The Snow Queen

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Advertisements
Writer: Ian Toner

Director: Sarah Finlay

Gerda and Kay live in a watery town in a watery world. All ice and snow have been lost in the warming. Now people travel by gondolas and school children are told tales by their teachers about how in the past awful thing happened such as cold, gloves, scarves, carols and most frightening of all Christmas. In this watery world, there seems to be no one who remembers Christmas or all that it stood for. When the adventurous Kay questions his surroundings he is pulled into the ice world of the long banished, forgotten snow queen. Join his best friend Gerda on her epic adventure to find Kay and bring back Christmas.

Ian Toner’s The Snow Queen is inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. This version, however, plays more with the idea of good and bad, suggesting that most people want to be good, but they are just often quite bad at it. This more nuanced approach works for today’s audience and creates ample room for humour. Above all this production is frequently laugh out loud funny. Furthermore, there is a new meaning beneath it all as Toner tackles the topic of climate change. Like all of the best stories, this message is there for those who seek it, or will slowly sink in to those who sit back and enjoy the laughs.

It is remarkable that the whole play is carried off by just six cast members (plus two blue parrots). Clodagh Mooney Duggan, who is in nearly every scene, is perfect for the role of Gerda, imbuing her with a mix of innocence and bravery. She makes for a wonderful companion through the dangers and excitement of the watery world and the ice queen’s lair. The pirates she encounters are one of the highlights. When we meet them the three buccaneers are considering giving up their life of high-seas adventure in favour of becoming landed gentry. Other characters such as Old Nick and Rudolpho, the Lighthouse Keeper, underwater creatures and killer whales all help Gerda on the way. By her side is her trustworthy yet slightly temperamental parrot Pollyanna, who turns out to provide bountiful laughs throughout. It is also a great display of incorporating puppetry into theatre.

The costumes have been excellently detailed and colour coordinated by set and costume designer Molly O’Cathain. The Snow Queen takes place in Smock Alley’s main stage, which, with its openness and multiple entrances and exits, works well. The cast has room to manoeuvre. On the floor are drawings of boats and sea creatures in white and blue. The stage is occupied by two raised platforms of differing heights. Deceptively simple it gives the cast ample opportunity to display motion and movement in narrative via the different levels of staging. On the wall at the back stars shine in the darkness. Lighting, music and sound all add to the multi-layered storytelling. On a side note, it is great to see a production take so much effort with their programme.

The Snow Queen is billed as a family show and while this is true it is definitely a must see for adults. It is entertaining, intelligent, with a strong moral underlying the action, before it finally ending on a warm note. Toner has done very well to create a wonderful show that can be enjoyed by all. There seems to be much more to come from this very talented troupe.  This is a fully formed, excellently written, produced, created and acted play that hopefully all of Dublin will go to see.

The Reviews Hub Score: 5*

Key Word: Captivating

Unshakeable Spirits: Left Hand Lost

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Writer: Cillian O’Donnachadha
Director: Katherine Murphy
Reviewer: Laura Marriott

What happens to a woman who is suppressed and forced to change shape right from early childhood?

Left Hand Lost explores the life of American singer – songwriter and poet Dory Previn. Her story is remarkable. Previn was born into a strongly Catholic Irish American family and became strongly conflicted when trying to manage to multiple expectations placed on her by her family and local community. Her upbringing was often difficult and established inside her the demons that would go on to haunt much of her life.
Previn is played by Laura Kelly. She takes on the role with aplomb, embodying the idea of a tortured artist. Previn’s romantic relationships are touched upon, primarily in the way that they effect and encourage her writing ability. Her troubled relationship with her father is explored throughout Left Hand Lost as is the way his support of her singing and performing talent went on to shape her life. It is interesting that when her famous husband asks her for a divorce he requests that they keep their work relationship alive. This is something that she declines as she slowly begins to exert control over her own life. Throughout the production, one can see an artist trying to break free and take control of their own work. In the end, Previn went on to become an award-winning singer – songwriter in her own right. The play ends on a positive note, leaving the audience smiling.

Left Hand Lost is another one-woman show and Kelly does well at bringing Previn to life. When she sings the lights go dark, excepting one spotlight which follows her every move. Kelly’s speaking voice needs a little work in order to fully project to the back of the theatre.

The play is an enjoyable evening for those who have no prior knowledge or Previn, as indeed was the case for this reviewer, or for those more familiar with the story.

Biscuits for Breakfast Theatre Company have made an interesting and unusual choice in pinning these two one-handed plays together as a double bill; however, it is surprisingly successful and works as a great demonstration of new Irish writing.

Runs until 3 December 2016 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 3.5*

Unshakeable Spirits: A Fit Wife for a Revolutionary

First Written for The Reviews Hub

unshakeablespirits_smockalley

Writer: Sharon Sexton
Director: Cillian O’Donnachadha
Reviewer: Laura Marriott

A Fit Wife For a Revolutionary focuses in on the rarely mentioned Kathleen Clarke, wife of the first signatory of the Proclamation Thomas Clarke and a revolutionary in her own right. Her story is fascinating and Sharon Sexton is marvellous as Kathleen Clarke.

The play encompasses the events of Easter week 1916. From the days immediately preceding the Rising before ending with her husband’s execution. Unlike the many women who were active in the Rising Clarke spent Easter week alone at home, frustrated and always hoping for news of her husband. She had been trusted by the Irish Republican Brotherhood to guard their secret documents and finances and to ensure their safe keeping in the event of the leaders’ deaths.
Her strength, love and passion are inspiring and take on an enhanced resonance when considered in the light of the plethora of 1916 works that have emerged this year. The final moments are particularly are delicate and moving. The play’s title comes from something another woman said to Clarke when she realised how strongly she supported the Rising. Meant as an insult for Kathleen it rang true and she took it as a compliment. It is important to note that this is not a self-important, lecturing piece. There are moments of humour throughout and one can see that it was written with a real interest in the play’s subject. It helps to make the events of that famous week feel close and familiar.

Smock Alley Boy’s School is the perfect setting for A Fit Wife For A Revolutionary. The play begins with Clarke praying in the old church windows, looking down over the audience before she descends and speaks on our level. The play makes use of the unusual theatre setting. The different levels, the empty brick windows that once were part of a church.

Sexton is an accomplished and experienced actress who commands the stage as Clarke. Remarkably this is her playwriting debut. It is fully rounded, powerful and timely. Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a second career for Sexton as a writer. It is also well researched and feels authentic, as does the set which includes an old singer sewing machine, writing desk, a doll’s basket and table that at times doubles for a shop counter. This centenary year has seen an outpouring art to commemorate and investigate 1916 and its legacy, much of which has focused on trying to reintegrate the women back into the Easter Rising narrative; however, A Fit Wife For A Revolutionary is without doubt one of the finest pieces of work to emerge this year.

Runs until 3 December 2016 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4.5*

Key Word: Powerful