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Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: Conversations After Sex

Kate Stanley Brennan in Conversations After Sex. Image by Set Murray ***** You might be wondering is this a play about two people snoring? Sleep, apparently, being the default position for many post coitus. Conversation being optional. Particularly after a night, morning or afternoon of no strings attached, uncomplicated sex. In Mark O'Halloran's brilliant Conversations After Sex, presented by THISISPOPBABY, one woman hooks up with a number of likeminded Humpty Dumpties trying to put themselves together again. Only to discover that while hook ups might come with no strings attached, sex and its aftermath is never uncomplicated. Following a single women and her select group of recurring lovers over the course of a year, conversations after sex lead to small increments of intimacy and healing. Conversations can be brief, unexpected, embarrassing, awkward, too much or too little, all elbows and knees, this far, too far, not far enough. O'Halloran's script using sex like alcohol, as a literary device to facilitate a road to intimacy. To allow characters say what they cannot otherwise say, letting their guard down. Talking about a lover who committed suicide. A mother dying in hospital. Unfinished business back home. Giving your girlfriend clymadhia. Throughout, O'Halloran's searingly honest script hits home with a simple directness, saying what it needs and no more, unafraid of the silences or the spaces inhabited by the body. Which Tom Creed doesn't direct so much as beautifully conduct, establishing rhythms and timings for O'Halloran's date stamped conversations, playing with their energy with sensitive precision right till the exquisite end. Sarah Bacon's hard working costumes prove both technically efficient, catering for a record number of costume changes, and thematically important, especially when nudity can be a kind of armour. If Bacon's set suggests a tidied version of Tracy Emin's bedroom, compositionally it's a stroke of genius, the central bed the only place where intimacy might happen, the real world a space of cold distances on either side. Foster Brooks, best known for his drunken roasts, once said he never played a man trying to be drunk, he always played a man trying to be sober. In a similar manner Kate Stanley Brennan doesn't play a woman falling apart so much as a woman trying to hold it all together, her pain leaking through in a phenomenal performance. Similarly Fionn Ó Loingsigh as her various lovers, shifting so flawlessly and convincingly you wonder if a family of quintuplets got separated at birth. Niamh McCann might not have much to do, looking like a break between acts as the married sister. But McCann only needs a moment of your time to bowl you over. Indeed, any aspiring actor, or old hand who thinks they have the stuff, should check out this outstanding production to see how it's done. Sometimes the connection you need is sex. Sometimes it's something else. Sometimes one leads to the other. At all times Conversations After Sex is a marvellous piece of theatre, beautifully directed, with a cast to die for. Not to be missed. Conversations After Sex by Mark O'Halloran, presented by THISISPOPBABY, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 at Project Arts Centre until Oct 17. Contains full nudity. For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 or THISISPOPBABY.

Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: Uncle Ray

Uncle Ray. Image by Ros Kavanagh. **** The Wizard of Oz. A perennial Christmas favourite. For many it simply wouldn't be Christmas without it. Especially David Bolger. For the young David it meant an annual opportunity to see his uncle, Ray Bolger. A man who lived in glowing technicolor but could only be seen through black and white TV. A man known to the rest of the world as Dorothy's Scarecrow. In Uncle Ray, David Bolger blurs memory, fantasy, and nostalgia in a tale of family love. In which awe struck children dare to believe no matter where in the world they live. A deftly executed dance duet, stuttering in one or two places, Uncle Ray is less about remembering childhood so much as reliving it. Or rather two men reliving their childhoods, with Donking Rongavilla's mirrored tale often reflected in mirrored gestures and movement. Highlighting his own awe of his father, an action hero he watched on TV in the Philippines. Throughout, Bolger and Rongavilla's boyish charm prove irresistible. Like vaudevillian song and dance men their act has all the playfulness of a pair of three legged tights, featuring hat routines, big gestural performances, and even a ukulele to take us over the rainbow. Belying the immense rigour involved, especially around some impressive dance sequences, be they standing, seated, turning on the floor, or weaving into intricately flowing patterns. With their infectious, childlike wonder, Bolger and Rongavilla remind us what it is to be innocent and amazed. As does Denis Clohessy's sensitive score. Yet for all their performance magic, Bolger and Rongavilla often risk being eclipsed by Uncle Ray's technical brilliance. Maree Kearns' superb other worldly set, along with hugely clever projections by Mags Mulvey & Neil O'Driscoll serve less as back drop so much as interactive gateways to magical worlds. Which Eamon Fox's lighting illuminates to perfection. Rarely has a TV been so imaginatively and impressively transformed. Seductive in its simplicity, Uncle Ray allows us all become children again, back to when television was a portal to other worlds. In which dancers could sing and play and act like clowns. It is rare for a work steeped in innocence and nostalgia not to reek of tweeness like a guilty pleasure. Yet in Uncle Ray playfulness is steeped in unabashed honesty, meticulous attention, and even a little bravery. The technical might out dazzle the dance at times, but Uncle Ray delivers a gorgeous, magical and charming production. Not to be resisted. Uncle Ray by David Bolger, presented by Coiscéim Dance Theatre, Ireland, runs at part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 at the Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire until October 9. It transfers to the MAC, as part of Belfast International Arts Festival Oct 13 - 14. It will be available for streaming and on demand, Details at Coiscéim Dance Theatre, Ireland, For more information, visit Dublin Theatre Festival, MAC, or Coiscéim Dance Theatre, Ireland

Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: The Book of Names

The Book of Names. Photo credit Pablo Cassinoni ***** ANU. Theatre's innovative outliers. Landmark, one of Ireland's premiere production companies. Each responsible for some of the most exciting productions of recent decades. Joining forces for The Book of Names, a site specific, immersive theatre experience in The Pumphouse, Dublin Port. So much for the facts. And The Book of Names deals in little else but facts. But under Louise Lowe's irresistible alchemy, facts quickly turn into magic. It commences quietly, with a conceit you don’t see coming. Not for the last time will you be surprised by what you don’t see coming. That's how magic works. And there's palpable magic at work in The Book of Names. Lowe's theatrical grimoire about brothers in arms fighting for Ireland's freedom, only to be divided by the civil war that follows. Conjured up by a wild incantation invoked under an inclement sky. Cycling back from the past, the first ghost of Q Company. A secret cell of the IRA. Returning home to the iconic Pumphouse whose walls are steeped in their memory. The Book of Names. Image by Ros Kavanagh It was from here Q company helped smuggle in over 97% of IRA weapons during the war of independence. Where a wounded victim hid from ruthless English Officer, Hoppy Hardy, after he tried murder him on Capel Street Bridge. Where arguments about the Custom House attack signalled the beginnings of a division. Leading to several deaths, victims often selected from one of two book of names; one a list of port workers, the other the IRA's intelligence dossier. A ledger of photographs and address collected by a woman photographer and a ring leader you'd never suspect if he stood next to you. Like the history you find yourself standing next to but might never know was there. Directed along one of two of its paths by fate in the shape of a terrific Michael Glenn Murphy. History is given present immediacy by designer Owen boss who recreates details of time and place, right down to the detritus, with remarkable tenacity, using many items from the period to evoke an atmosphere that doesn't draw you in so much as absorb you completely. Yet Boss isn't alone in displaying technical brilliance. The tumultuous, almost symphonic layering of Philip Stewart's sweeping sound score enriches the experience with its breathtaking power and subtle sensitivity. Similarly Sarah Jane Shiels' marvellous lighting which, along with Jack Scullion's superb costumes breathe the past into the visceral present. The Book of Names. Image by Ros Kavanagh All brought to life by a remarkable ensemble in Lewis Brophy, Tony Doyle, Darragh Feehely, Etta Fusi, Úna Kavanagh Michael Glenn Murphy, Jamie O'Neill, Thomas Reilly and Matthew Williamson. Actors, dancers, boxers, painters, older hands and very first timers. Each excelling to create a work stronger than their impressive individual parts. Like Williamson, a unique dancer with a signature style. Moving as if a conduit for forces he can barely contain, muscles and tendons tensed, propelled like a whirling dervish and being simply jaw dropping to behold. Or Úna Kavanagh, bringing movie star glamour to a world dominated by boys and men. Materialising in smoke beyond the window of a Model Ford T. Even when in a room on her own, without an audience, just the possibility of a passing glance, Kavanagh remains focused, alert, riveting. Yet the real star of The Book of Names is Louise Lowe. If Lowe prefers her cast and crew to take the plaudits, and even acknowledging their immeasurable collaborative contributions, they didn't write The Book of Names. Didn't conceive it. Didn't undertake the forensic level of historical research characteristic of Lowe's work. Didn't direct it to quiet perfection. The Book of Names. Image by Ros Kavanagh While the Book of Days is spellbinding, spells don't only induce enchantments, they're often used to break them. Like the spell of forgetfulness cast over a forgotten or rewritten history denying us access to the full richness of our past. Experienced here in all its tense, glorious, agonising, confusing, violent, suspicious and exhilarating immediacy. Do yourself the best favour you’ll do yourself all year, go see The Book of Names. One of the best experiences of this or any festival. For those who put credence in the star rating system, the opening bid is five. The Book of Names, written and directed by Louise Lowe, presented by ANU and Landmark Productions, runs at The Pumphouse, Dublin Port as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021. Run extended until November 13. For more information vist Dublin Theatre Festival, ANU or Landmark Productions.

Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: Stronger

Scott Graham, Mary Murray in Stronger. Image by Ros Kavanagh *** The road to Stronger is paved with good intentions. Like Janice, an arts teacher who smudges the teacher/pupil boundaries to help a disadvantaged student who then rapes her. Or her frustrated husband Rob, feeling like collateral damage as his wife struggles to move on, every effort to help driving them further apart. In Geoff Power's ambitious Stronger the need for closure after a horrendous crime opens a pathway to Restorative Justice. A process whereby victims are given an opportunity to meet the perpetrators so both can move forward with their lives. A noble idea given a loud voice in this brave production. One that raises many heavy issues, but ultimately proves incapable of carrying their weight. Mary Murray and Marcus Lamb in Stronger. Image by Ros Kavanagh Though Stronger lands some powerful punches, it suffers for trying to ensure all its points get made. Feeling over written to accommodate its message, usually at the expense of character. Which director Paul Meade struggles to reconcile, a ghostly Janice often confusing as a shadowy voyeur looking in on other scenes. When Stronger does hit home, it's courtesy of an impressive cast who slip its instructive constraints. Mary Murray is a performer who cannot lie. Which is why her naive, super lovely, hi-energy teacher is like watching someone trying to wriggle into clothes that don't fit. But get into the muck and grime of the experience, and Murray becomes visceral and alive, her recollection of the rape one of many highlights, both performatively and technically. Marcus Lamb as her devoted if overbearing husband has an uphill struggle, being less a character so much as a device to frustrate and be frustrated. Luckily Lamb, like Murray, is the quality of actor who squeezes every drop of truth from whatever they can find, scattered amidst lots of points being made and lots of positions being taken. Some, like the ending, looking decidely shaky, designed to promote an idealised RJ model rather than the characters it should be serving. In writing Stronger, Power's work teaching creative writing in prisons inspired him to want to articulate the victims voice. What he articulates splendidly is the perpetrators voice. Assisted in no small measure by an excellent Scott Graham as Damon, utterly compelling as a young, easily led teenager with a volatile streak trying hard to be harder than he is. In contrast to his brother Zippo, a less convincing Fionntán Larney, hands thrust down his tracksuit fronts like caricature of a bad boy trying to sound menacing. Jennifer O’Dea as a police officer and RJ facilitator shows great finesse. Though given the overwhelming success of her brief RJ session, it's hard to swallow without a pinch of salt, looking like an airbrushed RJ commercial, or something more at home on the Disney Channel. RJ can be messy, hard, painful, and often things remain unresolved. It's not a cure all panacea. Little of which is in evidence here. Mary Murray in Stronger. Image by Ros Kavanagh Like the canvas in Maree Kearns's clever set, depicting an unfinished painting lacking colour, the metaphor proves double edged as it could also refer to Stronger. It may be based on a true life incident, but that only informs what it wants to say, not how it goes about saying it. And what it wants to say is vitally important. How it goes about saying it might knock you down occasionally, but it never knocks you out, feeling a little too clean and tidy. Mark Galione's lighting, Michael Stapleton's music and sound, and John Galvin's video design compensate by creating a lurking sense of tension and oppressiveness. Yet it's when Murray and Graham really get to shine that you understand the importance of what Power is trying to get at. Stronger by Geoff Power, presented by Gúna Nua runs at Smock Alley Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 until October 9. A special public forum accompanies this production. Presented as a webinar, the forum will feature a discussion based on the themes of Restorative Justice raised in the play. The panel will include national and international Restorative Justice experts including academics, advocates and legal practitioners. Online, Oct 7, 4p.m. Ticket available at links below. For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival or Gúna Nua

Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: The First Child

The First Child image credit Jack Phelan ***** He's a busy man, Enda Walsh. Hot on the heels of the brilliant Medicine comes his latest offering, The First Child. Following The Second Violin and The Last Hotel, The First Child is the final instalment in the trilogy of operas written and directed by Walsh, with music by composer Donnacha Dennehy. And it's fair to say they've kept their very best wine till last. No cheap Barolo this. The First Child proves a rare vintage. A tale of bullies and the bullied, it opens like Fatal Attraction if it was directed by Hitchcock. A psychological thriller about a woman Karen, stalking new dad, Simon, and his suspicious wife, Alva. Just when you think you have it figured out, you suddenly have to think again. And then again. With more twists than a corkscrew, The First Child keeps you hooked till the very dark end. And even then you're left thinking. Sarah Shine, Joan Sheehy and Caia Leseure in The First Child. Photo by Ste Murray Juxtaposing everyday conversations with repeated abstract phrases, the comic banalities of baby carriages, bad tinder dates, and boring couples are nudged by dark, bizarre musings suggesting powers and forces beyond sight or consciousness. Delivered by an excellent Children's Chorus and a sublime Eric Jurenas, entering sporadically and informing proceedings like Backward Talking Man on Twin Peaks. Throughout, there's a sense of the cinematic, reinforced by Jamie Vartan's superb set, Jack Phelan's stunning video design and Alan Silverman's evocative lighting. The cinematic also informing Dennehy's superb score. Built not so much from sounds looking for melodies so much as melodies splintering under unbearable pressure. Dennehy's music strong as steel, yet sounding like it might fracture or explode at any moment. Beautifully realised by Crash Ensemble under conductor Ryan McAdams. Niamh O’Sullivan and Emmett O’Hanlon in The First Child. Photo by Ste Murray. As for singing, it's difficult to recall such a diversity of magnificence in recent times, with voices complimenting each other so completely. To call Eric Jurenas a revelation is to understate it considerably, not so much singing as channeling angels. Grounding coming in the form of baritone Emmett O'Hanlon and scene stealing tenor Dean Power; both superb. Soprano Sarah Shine and mezzo-soprano Niamh O'Sullivan are apt to leave you gobsmacked. If O'Sullivan suggests the classic Hitchcock blonde with a brain of her own, Shine undergoes more costume changes than any performer should have to endure; both sounding sublime, their performances controlled to perfection. As is young dancer Caia Leseure, choreographed by Emma Martin, mesmerising as she tries give shapes and patterns to the wild, dangerous energies coursing through her. Joan Sheehy as the older woman who, along with Leseure, suggests a mirror to Karen's past and future rounds out an impressive cast. The First Child. Photo by Ste Murray A frenzy of genres, The First Child weaves operatic with cinematic, thriller with horror, rich comedy with deep tragedy creating a seamlessly satisfying whole. If, for Karen, there's a suggestion of the controlling hand of destiny, as if everything was leading to that inevitable moment, the same might be said for the conclusion to Walsh's and Dennehy's trilogy. The Second Violin and The Last Hotel are astounding. The First Child is simply magnificent. The First Child, written and directed by Enda Walsh, music by Donnacha Dennehy, presented by Landmark Productions in association with Irish National Opera, presented in partnership with Crash Ensemble with the support of The Irish Times runs as part Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 at the O'Reilly Theatre until October 9. The First Child will be live streamed on October 9 then available on demand until October 23. For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival, Landmark Productions or Irish National Opera.

Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: Duck Duck Goose

Caitríona Ennis and Aidan Moriarty in Duck Duck Goose. Image Ste Murray **** What would you do if the girl with your best friend at his party last night asks you for his number next morning? What would you do if she asks you for yours? What would you do if she told you he posted a compromising photo of her to a Whats App group you're not part of? What would you do if she later claimed he raped her? What would you do if that same best friend asks you to delete another Whats App group because certain comments could be misconstrued? Positing lots of complex scenarios, Caitríona Daly's latest play Duck Duck Goose addresses important issues around disclosure, consent and allegations of rape post #Metoo. Exploring how evil thrives when good people do nothing, or do the wrong thing, in a thought provoking production designed to unsettle. One that comes full circle but doesn't necessarily land where it thought it might. While Daly excels at recreating the moral and psychological nightmare that surrounds a rape case, and the impact on accused and accuser, it's those who inhabit the middle ground she's more concerned with. Those who weren't in the room when it happened but still need to choose who to believe. Like the gormless Chris, too much a good guy to be a bad boy, too much a guilty bystander to be really good. His world destroyed for being seen as guilty of complicity, guilty by association, guilty by omission. Guilty, mostly, for not believing the victim. As language loops on itself, certain phrases get pushed to the forefront making Daly's intentions clear. Set against Paul Keogan's superb set and lighting. Grey archive boxes speaking to history and legality stacked like a coffin, moved and reshaped endlessly to create a plethora of spaces against a backdrop resembling a Stonehenge of phone screens. Aidan Moriarty and John Doran in Duck Duck Goose. Image by Ste Murray Feeling less like a series of scenes so much as a series of role played case studies, interrupted by some intentionally funny interludes that turn nasty fast, Daly's script is less an organic affair so much as a series of arguments with marks it wants to hit. Under Jim Culleton's sensitive direction performances get injected with life, elevating scenes from the argumentative to the lived and experiential. Caitríona Ennis's handling of a variety of roles, including that of the victim, being a clever move. Ennis's impressive versatility suggesting there but for the grace of God go I, ably assisted by Saileóg O’Halloran's costuming. Liam Heslin's understated Davey proves remarkably convincing as a man protesting his innocence, with Aidan Moriarty's Chris convincingly gormless. Naoise Dunbar's bad lad Andy is a scene stealing delight, as is John Doran's salaciously sensational DJ who appears to have walked in from a Ross O'Carroll-Kelly novel. Roseanna Purcell as Sarah, Chris's sister, grounds the whole affair, asking deeper and even more uncomfortable questions. Duck Duck Goose might refer to a child's game, but Daly's issues are anything but child's play. Yet making some serious points, it doesn't always make its case. If what would you do is the core question, what you should do is less convincingly realised. What Duck Duck Goose does incredibly well is capture the complexity of believing or not believing when a disclosure or an allegation is made, especially the devastation that comes afterwards. If Daly's honesty is to be admired, it might come at a price. Overheard post show; "remind me, if I'm ever put in that situation, don't get involved." Not, I'm sure, the take away Daly was going for. Duck Duck Goose by Caitríona Daly, directed by Jim Culleton and presented by Fishamble: The New Play Company tours as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 at the following venues: Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire - 29th Sept - 3rd Oct Draíocht, Blanchardstown - 7th - 9th Oct The Everyman, Cork - 12th - 14th Oct Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny - 16th Oct Lyric Theatre, Belfast - 19th - 20th Oct Belltable, Limerick - 23rd Oct For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 or listed venues.

Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks

Sarah Hanly in Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks. Image: Luca Truffarelli **** Admit it. Glancing through the Dublin Theatre Festival listings, or passing the poster outside the Peacock, you did a quick double take when you first saw the title, likely feigning disinterest. Unless you're of the old stock, or one of the new puritans, in which case you blessed yourself in rapid succession so as to avoid eternal damnation. Reading this to check if your worse suspicions are confirmed (or if your pornographic prayers have been answered). That this is a scandalous production written and performed by a scandalised woman talking about sex and her body and her sexy bits. Like that Fleabag yoke. In truth you’d be partially right. Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks is scandalous, in that it's a scandalously smart and entertaining production, with a scandalously impressive performance by Sarah Hanly. In which Hanly sets out to create a one woman show by a real woman, about real women, for real women. And for anyone else who'd care to come along. And yes, it does bear some striking similarities to Fleabag. It's not just that Hanly's woman against the world, Saoirse Murphy, is unafraid to talk openly about her sexual desires and experiences, or about her secret fears and failings. There's also her quirky parents and older sister, a painful secret revealed near the end, a close friend with tragic implications, all addressed to an imaginary presence. Yet Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks is to Fleabag what paella is to your favourite fried rice dish. They both might share the same basic ingredients and have similar textures, but they're actually very different experiences. Sarah Hanly in Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks. Image: Luca Truffarelli And no, there's no hot Catholic priest, aside from the one Saoirse's mother is shacked up with. But there is a convent school were the sexually baffled Saoirse finds herself discovering her body without proper instruction and is not quite sure what to do with it. Hell, she might even be a lesbian. Learning how to make her own orgasms. Practicing with the anal loving Orla and a pair of rosary beads. Naturally the nuns disapprove and, as punishment, Saoirse is forced to play the male lead in the school play. Where she undergoes an epiphany holding a pair of fake testicles. Which sees her leaving Dublin to commit the greatest mortal sin of all: enrolling in Musical Theatre College. Where everything becomes different, yet everything remains the same. Sarah Hanly in Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks. Image: Luca Truffarelli Throughout Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks, episodic incidents punctuated by moments of physicality reveal Hanly's huge versatility, playing a cast of thousands on the road to herself. Impressively directed by Alice Fitzgerald who balances the physical with the verbal, utilising Elliot Griggs' lighting and Alexandra Faye Braithwaite's sound design to great effect. With light changes signalling shifts in narrative, it quickly becomes apparent that sex isn't the only thing on Hanly's mind, or even the most important thing. Sex being one aspect of a struggle with body dysmorphia. Eating disorders having become a normalised part of Saoirse's world. There's even a little BDSM. All to feel connected to the here and now of her own body. A body she's been taught to be ashamed of rather than how to live in. Or to love. She's a woman after all, taught to be ashamed of herself since that incident with the apple. Only now she's looking for someone to help change things. But hold up, isn't she someone? Sarah Hanly in Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks. Image: Luca Truffarelli If Fleabag lost out to God, Hanly appears determined have a new conversation with religion, refusing to cancel either God or desire because it was God who gave us these amazing, desiring bodies in the first place. Exhibiting a refreshing openness as she both talks and mimes orgasms, self harm, dance routines and, yes, the titty wank of the title. Being utterly shameless. As in without shame, there being no need for it. Funny, moving, thought provoking, and keeping lectures to a minimum, Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks makes for a hugely impressive debut. If there's a sense Hanly might have said more or dug deeper in places, there's a greater sense that Hanly is just getting started. And that she trusts her audience's intelligence. She knows she hasn't all the answers, especially around body dysmorphia. Just a dream of one woman, on an empty stage, telling her truths to try enable a change. With maybe just one green rope lit up like a Christmas tree. Oh, and a magically bottomless bum bag with lots and lots of props. Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks by Sarah Hanly, an Abbey Theatre/Royal Court Theatre, London, co-production, runs at the Peacock Stage of the Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 until October 16. For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival or Abbey Theatre.

Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: Once Before I Go

Desmond Eastwood, Matthew Malone, Martha Breen in Once Before I Go. Image Ros Kavanagh **** Remember Dublin in the great late 1980s? No big deal if you don't. Phillip McMahon doesn't remember it either. Fortunately he knows lots of people who do remember and didn't think it all that great. People who grew up gay in Catholic Ireland when queer bashing and the criminalisation of homosexuality went hand in hand. When the devatastion of AIDS inspired some to up their fight for decriminalisation. Inspiring others to get the hell out and maybe never come back. Or return when others had won the battle and made it safer to do so. In McMahon's hugely ambitious Once Before I Go, nostalgia and sentimentality rub shoulders with some hard facts and reclaimed history. Yet weighed down by a sense of responsibility, Once Before I Go gets caught in a tension between the fabulous and the formal. Something director Selina Cartmell frequently resolves, delivering a ménage à trois of entertainment, education and enlightenment. Aisling O'Sullivan and Sean Campion in Once Before I Go. Image Ros Kavanagh No easy feat. Set over three time periods, 1987, 1991 and 2019, the dates might fence off the beginnings of ACT UP and striving for change with the pre-covid, post-marriage equality Ireland of today, but history is everything that happned in between. Everything from chemsex and dating apps to marriage equality, referenced briefly during some stirring conversations. Francis O'Connor's set looking like its trying to historically overcompensate with huge, sliding numbers arranged into dates, like something from a Eurovision Song Contest. Taking up an inordinate amount of space, dwarfing, and distracting from, everyone else. Similar issues exist in relation to AIDS. A play about a Dubliner with AIDS, as opposed to AIDS in Dublin, those who remained and dealt with the crisis are never properly represented. Instead, Once Before I Go threads the mean streets of London with a brief, tragic detour to Paris. In which the diaspora of Dublin's gay past don't appear to have aged very well. Katie Davenport's costuming suggesting two paternally bickering grandparents. Matthew Malone and Desmond Eastwood in Once Before I Go. Image Ros Kavanagh Where Once Before I Go really succeeds is when its characters step out from the historical spotlight and shine on their own terms. Become three friends, the responsible Daithí, the reckless Bernard, and the restless Lynn, for whom the legacy of AIDS impacts their entire lives. For whom witty repartee with real talk mingle as they try come to terms with it. Friends whose early days were spent living the best of times during the worst of times, haunting the Classic Cinema like Brad, Janet and Frank-N-Furter, or long forgotten underground clubs whenever they could. Being young, reckless, sensible, passionate, heart broken and breaking hearts. Highlighting competing notions and narratives of what it means to be gay both then and now. How lesbians are often viewed through a gay mans gaze. The younger Lynn's attitude and activism defining her more than her sexuality, like a gay side kick. Giving an invested Martha Breen precious little to work with, making her engaging performance all the more winning. Desmond Eastwood, Matthew Malone, Martha Breen in Once Before I Go. Image Ros Kavanagh In contrast, Aisling O’Sullivan's older, wine-swilling, embittered Lynn cackles with energy and humour, her heart tattered and torn, yet still soft and beating. All beautfully captured by O'Sullivan. A perfect foil for Seán Campions superb older, in-recovery from sex and drugs Daithí. Striking a startling contrast with his younger responsible self, an equally superb Desmond Eastwood looking like Brad from The Rocky Horror Picture Show which Once Before I Go leans on heavily. The loud and cutting Jase, an impressive Sam Crerar, adds contemporary complexity with a trans theme echoing Lynn and Daithí's experiences of rejection, like history repeating itself. But everything is about Bernard. Talked of so much before you meet him, Matthew Malone has a tall task making the larger than lust Bernard live up to the hype. Which Malone does in scene stealing style, whether as a pink haired Frank-N-Furter, or resembling a wounded Saint Sebastian. If comfortable cabaret seating proves underused and arguably a phyrric victory, it is so worth it for Bernard's Celine Dion, Vegas styled moment, which might have benefited from a little more oomph. Matthew Malone and Desmond Eastwood in Once Before I Go. Image Ros Kavanagh In terms of gay theatrical classics, Once Before I Go is not quite an Angels in America, nor a Torch Song Trilogy, nor a Faultline, not being near as well crafted. Yet it is still remains hugely significant. And not just for marking the much anticipated re-opening of the Gate. San Francisco has its National AIDS Memorial Grove. The work of ACT UP, through writers like Sarah Schulman and Peter Staley, is beginning to be acknowledged, with a NETFLIX documentary muted on the horizon. Once Before I Go marks a step towards Ireland acknowledging our unacknowledged past. Including into our history those that never got to have histories. Like It's A Sin, Once Before I Go stumbles in places, buckling under the weight of its own ambitions and may not speak to everyone's experience. Yet it is a joyous, heartfelt, life affirming production reclaiming those we lost to AIDS. Stealing, melting and breaking your heart as it sets about lifting it higher. Once Before I Go by Phillip McMahon, presented by The Gate Theatre, runs at The Gate as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 until October 30. For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 or Gate Theatre.

Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: Rearing is Sparing

Denise McCormack and Karen Ardiff in Rearing is Sparing. Image Babs Daly. **** Sometimes art and the zeitgeist collide unexpectedly. Take TKB's latest play Rearing is Sparing. In which two Dublin mothers speak to their unswerving love for their criminal sons. Commissioned by the Axis Ballymun before the tragic road accident some months back in which three criminals lost their lives and divided a nation. Following scenes at their funeral many felt celebrated their criminality and not their lives. Leading to a shambolic Joe Duffy show where their family argued they were good people who did bad things, and who had the human taken away from them by the media. Many shook their heads in agreement. Others vehemently disagreed. "So what? The guards at Auschwitz showed the same humanity. Firm friends. Good fathers. Devoted mothers." On this evidence alone Rearing is Sparing, part of Dublin Theatre Festival's eagerly anticipated 2021 programme, sets about bravely entering a potential minefield. One even Joe Duffy couldn't negotiate. But then Joe's not TKB, who's knockout Rearing is Sparing proves sensitive, smart, and (un)surprisingly funny. Forever conscious of never sensationalising, demonising nor romanticising the lives or the people involved. . With a mild Hitchcock flourish, Rearing is Sparing withholds its secrets till it's ready to tell. All we know for a long period is that Mrs Reynolds and Mrs Preston have spotted each other in a coffee shop near the courts. Both women are involved in the same trial and both have a problem with the other. Both have two sons who are like chalk and cheese. It soon emerges something happened between one or other of their boys. The word murder gets floated, but it's unclear what or who exactly did anything. As the fog clears over a series of alternating monologues the tension between both women thickens. Culminating in a delicately handled duologue that brings it all home, sensitvely, if a little too easily. If Rearing is Sparing scintillates, Jason Byrne's excellent direction sets it on fire. Naomi Faughnan's grey walled set might look like an exercise in simplicity, but it reinforces the emphasis on mirroring. Both women, at identically opposite sides of the stage, dressed in black, sit with a knee crossed and an elbow resting on the long table separating them. They could be sisters. Doppelgängers. A theme echoed in the musicality of TKB's language as both women share and overlap on key phrases like choral incantations. Indeed, if the details of their lives are often sketched, it's the detail of their language which reveals them in their true resplendence; all pride, heartache, defiance and similarity. Rich in Dublin humour and expression, language sometimes risk both characters sounding like the same narrator. Yet in the hands Karen Ardiff and Denise McCormack, first night nerves and an unaccommodating cigarette box aside, it's a pitfall neatly avoided. Indeed, Ardiff and McCormack are mesmerising, delivering what might arguably be the duet of the festival. In which McCormack's rivetingly detailed, tea pot loving, toffee nose hating Mrs Preston might well prove to be one of its outstanding performances. Not that Ardiff's performance is in any less invested. Rather Ardiff's Mrs Reynolds introduces a resolution near the end that makes for a bit of an ask. With action having taken place off stage, when things happen on stage there's been a build up of import that's not quite delivered on. Made convincing, thanks to a brilliant Ardiff, it's not narratively as compelling as Mrs Reynolds makes her brave announcement without any real sense of how she got there. It might be the only way for life to move forward, but it feels somewhat hurried and shoehorned to fit. If the end feels uneasy for being a little too easy, it's because Rearing is Sparing usually dislikes easy answers, being unafraid of complicating matters. If it doesn’t hold these women to account, it's not afraid to ask about their complicity. It may suggest a solution, but it offers no resolution, just greater understanding. It takes a lot to sustain engagement in two people sitting on stage talking separately. But like Eugene O’Brien's Eden, Rearing is Sparing keeps you riveted and doesn’t pull it punches. It won’t be the most energetic spectacle you'll see this festival. But Ardiff and McCormack are sensational, their brilliantly crafted characters owning the stage. If Rearing is Sparing marks a transition for TKB, it's an immensely promising one. The play is dedicated to his mother, Susan. One suspects Mam will be very proud indeed. Rearing is Sparing by TKB, runs at The Axis Ballymun as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 until October 2. It is available on demand from Oct 4 - 10. For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 or Axis Ballymun.

You're Still Here

Murmuration's You're Still Here. Image by Ellius Grace. *** There's something almost Chekhovian about Murmuration‘s latest production You're Still Here, in which three siblings face an unknown future and wonder what to do with the family home. Indeed, on Friday it enjoyed an unintentional, impeccably timed gunshot moment courtesy of a falling rail a few minutes from the end. Yet compared to their superlative Summertime and Will I See You There, You're Still Here proves to be the creative runt of the Murmuration litter. Elevated into something hugely engaging by three excellent performance. Which, if it would be unfair to say they forgive a multitude of sins exactly, they certainly wipe the slate clean of one or two. Through their signature use of headphones both text and subtext, the thought and said, sounds and words all combine to craft an intertextual richness resembling a profound psychological experience. Like hearing several voices inside your head all at once. Offering competing narratives wherein the devil is not in the details. Instead, the daily details of procrasta-painter Sam and nervous Niamh are of the banal, everyday type. Popcorn, watching First Dates on TV again, compulsively painting walls and wondering why she's painting walls: a carousel of same old conversations cocoon them in their struggle to say and not say what's really on their minds. Until prodigal brother Jack returns. Not so much upending their world as bringing into the open the devilish details too long left unspoken. Negotiated for the first time without self-censorship. All three siblings crafting a hurried, untidy resolution despite never convincingly establishing what the crisis was. Rushing to a quick and easy end that's bittersweet and a little hard to completely buy into. If director John King elicits excellent performances from Hazel Clifford (Sam), Finbarr Doyle (Jack), and Eavan Gaffney (Niamh), the use of space leaves something to be desired. Seated for the round yet often played into the corner, or completely off stage, awkward viewing angles can result in strained necks, partial views or complete masking for long periods depending where you sit. Leaving only Jennifer O'Malleys composition and sound design in your ear, along with the text, which struggle without the immediacy of the cast. Sounding not so much like a radio play as a tranquility recording to help you sleep. A low drone, lapping waves, often inaudible words sounding like overlapping breaths can often cause eyelids to droop in the absence of anything to look up at. Neither text, light, sound, nor silence being enough to sustain engagement without Clifford, Doyle and Gaffney pulling you in and making you co-conspirators with their fleeting immediacy and friendly eye contact. With You're Still Here, Murmuration again push at boundaries. If it doesn't match up to their previous experiments, it's still far braver than a lot of other work out there. And those times when it all comes together, You're Still Here makes for a hugely intriguing experience, whetting the appetite for what's to come. For Murmuration clearly have something going on. Rarely has a story that does so little and does it slowly had moments so irresistibly appealing and seductive. You're Still Here, written by Finbarr Doyle and John King with the company, with concept development and additional text by James Elliott, presented by Murmuration, runs at Dublin Castle as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2021 until September 26. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2021 or Murmuration.

Where Sat The Lovers

Where Sat The Lovers by Dylan Coburn Gray and MALAPROP. Image Ste Murray ***** That's the thing with MALAPROP. Each new production feels like a rigged, theatrical poker game you're almost sure you'll win if you sit at their table. Yet given their sheer diversity of styles, approaches and themes you can never be certain how big the winnings. What keeps people at the table is not the almost assured guarantee of a theatrical pay day, it's the prospect of a big theatrical pay day. Like their latest production Where Sat The Lovers, written by Dylan Coburn Gray and MALAPROP. A little play with big ideas that deals a theatrical straight flush. With direction, writing, staging, casting, and production ensuring Where Sat The Lovers hits the jackpot in a big way. Re-emphasising how we can never see, hear or know everything, Claire O'Reilly's superb direction in the round exploits this idea yet makes sure we see, hear and know more than enough. Loaded with intellectual and cultural curios, Where Sat The Lovers is all about perspective, communication, family, love, and mental health. Just ask Isaac Newton, a superlative Wren Dennehy, who MC's the whole affair with the flair and flamboyance of a diva at a Drag Brunch, setting up three interconnected acts whose simple narrative belies a range of depth and complexities. Where a traumatised composer living with her worried sister tries a one night hook-up in which everyone gets more than they bargained for. Confrontations. Conspiracy theories. The police calling to the door. Possible proof of God's existence. Apples and clothes horses dropping from the sky. If a paranoid is a person with all the facts, there's plenty of both floating about in Molly O’Cathain's superb meta-theatrical, one bedroom flat in Belfast, brilliantly lit by John Gunning. Where two sisters negotiate living together under challenging circumstances. Including unresolved mental health issues, codes used in musical compositions, suggestions of suicide and some tricky sleeping arrangements. Yet if these supply the basic ingredients, Where Sat The Lovers is a dish loaded with huge and various flavours. Asking big questions and little questions across a broad spectrum, ranging from nature and nurture to Auschwitz and the RUC, its biggest achievement lies in framing mental health and relationships in a fresh and invigorating light. Courtesy of three outstanding performances. Fresh from her terrific turn in Tonic, Juliette Crosbie as the hook-up with a secret proves deeply affecting, making convincing the girl who hangs in there when everything, including her date, are telling her to bail. Her date a wildly brilliant Bláithín Macgabhann, cementing her reputation as one of the brightest actors of her generation with a searingly detailed performance of someone whose mind works differently to those around her, who is often viewed as a problem more than a personality. Particularly by her maternal sister, a terrific Maeve O’Mahony, scared that Macgabhann might succumb to the history of family violence and unleash a devastation just waiting to repeat itself. Like Michael's Frayn's Copenhagen, Where Sat The Lovers is not afraid of intellectual and cultural heft, and richly rewards even minimum investment. Without ever forgetting that when the intellectual dust settles, it's all about people. You don't have to understand it all to understand it, or for it to challenge your understanding around certain assumptions, particularly around mental health. You just need to sit back and allow Wren's magnificent MC to guide you, allowing you to follow wherever you will. To see what lands, what stirs, and what you tuck away to think about later. Steered by three exquisite performances from Crosbie, Macgabhann and O’Mahony. Superbly directed by O'Reilly. A show with brains that's an absolute no brainer, Where Sat The Lovers is not to be missed. Can we get a cashier over here please? There's some serious winnings at MALAPROP'S table tonight. Where Sat The Lovers, written by Dylan Coburn Gray and MALAPROP, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2021 at Project Arts Centre until September 25. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2021 or MALAPROP

Autistic Licence

Ian Lynam in Autistic Licence. Image by Stephen Piece *** Recent years have seen several productions challenging misconceptions about autism. Autistic Licence by Ian Lynam, a self proclaimed bi-sexual, autistic comedian is the latest to offer some insight. His one man, stand-up comedy show being part confessional, part history lesson, with just the smallest smidgen of science. If you're never blinded by the science you might well be snow-blinded by its whirl through history. Where Lynam's condescending comic stylings taking vicious aim. In Autistic Licence we get to meet Lynam, his anxiety, his therapist, and his hockey stick. The last feeling like a joke forced to fit, and not for the first time in Lynam's life. Some well timed voiceovers allow Lynam frame his life story and set up some clever jokes about living with autism and wanting to be a comedian. It's all going swimmingly, Lynam making sure we know he's making eye contact. Then comes his revisionist history. Switching to a powerpoint presentation that ends with a collage, Lynam flings more names than you'll probably remember, including some biggies like Turing, Cumberbatch, and Asperger. His last minute introduction of Grunya Sukhareva, the Soviet child psychologist, proves less a revelation so much as a badly handled decision. A pioneer written out of the history of autism in the West during much of the twentieth century, for reasons larger than Lynam cares to admit (including living in Stalin's Russia, where she was revered), she's barely written into the show. Lynam veering more towards Cumber-bashing or certifying Asperger's Nazi credentials. True, insults make for better jokes, but Sukhareva's inclusion is little more than a footnote, albeit an admired one, and tells us little. Looking a little like history repeating itself. Using lots of movie references, Autistic Licence resumes a steadier course as Lynam gets back to talking about what he knows best: himself. He's a comedian. He's autistic. He's honest about his experiences, bravely refusing what others think a comedian or a person with autism should be. Mostly, he's funny with it all, keeping the audience entertained. Autistic Licence might stumble in places, Lynam capable of crafting the odd forced gag, but more often he crafts the perfectly timed one. More successful, funny, and enjoyable when he speak to his own experiences. Autistic Licence, written and performed by Ian Lynam, runs at Bewleys Cafe Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2021 until September 25. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2021