The Birth of Frankenstein

First Written for Headstuff.org

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (originally titled Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus) is often considered to be the first science fiction novel and is a landmark of gothic fiction. First published anonymously in 1818 when Mary Shelley was only twenty years old the story of the novels conception is as fascinating as the hold the Doctor Frankenstein and his monster have held on popular culture ever since its publication. One evening in Villa Diodati, Lake Geneva, in 1816 saw the accumulation of an unusual set of circumstances that triggered a creative spark that has captured popular imagination ever since.

The themes and ideas that went on to form the novel were present before that fateful night in 1816. In 1814 Mary¹, her half-sister Claire Clairmont (born Jane) and her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley travelled to Europe. Mary and Shelley, having fallen desperately in love, fled to Europe when her father William Godwin objected to their affair. Travelling through France, which had been ravaged by the Napoleonic wars, onto Germany at one point they stopped in Gernsheim, 17km from Frankenstein Castle. Unlike most places named after the now legendary Doctor, Frankenstein Castle significantly predates the novel. It is questionable whether Mary would have been aware of or visited the castle but the legend behind it is worth investigating. The thirteenth century castle is best known because of the actions of alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel.

Born in 1673 Dippel became an alchemist; creating an elixir called Dippel’s Oil. Made from pulverised animal bones the elixir demonstrates his use of animal bodies in scientific creation. It had long been rumoured that this interest morphed into anatomy studies. He was said to conduct medical experiments on exhumed corpses, trying to reanimate the dead bodies. One myth that circulated was that Dippel was successful and created a monster that was brought to life by a bolt of lightning. In all likelihood this myth was applied to the castle after the release of Frankenstein, however it is interesting to note that the name previously existed, and has long been associated with the relationship between life and death.

The trio returned to Europe in 1816. This time they were heading to Geneva, to stay with Claire’s former lover Lord Byron. Mary and Shelley published their joint journal which covered this period in 1817. The travelogue was titled History of a Six Weeks’ Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland.  Here is an excerpt that discusses the landscape they observed:

“Never was a scene more awefully desolate. The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness; the vast expanse of snow was chequered only by these gigantic pines, and the poles that marked our road: no river or rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye, by adding the picturesque to the sublime.”

1816 was also remarkable for being the Year Without a Summer. 1815 had seen a large volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. It left almost 100,000 dead. Clouds of volcanic ash were propelled into the upper atmosphere, obscuring the sun. The Northern hemisphere saw crop failures, food shortages and sudden climatic change. This included a decline in temperature and an increase in rainfall. At the time many were unaware of the causes of this strange phenomenon. It was common to have to light candles in the middle of the day due to the darkness. There are accounts of snow falling in the middle of June. Holidaying at Lord Byron’s villa Mary and her companions found themselves unable to enjoy the outdoors and instead spent their time inside discussing science, politics and literature. At this time Byron composed the poem Darkness, which reflects the uneasy feeling of the time.

“I had a dream, which was not all a dream. / The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars / Did wander darkling in the eternal space, / Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth / Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air; / Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day, / And men forgot their passions in the dread / Of this their desolation”.

Themes of the supernatural and mystery run throughout the work created at Villa Diodati.

Interestingly the atmospheric changes resulted in unusual sunsets. It is thought that the yellow tinge that marks William Turner’s paintings during this period is a result of this. One work which demonstrates this is Chichester Canal (1828). Byron and Mary were not the only writers to find success in that strange atmosphere. The same few days saw the origin of the book The Vampyre. Written by Byron’s physician John Polidori it became the progenitor of Romantic vampire literature and was used as a key inspiration for Bram Stoker’s vampire novel Dracula.

Added to this was the stifling interpersonal atmosphere between the group. When Mary and Percy Shelly first fell in love she was only sixteen years old and he already had a wife a child. His young wife Harriet was pregnant again at this time. This, plus her father’s disapproval, didn’t stop them. Shelley declared his love for Mary, often meeting at night at her mother’s grave. Claire went with them on their travels partly because she could speak French and they could not. Also, she was able to introduce them to Lord Byron. The two had been lovers. Although still besotted with Byron, who had largely lost interest in her, after Mary lost her first child in early 1815 Claire and Shelley embarked on an affair. It has also been reported that Polidori had designs on the young Mary, but she did not reciprocate his feelings. Notably, although Byron was interested in the young poet Shelley he was supposed to have had little respect for Mary. Shelley believed in free love and practised it, having affairs and illegitimate children throughout his life. At one point the Shelley’s were labelled a part of the League of Incest that Byron was at the heart of². Added to this Shelley was reported to have fallen into a morbid mood as a result of the oppressive environment.

It was in this atmosphere that the group; consisting of Mary, Shelley, Claire, Lord Byron and his physician John Polidori, spent their evenings talking and reading each other ghost stories. Eventually Byron suggested a ghost story writing competition. In the preface to the 1818 edition of Frankenstein Mary wrote that, feeling anxious, she would wake up each morning no closer to a story. At only 18 years old Mary was one of the more junior writers of the group. However she was highly educated for a young woman at the time and had been exposed to liberal, intellectual ideas all her life. This came primarily through her parents: radical feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and political theorist William Godwin, both successful writers.

In September 2011 astronomer David Olson managed to pinpoint the exact time of Shelley’s “waking dream”

Several days after the competition was suggested Mary dreamed of a scientist who created life but was then horrified by its creation. She had found her story. The evening before her “waking dream” the group had been discussing the principle of life; what it means to be alive and whether a corpse could be reanimated. Mary commented on this in the novels preface:

“many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. … Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth”.

Although this sounds a little morbid corpse reanimation was a hot topic of the day. Galvanism is the contraction of a muscle that has been stimulated by electric current. Studies and investigations into the line between life and death occupied many of the great scientific minds of the early nineteenth century. Professor Sharon Ruston has investigated this area of scientific interest in depth. Her findings are detailed in the essayThe Science of Life and Death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. One point of particular interest is the work of the Royal Humane Society, originally named the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned. Established in 1774 the Society’smain aim was to publicise information to help people resuscitate others. Mary’s mother once attempted suicide by jumping from Putney Bridge into the Thames River. She was one of those “brought back to life”: resuscitated. This was one of the ways in which the line between life and death were being blurred and questioned. Each year there was a procession of those “raised from the dead” by the Society.

Further to this Shelley had a long history with scientific experiments. At Eton he used a frictional electric machine to charge the door handle of his room. He once blew up a tree on the schools South Meadow with gunpowder. His rooms at Oxford were fully equipped with science equipment and he continued to experiment with electricity, magnetism and chemicals. This interest continued into his adult life where he had trouble with multiple landlords and hosts. His frequent experiments would often burn cushions, leave marks on the walls and floors, and disturb other residents. In their leisure time the couple were also known to attend lectures and demonstrations that looked into the space between the known and unknown.

On that infamous night they had been reading German ghost stories from a French translation of the book Fantasmagoriana. These stories combined with the unusual dark and mysterious climate had an effect on the young writer. Shelley wrote,

“The season was cold and rainy, and in the evenings we crowded around a blazing wood fire, and occasionally amused ourselves with some German stories of ghosts, which happened to fall into our hands. These tales excited in us a playful desire of imitation. Two other friends…and myself agreed to write each a story founded on some supernatural occurrence.”

In the preface Mary talked about a “waking dream” in which she conceived the idea of Frankenstein.

“When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, —I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. …”.

In September 2011 astronomer David Olson managed to pinpoint the exact time of Shelley’s “waking dream” concluding that it occurred between 2 am and 3am on the 16th June 1816. This was several days after the competition began and fits in with Shelley’s remembrances of her difficulty in coming up with a story. Olsen explains,

“Mary Shelley wrote about moonlight shining through her window, and for 15 years I wondered if we could recreate that night. We did recreate it. We see no reason to doubt her account, based on what we see in the primary sources and using the astronomical clue.”

In order to capture the gothic horror found in the novel’s pages Shelley taped into her own fears. “What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow. On the morrow I announced that I had thought of a story”. She began to create “a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream”. In the cauldron of the strange mix of events came the creation of one of the corner stones of gothic horror and science fiction.


¹Although at this point her name was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin she referred to herself as Mrs Shelley prior to their December 1816 marriage

² Byron went into self-induced exile from Britain largely as a result of the constant rumours that he fathered a child with his sister. Like Shelley he had multiple children with multiple women; including a daughter called Allegra with Claire (1817).

Holly Madison: The Vegas Diaries

First Written for Shiny New Books

Holly Madison: The Vegas Diaries. Romance, Rolling the Dice, and the Road to Reinvention

 

Holly Madison is best known for her seven years at the Playboy Mansion and for her position as Hugh Hefner’s ‘Number One’ girlfriend. With The Vegas Diaries, the second instalment of her autobiography, she sets out to change perceptions of herself and her work to become the person she always wanted to be.

The Vegas Diaries is the follow up to the surprise number one bestseller Down the Rabbit Hole (reviewed here) from the former playboy model and girlfriend, in which she made it clear that she did not want to do a kiss and tell and had only entered this process in order to set the record straight. She kicked off her new life with a stint on Dancing with the Stars before going on to the lead role in burlesque show Peepshow. Here she took on the mantle of lead with aplomb, going on to revitalise the Bo Peep inspired show making it one of the most popular spots on the strip while starring as the lead for the longest ever time, truly making the show her own. Her own reality show soon followed. Madison candidly navigates Las Vegas’s social and dating scene. Her last memoir followed an Alice in Wonderland theme, and  for this one it is the Wizard of Oz; each chapter beginning with a quote and the roughly central theme of finding oneself in Oz before finding home.

The first way in which she sets out to do this is through burlesque. Having had a love affair with the art form for many years she finally has the chance to dive head first into the genre. Taking on the headline role at burlesque show Peepshow Madison was responsible for reinvigorating the brand and turning it into Vegas’s number one hot spot. Her interest in burlesque first began in her twenties when she went to a show with Hefner and the other Playboy girls. It offered a refreshingly individual and vital alternative to the blonde, pink lipped beauty expected of her at the time. ‘Sitting around our VIP table was one bottle-blond fembot after the next, clad in some version of the same outlandish bustier, and all slightly dead behind the eyes. In burlesque, a woman could be both sexy and unique’. Alongside this Madison tries to position herself as an empowered independent woman on a journey of self-discovery. Burlesque fits into this perfectly. ‘The independent women who used burlesque as an artistic outlet to celebrate their creativity and their femininity on their terms and in their own unique way. Deep down, that was who I wanted to be’.

The Vegas Diaries begin after she left the Playboy Mansion. When discussing her former life with her friends the germ of an idea to write her story started to grow. She had this to say on why she hadn’t talked before that: ‘I had to accept that I kept quiet about my life at the mansion because I was ashamed. I kept quiet because I wanted people to believe the fantasy version because for so long I wanted to believe the fantasy’.

Vegas may seem like an unusual place to begin a new life but after having survived seven years at the Playboy Mansion the glitz, glamour of Sin City must have been appealing. For some people a Playboy history is something to be proud of and exploit, for others it is something to overcome. Madison uses The Vegas Diaries to try and plant herself firmly in the latter category: ‘attempting to shed the Playboy stigma and asking people to reconsider how they viewed me was an uphill battle’. It is up to the reader how much they buy into this. As a part of her reinvention she has latched onto the idea of female self-empowerment. Whether this provides a feminist story of self saviour will be left for each individual reader to decide. However, the stark difference between her Vegas life, in which she lives and dies on her own abilities, compared to the Mansion, is interesting.

Although she makes it clear from the start that she does not wish to embarrass or publicise others Madison does detail her love affairs with the same humour and honesty that marked Down the Rabbit Hole. This does however limit the interest for those searching for scandalous Vegas gossip as she gives pseudonyms to her partners. She is insightful and does not let herself off, particularly in her retelling of her relationship with Mark. There is some slight overlap with Down the Rabbit Hole, but The Vegas Diaries are angled to show how she worked her way to independence and self-esteem. This does not have the same weight and interest as her previous volume but is an entertaining read nonetheless. The book closes just before she met her husband and gave birth to her daughter. This was either done to mark the point that she had achieved her aim, or the cynic could suggest that it is to leave the door open for a further volume.

The Vegas Diaries is lighter on gossip but provides more insight into her life, circle of friends and love life. A fair amount of this has been covered in her previous book and reality series, as well as in the tabloids, and there is some overlap with the last quarter of Down the Rabbit Hole. As a result of this, this one may be more for fans than the casual reader. It is definitely more for fans of Holly than Playboy.

 

Holly Madison: The Vegas Diaries. Romance, Rolling the Dice, and the Road to Reinvention (Dey Street Books,  2017). 978-006245714, 288 pp., paperback.

Harder, Faster, More

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Harder, Faster, More – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Tracy Martin

Director: Tracy Martin

 

Harder Faster More opened to an excited audience at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre before closing to a standing ovation. The only downside is that this play is running for such a short time.

Harder Faster More tells the stories of women negotiating the modern world where sex sells and they are expected to sell it. From the female TV presenter traded in for a younger model planning extensive plastic surgery to revitalise her career, to the young woman making pornography while her sister looks after her infant son to the incredibly funny story that is cut to repeatedly of a woman juggling two calls at once; one on her sex phone line, and the other from her mother. Some of the stories are one offs. These are often touching and at times heart breaking. Several stories are resumed repeatedly throughout the performance. One of the most notable opens and closes the play. Kacey, a trained dancer, is working in clubs in Europe to make some fast money. Her increasingly intermittent calls with her best friend detail her life from excitement and humour to confusion then drug fuelled horror.

The stage is empty except for large lights pointing outwards from the back. Lighting is used throughout to highlight speakers and emphasise the stories being told. The three actresses Charlene Gleeson, Clare Monnelly and Aoibheann McCann work well together; their movements exact and cohesive. The lighting director (Susannah Cummins) and movement director (Paula O’Reilly) have clearly worked closely together to create a tight seventy minute play in which not a single moment is wasted. Each actor plays at least four different parts throughout. They all wear white and switch accents and mannerisms with each new character in an impressive dramatic feat.

A note from writer and director Tracy Martin in the programme tells us that Harder Faster More was created around the idea of tackling pornography. Taking the audience on a journey behind the scenes of the sex industry to the real lives behind it. The play surprises and entertains in equal measure. Martin avoids preaching or retelling popular tabloid tales, instead focusing on individuals in all roles of life and the way in which pornography affects their relationships with friends and family. This has been done excellently with Martin opening up a whole new angle into the subject. The use of telephone conversations to frame the dialogue allows the audience to dip inside the otherwise hidden private lives of women doing their best to survive and thrive in this daunting new world. Harder Faster More is an intelligent and humorous play that is not to be missed.

Yeats Besotted

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Yeats Besotted – Bewley’s Café Theatre @ Powerscourt, Dublin

Writer: Cathal Quinn
Director: Cathal Quinn


“Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.”

William Butler Yeats is a man who in Ireland needs little introduction. Even decades after his death the slightest new titbit or revelation generates a buzz of media interest and his writing is taught to every Irish student. His place as one of Ireland’s literary greats assured. With this in mind how best for a playwright to get to the heart of the man? To navigate through the wealth of analysis and study to find the man behind it all?

Yeats Besotted attempts this by dramatising the turbulent relationship between the Nobel Laureate and his greatest love and muse, Maud Gonne. Religion, politics, the occult and the difficult birth of the Irish Free State are all touched upon in Yeats Besotted, however, the focus remains on the love affair between Yeats and Gonne. The pair first met in 1889 when she approached him to seek his support against tenant evictions. Yeats found himself instantly in love, besotted, and from this point onwards she acts as his poetic muse political inspiration. Throughout the play are poems in English and Irish that were written for or inspired by his love for Gonne.

When we are first introduced to Yeats, very capably played by Philip Judge, he is arguing for the legalisation of divorce in the Seanad. Here he is not just a poet but also a politician. There is a suggestion that runs throughout Yeats Besotted that Gonne was also the spark behind much of Yeats political ideas and beliefs. On a whistle-stop tour through their relationship from 1889 to 1928 Gonne is a constant in Yeats life, even as she goes on to marry another. In the rapidly changing Irish political landscape of the first decades of the 20th Century will there be room for an unconventional love story such as theirs? Or will their pasts and love prove too controversial for 1920s Ireland?

Yeats Besotted is a lovely short play that entertains and intrigues in equal measure. It is important to note that prior knowledge of the protagonists is not needed due to the capability of Quinn’s script and the universalism of the plays key themes. With luck, Yeats Besotted will in time become a longer production that can further investigate this unique relationship that had a profound effect on the work and reputations of two of Ireland’s greatest figures.

Empathy on Stage: The Collector and Anonymous in Dublin

First Written for Howlround.com

The past few years Dublin has seen a flourishing of small scale theatre productions that are tackling the big issues of the day. Social concerns such as homelessness, unemployment, masculinity, and violence are played out on stages above pubs, behind shops, and in old churches. If you want to see potentially challenging, difficult, socially conscious stories that reflect the lives of ordinary people who have been left behind by mainstream politics then head to the closest improvised, unconventional theatre space. By engaging with these issues playwrights are returning empathy and awareness to a society that is increasingly hostile to anything that fits outside of traditional norms.

Daniel Wade’s debut play The Collector opened to rave reviews and a full house at Dublin’s The New Theatre this January. It is striking for several reasons. The first being that it was first introduced to the public as a staged reading at the same theatre, and came to full production thanks to an online Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.

Graeme Coughlan and Will Murphy in The Collector.

The Collector opened in a dark, spare pool hall. The stage hummed with a darkness that belied the social issues burbling underneath. The stage was small—the actors stood within an arm’s length of the audience. The lights were set low and a large pool table set centre stage with a small desk and seat served as the set dressing.

Our protagonist Oren, is young and angry. Played in barnstorming fashion by Graeme Coughlan, Oren always knows how to find trouble. His bartender Uncle Des is more resigned to the way his life has turned out. Several years ago his son killed himself and in doing so killed a part of Des too. He lost his identity as a father and family man. Now Des works under the counter to supplement his benefits. The bar is a dangerous place frequented by gangland figures; staying open all night to serve the waifs and strays of the city. It is not the ideal place for anyone to find themselves but Des has few other options. Employment opportunities for his age group and skill set are thin on the ground and few workplaces are willing to give people time to recover from such a blow.

Suicide among young men, masculinity, and poverty are issues that are explored through this character driven narrative.

Oren’s life is thrown into chaos when he finds the body of his younger brother, Frank, who has also committed suicide. Frank was forlorn after a relationship with a visiting American male professor ended when he returned to America. To make matters worse, it seemed that everyone knew of Frank’s homosexuality except for Oren. To pay for Frank’s funeral, Oren borrows money and ends up in debt to a violent money collector.

Underlying all of this are different versions of masculinity. Oren’s violence and anger look helpless in this modern world and his new environment. He was unable to accept his brother for who he was and later finds himself unable to deal with his grief. Turning inwards he becomes increasingly aggressive, almost as if he wishes to destroy everything around him. Like everyone else he knows Oren has spent his life trying to get by, to make ends meet. Ultimately this is something he fails at. Unemployed, in debt and alone, his actions catch up with him one fateful night.

We in Ireland have been living in difficult financial times. With the economic crash of 2008 Ireland’s financial Celtic Tiger imploded and with it went the dreams and expectations that many had grown used to. Wade’s play resonates, as does the question it asks: What is it that makes a man a man? The traditional role of breadwinner is harder to fulfill in an economy fueled by low wages, casual contracts, continual reductions in welfare, and a greater number of potential workers than jobs. With the advantage firmly in the hands of employers it is harder for workers to assert their rights.

Although the two suicides are of characters that the audience never met they are the driving factor and catalyst for the events unfolding onstage. Suicide has barely been touched upon elsewhere on the Irish stage. This is very surprising when one considers the alarmingly high rate of suicide in Ireland’s men. According to the National Suicide Research Association in 2015 the number of female suicides per 100,000 people numbered three whereas the number of male suicides per 100,000 numbered sixteen. This is similar across Europe and North America. In the United States the average annual suicide rate is thirteen per 100,000 with men being three and a half times more likely to die in this manner than women. Characters like Des and Oren represent the many who are some of the most effected by the rollback of the state and reduction in funding for community and social services.

Ireland’s current bleak economic reality also serves as the backdrop for another recent small scale production produced by Purple Hare Theatre Company, that examines an important social issue. Taking place above a city centre pub at the improvised theatre space The International Bar, Mark Richardson’s Anonymous is about homelessness. It is about how men with jobs and families end up living on the streets. How they survive and how friendship and art can provide hope in even the darkest corners. One of the main characters, Sean, is a poet. This is something he largely keeps secret, writing his thoughts in his notebooks, the only items he has left that are his. Under Nathalie Clement’s able direction, we see how writing helps Sean to feel human and fill his endless days. It might also be his only way out of poverty.

Anonymous’ Sean and Dolan. Courtesy of Purple Hare Theatre Company.

The two central characters Sean and Dolan are both men who once lived in relative comfort until bereavement and unemployment tore their lives apart. No one wanted things to turn out the way that they did. Anonymous highlights how everyone is just a step or two away from losing everything. The staging echoes the narrative. Sean, played by Zeff Lawless, makes his home on the floor; alone, next to bags of garbage. When Lawless speaks though, the audience hears someone ostracised from society who they can also relate to. Richardson manages to bring empathy back into the conversation around homelessness.

Walking out of the play, I noticed people huddled in sleeping bags in shop doorways, and it was a startling reminder that homelessness is all around us. The play works to humanize people we might otherwise walk past, feet quickening, eyes averted. By introducing the audience to individuals who just happen to sleep on the streets the audience respond to their humanity and real human fears and hopes.

At the moment theatre productions such as The Collector and Anonymous are tackling important issues that affect the audiences’ everyday lives. As older, more traditional ideas of masculinity, of how to live and work are being challenged on all fronts, the theatre is serving as one stage where these issues can be worked through.

All That We Found Here

First Written for The Reviews Hub

All That We Found Here – The New Theatre, Dublin

All That We Found Here opens in the living room of a mansion house. Everything in this room has been chosen for its style, for the image it projects to others, and for its price tag. Against the back wall are bookshelves full of hardback classic philosophy texts, an open fireplace, and a family portrait of a man seemingly standing proud, purveyor of all he sees. As the cast enters the sounds of dance music begins and the men, wearing pig masks dance energetically with the one female figure spinning into a frenzy in the centre of the stage.

This is how we met Sophia. She is the estranged daughter of an exiled property tycoon who has recently returned to the family home. Each weekend is spent partying with the young and wealthy of Dublin. Finding herself with a home and finance but without the presence or love of her parents, she questions the way in which we live. Is it better for one to strive for and claim whatever you want and leave others behind, or whether people should work together for the common good? It is a question that reverberates throughout the play but Humphreys’ script does not provide any easy answers. When a group of workmen arrive the action takes an unexpected turn and these theories of self-interest versus community are put to the test in a shocking and powerful way.

As each scene progresses the audience are left guessing what will happen next. All That We Found Here features stylised character interactions that use lighting and sound to reinforce the feeling of the moment. Under Sarah Bradley’s very capable direction each tonal shift is smooth and believable. Surprisingly this is Donagh Humphreys first full-length play. It is an exceptionally strong start to a career as a playwright. Each character is believable and the crisis points of the play manage to stay on the side of natural rather than overwrought. There is plenty of humour throughout before the play begins to cross the line into drama and tragedy. All That We Found Here is sure to continue packing out Dublin’s New Theatre.

Runs until 15 April 2017 | Image: Contributed

Collected Stories

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Collected Stories – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Donald Margulies

Director: Aoife Spillane – Hinks

Collected Stories began its short run at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre this evening and closed to a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls. This two-handed play, written by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, was delivered excellently by actors Brid Ni Neachtain and Maeve Fitzgerald. Tonight’s success is not surprising when one considers the rave reviews this production received for its earlier performances at Dublin’s Viking Theatre and Civic Theatre.

The play begins in the home of celebrated short story writer and college lecturer Ruth Steiner. She has invited one of her pupils, Lisa Morrison, to join her for a tutorial in which they will analyse and work on Lisa’s short story Eating Between Meals. Fitzgerald’s Lisa is an over-excited, nervous young woman who is overwhelmed at the chance to meet her idol. She is keen to sit at Ruth’s feet to listen and learn. This is something that she perhaps does a little too well as becomes clear in the play’s closing scenes. Their relationship continues after this original meeting as Lisa takes on the role of Ruth’s assistant. In time she becomes an accomplished writer and the role of tutor and student goes on an interesting journey over the six years of their friendship. Under Spillane – Hinks careful direction Collected Stories shows the development and growth of Lisa and the loneliness, jealousy, and love that Ruth holds for her, with finesse.

Ni Neachtain does not put a foot wrong as the brittle and witty Ruth. There is a particularly interesting scene where Lisa receives her first professional review. It is a glowing piece in The New York Times. Margulies writing skewers the fear, hope, and frustration of the writer excellently and truthfully in this one scene. Lisa quickly moves from nerves to elation, to despair at the thought of having to recreate and develop upon this small success. Collected Stories investigates the life of a writer and the power and ownership of language; of stories. As each audience member walks away they carry with them a new story that change in tone and meaning over time.

Special attention has gone into the set design created by Hanna Bowe, which uses colour and dimmed lighting to evoke the feeling of a Manhattan apartment, whose owner has moved from beatnik poet to professional wordsmith. The shelves at the back of the stage are full of colour coordinated books and the desk and telephone table contain the organised clutter of a writer. The sofa and chair are homely and help to present the idea of middle-class literary success. It is the very picture of understated and aspirational.

Then This Theatre Company have presented a well paced, intelligent and absorbing piece of theatre. In a year that is already proving to be excellent for Dublin theatre Collected Stories is one show that truly stands out of the crowd.