The Eurydice Project and the Trapped Woman

First Written for Howlround.com

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“If she has a baby then she can’t leave me.”

Dublin, Ireland’s The Project Arts Centre, which has made a name for itself by hosting innovative and new theatre productions, hosted The Eurydice Project in the Spring of 2017. The Eurydice Project is a radical retelling of the Greek Orpheus and Eurydice myth created by White Label, a collective of independent theatre artists. Dating back over two thousand years, the most commonly told version of the myth is attributed to Latin poet Virgil. It is to be found in book four of Georgics, Virgil’s book of rural poetry thought to have been published 29 BC. Joanna Crawley’s script flips the original myth on its head by telling the story from Eurydice’s perspective, giving her a voice and agency, perhaps for the first time.

Women’s voices and stories are becoming increasingly common in Dublin’s theatres. Over the past few years there has been an active attempt to investigating women’s stories and bringing women’s voices into mainstream Irish culture. In 2016, #WakingTheFeminists was born. When the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National Theatre, released their Waking the Nation program for 2016, intended to commemorate the 1916 Easter Uprising, there was a surge of frustration and anger at the male dominated program. Many felt that women were being erased from their own history and culture. At this point it is worth noting that the majority of theatre goers are female (one statistic states that in the early 1700s two-thirds of theatre goers were female and that in 2010 this was still the case). Despite this they have not had an equal presence backstage or onstage. #WakingTheFeminists brought attention to this and set out to change things. This production of The Eurydice Project is also noticeable for its heavy female presence in the form of lead actress India Mullen, playwright Joanna Crawley, composer Jane Deasy, and choreographer Monika Bieniek.

The Eurydice Project at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Photo by Joey Moro.

Crawley taps into this sense of fear, jealousy, and lack of trust to create an entirely modern retelling of the myth. The idea of women not being trusted is particularly important. The myth has always been considered a tragedy. A story of young lovers torn apart; at first by fate and then by insecurity, Eurydice has never had a happy ending. A tragedy by its very nature is based on human suffering. In this case, grief and loss run throughout the play. As Crawley demonstrates, much of this suffering is self-inflicted. It does not come from external sources, but from within.

In the play, at first Eurydice is hesitant to embrace her feelings for Orpheus. She meets him as he is returning from war on his way to claim his crown after his father’s death. In time, she falls for him and he for her. Their love is equal and eternal. As his duties compel him to return to the city, she is taken away from her natural habitat and held within a maze of roads, brick buildings, walls. For someone who is used to freedom this is a difficult change to navigate. At night she leaves the city for the woods. There she discovers that the place that has always nurtured her is endangered. Women are being found hanging from branches. Trees are being cut down to make way for urban development. All that Eurydice held dear is being eroded. In town she hears misogynistic comments. Always one to fight back, she challenges these slurs but her husband tells her ignore them, just let them go to preserve harmony.

Into this complex mix walks Hades. Wearing purple and red velvet and snazzy dancing shoes in Crawley’s script, he is a former friend, perhaps a past lover, of Eurydice’s. They share an understanding of where she is from and what she values, which increasingly Orpheus seems to discount. Orpheus has always been jealous of her relationship with Hades. A mischief maker with a sinister smile, his appearance does not bode well for their relationship. His form of mischief is decidedly modern though. An audio visual is played on the back of the stage of Eurydice and Hades sharing confidences of her frustrations with her current relationship and reflecting on the relative freedom she felt in the wild (and by association with Hades). This dramatic moment shatters Orpheus. This allusion to revenge pornography is a clever trick by Crawley. It is at once believable and modern. Here Orpheus is given the unpleasant chance to slip back in time and witness his lover in a previous relationship. The idea that she will never stay with him is shattering. He had hoped that having a child together would hold her in place next to him. But what is there between them now?

The Eurydice Project at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Photo by Joey Moro.

This alludes to two issues that are prevalent in Ireland at the moment. The first as touched upon is revenge pornography, which has become distressingly common with the proliferation of smart phones, social media, and the internet. Alongside this is the idea that through pregnancy and motherhood, Eurydice will be trapped. Encased as a “good wife” and a “good mother” next to him and away from the forest. At present the debate around abortion rights is raging in Ireland as the Repeal the Eighth movement hopes to push for a referendum which will ultimately lead to the removal of the laws currently forbidding Irish women to have abortions. An estimated twelve women a day travel overseas, usually to England, Wales, or Scotland for medical help that they feel should be available at home. The same theatre that produced The Eurydice Project recently hosted A Day of Testimonies. This was a response by artists in support of Repeal the Eighth and included film, live performances, music, installations, and discussions about a woman’s right to choose. The theatre has become a prime battleground for individuals and groups to bring this timely and complex issue into the light.

End Of.

First written for The Reviews Hub

DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: End Of. – The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin

Writer: Seanan McDonnell

Director: Conor Hanratty

The Gutter Bookshop is nestled behind Smock Alley Theatre at the bottom of Cow’s Lane, an area of Dublin on the edge of Temple Bar, that is crammed with cake shops and boutique jewellery stores. It is the perfect place to set a play. One of the benefits of the Fringe Festival is that small scale plays such as End Of. are given the chance to show off what they can do in unusual or different locations.

End Of., a play by writer Seanan McDonnell, makes excellent use of its setting. The story is set in the bookshop itself. The characters move around the counter and boxes of books as if they have been doing so for years. It feels natural and is a clever use of space to further a story. Near the end the setting becomes increasingly significant. Without giving spoilers, the production team have managed to do wonders with the space provided.

The characters spend their lives with books. They are surrounded by the summation of human knowledge and experience. This becomes overlooked though as an argument at the beginning of the working day begins to escalate. Shiv, played by Charlene Craig, and Drew, played by Will Irvine, are getting ready for the day when they are interrupted by Ciaran, their new boss played by Damian Gildea. Drew has always aspired to be an actor but life has not gone to plan and he finds himself working year in year out in the shop. Shiv still has hope of a different life although her academic history is less than inspiring. When they discover something unusual has made its way to the counter Shiv is full curiosity, calling Ciaran to take part in her excitement. Drew however is sceptical. As they argue their points become increasingly polarised, angry and personal.

Written during the recent political changes in America and Europe End Of. skewers the violence of modern disagreements in a humorous and interesting way. This was a pleasant evening and another valuable addition to the Fringe Festival programme.

Runs until 24 September 2017 | Image: Contributed

Owen Wingrave

First Written for The Reviews Hub

DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Owen Wingrave – O’ Reilly Theatre, Dublin

Composer: Benjamin Britten

Director: Tom Creed
Conductor: Stephen Barlow

Owen Wingrave, which was composed during the height of the Vietnam War, questions whether pacifism is an act of strength or cowardice. By deciding to step away from a life of war and conflict he is also walking away from everything that his family have stood for; honour through courage, defending Queen and Country no matter the cost. More than this it is also about family. The audience is engendered to feel sympathy for Owen as his family turn on him. The weight of his past and his family history bears down on Owen as he breaks away, deciding upon his own belief system even though they conflict so dramatically with those he grew up with.

This may not be the most obvious choice of opera, however, it is an intriguing addition to the Fringe Festival programme. As Owen becomes increasingly isolated the speed of the production increases. The second half flies by, building in intensity to its tragic climax.

The back wall is designed to look like an Army barracks. The soldiers wear green fatigues that give the story a modern touch. At one point a British flag is projected on the back wall. It flutters before disappearing. Although the staging and lighting are relatively simple it is used to maximum effect. Plinths are brought onto the stage and statues of birds of prey placed on top. They are intimidating and dominate the stage. This is a great use of symbolism on stage that both enhances the storyline and also makes it easier to follow for those less familiar with opera.

The cast and orchestra all perform well, however special mention should go to Christopher Cull as Spencer Coyle who carries off the complex part with nuance, and Benjamin Russell who plays Owen with aplomb.

Hopefully, this production will return to Dublin soon.

Runs until 16 September 2017 | Image: Contributed

The Brazilian by Rosie Millard

First Written for Shiny New Books

The Brazilian by Rosie Millard Review

The Brazilian opens in a London beauty salon where the middle class and nearly middle aged (although she would be furious if you suggested so!) Jane is getting a Brazilian and discussing her upcoming holiday to Ibiza with the beauty technician. Jane is annoyed and perhaps slightly scandalised when she hears that the technician’s son is also going to Ibiza. Surely it was too exclusive and expensive for someone like him? This is an excellent introduction to inimitable Jane. In just a few lines one finds out what is important to her and how she likes to consider herself above others. Shortly after she has this thought: “fame and sex, thinks Jane. These things are important to her. She wants to have both of them. She has neither of them. And she’s in her forties. In a few years, she won’t be able to have either of them”. She is funny for the reader to be around, perhaps inadvertently so, but the humour that makes this novel skip along is demonstrated in the first few paragraphs.

Jane and her longsuffering – although not exactly innocent – husband Patrick, eight year old George and babysitter Belle are going on an ‘high class’ summer holiday full of family time and yoga to Ibiza. Although it becomes clear that no one really has any intention of ‘family time’. Belle for a start is planning on taking full advantage of the paid for holiday in the clubbing heartland. In order to be with her, boyfriend Jas is also on the island. He has tagged along with a cheap walking holiday so that he and Gemma can meet up when the sun goes down. This is unfortunate because Jane wants her to take charge of George while she sets out to get herself on a cheap daytime reality TV show called Ibiza (or Bust).

Ibiza (or Bust) features a group of not very famous ‘celebrities’ prepared to be followed by cameras for two weeks while taking part in a series of challenges for a few thousand pounds and exposure. Included in the group are two of Jane’s neighbours; Alan Mackin (a financial advisor of minor fame) and contemporary artist Philip. Philip’s unusual and flamboyant wife Gilda also makes a brief but valuable appearance. Will they be Jane’s way in to her reality show dreams? “It was just so unfair. Act like an arse and a show-off, like Philip Burrell does and that silly Alan Makin, who bought his way into the Square without so much as an invitation, just slapped his money down, and what happens? You get on television. Quietly get on with being sophisticated and stylish, like her, and what happens? You get ignored.”

Fellow contestant Gemma, a TV estate agent, is somewhat out of her depth on the show. Taking part in task one, a water challenge, she is scared and unsure, with the thought of the cameras always on her mind. “She walks to the edge of the pontoon. From this position, there is quite a drop to reach the water. Say, about three feet. Oh, just do it. You’ll be on telly, she thinks. Imagine her friends, her parents, her boss, seeing her unable to jump off a silly pontoon onto a silly lilo. It will be on YouTube forever. She’ll be a laughing stock if she doesn’t do it.” The behind the scenes of cheap reality TV is excellently done. It is funny from start to finish with show producer Simon providing a welcome injection of cynicism; his feet are firmly on the ground.

Each chapter is told from a different perspective which keeps the story fresh and helps to round out the narrative. The Brazilian is a fun filled satire that takes on fame, celebrity, middle class families and modern sensibilities. Anyone who likes reality TV and for those who like to complain about them or ridicule them will enjoy this aspect of the novel. Full of action and drama from the start it is difficult not to be caught up by the entertainment. Millard’s past as a journalist is reflected in her fiction writing. She picks up on the small things that tell us so much about a person and their interpersonal relationships. Jane and the Ibiza (or Bust) contestants are ripe for comedy. Characters such as George, Belle and Gemma help to soften things with their sweet hopes and kind personalities which also makes them easy to root for. Importantly each character is recognisable and although comic, not cliched.

On a small point, there were several spelling mistakes which should have been picked up before publication. The novel was otherwise very well written and paced. It got me through several days of poor health, making me laugh throughout with its clever cultural commentary. Having enjoyed The Brazilian I have since ordered Millard’s earlier work The Square which involves many of the same characters, and I look forward to her next work.

 

Rosie Millard, The Brazilian, (Legend Press Ltd, London, 2017) ISBN 9781787199873. Paperback pp251

Close to the Sun

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Dublin Fringe Festival: Close to the Sun – Smock Alley, Dublin  

 

Writer: Philip Doherty

Director: Stephen Darcy

Is it ever possible to outrun your past?

The play begins with a story. Three workmen with Irish accents introduce the audience to an old Irish curse. A family have been plagued by alcohol, devotion so deep it turns in on itself, the dark thoughts of jealousy and confusion and the bloody release of an early death. The curse runs through the generations. When we meet Colin, an Irish emigrant to Australia, he is trying to live a life as far away from this torment as possible. With his sweetheart Sophie, they are planning their wedding when out of the blue his older brother Rory turns up on his doorstep. His arrival throws everything into disarray as our couple must face themselves and each other, to work through the lies to a place of honesty.

Close to the Sun also explores the relationship between the Irish diaspora and ‘home’. For Oisin, soon to move back to Cavan, with his children who were born in Australia he will soon find out whether the place he once left still exists and if his new family can make a life there. It is also through him that the cast realise that they have been drawn to other Irish abroad, finding it difficult to find a way in to a new culture. They are a part of ‘the lost generation’ who left their homeland and then experienced the dislocation that comes with this. For Colin though his marriage to Sophie could be about to change all of that. Played by Mary Murray she is a surprising and sparky character. Toni O’Rourke, who was wonderful in Donagh Humphrey’s All That We Found Here, features as Sophie’s niece and confident Alexis. Each member of the cast holds their own. The play feels very cohesive as it glides from scene to scene. Close to the Sun is alternately funny, poignant and surprising. It is a thoroughly entertaining addition to the Dublin Fringe Festival 2017.

Runs Until 17th September 2017 | Image: Contributed

Everything Not Saved

DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Everything Not Saved – Project Arts Centre

Devised by: MALAPROP with Dylan Coburn Gray

Director: Claire O’Reilly

Everything Not Saved is this year’s Fringe Festival presentation from MALAPROP theatre company. In 2015 they were awarded Spirit of Fringe award for LOVE+ so expectations are high for their new show. They tackle the big subjects through three very different scenes. As the play begins a voice speaks out over the theatre as the words spoken are projected for all to see. From the beginning, we are asked to question our memory and how our thoughts and ideas change over time. By remembering someone or an event we change it. This is shown in the first scene. A former couple (who are not named), one of whom is a photographer, have very different ideas of how their relationship began to come to an end. The photographer keeps a photo of her former partner that reminds her of the shyness and later blossoming of her now friend. The other woman however, sees this image as an argument. She didn’t want it to be taken and the fact that it still exists highlights the different way they view not just their past together but also their key values. The topic of memory and the telling of history are particularly important at the moment. Many people in the audience will see illusions to current politics and the shattering of a set narrative that all parties can agree upon.

MALAPROP make use of interesting staging, that allows them to change scene easily within the relatively small stage (the performance is staged on the Cube stage at the Project Arts Centre) and is supplemented by audio visuals throughout. The play is frequently funny and sparky. The voiceover elicits laughs from the audience early on. The penultimate scene is powerful and unexpected. It may have been better to close the play here. Queen Elizabeth II, the police, a dancing Rasputin all feature in the abstract and thoroughly enjoyable Everything Not Saved.

Bottlenote

First Written for The Reviews Hub

DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Bottlenote – 13 North Great Georges Street, Dublin

Bottlenote have taken over one of Dublin’s hidden gems. 13 North Great Georges Street is an old tenement building that has fallen into disrepair. While every other building near it seems to be in perfect condition number thirteen feels as though it hasn’t been touched in the past one hundred years. It is a great choice of venue. Immediately the audience is presented with something a little bit out of the ordinary.

Bottlenote are a collective of Irish musicians, six of whom have joined together to form Power of Two, a night of improvisory music supplemented by the surroundings and acoustics of the Georgian building and soft focused lighting. Much of the building is in darkness with only the musicians highlighted. Each room has a different colour theme. On the ground floor, with the outside world shut out, electronic music with purple and blue lights dominate the room. There are no chairs for the audience. Instead one follows the music from room to room, viewing the musicians at work, a little like a living art exhibition.

The performers are David Donohoe and Justin Carroll on synths, David Lacey on percussion, Sean MacErlain on clarinet, Shane Latimer modular musician, and Matthew Noone on a sarod. In the 1950s a working-class family lived on the second floor. At night, the young daughter would look up at the ceiling, listening to the ceili dancing above. This performance brings that feeling of wonder alive in a truly unique and interactive way.

Bottlenote fits in well with the Fringe Festival ethos and provides a great opportunity to discover something new and different.