The Restoration of Hope – The New Theatre, Dublin

The Restoration of Hope

The Restoration of Hope – The New Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Philip St John

Director: Matthew Ralli

 

The Restoration of Hope is The New Theatre’s pre – Christmas offering for 2017 and it is an interesting choice. It has one of the most unusual plot lines to grace the stage this year.

The action begins in an office on the quays. A man walks in singing a medley of Christmas songs and he sets about decorating his office with tinsel. The festive cheer doesn’t last however when out of the blue a drowning woman appears. Standing inside a red triangle is the newly deceased Hope Whyte, played by Jody O’Neill. In shock it takes her a few moments to realise that she is no longer on Dun Laoghaire pier, and is instead face to face with a strange man wielding a Bounty bar.

Partly inspired by the Faust legend Hope is given the chance to be restored to life, for a limited period of time, but only if she commits to a blood soaked contract. Working with her mentor Larry McGraph, played by Nick Devlin, Hope has to decide what another shot at life is worth and whether she is the sort of person who can take that step. Added in to the mix is demon Luca, played by Shane O’Regan, who is out to capture as many souls as he can. Hope is not a normal victim; she is a single minded business woman who is prepared to negotiate even this devilish pact.

There are moments of humour throughout and the play alludes to the larger issues of the day at different moments. This individual story offers an insight into the wider issues of power, authority and revenge. At times The Restoration of Hope is dark and wicked, with it’s tongue firmly in cheek. Much of the play is a two hander between Devlin and O’Neill who bounce off each other and expose each others fears and weaknesses.

Carl Kennedy’s sound design works very well throughout. The audience enter the theatre to the sound of a Christmas theme with a dark undercurrent twinkling in the background. Lights and careful staging are used at times to create atmosphere and momentum. A driving scene is a particular pleasure. Similarly, although sparse there is a good use of props throughout (look out for the sword!).

This is the second part in The Eerie Trilogy by playwright Philip St John but it is not necessary to have seen The Temptress as The Restoration of Hope stands alone excellently. This supernatural tale is also a great anecdote to the sentimentality that predominates at this time of year.

 

Runs Until 16th December 2017.

 

Co – Produced by Speckintime and High Seas Productionss, in association with Mermaid Arts Centre and The New Theatre

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Who Will Carry the Word?

Who Will Carry the Word? – The Complex, Dublin

Director: Cliodhna McAllister

Writer: Charlotte Delbo

 

Blacklight productions present the Irish premiere of Charlotte Delbo’s play Who Will Carry the Word? This play, and the playwright, are criminally under known and this offers an opportunity to bring Delbo’s experiences and writings to a whole new audience.

 

Who Will Carry the Word? draws on Delbo’s wartime experiences as an active member of the French Resistance, who along with other members of her brigade, was taken prisoner and eventually sent to Auschwitz. Delbo and her fellow comrades had prepared for the thought of prison and even torture, but nothing could prepare them for the reality they were about to find themselves in. This was a place where, Delbo tells us, truth, certainty and all past understanding no longer had any meaning. The only question left, was whether to try to survive, or to die. For some suicide was the only right, the only choice they felt they had left. For others the need to survive outweighed all of the horror. After so many deaths it became essential that their experiences, their voices, could be heard, and given meaning. For these resistance fighters the act of resistance didn’t end with their capture.

 

This is one of the few times that a play might benefit from being performed on a smaller stage: to emphasise the feeling of claustrophobia, of closed doors and no chance to escape. The large open space of the stage invited the audience in, however it meant that the action was at times spread too far apart, with key moments occurring to the left or right of the audience’s viewpoint. A large all female cast pull together to imitate standing at roll call, in straight lines, unable to hold onto each other. For the rest of the time only several actresses are brought to the fore. For many of us this will be our first time hearing about the female experience of Auschwitz.

 

Sound and lighting were used to great effect. At times searchlights roam over the women. Each woman straightens her back and looks ahead when caught in the light. Sirens and gunshots are well timed to complement the action on stage. The production improves as it progresses. The philosophies being debated at the beginning become increasing personal. The audience become attached to the characters as more is revealed about them. The final scene is tenderly told and devastating. It would have been easy to over play this section however the director and actors manage to infuse the final moments of the play with honesty and a sad beauty.

 

Each character has a five digit number tattooed onto her arm. An important reminder that they represent real women who suffered this horrendous fate. Although it is not quite possible to say that one enjoyed this production it was one of the most singular and worthwhile theatre going experiences in Dublin this year. This is an ambitious production that attempts to tell a difficult story and it can only be enhanced as more and more people take the opportunity to see Who Will Carry the Word?.

 

Runs Until 2nd December 2017 at the Complex, Dublin 7. Running time 1hr 40 mins.

 

 

Jo Brand Can’t Stand Up For Sitting Down

Jo Brand Can’t Stand Up For Sitting Down Review

Can’t Stand Up For Sitting Down is the follow up to Brand’s successful Look Back in Hunger. Although I missed the first instalment of her life story I have read and enjoyed each of her novels and love Jo Brand as a person and comedian. With each novel her writing has become increasingly fluid and engaging. So how did Can’t Stand Up For Sitting Down measure up?

The book begins with an author’s note stating that it is more a collection of memoirs rather than a transitional chronological life story. I probably should have paid more attention to this as it would have helped me to contain my expectations.

Brand picks up the story from Look Back and tells the reader about her journey through comedy clubs, open mic spots, festival and finally TV. As she tours she picks out the best and worse of each situation to share with the reader. It improved as it went along and increased in detail. The first section about gaining prominence on the comedy scene lacked detail and contained too many lists and point by point paragraphs. Although the title of this and Look Back both reference size and food there is little of this mentioned in here except for a retelling of a very funny run in Jo had with TV stylist Trinny and Susannah. This section alone made the book a worthwhile read.

Perhaps one of the best recommendations is that I have already had several people asking to borrow the book. It seems there is a Jo Brand fan around every corner. She guards her family’s privacy, with only a few images of her husband and daughters. There seemed to be a constant difficulty here in that she wanted to write a book but without giving much of herself away. There are moments where she reminisces on holidays with a group of fellow comedians which gives just enough information to peak ones interest but too little to actually tell you anything.

I really enjoy her sense of humour and would have enjoyed the chance to get to know her better. One probably gets to know more of her from her documentaries, game show appearances and charity work with this book being a nice accompaniment.

 

Jo Brand, Can’t Stand Up For Sitting Down, Headline Review, April 2011, Paperback.

Victorian Freshers Guide

First Written for Headstuff.org

Arthur John Story’s Do’s and Don’t’s for the Victorian Fresher

 

In 1893 a new guide for freshers began to circulate at St. John’s College, Cambridge. It was authored by ‘A Sympathiser’, later identified as Undergraduate Arthur John Story. Story was an Undergraduate at St John’s from 1893 to 1896 according to Cambridge University alumni records. If so it is unusual that he would write this guide as a new student himself.

Freshers guides are nothing new and in September each year students will be inundated by advice, listicles and articles telling them what their time at University will hold for them. As we saw in a previous article they are known to date back to 1660. This 1893 guide however differs in many ways from James Duports’s guide; primarily in the way in which it deals with women and class.

It is taken for granted now that in Ireland and the UK women enter higher education. In fact statistically more women than men both enrol and ultimately graduate from University. According to the Higher Education Statistics Authority in the 2015 intake there were a total of 1,288,680 women and 991,670 men enrolled in UK Universities[1].

For Strong however, things were very different. He references women in terms or romantic liaisons or landladies. At one point he states: “Don’t, if you are in lodgings, get too familiar with your landlady’s daughter, as she is probably more clever than you. With other men’s landlady’s daughters you may be less particular, but even then – Take care!”. Not exactly the most gallant behaviour! As much as it is tempting now to laugh at such a “don’t” it does show us that for Story and his intended readers there seems to be a clear divide between women he viewed as being ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’. It also shows a desire to make life as easy as possible for oneself; to avoid trouble where possible.

Throughout the guide Story shows no thoughts of seeing women as fellow students even though women were allowed to study from 1869 onwards. However they were not considered to be full members of Cambridge University until 1947. At this time women had to enter female only colleges. It wasn’t until 1972 that traditionally male colleges began to allow women to enter. There are still women only colleges affiliated to Cambridge, such as Newnham College, Murray Edwards College (previously known as New Hall) and Lucy Cavendish College. There are no longer any male only Cambridge Colleges.

As well as being male, to be considered a full student, another entrance prerequisite was that students be a member of the Church of England. This applied to all Oxford and Cambridge colleges in the nineteenth century. According to the British Library a handful of non – sectarian colleges opened in England during this time. These included London University in 1836, Durham University in 1832, Owens College in Manchester in 1851 and Birmingham University in 1900. This rule was taken seriously. In 1811 poet Percy Bysshe Shelley anonymously published a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism. Soon however he was identified with the writing and called upon to deny his authorship. When he refused to do this he was expelled from Oxford University.

As the guide goes on the different social status and treatment of women is further explored. “Don’t take the girl from the Tobacconist’s or Confectioner’s home. You gain nobody’s respect by so doing, and the girl’s only motivation is to encourage a good customer” Story warns. This is followed by “Don’t by any chance speak to girls without introduction. However innocent may be the motive, such practices are the worst distraction a student can foster. We know that it is only natural that a man should require ladies’ society, and that if he cannot meet ladies of his own station in life, he is driven into less desirable circles”. Here women and status are intimately linked. Story makes it clear throughout his guide that although it would be unsurprising for students to pursue women, it would not be desirable for them to court relationships with women of a lesser status. Cambridge still has a reputation as being a middle and upper class town, having produced fourteen Prime Ministers for example. This image would have been more acute before student loans, grants and state education to the age of eighteen. The Victorian era saw a revolution in education. For the first time it became law that all children, male and female, must receive elementary schooling but only until the age of thirteen.

In contrast to this Story also advised students to be mindful of their position: “Don’t let your residence in Cambridge cause you to assume superiority over other less fortunate.” He also goes on to tell Undergraduates that they should not crowd the streets and prevent Cambridge residents from going about their business. (“We have often been surprised to see Undergrads walking four-a-breast and jostling all comers, even ladies, into the gutter.”) From reading the guide one can argue that Story felt he and his fellow Undergraduates were socially, and usually economically, superior, or more advantaged than their fellow citizens. However, it was important that one should not let this attitude shine through. It is interesting to think that these “Don’ts” were considered useful for new students to know, suggesting that previous students had made these errors.

On a different note attitudes to alcohol appear to have changed over the centuries. Whereas clergyman Duport warned to students to stay away from alcohol and tobacco Story has very different offerings on the subject. In a piece of advice that could have been written for a freshers guide today Story opines: “Don’t attempt to keep every brand of wine under the sun. Most Undergrads cannot distinguish ‘Bordeaux’ from ‘Burgundy’ if served in a decanter.” Never a truer word uttered.

[1] https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students

King of the Castle

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Dublin Theatre Festival: King of the Castle – Gaiety Theatre, Dublin  

Writer: Eugene McCabe

Director: Garry Hynes

There is always excitement in the air when Druid stage a new production. For the 2017 Dublin Theatre Festival they are presenting Eugene McCabe’s play King of the Castle at the Gaiety Theatre. Often described as an unsung Irish classic King of the Castle has the potential to be an excellent addition to the festival programme.

Written in 1964 there is something about Eugene McCabe’s play that makes it feel as though it could be much older. The themes of whether to leave Ireland and try one’s luck in Canada or elsewhere, or whether to stay and try to write out one’s name on the mountains is one that reverberates throughout Irish history.

In this domestic rural drama we meet ‘Scober’ McAdam and his much younger wife Tressa in the middle of a working day. Married for three years their relationship is childless and frustrated. ‘Scober’ has become successful through greed and exploitation. Slowly gathering up land until he is now master of the big house. He is now King of the area. But he finds himself King of an eroding way of life. Good men are leaving and women are not automatically stuck still in the place they were born. It is nearing the end of the era of the ‘big house’ dominating the local economy and social life.

When one farm worker, Maguire, asks Tressa ‘what is a woman for?’ it sets in motion a series of events that takes the audience into the core of this marriage and shine a light on the uncertainty of masculinity, sex and marriage in a changing world. For a man used to being able to buy anything he wants, will ‘Scober’ be able to turn his situation into an easily solved financial exchange?

At its core there is something very sad and quite savage about King of the Castle that provides grist for the plays dramatic narrative. Celebrated director Garry Hynes argues that it ‘is very much a play of its time but the central themes still resonate today, being steeped in a world of patriarchy and religion that invades the personal and the intimate’.

Runs Until 15th October 2017 | Image: Contributed

All Honey

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Dublin Fringe Festival: All Honey, The New Theatre, Dublin

 

Writer: Ciara Elizabeth Smyth

Director: Jeda de Bri

The Sad Strippers Theatre group were last seen at Smock Alley’s Scene and Heard Festival, where their production of Pacemaker was the funniest 30 minutes this reviewer has ever seen on stage. All Honey is a longer production at an hour long and is helping to close the Dublin Fringe Festival 2017.

Ru and Luke are throwing a house warming party (well, it’s actually an apartment warming party as others are quick to point out). It is clear from the off that the evening is not going to be a smooth one. Ru’s best friend Mae thinks her boyfriend is cheating on her and plans to confront him that night. Soon however she is persuaded otherwise. This proves to be unfortunate. The hilarious and somewhat awful Val has managed to turn up without being invited. It is not long before she has found the gin and fireworks are about to explode. Add into this mix oblivious and obnoxious Barry for a night of horror and hilarity. All of the action takes place in a brightly decorated box room where people pop in and out for secret conversations and confrontations.

The writing is quick witted, smart and funny. The hour flows by as the audience are drawn into the complex love lives unfolding before them. All Honey is surprising and involving; there is no knowing what will come next. What is assured is that this is a brilliant hour of comedy from five actors who work excellently together to delivery this one of a kind script.

Runs until 23 September 2017 | Image: Contributed

The Eurydice Project and the Trapped Woman

First Written for Howlround.com

“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.