Public Displays of Emotion by Roisin Ingle

This is Ingle’s second collection of articles and it makes the reader yearn after the time she wrote a weekly column for the Irish Times. A life lived with her nerve endings on the outside, Ingle feels and experiences everything around her and time has given her the ability to turn the everyday into something profound. I intended to only dip in and out but ending up reading from start to finish without a break. A particular favourite was her talking about how she met her partner. In the middle of a riot during marching season our intrepid reporter found herself applying lipstick and creating reasons to spend more time with this handsome man. This is typical of the beautiful, surprising and endearing life chapters that Ingle chooses to share with her readers. It doesn’t take long before we feel like we are on first name terms with Roisin and I defy any reader not to find themselves looking up when they pass The Times building to see if they can spot her. Exuding warmth and the beauty of the everyday Public Displays of Emotion shows growth from her last collection and displays her mastery of the language of feeling. With such a great talent for living her life in words we can only hope she will resurrect her weekly column.

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Public Displays of Affection, Roisin Ingle, Irish Times Ltd, 10th Sept 2015. Paperback. 279 pages. ISBN-10: 0907011470.

 

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Charlie Savage by Roddy Doyle

First Written for Shiny New Books

 

One of the kids wants a tattoo.

-He’s only three, I tell the wife.

-I’m aware of that, she tells me back. -But he still wants one.

-He can’t even say ‘tattoo’, I tell her.

-I know, she says. -It’s sweet.

Charlie Savage is not a fan of tattoos. He is utterly bewildered when his grandson decides he wants one for Christmas. What sort of Christmas present is that? However, the reader quickly learns what sort of person, what sort of family man Charlie is. He is very much the opposite of his surname. What if he gets the tattoo instead? And then the grandson can see it and visit it whenever he wants. Charlie will even go around at night so he can say goodnight to it? It is with this flash of brilliance, that Charlie ends up having Spongebob Square Pants tattoo’d on his chest. Even though he hates tattoos.

Doyle must by now be a national treasure. He is one of Ireland’s most loved writers ever since The Commitments. With the freedom to write what he pleases it is perhaps a little surprising, that he has decided to start writing a weekly column for a national newspaper. Unlike most however, he has eschewed the typical opinion pieces and gone instead for creating a new character, and with him a new family. 2017 began with Charlie Savage’s introduction to the Irish public in the pages of the Independent. How I missed this I don’t know. But fortunately, a book has been issued, bringing together 52 weeks worth of columns into one collection. As each instalment follows on from the other Charlie Savage can squeeze into the category of novel or it can be read one chapter at a time. With each instalment readers get to peek inside the head of Charlie, and in a way, he is a barometer for what is going on in the wider world.

In one of the collection’s few more serious moments, Charlie contemplates the world he is leaving for his grandchildren.

But the news – terrorist attacks, famines, disasters, intolerance – it’s relentlessly dreadful. Even the good murder stories have become too gruesome for me. Our parents left the world in reasonably good shape but I’ve a horrible feeling we’ll be leaving it in rag order.

Unfortunately, he is probably right. However, this is offset when we learn that he has also found a positive to Trump being President of the USA. He has found the secret. Deny everything and front it out. Even if no one else believes you just keep saying it is fake news until it becomes something resembling a truth. One gets the feeling that either he or his wife could find the silver lining in the black clouds of a thunderstorm. Charlie’s wife has been searching for something to do. Book clubs and baby sitting just aren’t enough. One night in bed she discusses this with Charlie:

-Old age can fuck right off. Am I right?

-Bang on

Shortly afterwards, she embarks on her own musical adventure with a fury and energy that makes Charlie’s heart fill with pride. Even from the short quotes one can see the Dublin vernacular and humour that Doyle is famous for embracing, that makes the comedy, even in the dark, spring from the page.

What gobshite decided that serving tea in a glass was a good idea? I’m not sure if there are any references to tea in the Bible but I’m betting that Jesus and the lads had theirs in mugs. And his holy mother – with a name like Mary she definitely drank hers from a cup and she went down to the Irish shop in Nazareth for the milk. And a packet of Tayto for Joseph – salt and vinegar.

The highlight of the collection is the way in which Charlie’s love for his family seeps through the pages and into the reader. The prose is at its most potent when Charlie talks about his loved ones (although to be clear, match of the day comes a close second). The way Charlie’s love shows for his family – even when he is bewildered, exasperated and hoping for a pint – make Charlie Savage more than a novelty and add a depth and resonance that warms the reader.

 I feel like an animal and I know I’d do anything to protect them. I’d bite, I’d maim and I’d kill – I’d even miss Match of the Day for the kids and grandkids. I think of  them and I know I have a heart, because I can feel it pumping, keeping me alive for them.

There is a real tenderness at the heart of this collection. It was this that made me recommend Charlie Savage to several others. It’s not easy to find a laugh out loud book that also makes one feel content, making this a rare gem. Reading Charlie Savage felt a little like walking hand in hand with him along Dollymount Strand in the autumn breeze.

Roddy Doyle, Charlie Savage, (Jonathan Cape, 2019). 978-178733118, 208pp., hardback.

Kate Crackernuts

Kate Crackernuts, Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin

Writer: Sheila Callaghan

Director: Kate Cosgrave

 

Presented by No Drama Sheila Callaghan has rewritten the Scottish fairy tale, taking it from late nineteenth century Scotland to something with a decidedly more modern sensibility.

As with most good fairy tales’ beauty, jealously and unpleasant step parents set the action moving. Anne is the beautiful daughter of a king. His wife had a daughter called Kate – far less pretty but full of love for her sister. Unfortunately, the queen didn’t feel the same way. She placed an enchantment on Anne, turning her head into that of a sheep. This is an unusual turn of events but jealousy in fairy tales has a way of resulting in these things. Kate, furious at what had happened, wrapped Anne’s head in a green cloth, and set out to ‘fix’ her. Little did she know that it wasn’t just Anne’s life that had been changed that day. Her own future was on a new path. In practice this resulted in a philosophical sheep who feared he had lost his head (not a surprising fear given the context), an ailing moon of a boy / man called Paul who comes to life under disco lights but has lost the ability for words, an enchantress with a fondness for dead crows and much more besides.

The yearning to be needed runs throughout the production and manifests in painful, ugly, recognisable ways. It is possible to interrogate the text for a feminist reading of the nature of women in relationships and how they have been cultured into valuing beauty and being needed. It is when dancing, sickly, addicted Paul says he needs Kate, that she feels emotion pooling in her thighs, and knows that she will mind him in return for his need. The original tale ends with two marriages; two happy ever afters. In Callaghan’s version both sisters find themselves in the position of trying to change themselves, put themselves second, in order to keep the interest of the men they love. The fast pace and heightened humour ensures the action keeps moving and it is not until afterwards that one takes a moments to realise that, as Kate briefly said, all may not be well. It is a twist on the idea of a happy ending that leaves the audience both satisfied and with a small ball of uncertainty; the knowing that happily ever afters do not exist.

There was a great moment of heightened comedy near the end when everything fell into place in a self knowingly absurdist way that had the audience howling with laughter. The second half played better than the first; smoother, faster, more action and comedy. The text incorporates poetry throughout, some lines of which works better than others. The poetry Kate uses to talk about her newfound loved for the Paul, is particularly lovely and the sheep (go with it) summing up at the end, had some great lines; particularly when he reminded us all that we are always beginning and went on to liken marriage to a cotton thread of misery unravelling forward.

Kate Crackernuts takes place in the Main Stage of Smock Alley and there were a few issues with the staging. One wonders if it would have been better in the Boys School – using the old church windows to show Paul’s dancing sickness while Kate continues on her quest below. In the future it might be a good idea to rope off the side seating areas to keep the audience front and centre. From the reaction of the audience it became clear that there were things – physical comedy, gestures – that those at the sides missed out on. This was perhaps also a side effect of keeping most of the action in the centre and front of the stage and using the back to store props until needed. There were frequent scene changes that required different staging, meaning that set pieces were regularly being moved around while the action continued. Cosgrave dealt with this by integrating it into the show. Having two actors, dressed in white and pvc tutus dance and leap across the stage and at one point even interact with the cast. Although this was a good idea work needs to be done to make the transitions smoother in the future.

Kate Crackernuts was an interesting choice for No Drama, who are, in theory at least, an amateur dramatics group. I say in theory because their last production at Smock Alley, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, easily stood its ground next to ‘professional’ productions. Kate Crackernuts is a challenging piece to stage and it is impressive that they decided to take this one. No Drama certainly haven’t made it easy for themselves. There were some bumps in the production but overall Kate Crackernuts is a modern retelling of an old story; told with enthusiasm, humour and a large dash of absurdity. A philosophical comedy unlike anything you have ever seen on the Smock Alley stage before.

Runs Until 13th July 2019.

 

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Sure, Look It, Fuck It

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Sure Look It, Fuck It – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Clare Dunne

Director: Tom Creed

I’m afraid to admit I’m tired of roaming / But it feels a weird kinda good to be home”

When life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and you find yourself living back in your childhood bedroom what can you do? Well, if you’re Missy, you draw on your eyebrows, get dressed up and go out and tackle the world. And if things don’t seem to be falling into place? Sure, look it, you can always say “Fuck it.”

Expectations weigh heavily on Missy (Clare Dunne). From the riotous, hugely successful stories people expect her to have come home with, to the constant fear of missing out that weaves through each day, she doesn’t quite know who she is or what she should be doing. Taking an alternative look at the life of an Irish emigrant, Sure Look It, Fuck It, is slightly unusual in that it looks at the experience of a returning emigrant. There is wealth of stories and theatre to be drawn out of looking at those who go away but find their way back again. Of those who, like Missy, spent six years in Brooklyn and come back with life experience but no money and a blank CV to find they have been priced out of Dublin and cannot barter their experience into paid employment or a new place to live.

The story is told in rhyme which adds bounce to each line and draws on the long history of Irish poetry to enhance the narrative and pull the audience into each step the character takes. However, Missy’s strong Dublin accent, not softened by her years away, combined with the rhyme scheme means that those unfamiliar with the accent have to concentrate hard throughout. Dunne has the audience involved in the off by asking them to finish off her old Dublin mantra by shouting out the last two words where appropriate.

Lighting designer Sarah Jane Shiels has great timing; ensuring the lights fill up the auditorium every time the audience shout out. Billowing smoke, high energy songs and a bright outfit choice round off the production. From the front rows, the lights being switched up felt a little much but may have had more impact for those sat further back. Dunne walks up and down the stage but has little to do with the back two thirds, making one wonder whether Sure Look It, Fuck It would do well in the future on a slightly smaller, more intimate stage.

This is the first full showing on Dunne’s work and it is clearly her own. The time spent developing Sure Look It, Fuck It was well spent; turning the story of an average woman into something that is both relatable and a tiny bit magical. Dunne positively fizzes and pops with energy from beginning to end. She gives each song, each rhyming couplet her all. Complemented by Ailbhe Dunne of Mongoose (last seen in Woman Undone on the same stage) on the guitar every time she sings Dunne takes off, filling the stage with her great voice and presence. With energy and an insight into what it is like to be lost in modern Ireland; it is impossible not to enjoy the vim and brio that she bought to the stage.

Image: Contributed

Shakers

Shakers, Smock Alley – Dublin

Writer: John Godber, Jane Thornton

Director: Claudia Kinahan

Cast: Connie Doona, Meg O’Brien, Hannah Osborne, Heather O’Sullivan

 

It is Friday night and fancy bar Shakers is packed to the rafters and four waitresses are rushed off their feet. Smiling and indulging the customers it is only when they are alone that their masks are taken off and the real characters emerge.

Carol, Adele, Nicky and Mel are going to be working until the last customer leaves, whether that means they will be there until 11pm or 2am. It is not an easy job and as they tell us, in rhyme (a great addition to the script), at times it is hellish, but the relationships they have made with each other lighten up the long nights. We follow the four over the course of one night, as they deal with every time of punter you can imagine, from young business men out on the pull to shop assistants who have saved up to spend their night off in the most glamorous spot in town. Occasionally each character takes the spotlight and launches into a soliloquy. This gives the audience a chance to hear their inner thoughts, hopes and fears. Their life situations are understandable and likely to be shared by many in the audience. The fear of saying ‘I just want to be looked after’, ‘I wish I could be footloose and fancy free’, ‘I’m scared of what the future holds’, stands out in its simplicity and truth.

The difficulty of working in places like this, particularly when female, are brought to the fore. The manager wants them to wear shorts, has previously told waitresses to lose weight, tells them to smile at bottom pinchers and put up with leerers and handsy customers. None of this feels exaggerated or laboured. The ultimate dilemma is highlighted when Carol considers breaking ranks with the others and wearing the shorts. She has a young daughter to get home to and principle often has to take a back seat to reality. During each soliloquy the stage goes dark except for a spotlight on the speaker. The others busy themselves with customers on the fringes. The set is kept to a minimum with light bouncing off the brick wall of the Boys School. Two lamps stand to the left of the stage. They are statues of women’s legs with lamps on top. This felt vaguely reminiscent of the milk bar in A Clockwork Orange but it is more likely that they were designed to parallel the action on centre stage; four women who when at work are not themselves, they are taught to hide their personalities and instead present a light and airy persona. On a practical note it would have been helpful if the lights had have been turned back on during the interval.

The four actors are obviously well practised as they work off each other with ease. It was particularly enjoyable to follow the adventures of the four young shop assistants, gearing up for a 21st, as they get ready to hit Shakers, party, dance, and maybe pin Rob Kelly down for once. There were some lovely moments of physical comedy under the direction of Claudia Kinahan (who also directed a personal favourite and award winner Knowing Nathan at the Complex in 2018), as the four slip between characters with ease, using accents and movement to inhabit each new character. The writing is frequently sharp and witty and the use of rhyme throughout keeps the action bouncing along. Although Shakers didn’t quite have the bite that the script suggests it wanted, and on occasion felt like a display of acting technique, it is a sparky and fun production at one of the top destinations in town.

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Kracked

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Kracked – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
Writer: Aibhe Cowley

Director: Eadaoin Barrett

Uncle Tony overdosed last month and has left the future of the family business resting on Sharon’s shoulders. Will KitKats and cocaine be her saving grace or will a frantic ex, fifty debts and a recent death in the family cause her to finally crack? Sharon’s story could be pitch black; certainly, she hasn’t had the best of luck in her young life, but the love and security she finds with her Uncle Tony brings a lightness to her story. Told in her broad accent and comedic manner this a touching portrayal of familial love.

Kracked first appeared on Irish stages as part of the Smock Alley Scene and Heard Festival 2018 as a half hour play in development. Now developed into a full production, Kracked is one of the many plays that have benefited from this chance to evolve.

Music is the major driving force of this production. Sharon and Tony, not great at expressing emotions, connect through song. There are several moments in the play as it progresses towards the end when songs propel the narrative forward and give the audience an insight into our protagonist.

Set design is kept to a minimum; with a pink yoga ball and yellow rubber ducks being free to capture the eye with their bright colours and quirkiness against the darker backdrop of the Boy’s School stage. Lighting director Bucky Emmerling’s timing is excellent; keeping the focus on Cowley at all times. With further development, the scenes that swell with emotion and sadness could be sharpened in juxtaposition to the frequent laughs and humour that runs through Cowley’s script.

It is clear that Cowley has lived with her character since her creation. She seems perfectly at home inhabiting her cadence and mannerisms. Kracked is a one-woman show and Cowley pulls off the difficult task of keeping the audience listening with aplomb. Several moments of audience interaction worked very well and gave Cowley’s Sharon the chance to show off her friendly and bashful side – along with her knowledge of horses and KitKats!

However, the title Kracked isn’t quite apt. The character of Sharon is so well drawn and easy to like that the audience are pulled into her both her humour and her grief. Sharon is too fully recognisable (to Cowley’s credit as writer and performer) to be seen as cracking up.

Soon to be performed at The Mill Theatre, there should be plenty more time for Kracked to continue blossoming.

Image: Contributed

The Belly Button Girl

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*Edited, longer review. Contains spoilers.*

The Belly Button Girl The New Theatre

Writer and Performer: Tom Moran

Director and Producer: Romana Testasecca

The intriguingly titled The Belly Button Girl opens with our narrator (and sole performer) arriving at ‘Cousin Sharon’s’ 21st at a parochial hall in Dingle. Listless and not really enjoying the night, our narrator soon comes to life when he catches sight of the bar maid. Enchanted by her she quickly gains the moniker: The Belly Button Girl. Over the course of the weekend, through a series of accidents and misspoken phrases, they become close. The weekend closes as they wind up together in her bed in Portobello, Dublin. Our narrator is in love. Infatuated and contemplating their life together, we follow him over twelve months as their relationship grows and changes. Reminiscent of falling in love for the first time, The Belly Button Girl, is a story of love and confusion, edged with the hope of redemption.

A bench took centre stage, with beach paraphernalia decorating the front and back of the stage along with small items that are significant in the plot; an anchor, a small Buddha statue, pieces of driftwood. The set design, by Ursula McGinn, is delicate with each item carefully placed for maximum meaning. The soft blues and sandy pebbles recreate the feel of a small Dingle beach, where accidents and love stories can take place. This was complemented perfectly the excellently times lighting by Eoin Lennon. Bringing this together was the direction of Romana Testasecca, who demonstrates an understanding of the power of space and structure, and whose flair for movement reverberated through the performance.

Moran has a real knack for observation and some of the plays highlights emerge with the introduction of several secondary characters, from the ‘Sambuca lady’, to the ‘Massive Lad’ and the Dublin taxi driver. They offer the narrator an insight into the way in which capturing life’s small pleasures can lead to contentment. These were interesting vignettes, well drawn and showing characters who live a different kind of life, who have perhaps found a more accepting, comfortable way of being. However our narrator doesn’t seem to learn from them. It is not essential that all character arcs show growth, however as the ending circles back to the beginning one might have expected a little more character development. It was uncomfortable that fat bodies were commented on and found funny (the drivers belly jiggling and so on) and yet other bodies were not mentioned at all – to the extent that the belly button girl remains mysterious and unshaped – so it is difficult to believe that the focus on fat bodies and finding humour (often grotesque) out of them could be coincidental. Gross moments were excessive and became unnecessary. I’m not a fan of this type of humour however there came a point where it was just too much even for the biggest gross out fan. My theatre going companion felt that certain moments – particularly the one with the toothbrush – veered into misogyny, that the narrator was taking out his anger at women – and one particular woman – in the most grotesque, childish way he could think of. I’m not sure that the script showed enough awareness of the character, instead revelling in any moment for comedy.

Despite his interactions with others the narrator carries on like a piece of driftwood, washed up on stage, at the mercy of external forces. The key external force is, of course, the belly button girl. While the narrator is like the boy who didn’t grow up, she has her act together. Work, study, the future, and the intricacies of love are tackled by her with ease while he is still struggling with alarm calls and bra clasps. Although she is the focus of his desire, she remains elusive. In the future more could be done to fully flesh out her character, so the audience can see in her what he sees in her, and in turn believe in their relationship. Despite the title the play is very much about the narrator. Little is revealed about the belly button girl and there is an odd moment at the end where the audience expects to find out her name, but the moment is let go.

Overall, The Belly Button Girl is full of finely drawn detail, playful wordplay (such as selling toilets at a place called ‘the drop zone’) and sharp observations. The Belly Button Girl is an entertaining, eccentric, bizarre, funny story that with a little more work could be deeply human and relatable.