Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Pavillion, Dublin Theatre Festival 2018

Writer: James Joyce

Adaption: Arthur Riordan

Director: Ronan Phelan 

Everyone has heard of Joyce’s first novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but how many would think to turn it into a stage play? As a master of prose, it is not a common event to see his works brought to the stage yet director Ronan Phelan and Arthur Riordan have accepted the challenge.

Portrait is one of the festival’s big hitters and the pre-show publicity has been in full force. A Rough Magic production, expectations are high for this festival production. This adaptation contains much of the original James Joyce text and tries to steer a steady line between translation and adaptation. For someone unfamiliar with the original this version was enjoyable and easy to follow as Stephen Dedalus embarks on a journey to create his own identity within the confines and restrictions of Catholic Dublin. The audience follows Stephen as he grows from a child into an independent thinker; breaking free of the oppression and limited options of the Ireland of his youth and moving into a future of experience and enjoyment.

Eight actors switch roles throughout, using clothing to signify their new personas. Throughout the first half one actor also acts as narrator until Stephen is ready to take ownership of his own story. The clever use of an Italia 90 shirt marks Stephen out as different from the start. As the play closes, however, even this attachment to Ireland’s nostalgia is buried beneath his desire for self-expression. Martha Green was the standout as the final incarnation of Stephen as she portrays the glee and feeling of freedom that Stephen finds by realising that he can walk out of the life preordained for him and into a new one of his own making.

There is little to place this version in a specific time which helps the play to move through the decades but also works to smooth off some of the harsher edges of Stephen’s rebellion. An image of the Virgin Mary dominates the right – hand side of the stage making it clear that at all times religion, the Catholic Church, is looking down on the goings on, standing in judgement of Stephen’s actions from infancy. Although this clearly drove the point home the text was strong enough in this regard to not need the ostentatious visual reminder. The parents were fascinating characters and as Stephen ages, their importance, particularly that of his father, begins to fade into the background. It might have been nice to see more of his mother and further examine the struggle Stephen faced as his move away from the Church also meant isolating himself from his homeland and his own mother.

Aside from the occasional flashes of vibrancy where movement and music gel as Stephen wrestles with feelings of lust and guilt this adaptation doesn’t quite manage to light up the stage.

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Multiverse

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Multiverse, Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival 2018

Creator: Louis Vanhaverbeke

Multiverse is an ever-evolving performance art piece that incorporates an energetic and emotive soundtrack, and subtle light changes with the almost dance-like physicality of Louis Vanhaverbeke to create an innovative and dynamic production.

Perhaps the best thing about Multiverse is that every person could come away having seen and experienced something different. The responses expressed in the post-show discussion highlighted how this is a piece that will change in the mind over time. Multiverse invokes different thoughts, ideas, and theories in the mind of each viewer and at times even the performer. The ending felt like an analogy for the way in which the world seems to have gotten smaller but no less confusing as technology has changed our environment irrevocably. At moments near the end, it felt profound as the pieces were pulled together. However, this was not the view of everyone one as other audience members felt that the performance focused on ideas of entrapment, development and many others.

Multiverse is a one-man performance and Vanhaverbeke makes the stage his own. The timing is impeccable. The way in which the music and soundscape have been edited to work with each movement is simply incredible when one becomes aware that all sound and songs come from record players on the stage. Each record fed into the circular theme and each new prop added to this motif. Vanhaverbeke’s physicality and movement are very impressive and his background in visual arts and dance shine through. There were moments of lightness and comedy but also moments of stillness, in which Vanhaverbeke seemed to be connecting with the audience.

This is, however, an example of a production that should really have been a part of the recent fringe festival, rather than the theatre festival. Similarly, a better location may have been the Project Arts Centre, as its history of providing a home to innovative, sound, visual and physical art performances means its ethos is more in line with that of Multiverse than the Samuel Beckett Theatre. Fortunately, this doesn’t detract from the performance itself, and is worth a visit for any art or theatre lover, and perhaps also anyone looking for something inspiring and different for the evening.

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Sweet Sensations

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Sweet Sensations, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin – Dublin Fringe Festival 2018

Writer: Teri Fitzgerald

Director: Teri Fitzgerald

Welcome to Peafield Hospital for the Elderly. Here you will find staff and residents living in harmony. Or not. This is a hospital where the staff like a slower pace of life than that of their patients. After all, what is the point in pushing oneself too much when the day could be spent on gossip, tea breaks, and sneaking cigarettes at every opportunity? Visitors are few and far between and life is quite dull. That is until HIQA turn up to inspect the hospital and the staff are driven into a frenzy of trying to present a good image. Their mission is frustrated by the residents, who have decided that they are going to rebel. Led by well-spoken and fiery Josie it is time for the tables to turn.

Oil is added to the fire with the arrival of Toby. On community service for drug offences, he is lairy, hilarious and a deeply kind figure in the midst of madness. When residents are living in such conditions, the somewhat unorthodox life and manner of Toby begins to seem normal, and soon he and the residents have concocted an explosive plan.

Writer and director Fitzgerald works to keep the tone upbeat, comedic and timely. The stage is set early on with an interesting rap and dance production from the staff who admit that they are running a ‘shit show’. This had the audience laughing from the off but at first, it was a bit uncomfortable for this reviewer who has had the experience of months spent in a hospital, and the hard edges of the staff, here used for comedy and to try and make a political point, seem painfully close to reality. It is not long before one is carried away by the fast pace and broad humour. There are many moments of physical comedy and the two care assistants, played by Ali Fox and Gemma Kane, and Laurence Falconer as Toby, are particularly entertaining to watch. The ending is surprisingly touching and meaningful and helped to elevate the play into something with a message to share.

It is also of note; the programme was well done, free to patrons and informative. This is something that is unfortunately quite rare.

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Stop / Over

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Stop / Over, The Chocolate Factory, Dublin – Dublin Fringe Festival

 

Writer: Gary Duggan

Director: Nicola Murphy

The audience enters the theatre on the third floor of The Chocolate Factory to the sound of musician Keiji Ishiguri playing keyboard and delivering the most soulful version of mid-noughties hit Toxic (sorry Britney, but yes, this version was better). The music fades and two college friends, played by Ashleigh Dorrell and Siobhan Callaghan take to the stage.

The two Dubliners are meeting up for F’s last few days of her American road trip. M has spent the last three years living in New York but is excited to reconnect with someone from her past. It soon becomes clear that there is an underlying tension in their relationship and that once upon a time they were perhaps more than friends but not quite a couple. From the subway station to a tiny New York flat they set out for a nighttime odyssey through drink, drugs, sex, emotion, and confusion. Full of ideas of the past and hopes for what they could be as they dream and hallucinate, the audience follow them as they either fall together or fall apart.

Stop / Over makes full use of the whole of the third floor for the production. Turning the open plan, spare surroundings of The Chocolate Factory into New York. An otherwise empty space becomes Central Park in the rain, lights falling like raindrops on the couple as they work themselves out and recover from the high of the night before. Audiovisuals and movement were smoothly integrated into the story line with the soundscape and lighting propelling the narrative forward. This movement towards the immersive shows an interesting development for writer Gary Duggan that has proved very popular with audiences and adds extra value to the production.

Although F and M are so young at times their story felt older, as the themes reverberate with anyone who has wanted to love. The sense of longing, lust, and loneliness was palpable and yet one was never quite sure what would happen next. An immersive experience that fizzes with emotion and promise.

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Beat

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Beat, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin – Dublin Fringe Festival 2018

Writer: Fionntan Larney
Director: Dominic O’Brien

Beat. starts out as a raucous and rude rap musical drama. Full of pills and alcohol friends A and B are hungover after a night out. How much can they remember? The unconscious B may have finally taken things too far this time: after too many pills he ended up unconscious on the floor shouting at A’s girlfriend Sarah. or at least that’s what he’s told he did. Although he was the one leading the charge it is A that seems to experience most of the consequences. After his girlfriend walks out, tired of waiting for the day he will pull himself together, he also loses his job. As his day goes from bad to worse B sails through an interview high on cocaine and adrenalin. He hatches a plan to make his friend feel better: the session to end all sessions. However, a confrontation in a club with someone from the past triggers a turning point in the narrative. The characters are suddenly thrown into a new light.

Martha Breen changes characters many times throughout the performance. She started off introducing the show with bombast before becoming the long-suffering boss, the school bully, the ex-girlfriend and more. Dressed in black and white Breen became each new character with ease and fluidity. Harry Higgins and Fionntan Larney excel as friends struggling to say what they mean to each other. Their final scenes together are emotionally wrought and very well done. A changing lightscape with colourful strobe lighting is complemented by pulsating, beating, heavy music. Together they act to change the mood and propel the narrative forward.

This reviewer has never seen an audience rise to their feet, as one complete body, so quickly and seamlessly as they did at the end of Beat. Without a doubt one of the finest shows of the festival.

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Neighbourhood Watch

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Neighbourhood Watch, Dublin Fringe Festival 2018, The Complex

Creators: Mango x MathMan

Neighbourhood Watch is the closest one can get to what it must have felt like at the birth of hip-hop. Did those in attendance at house parties across 1970s New York know that they were witnessing the birth of a musical genre that would travel around the globe?

A small crowd gathered outside waiting to be allowed in. As the night progressed more and more people tried to make their way in. Queuing up outside felt like waiting to enter a club. The mood was relaxed; everyone was there to have a good time. There were lots of bottles of water, cans of flavoured cider and vodka being added to seven up bottles. Unlike other festival productions on entry, tickets were ripped up and wrists stamped.

The large, white room of The Complex that had been taken over for the night felt a little like a warehouse with its high ceiling and white walls. The night began properly at 11 pm and soon it felt like a night to remember. The music was loud, blanketing everything inside. It was easy to let it seep into one’s body as time slipped away. It is surprising how revitalising music can be. Images were projected onto the wall behind the performers and it was a reminder of how interesting it can be to see musicians and producers at work.

Attending Neighbourhood Watch is the coolest this reviewer has felt for a very long time (however, it is definitely not fashionable to be the first to arrive). Mango x MathMan know how to both pay homage to those that paved the way while also creating something new and distinct to them. They also know how to choose complementary special guests, each of whom added to the atmosphere. Homegrown hip hop has not always been appreciated as it should; this event helps to correct that. One could argue that this was an unusual production to be a part of a fringe festival however it was, without a doubt, a valuable and worthwhile one.

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Boy Child

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Boy Child, Dublin Fringe Festival, The New Theatre – Dublin 

Creators: FeliSpeaks and Dagogo Hart

Boy Child begins with a dark stage. Performers are dressed in black and the use of props is kept to a minimal. It was clear from the off that this is a production that sets out to paint a story with words. The background is kept clear to avoid distracting from the poetry on display. Created and performed by two of Ireland’s premier spoken word poets – FeliSpeaks and Dagogo Hart – Boy Child draws on Nigerian influences, storytelling, and history to create a picture of a man trying to find his way in the world.

We often hear that it is difficult to live in the modern world and that men are trying to navigate the path between following in the footsteps of their fathers whilst also embracing feminism and changing the way the world works. Boy Child brings these real-life dilemmas vividly to life; as poetry, philosophical ideas, adolescent confusion, and desire stalk the stage. The play, however, begins with a woman who falls in love and gives birth to her beloved son. She draws on the generations of women who came before her for strength and fears that her beloved child will grow up making the same mistakes as his father. Yet at the same time, she works to maintain the same system and way of being that draws her son into his father’s life. Is a young man supposed to forgo all that came before and say that his father and father’s father were all wrong; that the soul-destroying back-breaking work they did was for nothing?

At the heart of Boy Child is a wonderful portrayal of a boy evolving into a man. It is nuanced, relateable and absorbing. This is a quietly beautiful image of a man a motion. A man being made and constantly remaking himself. Boy Child is a thought-provoking addition to the fringe festival that can open one’s mind up to new ideas and to seeing familiar ideas in a different way.

The performance poetry scene in Dublin comes and goes in fits and starts. Hopefully, this is a sign that it is being taken seriously as an art form and will open the door to further spoken word performances in Dublin’s theatres.

 Image: Contributed