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.

 

kate crackernuts

Advertisements

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.

Shakers-940-x-313

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

bellybutton-001

*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.

 

 

 

 

Dinner in Mulberry Street

Dinner in Mulberry Street – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre

Writer: Fitz-James O’Brien

Adaption: Michael James Ford

Director: Bairbre Ni Chaoimh

In Dinner in Mulberry Street Christmas in New York is falling far short of a fairy tale. It is 1857 and newlyweds Agnes and Dick have fallen on hard times. Unable to find work they must use every ounce of creativity and initiative that they have to avoid starvation. As the drama unfolds pieces of their former life are brought to life. Agnes was a social heiress; used to the finer things in life and without a care in the world. When she met Dick, a charming and worldly young man with big ideas they fell in love. Marrying for affection saw them abandoned by their wealthy relatives and left navigating a world of poverty. Having sold all that they own and resorting to using the last of their furniture for firewood, they are in need of a miracle. With Christmas just around the corner will our couple find salvation in time?

The entire play takes place within their tenement room. The world outside is alluded to and feels as though it is pushing inwards. There are thugs on the corner and the ever-present fear of the landlord is stark when a surprise knock comes to their door. Based on a short story by Cork-born Fitz-James O’Brien Dinner in Mulberry Street is of its time. Although an engaging and hopeful story an opportunity to do something a little different was missed. The financial difficulty that the couple found themselves in could have been further drawn out. References to the perilous rental situation and financial strain of the Christmas period should have been particularly poignant.

Under set designer Andrew Murray Bewley’s has been turned into a mid-nineteenth century tenement home. The pallet bed in the corner and furniture made of wine crates immediately placed the action in the poverty and grime of the 1850s. The table set to the back of the stage remains bare except for a tablecloth. This is where much of the action is focused as Agnes and Dick fantasise about past meals and bring them to life with their imagination. A fire faces into the stage and Colm Maher’s lighting design complements the feel of the play as the stage is imbued with warmth and light at key moments.

There were some artful moments of comedy under the direction of Bairbre Ni Chaoimh. As Agnes and Dick role-play their old lives and past meals that they have relished, they each take on the part of former butler Hamish; slipping into Scottish accents to differentiate each character. This was carried on into the comical fight scene between Giacomo and Dick which was entertaining to watch. Ashleigh Dorrell played the part of frustrated, hungry, hopeful wife wonderfully. Subtle changes in mood and hand gestures let the audience into her character. The central relationship is well played and Dorrell and Jamie O’Neill as Dick make a convincing couple.

Dinner in Mulberry Street is a pleasant Christmas treat.

Image: Contributed

Woman Undone

Woman Undone – Project Arts Centre

Text and Lyrics: Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan, and Mary Coughlan

Original Music: Valgeir Sigurdsson

Director: Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan

Woman Undone premiered at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre and from the queue of people waiting to go in it was clear that this was one of the theatre seasons big draws. For someone unfamiliar with Mary Coughlan the reasons soon became clear.

Mary has lived quite a life. We are informed in the opening that she has paved the way for women, and been one of Ireland’s best-loved singers. But we are also told that she has lost much in the process. This is the story of how she became herself; how a young girl became unraveled; and it is the story of her relationship with her father. As her early life is re-imagined on stage the adult Mary is able to step in and comment. At times her anger and fury are palpable. At others, the fear, confusion, and sorrow pour from the stage. Woman Undone features alcoholism, addiction, abuse, and mental illness. Seen through the prism of Mary’s life these themes reflect many of the tropes of the Irish woman over the past six decades.

Four women dressed as men are first to take to the stage. They are the group Mongoose. Their musical additions complement the haunting score and each person takes on an active role in the re-imaging. Mary’s father, played by Molly O’Mahony, is smart and sure in his army uniform. However, when she is born he doesn’t know what to do with a daughter. He is awkward and uncomfortable around her. The choreography is very well done; showing how loving relationships can be full of pain. Dancer Erin O’Reilly was mesmerising and vital throughout. From the moment she crawled onto the stage as the infant Mary she takes ownership of the role, using movement to tell the often dark and harrowing story.

The set design complemented the action perfectly. A red car to the left of the stage; broken, full of music, steam and the possibility of life. Mary’s life froze when she was involved in a car accident and much of her later trauma comes back to moments spent trapped in that red car. It holds her in place until she is able to break free of the past. Audiovisuals and strobe lighting are used at points of high emotion to elevate the production.

When Mary sang she dominated the stage. The only slight niggle: there were a few moments of speech that showed that more work needs to be done on enunciation and projection to ensure everyone in the theatre space can hear. With such an important piece of theatre, it would be a shame for any of it to be missed.

Mary’s life has involved a lot of pain and hardship. Tonight this pain was turned into art. Emotional, moving and at times deeply sad, it took several minutes to get one’s breath back after the ending.

Image: Simone Rudolphi