Nutshell

nutshell

“Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space – were it not that I have bad dreams” Hamlet

 

Nutshell by Ian McEwan is an unusual short novel with an intriguing premise. It is written in the first person from the point of view of a foetus. At eight and a half months old (if that is the correct way of phrasing it?) and soon to enter the world he has a one of a kind view on the feelings and actions of his mother. His mother, who he loves deeply but isn’t always sure he likes, is having an affair with his paternal uncle. The pair are plotting to murder his father. They are not exactly star crossed lovers, more a highly sexual and somewhat sinister pairing who spend their time drinking and going over the steps they will take to carry out this act. The unborn child seems to take up little of their thoughts or interest.

 

The unnamed narrator is exceptionally intelligent, having consumed information and knowledge through his mother. At times he goes off into analysing the modern world. There is a wonderful section that looks at liberalism, safe spaces, freedom of thought, the increasing censorship on University campuses and so on. Nutshell is in part a way for McEwan to address issues of the day indirectly. Well written and a speedy read at times it feels as though McEwan is using his unpoliticised protagonist to look at some of the absurdities of the modern world. Terrorism, the global markets and pop culture all get a look in.

 

Set in the middle of summer the atmosphere in the house is claustrophobic. Mess, dirt and clutter pile up in hallways. Laundry is never done and the kitchen is cased in filth. Trudy, the mother, spends her time sunbathing, listening to podcasts and drinking wine. Caught beneath the relentless gaze of the sun the household feels like it has been stopped in time. Once the father has been removed the pair hope to inherit the house and set themselves up for life. On one of the few times the foetus is mentioned it is in passing. He is something to be offloaded, passed on. Trapped inside the womb he hears everything but has no control over his fate. He can however see the obvious flaws in his mother’s plan and he often exhibits more wisdom than the adults. The title is reminiscent of a 1957 poem by former Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, The Newborn, which includes the lines “This morsel of man I’ve held – / What potency it has, / Though strengthless still and naked as / A nut unshelled!”. Celebrating the birth of a child this is a beautiful image that contrasts with the treatment of Nutshell’s protagonist.

 

The novel is littered with sex scenes that feel very uncomfortable. This seems to be one of the few activities that unify the pair however reading about it from the point of view of the narrator inside his mother is a strange experience. Claude is a dull and unpleasant man. It is difficult to see why Trudy would be so interested in him. McEwan is of course a very good writer and their relationship begins to make sense when one sees how cruel and vindictive Trudy can also be. Neither are very pleasant and this story would probably not work if it was told from another perspective because it would be too hard to empathise with the murderous duo. Unlike typical murder focused narratives here the reader is given the who, why and how from the off. The murder is clearly detailed and the reader follows each step towards cold blooded murder. It is interesting to be given an insight into the actions and thought processes behind this action.

 

Nutshell received positive reviews from the book club. Although this is our first Ian McEwan novel between us we have read his entire back catalogue. It is a unique novel and one wonders whether it was also created as a writing exercise to come up with something different that would allow the author to comment on world affairs without having to deal with comments sections and twitter. Coming in at only a few hundred pages this is one of McEwan’s quicker reads and it has a fluidity that some of his earlier novels lacked. If you are looking for something different this is worth a read.

 

Nutshell, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape, London, 2016.

Advertisements

Electric

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Electric – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

Writer: Ali Hardman

Director: Clare Maguire

On balance it is fair to argue that the opening night of Ali Hardman’s new play Electric, is more enjoyable than a trip to Electric Picnic. Although this may say something about the lack of shower facilities at most festivals, it also highlights how fun and entertaining Electric is.

One of the standout points of the play is the level of attention to detail and the set design. When the audience are collecting their tickets, each person is issued with an Electric wrist band, excellently designed and eye catching. While waiting for the doors to open glitter face paint is also available for free. Most audience members have blue glitter wings winking in the dark. Starting the production in this way was a pleasant surprise that put people in a good mood and helped to foster a festival atmosphere. This is enhanced when the theatre doors open and the two actors, Hardman and Roe, have already taken to the stage and are dancing away to the pulsing music familiar to all festival goers.

Joni and Scarlett have both set out on an adventure at Electric Picnic. Scarlett, played by Ali Hardiman, is a privately educated young woman from Dalkey who has been pushed into the festival by her mam. With a dislike of dirt, her friends and being surrounded by people her long weekend does not start out well. In contrast Joni, with a rough Dublin accent, glitter decoration and a pack of lager has been looking forward to this since last years festival ended. With completely different friendship groups their paths do not cross until a chance encounter sees the direction of their weekend change – perhaps for the better. In costuming that complements their characters, Hardiman and Roe play off each other well. Hardiman’s script artfully skewers class divides and stereotypes by reaching beyond them to create a rounded, realistic friendship between two young women. Their new relationship throws existing friendships into sharp focus and forces the characters to assess what they really value in themselves and in others. Supplemented by the engaging and humourous Electric is a comedy with a heart.

Coordinated by set designer Ursula McGinn Electric demonstrates a detailed and precise level of detail that one does not usually see in a one-hour production. In the bar outside picture frames are decorated with flower garlands and lights; the words ‘Welcome’ and ‘Electric’ spelt out in bright multi – coloured blocks. Inside the theatre space strings of lights, ribbons and paper chains hang over the seating area. Lighting Designer Shane Gill works well with McGinn to create a bright, enticing theatre space. Fabric in soft colours, artfully lit from behind drape the rear of the stage. Large dreamcatchers are dotted about the place and the stage itself is covered in colourful confetti. Further, over the past few months there has been a noticeable improvement in the attention paid to creating informative and decent programmes, and Electric fits into the new trend.

Hardman, who last appeared at Theatre Upstairs in Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws, has shown development as a writer with Electric marking her first full length production. The play ended with the audience rising to their feet and cheering, proving that Electric is a play not to be missed.

Runs until 5th May 2019 | Image: Contributed

Debris

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Writer: Dennis Kelly

Director: Cathal Cleary

It is very unusual that one sees a theatre production that is truly unique, however Reality Check’s opening night of Debris, at Smock Alley Theatre, really was a one-of-a-kind night of entertainment.

Debris has a powerful opening. Shane O’Regan, playing the sixteen year old Michael, takes to the stage and tells the audience a story. On his sixteenth birthday his father built an eighteen foot crucifix in the living room.

Taking place in the Boys School, the stage has been decreased in size to bring the actors and audience closer together and to emphasise the gritty, earthy feel of the play. This is reinforced by the floor covered in gravel and dirt. Low lighting, smoke, and the use of pulsating sounds create an atmosphere of tension as the audience enter.

Described in the programme as an “odyssey of pain, blood, love and loss” as the play unfolds the audience are taken on a journey to see how this family of three ended up in this situation. Michael’s sister Michelle, played by Clara Harte, is equally disturbed. Telling different stories about how she was born Michelle has created a fantasy world around her, whereas Michael ends the play with a new awareness of what it means to be alive in the world.

Debris is Kelly’s first play and also marks the first time that Debris has been performed in Dublin. Under the direction of Cleary, Debris flows as O’Regan and Harte take turns to offer their perspective and drive the narrative forward, occasionally linking together their stories and reflections. When the world is seen through their child’s eyes it seems even more absurd and confusing than usual. A thick strain of black humour runs from start to finish as Michael and Michelle try to make sense of their surroundings.

Debris is a compelling short play that never dips in intensity or drama.

Runs until 21st April 2018 | Image: Contributed

Lyrics

Director: Romana Testasecca

Writer: Tom Moran

Him: Tom Moran

Her: Danielle Galligan

 

“One night. Two very different hearts. Dublin City Centre. An Open Mic has ended and a captivating dissection of a chance encounter has just begun.”

 

Outside it is cold and the rain keeps coming. The pavements are blocked by commuters hiding under shop awnings and the Liffey looks grey in the early evening light. Fleeing the uninspiring spring weather in newly reopened Theatre Upstairs an audience pile into the small theatre, looking for something to lighten the mood and warm the night.

Lyrics is set at the end of an Open Mic night in a Dublin pub. To the left sits a piano, a microphone in the middle and bottles that light up decorate the stage. Lighting Designer Shane Gill has done a great job: for each song the lights dim creating a cosy and intimate setting. The audience could almost be eavesdropping on the chance meeting taking place. The warm tones of the background helps to the enhance the idea that the theatre is a small pub, the audience with drinks in hand like the punters have turned up not exactly sure what to expect.

The play opens with Tom Moran playing the piano and singing a song to a former girlfriend. With his heart on his sleeve, and in his songs, Moran’s character is open to talking. He meets a mysterious singer who has never had a broken heart and is about to set off on a new adventure, played by Danielle Galligan. Taking the form of a dialogue with sharp staccato notes our two protagonists play around and work their way into each others thoughts and feelings. The early wit and humour draws laughter which keeps coming. The interlocking conversation avoids falling into cliché and suggests that director, Romana Testasecca, is growing in confidence with each new production. Slightly heightened the dialogue is well constructed and entertaining.

The couple meet because Galligan wanted to sing for the last time before moving to New York. A dying relative is behind her decision. Working through a recent heartbreak Moran’s song are hilarious with enough just enough honesty to make them more than comedic interludes. As the play progresses there are moments of sadness that emerge from these two broken hearts. At times tender and romantic Lyrics moves between sincerity and hilarity with relative ease. Taking ownership of the stage the characters begin to move together, their physical actions mirroring the movement of feelings as the night progresses.

A clever and touching chamber piece edged full of comedy and romance Lyrics proved to be just the tonic for the grey rainy Dublin evening.

Lyrics

Set and Costume Design: Ciara Murnane

Lighting Design: Shane Gill

Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Book: John Caird

Music and Lyrics: Paul Gordon

Director: Killian Collins

Performers: Eoin Cannon and Roisin Sullivan

 

Daddy Long Legs, presented by Boulevard Productions Ireland, is Smock Alley’s inaugural musical.

daddy long legs

Daddy Long Legs is a simple but sweet story. Opening in the John Grier Home for Orphans the audience is introduced to Jerusha Abbott, played by Roisin Sullivan. It is 1908 in New England, USA, and she is set for a day of work as the “oldest orphan in the John Grier home” she knows no other life and is alone in the world. This is until a wonderful moment of charitable intervention. One of the home’s trustees, played by Eoin Cannon, has enjoyed her essays and stories and is going to fund her through college with the intention that she will become a professional writer. Although determined to remain anonymous her benefactor does have one condition: Jerusha is to write to him once a month. She is not to say thank you and he will not respond to these letters.

Embracing her new life with gusto and her unique wit and personality Jerusha writes lovingly each month. She gives her benefactor a nick name: Daddy Long Legs. He is surprised to be touched by her letters, which are full of life, curiosity and a desire to love. Soon Jerusha befriends her fellow students and is invited to join them. She meets the worldly and interesting Jervis Pendleton who introduces her to books, travel and adventure. Over the four years of her study Jerusha grows and begins to discover herself and the benefactor learns about her – and himself – through her letters. Their relationship is touching and surprising. One of the great mysteries is will the two ever meet?

It takes skill to bring a musical to life and make it so believable. Director Killian Collins does very well at bringing out the humour throughout. There are some brilliant comedic moments that make the most of the props and staging to draw laughter from the audience. The set is well designed; functional and attractive and Karl Breen on guitar and Gerald Peregrine on cello make a great accompaniment to the action on stage. It goes without saying that both Cannon and Sullivan are excellent performers with voices that reach the back rows with ease and clarity.

For both the musical lover and the novice this is a must watch. It was impossible not to smile at the end and the audience rose to their feet to give a standing ovation. The show has so far been immensely popular with critics and audiences so one hopes that it will continue to perform around Ireland in the coming months. If the production does come back to Dublin I will be first in line to buy a ticket!

Once by Morris Gleitzman

*This review contains spoilers*

once morris gleitzman

When Felix sits down to an uninspiring bowl of soup he is stunned to discover a whole carrot. He hides it in his pocket for fear of causing a riot. This is how the extraordinary Once begins. An English A Level teacher gave me this to read to provide an alternative insight into war literature. This is one of the few books that nearly made me cry and I was curious to know how it would affect me ten years later.

Written by Morris Gleitzman for older children Once takes place in wartime Poland and is told entirely from the point of view of the young Felix. Set in 1942 Felix has been kept away from the war until now. His parents left him in the care of Mother Minka, in a Catholic orphanage in the mountains of Poland. It is when they pray “to God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Pope and Adolf Hitler” that the reader knows that this will be a different type of story and that for Felix, the world he left behind three years and eight months ago is has almost been erased.

Felix’s imagination serves a barrier between himself and the horrors of the world. It is his imagination has protected him from so much over the years and his ability to conjure stories from thin air saves Felix and his friends over and over again. Early into his journey Felix hears gunfire and assumes the Nazis must be hunting rabbits. The spare prose makes the reader shiver. “Look at that. The river has suddenly turned red. Which is a bit strange, because the sunset is still yellow. The water’s so red it almost looks like blood. But even with all those gunshots, the hunters couldn’t have killed that many rabbits. Could they? No, it must just be a trick of the light”.

The reader has so much more knowledge than Felix does that at times this book is heart breaking. His path through life evokes fear in the reader, and yet for the most part he does not feel the same fear. At times Felix sees awful things. Gleitzman should be credited for not shying away from the darkness of the period. Seeing these things through the eyes of the child strips away the history and politics and shows them for what they are.

When Felix finds a man and a woman lying dead, still in their nightclothes, their house aflame, he reasons that they must have been Jewish booksellers who put up a fight to protect their books. Their young daughter Zelda however has survived. She joins Felix on his journey to find his parents. They end up joining a convoy being marched into the ghetto. Here they meet other children hiding from the clear outs. Looked after by Barney, a dentist who survives by treating the soldiers in the ghetto, they carve out a life in a cellar, only venturing out after curfew. When Felix has the chance to save himself he chooses instead to join his friends. This is how he finds himself being loaded onto a train that will carry him and hundreds of others to their deaths.

Felix does not die, nor does Zelda. They are some of the few to escape. Barney stayed behind with the children who didn’t want to take their chances and jump. When they hug goodbye Felix feels the needles in Barney’s pockets. It is here that he realises that if needs be Barney will inject the children with an anaesthetic that if used in sufficient quantities will put them into a sleep they will not awaken from in order to protect them from the advancing horror. This is portrayed as a moment of mercy and kindness, as a man is prepared to go to his death in order to spare the children any suffering. Here Felix finally understands what sort of world he is living in. It may sound strange but this is beautifully portrayed and leads up to the books final few lines, “I’ll never forget how lucky I am. Barney said everybody deserves to have something good in their life at least once. I have. More than once.”

It is important to emphasise that Once is suffused with hope and moments of friendship and kindness. Although deeply sad Gleitzman also shows how imagination can save, how unlikely friendships can grow in the most unusual circumstances and how, in the form of dentist Barney, humanity and decency will always survive. Once also suggests that innocence can be lost, not just from children but also from adults. A man who once lived alongside Felix’s family has become too scared to help the boy when he returns to his home village. A Nazi officer takes a story home for his young daughter the same day that he ushers Jewish children into trains to be taken away. A young girls parents are murdered by Polish partisans. The ending is a wonderful mix of the hope, fear and devastating sadness.

Although technically a children’s book there is much here for adults too, who will approach Felix’s story with the knowledge of the atrocities and heartbreak that boys like Felix witnessed, but will perhaps still be surprised and uplifted by the hopeful ending, and the feeling that as life continues, there is always a chance.

 

Once, Morris Gleitzman, Puffin, 2005, Australia

Click 2 Subscribe

Click 2 Subscribe

Smock Alley Scene and Heard Festival (SASH) 2018 – Dublin
Written & Performed by Karen Killen

Directed by Romana Testasecca

Associate Producer Vincent Brightling
Sarah is 19. She has a camera, a laptop and a ukulele. She wants to take on the world, via YouTube. But is she ready for #CyberSpace?!

Karen Killen wrote and stars in this one woman show. Performed in the Boys School Stage at Dublin’s Smock Alley the architecture makes the perfect backdrop to the play. Orange lights shaped like flowers hang above our protagonist, casting a soft glow. A large TV sits in an empty window, the screen facing the rows of seats. Underneath this sits Sarah. Armed with fresh makeup, a ukulele and a camera she is all set to take on cyberspace.

She is the perfect vlogger. Sharing details of her life freely and singing to her hidden audience. The play opens with Sarah answering fan questions. She is loud, bright and friendly. Her favourite things are YouTube her followers. A slight slip of the tongue however gives a hint of the loneliness that lies beneath. “Do you have a boyfriend? No, I mean yes!”

It is from here that we start to see deeper than the artfully staged videos. When she is not on camera her life is very different. Takeaway food, internet trolls, comfy pyjamas and no real human interaction. The sound of Skype calls and phones ringing interrupt her work. These are always one way conversations as Sarah refuses to let loved ones reach her. By keeping love at arm’s length, she can keep up the pretence of a perfect life for her subscribers.

Click 2 Subscribe is funny from the start to the finish thanks to Testasecca’s capable  direction. Props and clothing are used throughout to further the narrative and create opportunities for humour in this witty, insightful fast paced play.

SASH is a unique theatre event that gives writers, actors and directors the opportunity to present plays in development. This is a vitally important for theatre makers. It is also great for theatre goers who are given the opportunity to see a wide variety of performances in different stages of development. One moment you can be watching a deeply moving family drama, the next a laugh a minute collection of sketches. Last year’s entry from Rosebud Theatre was the poignant and politically timely SYRIUS, which blended movement and powerful imagery to tell the story of a woman forced to flee the horror engulfing Syria. Following last years festival the production has toured Europe to critical acclaim. Hopefully Rosebud Theatre will be able to use the experience and feedback from SASH 2018 to follow and improve on last years success with Click 2 Subscribe.