickering over the same shared backstories. Or had something, like sacrificing an inheritance, or a kidney, been at stake for Mark in deciding whether to sign a release from which others might benefit. In the absence of which, his identity politics begin to feel like selfishness. But inheritance there isn't, even if there's legacy. Nor characters much to speak off. Conroy serving up a study in masculinity by way of male postured performances rather than people. Firstly the cuckolded, straight boy Sullivan, apple of his adopted-father's eye, a man with a wife and a child on the way. Then there's gay son, Gary, and estranged trans-son Mark, formerly Laura, neither of whom Ted seems to hold in any regard. Finally there's Ted, a hard love patriarch whose idea of male initiation involves dogs, a summers day, a block, some rope, and a pier. Tough love to toughen you up for a world where sissies are frowned upon. Trauma? What's that? There’ll be no Daddies girls being Mammies boys in Ted's family. Eh, about that Ted. Ross O’Donnellan, Riley Carter and Jamie O’Neill in Luck Just Kissed You Hello.Image: Ros Kavanagh Throughout, Conroy's script loops and repeats without spiralling higher or digging deeper, hitting a conceptual brick wall like the one dominating Sarah Bacon's set. Repetition stretching to sentences which frequently echo themselves, a la," I want to read the eulogy. You want to read the eulogy?" Holding masculinities and famlies up like a prism, Conroy's script twists this way and that to shine light on different angles, with fatherhood and gender expectations always at the centre, yielding as many blindspots as moments of insight. Wayne Jordan's pacing and direction, rising, at best, to the bitchy eloquence of a drag brunch, more often than not sinks to the petulance of food fight in a kindergarden. If it highlights the ridiculousness of gender at times, the weighting can make it hard to take other arguments seriously. Not helped by chairs being moved with the frequency and pointlessness of a nervous tic. Making it harder to invest in the experience for it always pulling you out. Despite invested performances from Riley Carter, Ross O'Donnellan and Jamie O'Neill. Jamie O’Neill, Ross O’Donnellan and Riley Carter in Luck Just Kissed You Hello. Image: Ros Kavanagh Luck Just Kissed You Hello delivers strong moments and challenging ideas. Why would a gay woman want to become a straight white male? What does that mean for their identity. If a woman slept with a woman who always felt like a man, is that strictly a gay relationship? More importantly, why couldn't we have had more humour like the Take That joke which is seriously funny? As the final image cedes the stage to Mark, it's a strong yet problematic statement. Granted his emotive expressiveness, his forgiveness, his ownership of himself and identity have a powerful resonance on notions of masculinity and male identity. Yet even as trauma needs release and boys most certainly do cry, your heart strings are not so much tugged as mercilessly yanked during Mark's emotional climax. Leaving the tidied up end smacking of unconvincing resolve. And you perhaps wondering if maybe next years male might make for a better model. Luck Just Kissed You Hello by Amy Conroy, directed by Wayne Jordan, runs at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until May 14. For more information visit The Abbey Theatre

NDT2

NDT2

NDT2's Simple Things, choreography byHans Van Manen. Image by Joris-Jan Bos ***** Some names are synonymous with excellence. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 (NDT2) is one such name. Like their parent company NDT, technical and physical excellence, exquisite precision and near inhuman synchronicity are hallmarks of NDT2, one of the worlds premiere contemporary dance companies. Presented by Dance Consortium, NDT2 make their Irish premiere with three short works. Crafted by three different choreographers, two prove to be vibrant new pieces, with the third looking as fresh as when first created twenty-one years ago. NDT2's The Big Crying, choreographer Marco Goecke. Image by Rahi Rezvan Beginning with The Big Crying, choreographer Marco Goecke dives into his own personal underworld to explore living in the face of loss, speaking to the difficulties of the last two years under COVID as a consequence. Like a Shaolin monk under a midnight flame, a shirtless dancer executes a kata style sequence establishing rapid, jolting snaps coupled with interludes of fluidity, suggesting a Tai Chi master channelling energies viscerally felt. Like a waddling bird, another dancer approaches, executes a short duet of brief, almost cartoonish jerks then disappears to be replaced by another. The rhythm thus established, Goecke sets about improvising on his theme, going to painful, dark places as bodies upon bodies are shaped or distorted with snapping articulations. Creatures whose echoes of humanity highlight their pain. Cackling and bellowing intermittently follows, groupings like birds converge and disappear, words silently mouthed display their inadequacy as Udo Haberland's exquisite light drifts like moonlight through hell. A gorgeous and affecting journey, The Big Crying's sublime articulations take you to places wondrous, scary, yet hauntingly beautifully. Ending with a sole dancer under a flame, we, like them, return having been transformed. NDT2's Simple Things, choreography byHans Van Manen. Image by Joris-Jan Bos Synchronised perfection, articulations of excellence, and going full circle reemerge in Simple Things by Hans Van Manen from 2001, featuring four dancers forming interchangeable pas-de-deux. The quartet, two male and two female, delivering the more formal of the three pieces. If ballet's formalisim has always been susceptible to pressures from within and without, leading some to declare it a dead art form, no sooner has its death knoll been rang than it shows itself infinitely rich and open to suitable accommodations. Conserving form yet moving it forward, Van Manen's Simple Things marshals such pressures into something sublime. Transforming tensions and setting them free. Embracing tradition yet being startlingly fresh. There might be mild traces of tango, but it is unmistakably ballet. NDT2's Impasse, choreography by Johan Inger. Image by Joris-Jan Bos Ending the night with Impasse, Johan Inger's stunning work suggests Oklahoma or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers with its large, barn like structure from where three dancers emerge. Traces of barn dancing infuse what follows as innocence and colour become seduced by bigger, flashier, thrasher things. Their colours fading to uniform black, till all three primary dancers are finally cut off from both the world they chased and their original world. A hybrid and fusion of music and dance forms, like a civilised Hieronymus Bosch painting, depressed clowns, horse fights, and Vegas showgirls execute different movements to different rhythms, creating a complex physical cacophony. The running uphill sequence a masterpiece of simplicity and brilliance, just one of many that inform the night. Bodies suspended in space and time; positioning, precision and footwork utterly exquisite; lithe, fluid movements imbued with a wild, sexy energy: NDT2 are simply out of this world. Crafting intangible realities into tangible physicalities, all three pieces aspire to standards beyond human, and get there. With Dublin Dance Festival 2022 on the horizon, whet your appetite with a masterclass in brilliance. Not to be missed. NDT2, presented by Dance Consortium, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until May 3rd. For more information, visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

The Examination

The Examination

Gary Keegan and Willie White in The Examination. Image uncredited **** There's a rule which says always leave them wanting more. Then there's the rule about exceptions to the rule. Brokentalkers award winning The Examination being a case in point. Created by Brokentalkers' stalwarts Gary Keegan and Fiedlim Cannon, The Examination is fashioned from theatre workshops and hours of interviews conducted with prisoners and served up with meta-theatrical ingenuity. Part of a five year study of healthcare in prisons undertaken by Associate Professor Catherine Cox (UCD), along with Professor Hilary Marland and Doctor Rachel Bennett (University of Warwick), it examines institutionalised bad practices where gradual change looks like standing still. Made more worrying by conditions, like slopping out (using a bucket to excrete into, often in front of other prisoners, then washing it out daily), being swapped out for equally bad conditions like overcrowding. Or prisoners being medicated, legally and illegally, to sedate their anxiety, depression, anger and fear. Just ask former prisoner and addict, Willie White. Which is exactly what Gary Keegan does. Brokentalkers simple, two handed conceit yielding a profoundly moving production, despite leaving much unsaid. If healthcare were the entirety of The Examination's case, it would have made its points brilliantly. But it dips its toe into deeper waters in an effort to take a sledgehammer to generalised prejudices against prisoners. Challenging us to look at how we judge criminals by their looks, voice, and especially their class. See criminals as animals, or through outdated idiocies. Taking the notion of the born criminal as a norm, a result of nature rather than nurture. Willie White in The Examination. Image uncredited But maybe it's not so bad. Prison is a holiday camp, and prisoners have the best of everything. Arguments delivered by a clean cut and unsympathetic Gary Keegan who, as a victim of crime, has a justifiable chip on his shoulder. Keegan making weak points directly to the audience, sounding like a stockbroker furious his mocca-latte with a cinnamon twist had too little cinnamon. Someone whose views it should be impossible to take seriously. But people do, that being part of the point Keegan is making. His points repeatedly shot down by stand up comedian, Wille White, as the patron saint of reformed prisoners in a too tidy reversal of hero and villain. The cuddly, infinitely patient, wiser and far funnier White walking his path to redemption. The prisoner freeing himself from the prison of his past by facing it, the victim still a prisoner to his. All of which The Examination touches on but doesn't say enough about as it strays further from its healthcare investigation. If it underscores how prison is seen as a deterrent by way of punishment, it's weaker when it comes to interrogating prison as a place for rehabilitation. If the work of PACE is properly acknowledged, their remit is parolees, not prisoners. Leaving prisoners on a path were six out of ten will probably die too young, most, if not all of those remaining returning to drugs or crime. Given such a failure rate, if prison was a business someone would have fired the board and sued them for negligence. Making Willie White all the more remarkable. White's redemption less the rule so much as the exception to it. Willie White in The Examination. Image uncredited. Two men, a cell, a table, AV images and, oh, an ape. At times heavy handed (tossing medication at prisoners with vindictive hatred), at others right on the money (the mopping scene, Gareth Gowen's animation and AV design, Denis Clohessy's music and sound, Stephen Dodd's lights, Sarah Foley's costumes), there's also moments that simply take your breathe away. And White is at the centre of all of them. While there's a Brechtian blurring of character and actor in play, White proves astonishing however he plays it. His response to being told prison is a holiday camp, his rendition of Over The Rainbow, his having a near psychotic breakdown, or simply his mild mannered walking across the stage sees a brilliant White exercising more than good luck for finding a role made to fit. Showing instead both a practiced and instinctive talent, well deserving of his accolades. As is The Examination. The Examination, presented by Brokentalkers and UCD School of History, runs at The Project Arts Centre as part of Live Collision International Festival until April 30. For more information visit Project Arts Centre

An Octoroon

An Octoroon

Umi Myers as Zoe in An Octoroon. Image by Ros Kavanagh ***** Political theatre and the politics of theatre. Both very much to the forefront in The Abbey Theatre's production of An Octoroon, a reboot of Dion Boucicault's The Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Making history as the first production on The Abbey stage written by a black writer, directed by a black director, with a predominately black cast. Something many would have considered inconceivable a few decades ago. Raising questions about whose politics? Whose theatre? Who frames our conversations and representations? If politics is about power and theatre about voice, who benefits? Questions An Octoroon asks in no uncertain terms, in a production where everyone benefits. It being, without question, one of the most memorable and vitally important productions of 2022. While also being one of the most fun. Rory Nolan and Patrick Martins in An Octoroon. Image by Ros Kavanagh As for the title, the name refers to someone born one-eight black. As for the plot, it's sheer meta-theatrical melodrama. The kind whose now familiar copy goes; deep in the sweat soaked South, a plantation faces imminent ruin. Its slaves soon to be sold into…eh, slavery, to the dreaded, dastardly M'Closky. As George and Zoe find their forbidden interracial love blossoming, mystery, mayhem and murder ensue as a Southern belle struts her stuff and a noble savage faces false accusations of murdering a child (like Jim in Huckleberry Finn). Can stolen letters and an opportune photograph conspire to save the American way? Can justice finally see the lovers unite? And who on earth is that disappearing rabbit? In a race against time, watch Atlanta burn (sorry, wrong story). Starring a mesmerising Patrick Martins as the playwright, sporting the kind of Speedo body I once had till I grew less vain about my looks. A superlative Maeve O'Mahony as the divine Dora, whose antebellum antics sends men running for cover. A jaw dropping Rory Nolan fleshing out images that might scar you forever (who, with Martins, offers smart subversions of physical stereotypes). And a divine Jolly Abraham as Old Man Pete, channelling an aged Chicken George with a Chris Rock twist, dressed like that golliwog doll who used to be on the Blackjack sweet wrappers until the 1980s. Slavery as you've never seen it before. An Octoroon. Simply sensational. Coming to a theatre near you. Maeve O'Mahony and Patrick Martins in An Octoroon. Image by Ros Kavanagh So much for the hype. Which fails to do the reality justice. Like Torch Song Trilogy, An Octoroon opens with the writer putting on make up before a mirror while talking directly to the audience. Here an ingenious whiteface subversion proves the first of many. As recently as the 1980s blackface was seen as an acceptable from of parody on mainstream television. Of course, that depended which side of the parody you were on. The arrival of Rory Nolan's Boucicault establishes some hilarious juxtapositions, with Nolan delivering one of the funniest scenes of the year as he transforms into the tomahawk wielding Wahnotee. The set up now complete, the garage door finally raises on Boucicault's tale and the fun quickly gets tempered. It's still there, but reined in. Poking fun at the conventions of melodrama, while gifting elbows to representations of black people from Song of the South to Gone With the Wind. All played out on a blood red stage. Sabine Dargent's design a minor masterpiece, highlighting the deathly seriousness underneath all the playfulness. Mara Allen and Leah Walker in An Octoroon. Image by Ros Kavanagh Unlike Nella Larsen's 1929 classic novel, Passing, which spoke as much to black readers about their own prejudice towards those partially white, Jacobs-Jenkins's reboot focuses on white perceptions and their representations of black, part black, or others, in a predominantly white media. Directed exquisitely by Anthony Simpson-Pike. With Molly O'Cathain's costumes and Stephen Dodd's lights underscoring immaculately detailed performances from Jolly Abraham, Loré Adewusi, Mara Allen, Patrick Martins, Umi Myers, Jeanne Nicole Ní Ainle, Rory Nolan, Maeve O’Mahony and Leah Walker. From an oversized rabbit, Satin Beige playing cello live on stage, the use of direct address, actors playing several roles, to opening up the backstage area, Simpson-Pike smartly evokes a Brechtian distance that's comic and visually engaging. Revealing through exaggerated comedic touches, and a powerful, if unfocused photograph, how representations of black people continue to be problematic. Just as they were when Boucicault first produced The Octoroon in 1859. Maeve O'Mahony and Umi Myers in An Octoroon. Image by Ros Kavanagh Which places An Octoroon in a strange space. If Boucicault is a problematic figure at the best of times, it could be argued his representations of black people, as well as Irish and Indigenous Americans, placed them centre stage in theatres at a time when neither would have been allowed through the front door. Smuggling in subtle subversions to challenge negative perceptions by portraying them as safe, foolish, harmless, charming, dignified and folksy. Successfully placing them before a hostile audience for whom lynching was as likely an expression of disgust as demanding a refund. Indeed, Boucicault wrote two endings to An Octoroon, depending on whether it was a European or American audience. Love conquers or Zoe dies, thereby preventing an interracial marriage. I'll leave it to you to decide which ending played where. Mara Allen and Leah Walker in An Octoroon. Image by Ros Kavanagh Boucicault is on the record as saying; "there are features in slavery far more objectionable than any hitherto held up to human execration." Something Jacobs-Jenkins doesn't always acknowledge about Boucicault while echoing his sentiments. Adding that the same might be said about theatre and how black people are represented. To a modern audience the manner in which black stereotypes became conventions, from vaudeville through the silent movie era, Hollywood till the 1960s and Tom and Jerry cartoons, Al Jolson to black-faced minstrels, might seem like distant history. For many others, it's recent memory. For both, An Octoroon is a salutary reminder. To say an American play about slavery doesn't speak to the current Irish experience is a little like saying Torch Sing Trilogy doesn't speak to the Irish gay experience. It does if you're listening. If you're not, An Octoroon might well give you pause for thought. Black history presents the world with uncomfortable truths. Take up An Octoroon's invitation to listen. At the very least you're guaranteed one of the best nights of theatre you'll have this year. Not to be missed. An Octoroon, a reboot of Dion Boucicault's The Octoroon, written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed by Anthony Simpson-Pike, runs at The Abbey Theatre until May 14. For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre

Circle of Friends

Circle of Friends

Circle of Friends. Image Ste Murray **** Old stories for older people. Maeve Binchy's Circle of Friends might be full of youthful energy, but it's an old story for an older audience. Like most of Broadway and the West End, it deals out dollops of feel-good nostalgia repurposed for the stage, with obligatory song and dance routines thrown in for good measure. More Bord Gais Energy Theatre than Abbey Theatre, Circle of Friends feels artistically lightweight. And it is. But even the heavyweights have been trying to get in on the light entertainment act. Awkward song and dance numbers wedged in to get the audience clapping. Repackaging old stories. Recycling old reliables. Betting on the safe brand. Do we really need another production of Translations? Post COVID restrictions, we all want a little feel-good entertainment, and Circle of Friends is certainly that. But it raises questions about how we make and engage with theatre. Who has a responsibility for making theatre as art? Is theatre as entertainment seen as having less value? Questions Breda Cashe's Circle of Friends pushes to the forefront without having intended to. Simply by serving up less an artistic dahl so much as an entertaining 99 ice cream cone with lashings of raspberry coulis. So unhealthy and mouth-wateringly bad for you, it hits the sweet spot. Circle of Friends. Image Ste Murray A pure nostalgic sugar rush, Circle of Friends makes no pretension to art. Like Donal Shiel's of Verdant Productions, co-producer of the runaway success Copperface Jacks: The Musical, Cashe is a shrewd and gifted operator. Both having that ruthless pragmatism which asks will an audience like it and not always feeling shackled to crusading for art. Sometimes it's about the audience having fun. Always it's about theatre executed to the highest production standards. With Circle of Friends Cashe doesn't skimp on the cash, employing a cast of thirteen. No charity shop vintage here. This is made to measure and tailored to fit. Aside from the centrepiece of Kate Moylan's set, which looks roughly hammered together, (stained glass window aside) drawing attention from her far more successful columns and terrific costumes. It’s easy to forget that Binchy was an astute social commentator as well as a first-rate storyteller. Especially as Elaine Murphy's adaptation suggests an Ireland's Own Ireland even as women were often treated as second glass citizens. Honouring both Binchy's novel from 1990, and the movie from 1995, Murphy's take follows three women venturing to college in the late 1950s who become fast friends. There's convent serious Eve, a superbly funny Aisling Kearns, the beguiling glamour girl Nan, a pitch perfect Juliette Crosbie, and the put upon Benny, a fantastic Roseanna Purcell. Purcell particularly impressive given Murphy reduces her to a moon eyed schoolgirl in love with the popular jock and deprives her of that self assurance that defined her. Nor does Murphy interrogate how the status quo values get restored even as times are changing, with middle class, virginal good girls getting their husbands while working class bad girls go to scandal and ruin. Or worse, to London. Circle of Friends. Image Ste Murray But this is not art, it is pure, unapologetic entertainment. Murphy's cinematically structured script knowing how to craft a good scene and a story. With director Viko Nikci knowing how to get great performances and every laugh possible. Notables include Shane O'Regan's gorgeously gormless Aidan, Marcus Lamb's pantomime villain Sean, Mark O'Regan and Susannah De Wrixon as Mr and Mrs Hogan, and Evanne Kilgallon as the loud laughing Rosemary. The ensemble's chemistry making Circle of Friends an utter joy. In the best theatre scenes there's respectful room for art and entertainment, art as entertainment, and entertainment as art. With interesting areas of overlap. Even so, there's a worrying trend in old stories for older people, few near as good as Circle of Friends, many with an emphasis on light entertainment. Look at the West End and Broadway. What's next? Legally Blonde goes Back To The Future in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Musical? (if that gets made I expect a tidy sum for coming up with the idea). A very smart friend said recently these changes are cyclical, do not despair. She's usually right. In the meantime, I'll have a 99 please, and don't spare the raspberry. With a giant sized flake while you're at it. If you're going to indulge, you may as well do it right. And Circle of Friends does indulgence right. Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy, adapted by Elaine Murphy, presented by Breda Cashe Productions in associaion with The Gaiety Theatre runs at The Gaiety Theatre until May 14. For more information visit The Gaiety Theatre.

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster

Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster. Image Joyce Nicholls **** Gig or gig theatre? Because it looks a lot like a concert for a concept album married to a poetry slam vibe. Is The Gate the right venue for a show like this? And if not, why not? Just some of the questions Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster is likely to evoke. The Battersea Arts Centre and Beatbox Academy's acclaimed production resurrecting Mary Shelley's 1818 novel. Sending out a message about beauties and beasts, and beauties who become beasts, and the problems of self actualising and social media. Making its own musical monster from stitching body parts from popular songs together with sounds from the street and original compositions. Then injecting them all with beatbox lightning to get the audience's hearts pumping. Ensuring that if, for some, this relaxed performance makes for questionable theatre, it also makes for a seriously enjoyable experience. The vocal equivalent of Stomp, Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster relies on beatboxing instead of beating drums and dustbin lids to create its magic. Yet if there is much to sonically admire, visually it proves far less interesting. Looking like a Steps reunion in grey hoodies, but with twice the talent, Frankensteins' six strong beatboxers bring a concert vibe. One that proves far less energetic than a hip hop dance battle. Or Stomp for that matter, also lacking the latter's theatrical innovativeness. Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster. Image Joyce Nicholls Following a rudimentary lesson in beatboxing, enough so you know how hard it is and how bad you are at doing it, a series of songs are performed a cappella, strung together as chapters to honour Shelley's original text and give an illusion of narrative. As performers regularly switch places in Sherry Coenen gothic shadows, a message unfolds through a series of musical vignettes, including a beatbox battle of dubious draws. If the monster proves a potent metaphor, you often have to listen closely to hear its heartbeat. Being as likely to be wondering how performers do what they do, as much, if not more, than what it is they're trying to say. Though some moments, such as the searchlight scouring the audience, hit home with palpable force. With Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster directors Conrad Murray and David Cumming honour their beatbox traditions, ensuring ABH, Aminita, Aziza, Native, Wiz-rd, Glitch and Special K vocally shine. With Special K (Kate Donnachie), mentioned as understudy in the programme, stealing the show on Wednesday night. If some seemed to rest on their beatbox laurels at times, Donnachie was possessed by a wild, restless energy throughout, married to a voice that could crack stones or soothe bees, with the presence and personality to back it all up. The eye constantly drawn to her infectious performance in which she weaved like a boxer who never stood still. Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster. Image Joyce Nicholls Beatbox at The Gate. Do these two things theatrically marry, or are some theatrical institutions less accommodating to shows for whom the word sick means a totally different thing? It's an idea certainly worth testing. Otherwise we'd never have had the best in-joke of the year courtesy of good sport, Vincent Brightling. Yet what risks getting lost in such questions is does Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster succeed on its own terms? And it most certainly does. Eighty minutes of medium octane, with some high octane peaks; its charm, inventiveness, and impressive beatbox skills are a genuine treat. The whole, like beatbox, collectively greater than its individual parts. To really get the best from the experience you need to get involved. But don't worry, it's all gently managed, giving back tenfold whatever you choose to give to it. A fun show with some impressive beatboxing, Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster has things to say. But you may be so dazzled by how they say things you might need to go twice to catch everything. That's my excuse for going again, and I'm sticking to it. Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster, a Battersea Arts Centre and Beatbox Academy Production, presented by The Gate Theatre, runs at The Gate until April 30. It also runs as part of Cork Midsummer Festival on June 17/18. For more information visit The Gate Theatre or Cork Midsummer Festival.

Philo

Philo

Karen McCartney and Nellí Conroy in Philo by Peter Sheridan. Image by Patrick Joseph. **** Opposites attract in Peter Sheridan's Philo as two women bond over secrets shared. Sheridan's foulmouthed, Jackeen Philo, and soft spoken, Cultie nun, Sister Rosaleen, become the yin to the others yang as they unburden their past. One a woman who hid herself in a convent, the other a women who hid herself in chocolate. Serving up a life affirming tale that's a structural mess. True to life because of its glaring gaps, convenient insertions, things left unresolved, and raising as many questions as it answers, Philo is untrue to its drama for the very same reasons. But if it's a mess, it's an Eton Mess, so scrumptiously enjoyable it's practically a sin. In her early thirties, Philo may be innocent in some ways, but she's no longer as naive as she once was. Worn out, she is never world weary. She suspects life is joy and is determined to find it despite the odds being against her. Side by side with Sister Rosaleen in The Good Shepherd Day Care Centre, Sheriff Street, Philo juggles the practicalities of making meals along with the demands of bingo calling. A trial not for the faint of heart. Yet Philo is all heart, even if she's at the end of her tether. An alcoholic husband and a joyriding son sends her seeking the boy's real father to put manners on him. A bouncer in Liverpool he's never met, and who Philo knew for only one night of passionless passion. But things don't go to plan, leading her to confide in Sister Rosaleen. A road that leads to painful revelations for both, but may offer a way into healing. Nellí Conroy and Karen McCartney in Philo by Peter Sheridan. Image by Patrick Joseph. Adapted from his 2003 novel Big Fat Love, if Sheridan's structure leaves something to be desired, with its ending sidestepping too many questions raised, it succeeds as an intimate character study. For it's not the stories in Philo that matter, it's the women. Their growing friendship as warm and natural as a hug. Sheridan's earthy, economical language belying hidden shades and depths. Brought vividly to life by two immaculate performances by Nellí Conroy and Karen McCartney, beautifully directed by Sheridan. Conroy crafts Philo with such natural ease it's tempting to think she's not acting. Yet if Conroy understands the rhythms of inner city Dublin, manifesting them is never easy, the temptation to caricature all too real. But Conroy's voice and physicality suggest a women whose seen it all, lived it all, and will never be beaten by it all. A perfect foil to a stunning Karen McCartney, phenomenal as the saintly Sister Rosaleen, who has also seen her share of life. McCartney so present and embodied you'll want to bless yourself every time she takes to the stage, being possessed by a sudden urge to go to confession. Less a set so much as a series of visual prompts, if Florentina Burcea's design does what it needs to with unfussy practicalness, her subtle costumes are much more successful. But, honestly, you don't notice too much, mesmerised as you are by Conroy and McCartney, their chemistry a thing of beauty. Funny and heartfelt, Philo is a love song to the strength, laughter and resilience of the women of the inner city. If you have to forgo your lunch to catch Philo, do so. It's far tastier and far more satisfying. Philo, written and directed by Peter Sheridan, presented as part of The Five Lamps Arts Festival, runs at Bewleys Café Theatre until April 23. It plays at The Viking Theatre from May 16. For more in formation visit The Five Lamps Arts Festival or Bewleys Café Theatre.