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All the Angels

All the Angels

Rebecca O'Mara and Brian Doherty in All the Angels. Image Pat Redmond **** T'is the season for Handel's Messiah. That time of year when perennial pilgrims parade their way to St Patrick's Cathedral. For an oratorio written for Easter that has become synonymous with Christmas. Which, as any self respecting Dubliner will tell you, had it's very first performance in Dublin on April 13,1742 at the Fishamble Music Hall. The occasion of which forms the basis for Nick Drake's All the Angels. Ensuring if Messiah has become a Christmas tradition, All the Angels might well become one too. Despite being steeped in factual historical detail, All the Angels proves to be a Georgian Pygmalion with just a touch of Educating Rita. A tale of a wiser, older mentor, Handel, and a disgraced woman, Susannah Cibber, both trying to reclaim their lives. He her passionate singing teacher with a failed opera behind him, she his willing if frustrated pupil with a failed marriage. As they work towards getting ready for Messiah's opening night, themes of redemption and resurrection loom large. And even though you know it's opening proved a crowning success, All the Angels is so convincingly crafted you despair things might not go to plan. Ross Gaynor and Rebecca O'Mara in All the Angels. Image by Pat Redmond Sumptuous as a Christmas dinner, Drake's script addresses questions around the how and why of art, around hardened hearts and elevated hopes, around love and friendship, about the transcendence of music and the immanence of the divine, even in dirt filled streets and fallen souls. Speaking always to surviving, then slowly thriving along the hard path towards a second chance. To the large and small triumphs of the human spirit. To deaths and resurrections in this life and the next. Beautifully realised under Lynne Parker's masterful direction. From the entrance of musical director Helene Montague, to a fizzle of modernity in technical attire, Parker's attention to detail is impeccable. Echoed in Sarah Jane Shiels' set and lighting, its clever use of mirrors a visual master stroke, and in Sorcha Ni Fhloinn's eye catching costumes. Ross Gaynor, showing impressive range as a host of supporting characters, turns in a welter of terrific performances. Matched by a perfectly pitched Brian Doherty as Handel, patrolling the stage like a kinder hearted Henry Higgins prone to moody outbursts. A remarkable Rebecca O'Mara as his student singer, Susannah Cibber, speaks to a confidence so diminished she's almost afraid to hope. Doherty and O'Mara crackling with chemistry as palpable as a perfectly sung duet, being an absolute joy to behold. Ross Scanlon in All the Angels. Image Pat Redmond If singing never overpowers text, it's not without its issues, even if some arise from brave choices and others from unfortunate circumstances. Such as baritone Owen Gilhooly-Miles needing to withdraw from Tuesday's performance. If tenor Ross Scanlon bravely undertook both duties, the texture of a baritone was missed. O'Mara may downplay her vocal prowess for long periods, yet when she finds it, heartfelt and captivating as it is, she bravely leans towards sentiment rather than sentimentality, towards tenderness rather than power at the cost of a little oomph. Young soprano, Megan O'Neill, rounding out an impressive cast, delivers a controlled, unobtrusive performance that is utterly beguiling, her impressive voice and presence announcing 'watch this space.' Like the fiascoes leading to the opening night of Messiah, Rough Magic have endured their own fiascoes on the way to the opening of All the Angels. Following the bane of COVID making for insane working conditions, inconstant messages from Government risk unfairly robbing many productions of much of their potential audience. Add to that your baritone's last minute withdrawal and it has to feel like one kick in the teeth too many. Yet like Handel and Mrs Cribber, Rough Magic are made of sterner stuff. Like Messiah, it might have been a hellish journey getting there, but All the Angels delivers in the end. An indulgence utterly memorable, hugely enjoyable and that little bit joyous. Lovers of a good night at the theatre, rejoice. Christmas has come early this year. All the Angels (Handel and the First Messiah) by Nick Drake, presented by Smock Alley and Rough Magic Theatre, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until December 22. For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre or Rough Magic Theatre Company.

Elsewhere

Elsewhere

Elsewhere by Michael Gallen, on the Abbey Stage. Image: Ros Kavanagh **** Communism's failure to find a foothold in the West, or deliver the proletariat Promised Land in Russia and the East, often gets attributed to it modelling itself like a Church. Its ruthless leaders exercising papal-like infallibility destroying those they were meant to serve. All in the name of the party. By that rationale you'd wonder why Ireland isn't the greatest Communist country in the world? Some gave it a go. As far back as 1919 staff of the Monaghan Asylum, together with its 700 residents, locked themselves in and established an independent Soviet commune. Inspired and guided by Union leader, Peadar O’Donnell. An act of defiance in response to horrendous conditions compounded by the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. An act celebrated by Michael Gallen in his latest opera Elsewhere. It doesn't take a genius to see hospitals then and hospitals today share frightening similarities. Poor working conditions, poor pay, history not so much repeating itself as looking like it never moved on. Libretto by Gallen, along with Annemarie Ní Churreáin and Dylan Coburn Gray lets characters highlight such issues rather than relying on an excess of union speak. Which, as anyone who's ever sat though a trade union conference will confirm, is often steeped in such rhetorical tedium as to be a foolproof remedy for insomnia. Daire Halpin in Elsewhere by Michael Gallen, on the Abbey Stage. Image: Ros Kavanagh If Communist tropes loom large; red flag, red star, red beret; Gallen and co. wisely understand that people describe politics far better than politics. Take Celine, around whom the story imaginatively unfolds. Or is remembered many years later. Nervous, jittery, struggling to make sentences, her mind oscillates between the impersonal experiences of institutionalised care and a moment in time when she mattered. When, in her mind, she led a revolution, being 'locked in' given a different resonance. Even if it makes Communism sound like the ramblings of a lunatic, or enough to turn you into one. Too many conferences perhaps. If Marx and co. provide the politics, Brecht supplies the theatricality. Meta-theatricality that is, with lashings of alienation effect, Katie Davenport's staging suggesting a stage rather than a set. Actors breaking character to remind you that they, along with the musicians, are acting. Under Tom Creed's clever direction, it comes together into a wildly engaging experience, even if projections by Luca Truffarelli add little but grey distraction. Offsetting the political with the personal, Creed's two week revolution, looking like a wild weekend in a dormitory, is juxtaposed with images of Electro Shock Therapy sensitively and beautifully crafted. Some dime store psychology, along with a creative stand off with musicians of Ensemble Miroirs Étendus, conducted superbly by Fiona Monbet, adds lots of personality. Elsewhere by Michael Gallen, on the Abbey Stage. Image: Ros Kavanagh Musically, there's a case could be argued that Elsewhere is more resonant of a Sondheim musical, or a fractured tone poem with operatic interludes rather than an opera. A notion supported by the uneven quality of singing by Daire Halpin, Amy Ní Fhearraigh, Adrian Dwyer, Sarah Shine, Sinéad O’Kelly, Fearghal Curtis and Aaron O’Hare. While duets and solos prove considerably strong, most notably Halpin and Ní Fhearraigh, choral work never quite achieves operatic standards, even as it delivers a hauntingly effective ending against hollow acoustics. Individually, voices often transcend the limits of singing. Halpin and Ní Fhearraigh registering pain, doubt, fear or hope like conduits of sound from the depths of the soul. Voice an integral instrument rather than just a vehicle for text. Ensuring Gallen's score delivers musical scenes straddling that place between musical theatre and opera. Uniquely its own thing which, as in the final duet set against a fading chorus, has breathtaking moments that can rouse and move. With Capitalism replacing terrorism as the world's most wanted super villain, Communism, like a well preserved Bond, is again put forward by some as the world's hero saviour. Despite its good intentions always ending up as roads to hell. Yet if Capitalism can't or won't, Elsewhere gives no reason to believe Communism can or will. Who doesn't like living in a commune? An awful lot more than you'd think. It's not even clear Celine does. Making the bright red star less suggestive of power to the people so much as the wistful twinkling of a Christmas wish. I do believe, I do believe, I do believe. Elsewhere by Michael Gallen, on the Abbey Stage. Image: Ros Kavanagh Hospitals, the housing crisis, homelessness, all are pressing issues needing immediate attention. If history teaches that Communism, like current Government policy, isn't up to the task, Elsewhere's search for political alternatives is hugely resonant. For Elsewhere dares to hope. As indeed it should. O'Donnell and his co-conspirators won their battle for improved pay and conditions it should be remembered. The convenient forgetting of which Elsewhere looks to set to rights. Made all the more enjoyable by it being unafraid to laugh at itself for fear of puncturing its own seriousness. Ensuring you take it all the more seriously. Serving up a cacophony of delight that is fun, thought provoking, and often moving. Elsewhere, by Michael Gallen, presented by Straymaker and the Abbey Theatre in association with Miroirs Étendus and Once Off Productions, runs at The Abbey Theatre until November 20. For information visit The Abbey Theatre

Straight to Video

Straight to Video

Straight to Video by Emmet Kirwan. Photo by Pat Redmond *** Straight to video. A derogatory term from the 1980s denoting a film unsuitable for mainstream cinema. Many such films garnering a cultish devotion due to their poor production values, crappy stories and larger than life characters. Videos so bad they were almost good. If ever a play came close to straight to video mode, it would be Emmet Kirwan's Straight To Video. Like comedic Grand Guignol, Straight To Video relies on over the top excess. Take Kirwan's video store owner, Barry, a man with a plan but without a clue. Strutting about like a poor man's Robbie Williams looking like a caricature of an impression of Del Boy. His troubled video store on the verge of closure. Enter the Coach, an imposing Stephen Brennan as a gangster who, with his nutcase son Ken, a convincing Lloyd Cooney, has a little package for Barry to mind. Given Straight To Video is set around an anti-drugs march, there's no brain power required guessing what's in the package. Not that Kirwan keeps us guessing. Or makes Tallaght somewhere you'd ever want to set foot in, let alone live there. Emmet Kirwan and Stephen Brennan in Straight to Video. Photo by Pat Redmond Meanwhile his long suffering staff, like extras from Empire Records, negotiate their own difficulties and the daily struggles of running a video rental no-one wants to rent videos from. Their only customer Callan Cummins' Pierco, a village idiot with a heart of gold and more smarts than most realise. Colin Campbell's Carl, the shop manager and a gay man tiring of the closet, finds himself confronted by love from an unexpected source. While Kate Gilmore's Claire, surrounded by men who need a mammy, a maid, or a shoulder to cry on, struggles to deal with her dying mother. As things progress, it quickly becomes clear that while Kirwan is a gifted performance poet, when it comes to out and out comedy it's quite a different story. Everything that makes his poetry thrilling, and which comedy needs, is absent here; economy, rhythm, timing. Relying instead on exaggeration till exaggeration becomes the content. Delivering too few funny one liners or situationally funny incidents, the script awash with too much comedic dead air. Overcompensating with energy so loud and high it has nowhere to go. If director Phillip McMahon's writing often shows restraint, his direction here suggests the lunatics took over the asylum while his back was turned. Looking like he also had an easy day at the office, Philip Connaughton's movement relies on an inordinate amount of leaping on or over the counter. Part of Grace Smarts beautifully detailed set, a mix of nostalgia and realism, superbly lit by Sinéad McKenna. Colin Campbell and Emmet Kirwin Straight to Video. Photo by Pat Redmond If performances show poor comic timing, Kate Gilmore clearly didn’t get the memo, or wisely tore it up. Gilmore understanding that if you play for laughs you probably won't get them, making her by far the best thing on stage. Surpassed, marginally, by a vivacious Derbhle Crotty as Denise, conveniently wedged in as a kind of fairy godmother to help wrap things up, channelling Time Cop and Weird Science. Practically a national treasure, Crotty gives performances that can blow everyone else off the stage, and often show up the cracks in those who aren't quite cutting the mustard. Like the films of Ed Wood, Tommy Wiseau, or Cynthia Rothrock, Straight To Video will find an audience. Even if everyone else will wonder why anyone would want to produce a play in the style of a third rate movie? One whose situation isn't particularly funny, nor are its characters, and relies too much on verbal gags and nostalgia for laughs. More importantly, why it never pushes at its own possibilities? For all its imagined wildness, Straight To Video delivers an extremely conventional play that never goes anywhere all that interesting, comedically or otherwise. Leaning not so much on the side of caution as cowering behind it. Wood and Wiseau believed they were making genuinely good movies. Kirwan, despite having so much scope to play with, plays it safe in trying to craft an enjoyably funny play with a happy ever after. And Straight to Video is enjoyable and funny. Just not as enjoyable, funny or as wildly adventurous as it seems to think it is. Straight to Video, by Emmet Kirwan, printed by Landmark Productions in association with The Civic and Project Arts Centre, runs at The Project Arts Centre till December 11. For information visit Landmark Productions or Project Arts Centre.

Marmalade Row/about:blank

Marmalade Row/about:blank

about:blank by Adam Wyeth. Image Set Murray Courtesy of COVID, audio productions find themselves enjoying a theatrical resurgence at present, often aided by visual or digital components. I Feel You Apart From Me by Lark in Dublin Fringe Festival cleverly played with the possibilities of What's App over a day of random messaging, unfolding a sensitive tale of friendship and grief. More recently, poet and playwright Adam Wyeth's hugely ambitious about:blank (****) pushed possibilities even further as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. Engaged with by phone while walking the city or select locations, or at home on your computer, the former proves the far richer experience; shifting contour lines on screen providing as much visual potency as a screensaver. Thanks to Wyeth's collaborative openness Cormac O'Connor's sound and mixing and Frieda Freytag's sumptuous score form an integral part of the experience. Elevating it from a reading of Wyeth's latest collection (about:blank available from Salmon Poetry) into one that comes close to music itself. Eoghan Carrick directing with a slow brooding pace, with the whole sounding like a guided meditation. Indeed, about:blank gives us much to meditate on, yet goes far beyond being a thinking experience. With so many conversations being two transmitters and no receivers, about:blank makes receivers of us all, inhabiting a liminal space in our headphones. Less story, or play, so much as a poetic experience wrapped loosely in a series of narratives, it reflects a city, its people, its present and its past. Adam Wyeth. Image uncredited. If, as Wyeth believes, "all novelists are failed poets," about:blank proves to be a failed novel. Ulysses to be precise. Owen Roe like an earthy Leopold Bloom, Paula McGlinchey the writerly Dedalus, and Olwen Fouéré a curious Molly Bloom traversing a modern and mythic Dublin offering up sights, sounds and insights. If its ending owes more to Beckett than Joyce, it does so with love. At 131 minutes about:blank makes its demands. But then again, so does Ulysses. And both offer rich rewards. Currently exploring new audio possibilities LemonSoap Productions, working with The New Theatre, in association with An Grianan Theatre, present Ultan Pringle's Marmalade Row (****) If about:blank evokes Ulysses, Pringle's hugely impressive short form work proves to be more Dubliners. Serving up five sensitive vignettes about neighbours living and dying on the same street. Marmalade Row. Image uncredited. After a melodic composition by HK Ni Shioradain, an older couple begin talking, initially suggesting a conventional drama for BBC Radio 4. Yet when the colour averse Joan is Marion O'Dwyer, and the memory troubled Harry played by Pat Nolan, and the writing is this well structured and balanced, you're made curious enough to stay for this gentle tale of a married couple with a thorn that has never left their side. A risky move, if hugely enjoyable. And one that sets us up for what Pringle is really after. If tone remains unchanged, the second vignette pushes at the boundaries of the safe, comfortable radio play. Introducing a dead woman with maggots in her eyes haunting a lonely Adam, an impressive monologue by Pringle, and journeying into sexuality, suicide, loneliness and difference. Difference established as a recurring theme in a moving musical interlude as a young trans man tries to make sense of things. Singer songwriter Sammy Copley as Darragh channelling heartache and hope like a modern Joni Mitchell. If you haven't heard of Copley before, on this evidence you'll be rushing to check them out. A hugely impressive talent. Sexuality and difference again recur as Jilly McGrath as Alice, and Laoise Murray as Roisin flirt over dinner, negotiating their relationship, their relationships with the dead, and with Grafton Street, beautifully handled and delivered with pitch perfect nuance. As is Zara Devlin as insomniac Sadbh, wondering how the world came to be, wrapping up narrative loose threads while looking towards the stars, finding hope as we move into the future Sammy Copley. Image uncredited If Marmalade Row can feel steeped in a Maeve Binchy quaintness, it offers an amended metaphor for an inclusive, modern Dublin we can all call home. Should developers ever have the foresight to build places like Marmalade Row. Like Pringle, director Julia Appleby understands the audio medium perfectly and does an outstanding job balancing and marshalling the competing rhythms, paces and energies. Reading Pringle's script like a musical score to craft thirty-five memorable minutes. Why this on demand production is supposedly sold out makes no sense. The more word of mouth and income the better. And Marmalde Row deserves both. Like about:blank and I Feel You Apart From Me, it offers a testament to the fact that with podcasts, and platforms like Soundcloud and Spotify offering new avenues of engagement and distribution, there's opportunities available for those who have the courage, talent and imagination to take them. about:blank by Adam Wyeth, in association with the Civic Theatre, ran as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021. Marmalade Row by Ultan Pringle, presents by LemonSoap Productions with The New Theatre in association with An Grianan Theatre, runs at the New Theatre Nov 9 to Nov 11. Dates at An Grianan Theatre TBC. For information on Marmalade Row visit The New Theatre or An Grianan Theatre

Summerhill

Summerhill

Rex Ryan and Clelia Murphy in Stephen Jones's Summerhill. Image uncredited. ***** Julian Kavanagh. A 30-year-old Mammy's Boy who makes Norman Bates look positively normal. No surprise given manipulative Mam, Bernie. Wheelchair-bound, in the loosest sense of the word, Bernie has had a hard, heartbreaking life and could die at any minute. Just ask her, she'll tell you. Her only joys the music of Tom Jones, her devoted son Julian, and an impending holiday to Tenerife, the final e not silent, just to soon as they fill up the swear jar. Given that the mysterious Carla Clara has entered the scene, vying for Julian's affections, that shouldn't take too long. Providing someone doesn't kill someone else first. In Summerhill, Stephen Jones journeys down some twisted byways, serving up a suspenseful comedy as dark as it is delicious. Asking the question, could this be a love to die for? Or to kill for? Like Jones' From Eden and Northern Star, Summerhill centres around an awkward boy meeting an awkward girl in an awkward situation. Only here the awkwardness is ratcheted through the roof. Julian, a man trying to cut the umbilical cord, has lost over ten stone in the past two years. No longer the Sumo of Summerhill, he braves a date with the gorgeous Clara and it's love at first fright. Like Julian, Clara loves real life crime stories and is a devotee of Murder She Podcasted. She too is looking for a fresh start, and has her secrets. Yet the path of true love never ran smooth. If conflict arises when want meets obstacle, the obstacle to be contended with is a foul mouthed, feisty, forty-seven year old floozy called Bernie Kavanagh. Otherwise known as Mam. A woman possessed by dark thoughts, dark memories and darker desires. And a tongue that could strip paint. Summerhill at Glass Mask Theatre. Image by Chris O'Rourke While leaning heavily into Psycho and Bate's Motel, Jones script stands as a thing of its own due to its rich vein of dark, Dublin humour. With Jones proving himself adept at structuring a genuinely suspenseful thriller. Impressively balancing the plays comedic needs with its darker dramatic elements without losing cohesion or looking contrived. Jones also proving himself to be no slouch as director. Indeed, the manner in which space is negotiated, aside from the seats right by the door, to realise the theatrical possibilities inherent in the script proves remarkably impressive. With it all brought vividly to life by three crowning performances. Rex Ryan's troubled Julian is superbly nuanced and beautifully portrayed; at times heartbroken, vulnerable, wildly in love or desperately lonely. Evanne Kilgallon proves frighteningly good as the Nordie from Summerhill in Omagh, giving a detailed performance as misfit Clara, whose quirkiness makes demands on credibility which Kilgallon negotiates with aplomb. Yet both play second fiddle to a show stealing Clelia Murphy as Bernie, a venomous heartache of a mother for whom love has become a twisted thing. Murphy being a tour de force. And given the calibre of Ryan and Kilgallon's excellent performances, that's no mean feat. A dark, demented, laugh out loud delight, Summerhill invites you to take a walk on the dark side. And you should. You most certainly should. Oh, and try the smoked almonds while you're over there. They're to die for. A little like Summerhill. So good, you'll want to see it twice. Summerhill, written and directed by Stephen Jones, runs at Glass Mask Theatre until Nov 27. For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre.

Fidelio

Fidelio

Irish National Opera's Fidelio. Image by Pat Redmond *** Crowding the cavernous stage, prisoners and guards sing a chorus to freedom. Meanwhile, dwarfed in the corner, Leonore and her husband Florestan sit tucked in like afterthoughts. This image, towards the end of Irish National Opera's production of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, proves essentially true to the whole. Serving up a political tale with a love interest rather than a love story against a political backdrop. Taking a politicised direction which might please many, even as it will leave others less enthused. The disappearance of dissenting political voices from across the globe lends a current resonance. Foregrounded as Fidelio's cobbled libretto, constructed by several authors, totters to find its feet. Lenore, disguised as a man, Fidelio, works as a prison guard trying to locate her husband Florestan. A political activist who disappeared after speaking against prison governor Don Pizarro. A matter complicated by Fidelio's boss, Rocco, giving his blessing for Fidelio to marry his lovestruck daughter, Marzelline. Much to the chagrin of her suitor and colleague, Jaquino. The imminent arrival of Don Fernando, the Kings Minister, to inspect the prison sees Don Pizarro rushing to get rid of his secret prisoner. Given one of Beethoven's alternate titles for Fidelio was The Triumph of Marital Love, there's no prizes for guessing how it ends. Sinéad Campbell Wallace, Daniel Sumegi and Kelli-Ann Masterson inIrish National Opera's Fidelio. Image by Pat Redmond Dissatisfied, Beethoven produced at least three versions of Fidelio, and his indecision shows. The whole, like the libretto, feeling constructed by a committee; the sweeping overtures, solid if not particularly memorable solos, and utterly sublime choral work not always sounding balanced. Walking an uneasy line between comedy and melodrama, it presents unique challenges, which director Annabelle Comyn resolves by making strong choices likely to win plaudits from some quarters, to be less appreciated by others. Such as Francis O'Connor's oppressive, industrial stage and dull, uniformed costumes, steeped in the gloom of Paul Keogan's lights. From guards to soldiers to politicians, the uniform dominates emphasising role over person, the dehumanised over the human. Romantically, Leonore makes no metaphoric descent into hell. Rather a literal descent to the bottom of a gloomy prison with bars and steel balconies, policed by men and women with guns. Prison officers, looking like parcel deliver drivers, allow flickers of identity and comedy emerge, especially during spoken dialogue. Only the prisoners display a shambolic sense of visual individuality. Robert Murray and Sinéad Campbell Wallace in Irish National Opera's Fidelio. Image by Pat Redmond Despite a conceptually modern veneer, Fidelio proves to be a conventionally staged opera. Against the sweep and flow of Beethoven's music there's a solidity to performances, singers most often rooted and grounded, sometimes looking visually stiff. Aside from the chorus, whose singing is spectacular. Vocally, singers don't so much compliment as contrast, enriching the layering of Beethoven's score. Soprano Kelli-Ann Masterson's (Marzelline) crystal timbre offset by Soprano Sinéad Campbell Wallace's (Leonore) robust and commanding power. Bass baritone Daniel Sumegi's warmth (Rocco), with the bombast of baritone Brian Mulligan (Pizarro). The authority of bass baritone David Howes (Don Fernando) and the peevishness of tenor Dean Power (Jaquino). Power perfectly positioned as a tenor foil in a world full of so much bass. Irish National Opera's Fidelio. Image by Pat Redmond If love conquers all, Comyn leaves no doubt she's not interested in love so much as it's political ramifications. Leonore might be hailed for her fidelity, but the worried glint in the ministers eyes says she might want to watch her political ambitions. The new military, looking as facist as the old military, leave no illusion of a happy ever after. And love? It's there, offering comic relief, character motivation, or complication to the plot. Never rising to the level of politics. The balance never quite achieved. Still, first night jitters aside, Fidelio's singing captivates, especially the chorus, Fergus Shiel conducts the pit with verve, and the joy of sharing the experience with a live audience is priceless. Fidelio, by Beethoven, presented by Irish National Opera, runs at The Gaiety Theatre until Nov 13. For more information visit Irish National Opera or Gaiety Theatre.

May B

May B

Compagnie Maguy Marin: May B. Photo © Herve Deroo **** Beckett can take us to dark places. Yet listening to a stout German lieder in the physical dark waiting for the lights to go on feels less like Beckett and more like someone forgot the show had started. If this was indeed the case, one suspects the playful Beckett would have approved. As he did when choreographer Maguy Marin asked him to allow her adapt his works in 1981. Now celebrating 40 years since the then unknown Marin received the great masters blessing, May B returns as headliner for Dublin Dance Festival's 2021 Winter Edition. And if it ultimately overstays its welcome, it proves itself still in a league of its own. As ghostly bodies finally materialise, Louise Marin's costumes often suggest Dickens more than Beckett. Its five male and five female dancers looking like Jacob Marley's football team. In response to a whistle they shuffle and stop, finding cohesion through repetition, soon moving like a murmuration of zombies to the music of a military brass band. Making guttural noises like unshaped syllables, structured into a repeated pattern, like the worse beatboxers ever. Revealing musical and choreographic possibilities inherent in Beckett's work. Compagnie Maguy Marin: May B. Photo © Herve Deroo Traces of Commedia dell'arte further inform Louise Marin's costumes. Married to Lecoq style clowning and mask work, individual expression within the uniformity of the ensemble is impressively rendered. Collectively flowing into mesmerising scenes in which dancers Kostia Chaix, Antoine Laval, Lazare Huet, Louise Mariotte, Lise Messina, Isabelle Missal, Cathy Polo, Agnès Potie, Rolando Rocha and Ennio Sammarco appear both individually present yet inseperable from the group. Discovering sex, violence, greed, cake, gluttony and envy. All the joys and trials of life courtesy of the seven deadly sins, made infinitely richer by Alexandre Beneteaud's superb lighting and cameos from some recognisible characters. Throughout, Marin's painstaking choreography is simply mind-blowing, crafted with a Feldenkrais level of detail married to a Lecoq like physicality, with just a touch of comedian Max Wall. Shifting, shuffling, striking tableaus; patterns continually emerge giving expression to the earnestness of Beckett's lost souls whilst also looking like a monster mash party at the Addam's Family mansion. As the end draws near dancers dress shabbily, carrying tattered suitcases, and May B resonates in a whole other way. Speaking to a homelessness both thematically Beckettian and tragically of this world. Lending a touch of genius to the manner in which dancers escape the stage, their shoes left like ghostly presences, in a scene of utter humanity steeped in wonderful theatricality. Delivering one of the best endings you're likely to see. If it only it had ended there. Compagnie Maguy Marin: May B. Photo © Herve Deroo Instead, May B indulges in yet more cycles of repetition. Dancers moving diagonally, then off stage as another emerges stage left, like extras in a low budget episode to The Walking Dead. Indeed, it could be argued that everything following their escape is little more than a tagged on epilogue, serving up a durational phyrric victory at best. Including a fragment of song whose endless repetition borders on trauma. Yet as a solo tableau is struck, and the lights fade, you too begin to feel a little Dickensian. Wanting to ask, "please, may I have some more?" If May B feels unnecessarily durational, Marin's breathtaking choreography is utterly magnificent, articulating a rich cornucopia of Beckettian themes. Rarely has Beckett been made this much fun and looked so good while doing it. An orgy of organised chaos beautifully choreographed, May B is dance of the highest quality. A work utterly original and outstanding that stands the test of time. An apt definition of a classic. May B, by Compagnie Maguy Marin, runs as part of Dublin Dance Festival's 2021 Winter Edition until Nov 7. For more information, visit Dublin Dance Festival's 2021

The Misunderstanding of Myrrha

The Misunderstanding of Myrrha

The Misunderstanding of Myrrha. Image by Fionn McCann **** Created in collaboration with visual artist, Alice Maher, Junk Ensemble's highly anticipated The Misunderstanding of Myrrha kicked off Dublin Dance Festival's 2021 Winter Edition with considerable style. Using the Greek myth of Myrrha as a jumping in point it sets about revisioning Myrrha as a defiant feminist who refuses to be broken. Cursed by Aphrodite into an incestuous relationship with her father, later abandoned by the Gods and transformed into a myrrh tree, Myrrha here is given voice and agency. Dancer Julie Koenig strutting a little less than an hour upon the stage, signifying some powerful reclamations. Mostly. Pared back to basics, The Misunderstanding of Myrrha finds Junk Ensemble engaging in some visual and performative decluttering; a handful of props, a musical score, and a solo dancer on a relatively empty stage. Koenig strutting, but never fretting. Unhurried, like dawn breaking, she follows the call of Denis Clohessy soulful score showing amazing synchronicity throughout. Turning in tight circles atop a narrow column she balances her large crown of thorns, whose wintry branches stretch impossibly far casting a rotating circle of shadows. Climbing down and relinquishing her burden, Koenig executes simple movements infused with an assertive authority, awash in Stephen Dodd's mesmerising lighting. The Misunderstanding of Myrrha. Image by Luca Truffarelli Establishing circular patterns as a recurring motif, Koenig lifts her top to reveal her red midriff, visually establishing the womb as a site of interrogation. Reinforced by a mesmerising moment in which Koenig, seated on the floor, knees bent, legs apart, a mound of earth strategically placed, pours a potion releasing dry ice that gushes and pools like blood, or moonlight, evoking both the menstrual and lunar cycles. The image, like Maher's crown, pure visual poetry. Punctured when Koenig begins to speak. Even in French the didactic explanation misses the point: that the image had said everything that needed to be said, and then some. Instead, Koenig shifts from looking like the cool kid who doesn't have to say a word to looking like the pretentious kid who insists on telling everyone how cool they are. Skittering back into the darkness like a spider, or an embarrassed child. Normal service soon resuming. In a slow, prolonged sequence burial and renewal are both evoked before pounding, tribal rhythms establish a heartbeat. Koenig hugely impressive using repeated movements striving towards a trancelike release. The spell slowly cast. The body shaping the air around it. Channelling energies that fill the room as…Koenig stops and walks away to release ropes suspending driftwood above the stage. Dancer and dance disappearing into technical support the last image you take away. To say it all ends with a whimper would be to oversell a whimper. The Misunderstanding of Myrrha. Image by Luca Truffarelli Jessica and Megan Kennedy's simple yet powerful choreography, developed with Koenig, alongside Maher's marvellous minimalist design, sees both looking mesmerising as they channel dark pagan forces. Leaving it to Clohessy's sublime score to embrace the mist and the voice calling from within. Throughout, the reclaiming of Myrrha, and all mythic women reduced to tales or trees, is keenly realised. Koenig owning her body. Owning the space, and performance, with a casual confidence. Becoming her own rescuer. Her deportment stating confidentially; 'I'm not here to dance for your pleasure. I'm rewriting the world through the body while rewriting the body. Channeling unseen forces. Be grateful I'm allowing you to watch.' Indeed, watching The Misunderstanding of Myrrha often feels like something of a privilege. The Misunderstanding of Myrrha, by Junk Ensemble, a Dublin Dance Festival Commission, presented in partnership with the Abbey Theatre, ran at The O'Reilly Theatre as part of Dublin Dance Festival 2021. For more information visit Dublin Dance Festival 2021.

Alice's Adventures Under Ground

Alice's Adventures Under Ground

Clare Presland and Claudia Boyle in Alice's Adventures Under Ground. Image by Padraig Grant. **** Like many during Covid, Irish National Opera fashioned lemonade out of bitter lemons. Not only salvaging an impressive number of projects, but often breaking new ground to do so. None more so than Alice's Adventures Under Ground. Featuring music and libretto by Gerald Barry, inspired by Lewis Carroll's iconic Alice novels, a frenetic, madcap energy informs INO's fifty minute opera film available online from November 5. Which also provides the score for INO's first ever CD recording issued the same day. Yet if the opera is an absurdist delight, the film proves a bittersweet affair. Produced in 2020 by INO's partners on this ambitious project, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, that INO's planned production at the Gaiety didn't go ahead only adds to the bitterness, leaving you longing for the sweetness that might have been. Like INO's marvellous La Cenerentola, Alice's Adventures Under Ground looks a breathtaking spectacle best witnessed live, awash with powerful singing set against mesmerising theatrical ingenuity. Filmed at National Opera House, Wexford, with audio recorded at University Concert Hall, Limerick, it all looks and sounds that little bit delicious. Gavin Ring in Alice's Adventures Under Ground. Image by Padraig Grant. Yet not everything translates successfully to the screen. If director, Hugh O'Connor, facilitated some marvellous short form pieces in 20 Shots of Opera, Alice's Adventures Under Ground can suffer too many good intentions. Honourably trying to honour Antony McDonald's sumptuous, if cramped set, suggestive of a Victorian toy theatre with sliding panels, O'Connor's occasionally staid camera often further narrows the frame, like a claustrophobic slide viewer. Even as he captures movement and mood with quiet confidence, while proving masterful with light. Yet singing looking lip synced can puncture the screened experience of its vivacity. Which no amount of impressive high C's quite compensate for, even if the recording does sounds amazing. Throughout, whether falling down holes, riding trains, or conversing with queens Claudia Boyle is impossible to take your eyes or ears off. Boyle's eyes and face, like her exquisite voice, glow with an expressiveness that's to die for, and which the camera simply adores. As it does the rest of the impressive cast, including a divine Clare Presland, Hilary Summers, Gavan Ring, Peter Tantsits, Stephen Richardson and Alan Ewing, along with dancers Stephanie Dufresne, Niamh O'Flannagain and Nathan Cornwell. And, of course, McDonald's brain breaking designs. Claudia Boyle in Alice's Adventures Under Ground. Image by Padraig Grant. With a Monty Python, Keystone Cops freneticism, Barry's energetic score, wonderfully performed by Irish Chamber Orchestra conducted by André de Ridder, inventively plays with musical phrases, humorously references well known works, and swirls with orchestral joy. Yet close your eyes, and the energy and pace minus the visuals suggests a brave, if curious choice for INO's inaugural CD. Especially for those who prefer their operas less jarring. Or their librettos to have structure and sense. Even devotees of Alice might find Barry's impressionistic mishmash something of a struggle, depending how rusty or well versed they are in Carroll's much loved novels. Claudia Boyle in Alice's Adventures Under Ground. Image by Padraig Grant If INO's dazzling performance suggests an operatic tour de force, their cinematic 'other thing' isn't always a comparable experience. Even so, it's wild, uninhibited nonsense proves rather infectious. If Alice's Adventures Under Ground won't make everyone's Christmas list, those who prefer opera with energy and craziness, with little rhyme or reason, and with a fair sprinkling of charm will find much to enjoy. Especially given that the music is mesmerising, the theatricality jaw dropping, and the singing divine. Alice's Adventures Under Ground, music and libretto by Gerald Barry, presented by Irish National Opera and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden is available online from Nov 5 to Dec 4. For further information, or to view, visit Irish National Opera or Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Evolutions

Evolutions

Evolutions by John Scott and Irish Modern Dance Theatre. Image by Luca Truffarelli **** With Evolutions, John Scott proves to be one step ahead of the creative posse. While many artists are only beginning to articulate their response to COVID, Evolutions sees Scott already looking to negotiate ways to move beyond it. Referencing evolutionary theory, Scott explores how dancers from different backgrounds might establish connectedness. Yet echoes of how we might re-establish lost connections in a world now defined by physical distance loom large. Creating a piece both light and fresh. And rather simple at times in its approach. Simple in that early indications suggest group exercises common in early ensemble work for creating patterns, flow and connection. In this case dancers Ashley Chen, Magdalena Hylak, Favour Odusola, Sarah Ryan, Oran Leong and Alessandra Azevedo. Given Scott's reputation for innovation, it initially looks too easy, too safe, almost lazy these circular patterns as dancers whirl clockwise and counter clockwise without touching, swirl and run through the space without colliding, mirroring and echoing movements to establish connections, whatever their evolutionary suggestiveness. Yet Scott is moving backward to find a way forward. Returning to basics as dancers learn not so much how to dance again, but how to dance together again, finding connections in both physicality and distance. Throughout, the social reigns supreme courtesy of the preeminence of the ensemble. With hardly anything of sufficient substance to constitute a stand out solo or duet, dancers combine to create a collective of individuals. Even when not touching, their shared experience of distance, of inhabiting the same physical patterns and space, connects and unites them. Drawing them to discovery and physical re-discovery. Pointing to an ankle, an ear, a hip, a vagina. Lounging on each other in near Bacchanalian delight, relishing their practice and (re)discovering their tribe. If an unfocused joke on economics overstays its welcome while bringing us, evolutionary speaking, up to today, it leads into a somewhat tame resolve. Yet even as the end returns to shared separation challenged by mirrored movements, the overwhelming feeling is one of hope and togetherness. It could be argued that Evolutions is a work of the moment and might not exist were it not for COVID. But that only confirms that Scott, and Irish Modern Dance Theatre, are always about giving organic expression to whatever moment they find themselves in. As they have successfully done for thirty years. With Evolutions, IMDT celebrates thirty years of testing the boundaries, creating interdisciplinary works defined by their humanity whose contribution to dance, nationally and globally, is immeasurable. They deserve every plaudit. Roll on the next thirty years. Evolutions by John Scott and Irish Modern Dance Theatre, choreographed by John Scott, runs at the Project Arts Centre until October 30. For more information visit Project Arts Centre.

Pop Tart Lipstick

Pop Tart Lipstick

Rex Ryan and Kyle Hixon in Pop Tart Lipstick. Image uncredited *** Harris has just got out of prison. Turning up at John's place might not be his best idea on a long list of really bad ideas. Like his idea for John to drop his life and fly with him to Florida tomorrow, just as soon as he's sold a bag full of dodgy drugs. Yet it's been a year since John and Harris last met and John's now reformed, thanks to Jesus, Jordan Peterson and Stalin. He's doing a breathing course. Drinks green tea. Eats fancy pop tarts. Drives buses for a living. And has no real interest in Harris's Park Hopper tickets. In Rex Ryan's debut play, Pop Tart Lipstick, comic absurdities pile up as two friends look for a way to move forward. Played out in real time, Pop Tart Lipstick proves itself something of a clunky, glorious, car crash. Yet one in which the glory rises far above the carnage. Looking less Howie the Rookie so much as Neil Simon's The Odd Couple if directed by Sanford Meisner, Pop Tart Lipstick overflows with a daring, irresistible audaciousness. Yet despite all the love in the world, it feels forced across the finish line, urged to run before it was quite ready to walk. Structurally it often proves unclear, or confusing, and makes for some big asks despite some hilarious moments. Then there's it's style, with sentences built on a self-referencing circularity aspiring to a Mamet like muscularity, having difficulty finding their rhythm and establishing pace. Yet underneath there's a terrific play trying to get out, built around two compelling characters you can't help being drawn to. If Stephen Jones' direction struggles with positioning, he unpacks moments of power, humour and humanity in Ryan's script which hold other moments to account. For when Ryan's script finds its moments it can knock you over. And does so on more than one occasion. Whether it's Ryan charisma or his energised performance as Harris, matched by Kyle Hixon's beguilingly complex John, or just the audaciousness of Glass Mask Theatre finding their feet and the thrill of seeing new work in a new venue, Pop Tart Lipstick delivers a delightful experience stronger than its individual parts. From its poignant ending to its subtle reveal, to its characters finding heart and humour in the maelstrom that is their relationship, Pop Tart Lipstick lures you in like a guilty secret. It might not be the healthiest option, and certainly could have used a little longer in the oven, but it's also just that little bit tasty. Pop Tart Lipstick by Rex Ryan runs at Glass mask Theatre (Best Seller), Dawson Street, until October 30. For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre.

iGirl

iGirl

Olwen Fouéré in Marina Carr’s iGirl, directed by Caitríona McLaughlin. Image: Ros Kavanagh **** Talk about go big or go home. Abbey Artistic Director, Caitríona McLaughlin, and Executive Director, Mark O'Brien's inaugural production sees Marina Carr ruminating back to the beginning of time, all the while looking toward a challenging future. Mixing myth, magic and misogyny, Carr's latest play, iGirl, boldly goes where few have gone before. Gazing bravely into the abyss, knowing that those who gaze into abyss will find the abyss gazing back into them. Asking hard, painful questions. About life, love, death and redemption. About the stories and myths we fashion and are fashioned for us. About woman as mother, daughter, writer, wife. Seeking answers not always easy to find. Or to face should you happen to find them. With its short, staccato sentences, and structured scenes interwoven like stanzas, Carr's crisp, succinct iGirl has the structural allure of an epic poem. While also making its durational demands. Its liminal Everywoman, a mesmerising Olwen Fouéré, less a character so much as an archetype. An Amazonian high priestess. Or a looming Greek Goddess, Catherine Fay's excellent costuming evoking a myriad of associations. Joanna Parker's shifting set, with mirrored tables and superb video design by Parker and Daniel Denton, hints of an Olympian distance from where the Hera styled Fouéré first materialises looking down on us all. Manifesting physically to rage, rant, roll, and even perform a little jig. Her exposed breasts both her armour and her vulnerability. Olwen Fouéré in Marina Carr’s iGirl, directed by Caitríona McLaughlin. Image: Ros Kavanagh Stalking about like a Neanderthal queen, Fouéré crawls over the primordial ash, journeying us through Carr's creative concerns; the plight of strong women, the framing of Greek mythology, the nature of families and incest, particularly Daddy daughter relationships. Yet despite literary allusions from Platt to Greek Tragedy, it is iGirl's direct, personal address that often proves most compelling. Throughout, Caitríona McLaughlin walks a directorial tightrope, balancing opposing tensions between Carr's small i and big Girl, alongside a legion of competing energies clamouring for attention. Too much one way and Carr's rational rigour risks choking the life out of it all, too much the other and Carr's howl into the dark risks drowning out everything else. If Carr crafts magic and McLaughlin magnificently channels it, it is Olwen Fouéré who casts its irresistible spell. With quiet authority Fouéré moves about with spellbinding grace ingrained so as to look like unforced naturalness. But look closer, not a phrase, gesture, tone, movement or expression is superfluous, seeming both organic yet meticulously calculated. Fouéré's voice hollowing out the silence, her towering presence meeting the abyss head on, commanding it's darkness into submission. Olwen Fouéré in Marina Carr’s iGirl, directed by Caitríona McLaughlin. Image: Ros Kavanagh Like an ancient Shaman, Fouéré re-tells stories from the depths of time. Yet from Jocasta to Joan of Arc, these are women's stories that need to be re-told. Which is important to hold on to. The comparative mythologist Joesph Campbell once claimed that women have no hero journeys and, arguably, no real myths of their own. iGirl sets out to correct that misperception. If its epic poem format demands indulgence, especially given the power of Carr's direct addresses in the final moments, it also suggests there's more at stake here than Carr rendering the personal. Hold fast to where Carr is trying to take you. Be patient and surprised by what resonates and calls. Allow Fouéré to be your guide. Witnessing a performer, and performance, in a league of their own, bestowing gifts that keep on giving. iGirl by Marina Carr, directed by Caitríona McLaughlin and performed by Olwen Fouéré, ran as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021. Produced by the Abbey Theatre, it tuns at the Abbey Theatre until October 30. For more information visit The Abbey Theatre