Futureproof

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Futureproof – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Lynda Radley

Director: Tom Creed

Futureproof opened for the first time in Dublin tonight at the Project Arts Centre. This intriguing play by Lynda Radley had a previous outing several years ago in Scotland where it was well received and won an award at the Fringe Festival in 2011. The new artistic director of Cork Everyman Theatre, Julie Kelleher, was determined to bring this show to Ireland. It ran at The Everyman for several weeks in June before bringing its unusual story to the Dublin stage.

A sign hanging from the ceiling, facing away from the audience tells us that we are now witnessing an ‘Odditorium’: a Victorian style travelling show featuring novelties and curiosities. The characters enter the stage and break through a locked fence. Carrying their lives on their backs they begin to settle down. There is the world’s fattest man, a bearded countess with no arms, identical twins joined at the hip, a mute mermaid and a hermaphrodite. They are led by owner and entrepreneur Riley who is struggling to find a way to make the show reach the audiences. Time has moved on and they are no longer the big draw that they used to be. When he does hit upon an idea it will have irreversible consequences for all involved.

As the group move from selling the odd to selling hope, they try to make themselves more and more like the audience. This play is an exploration of identity. As people are unmade, changed and presented as something new there is a constant struggle for each individual to decide whether they are happy as they are, or whether they want to be considered ‘normal’. Alongside this are the complications that money brings into the equation. If they can no longer profit from their difference how will they carry on?

In an interview with The Guardian Radley summed it up thus: “They were originally viewed as marvels, or as God’s jokes, but then as time went on and ideas about science and evolution developed, they became people to be pitied. In America there were even laws that meant they weren’t allowed to be shown. But, of course, a lot of these people were happy to be involved – it was a way for them to make sometimes quite substantial amounts of money, and not to be institutionalised and kept out of sight”.

Radley has hit on an excellent idea. She deals well with the nuances of identity and selfhood. However, the execution of this idea still needs a little work in order for it to reach its full potential. There are moments that feel as though they should be funny but they don’t quite manage to be. Similarly, there are moments of sadness, rage and confusion that could be truly intense and powerful. The play is well acted and the set design is inventive; a mix of glamour and tat. Futureproof is a one of a kind show and Dublin will not see it’s like again any time soon.

Runs until 1 July 2017 | Image: Miki Barlok

Harder, Faster, More

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Harder, Faster, More – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Tracy Martin

Director: Tracy Martin

 

Harder Faster More opened to an excited audience at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre before closing to a standing ovation. The only downside is that this play is running for such a short time.

Harder Faster More tells the stories of women negotiating the modern world where sex sells and they are expected to sell it. From the female TV presenter traded in for a younger model planning extensive plastic surgery to revitalise her career, to the young woman making pornography while her sister looks after her infant son to the incredibly funny story that is cut to repeatedly of a woman juggling two calls at once; one on her sex phone line, and the other from her mother. Some of the stories are one offs. These are often touching and at times heart breaking. Several stories are resumed repeatedly throughout the performance. One of the most notable opens and closes the play. Kacey, a trained dancer, is working in clubs in Europe to make some fast money. Her increasingly intermittent calls with her best friend detail her life from excitement and humour to confusion then drug fuelled horror.

The stage is empty except for large lights pointing outwards from the back. Lighting is used throughout to highlight speakers and emphasise the stories being told. The three actresses Charlene Gleeson, Clare Monnelly and Aoibheann McCann work well together; their movements exact and cohesive. The lighting director (Susannah Cummins) and movement director (Paula O’Reilly) have clearly worked closely together to create a tight seventy minute play in which not a single moment is wasted. Each actor plays at least four different parts throughout. They all wear white and switch accents and mannerisms with each new character in an impressive dramatic feat.

A note from writer and director Tracy Martin in the programme tells us that Harder Faster More was created around the idea of tackling pornography. Taking the audience on a journey behind the scenes of the sex industry to the real lives behind it. The play surprises and entertains in equal measure. Martin avoids preaching or retelling popular tabloid tales, instead focusing on individuals in all roles of life and the way in which pornography affects their relationships with friends and family. This has been done excellently with Martin opening up a whole new angle into the subject. The use of telephone conversations to frame the dialogue allows the audience to dip inside the otherwise hidden private lives of women doing their best to survive and thrive in this daunting new world. Harder Faster More is an intelligent and humorous play that is not to be missed.

Yeats Besotted

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Yeats Besotted – Bewley’s Café Theatre @ Powerscourt, Dublin

Writer: Cathal Quinn
Director: Cathal Quinn


“Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.”

William Butler Yeats is a man who in Ireland needs little introduction. Even decades after his death the slightest new titbit or revelation generates a buzz of media interest and his writing is taught to every Irish student. His place as one of Ireland’s literary greats assured. With this in mind how best for a playwright to get to the heart of the man? To navigate through the wealth of analysis and study to find the man behind it all?

Yeats Besotted attempts this by dramatising the turbulent relationship between the Nobel Laureate and his greatest love and muse, Maud Gonne. Religion, politics, the occult and the difficult birth of the Irish Free State are all touched upon in Yeats Besotted, however, the focus remains on the love affair between Yeats and Gonne. The pair first met in 1889 when she approached him to seek his support against tenant evictions. Yeats found himself instantly in love, besotted, and from this point onwards she acts as his poetic muse political inspiration. Throughout the play are poems in English and Irish that were written for or inspired by his love for Gonne.

When we are first introduced to Yeats, very capably played by Philip Judge, he is arguing for the legalisation of divorce in the Seanad. Here he is not just a poet but also a politician. There is a suggestion that runs throughout Yeats Besotted that Gonne was also the spark behind much of Yeats political ideas and beliefs. On a whistle-stop tour through their relationship from 1889 to 1928 Gonne is a constant in Yeats life, even as she goes on to marry another. In the rapidly changing Irish political landscape of the first decades of the 20th Century will there be room for an unconventional love story such as theirs? Or will their pasts and love prove too controversial for 1920s Ireland?

Yeats Besotted is a lovely short play that entertains and intrigues in equal measure. It is important to note that prior knowledge of the protagonists is not needed due to the capability of Quinn’s script and the universalism of the plays key themes. With luck, Yeats Besotted will in time become a longer production that can further investigate this unique relationship that had a profound effect on the work and reputations of two of Ireland’s greatest figures.

All That We Found Here

First Written for The Reviews Hub

All That We Found Here – The New Theatre, Dublin

All That We Found Here opens in the living room of a mansion house. Everything in this room has been chosen for its style, for the image it projects to others, and for its price tag. Against the back wall are bookshelves full of hardback classic philosophy texts, an open fireplace, and a family portrait of a man seemingly standing proud, purveyor of all he sees. As the cast enters the sounds of dance music begins and the men, wearing pig masks dance energetically with the one female figure spinning into a frenzy in the centre of the stage.

This is how we met Sophia. She is the estranged daughter of an exiled property tycoon who has recently returned to the family home. Each weekend is spent partying with the young and wealthy of Dublin. Finding herself with a home and finance but without the presence or love of her parents, she questions the way in which we live. Is it better for one to strive for and claim whatever you want and leave others behind, or whether people should work together for the common good? It is a question that reverberates throughout the play but Humphreys’ script does not provide any easy answers. When a group of workmen arrive the action takes an unexpected turn and these theories of self-interest versus community are put to the test in a shocking and powerful way.

As each scene progresses the audience are left guessing what will happen next. All That We Found Here features stylised character interactions that use lighting and sound to reinforce the feeling of the moment. Under Sarah Bradley’s very capable direction each tonal shift is smooth and believable. Surprisingly this is Donagh Humphreys first full-length play. It is an exceptionally strong start to a career as a playwright. Each character is believable and the crisis points of the play manage to stay on the side of natural rather than overwrought. There is plenty of humour throughout before the play begins to cross the line into drama and tragedy. All That We Found Here is sure to continue packing out Dublin’s New Theatre.

Runs until 15 April 2017 | Image: Contributed

Collected Stories

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Collected Stories – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Donald Margulies

Director: Aoife Spillane – Hinks

Collected Stories began its short run at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre this evening and closed to a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls. This two-handed play, written by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, was delivered excellently by actors Brid Ni Neachtain and Maeve Fitzgerald. Tonight’s success is not surprising when one considers the rave reviews this production received for its earlier performances at Dublin’s Viking Theatre and Civic Theatre.

The play begins in the home of celebrated short story writer and college lecturer Ruth Steiner. She has invited one of her pupils, Lisa Morrison, to join her for a tutorial in which they will analyse and work on Lisa’s short story Eating Between Meals. Fitzgerald’s Lisa is an over-excited, nervous young woman who is overwhelmed at the chance to meet her idol. She is keen to sit at Ruth’s feet to listen and learn. This is something that she perhaps does a little too well as becomes clear in the play’s closing scenes. Their relationship continues after this original meeting as Lisa takes on the role of Ruth’s assistant. In time she becomes an accomplished writer and the role of tutor and student goes on an interesting journey over the six years of their friendship. Under Spillane – Hinks careful direction Collected Stories shows the development and growth of Lisa and the loneliness, jealousy, and love that Ruth holds for her, with finesse.

Ni Neachtain does not put a foot wrong as the brittle and witty Ruth. There is a particularly interesting scene where Lisa receives her first professional review. It is a glowing piece in The New York Times. Margulies writing skewers the fear, hope, and frustration of the writer excellently and truthfully in this one scene. Lisa quickly moves from nerves to elation, to despair at the thought of having to recreate and develop upon this small success. Collected Stories investigates the life of a writer and the power and ownership of language; of stories. As each audience member walks away they carry with them a new story that change in tone and meaning over time.

Special attention has gone into the set design created by Hanna Bowe, which uses colour and dimmed lighting to evoke the feeling of a Manhattan apartment, whose owner has moved from beatnik poet to professional wordsmith. The shelves at the back of the stage are full of colour coordinated books and the desk and telephone table contain the organised clutter of a writer. The sofa and chair are homely and help to present the idea of middle-class literary success. It is the very picture of understated and aspirational.

Then This Theatre Company have presented a well paced, intelligent and absorbing piece of theatre. In a year that is already proving to be excellent for Dublin theatre Collected Stories is one show that truly stands out of the crowd.

 

Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

Writer: Joyce Dignam

Directors: Joyce Dignam and Meabh Hennelly

Tea + Toast Theatre Company are presenting their entertaining short play Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws at Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs. The play previously premiered at Smock Alley Theatre’s Scene and Heard Festival, which gives theatre makers the chance to present and workshop new writing. It is interesting to see a play develop like this. It has been expanded upon for its current run and is being delivered on the back of a wealth of positive reviews from the festival.

The set sits perfectly in the theatre. The stage is a matter of inches from the front row. It largely consists of a soft green lawn, with a children’s slide and holiday paraphernalia (fizzy drinks, crisp packets, Barbie dolls) scattered about. One quarter of the stage is made of sand with small sandcastles facing the audience. This is Wexford. Sisters Lana are Rosie are here with their parents on holiday. They have been left outside to play while the adults are having a ‘grown up talk’ in the pub. Pints are consumed and the children are left to wonder is something wrong or it just for grownups? The phrase that we all know; “you’re too young to understand” stalks the play.

As the pair spend the day together their family story starts to unravel and through their young eyes the audience see how, although they may not understand, they are taking everything in. The clever use of a story within a story gives a ferocious insight into their family life and one can see how closely intertwined love, rage and fear can be. Both actresses, Ali Hardiman as Lara and Tara Maguire as Rosie, deliver assured performances that are often full of humour and naiveté. In some ways this is also a mystery play as the audience are drawn into the drama and try to work out what has bought the sisters to this point at the same time that they are trying to understand the grownups who keep changing around them. This is an interesting piece of new writing that will continue to entertain and intrigue for the rest of its run.

 

Vampirella

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Vampirella – Smock Alley, Dublin

Director: Conor Hanratty

Composer: Siobhan Cleary

Librettist: Katy Hayes

Conductor: Andrew Synnott

The world premiere of Opera Briefs 2017 production of Vampirella took place this evening in the main stage of Smock Alley Theatre. This work by composer Siobhan Cleary is the result of a creative partnership between the Royal Irish Academy of Music and The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Trinity College Dublin.

Based on Angela Carter’s story this makes for an interesting and entertaining basis for an opera. As the somewhat unusual title suggests vampires feature heavily in this work. Set deep in the Carpathian Mountains The Count watches posthumously over his beloved daughter. His love outliving death. The young Countess meanwhile is consumed by loneliness, living in the shadows with only her Scottish Governess for company. In 1914 an English soldier called Hero seeks shelter in a desolate castle. Arriving on a bicycle in tweeds with a perfect upper class English accent his hunt for a cup of tea couldn’t be more out of place in this home of the undead. Soon he meets the beautiful Countess but is taken aback by her unusually sharp, pointy teeth and lengthy nails. When her pet cat scratches him she cannot resist the chance to drink.

Hero is presented as an innocent. He enters the stage from the right completely free of fear with a naïve sense of humour. Throughout the performance one waits to see whether he will retain this innocence and go onto survive or whether he will eventually be drawn into darkness. The final scene sees a change in tone that rounds of the opera on a sad and tragic note. Traditionally, in pantomime in particular, the characters representing good enter from stage right and those representing evil enter from stage left. This idea is used and played with in Vampirella when our protagonists take their places on the stage. The Count sits above the proceedings, only descending to the stage when he fears that his daughter will be lost to the charms of this invading Englishman.

Special applause should go to the orchestra who navigated the piece successfully from beginning to end while also managing to play in near darkness. They seemed to be both technically exact while supplementing and furthering the narrative without ever overpowering and obstructing the vocalists. The compact team worked well together in this tightly organised and plotted production. In line with this the stage is effectively utilised with simple props; a bicycle and a bed moving easily from one side to the other. Eight cloaked figures holding candles haunt the stage; singing, chanting, moving in unison.

This is an ideal opera to take place in the city that gave birth to Bram Stoker and that has been drawn year after year into tales of vampires. At the close of Vampirella one is left questioning who the real monsters are and can innocence survive in this world?