End Of.

First written for The Reviews Hub

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DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: End Of. – The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin

Writer: Seanan McDonnell

Director: Conor Hanratty

The Gutter Bookshop is nestled behind Smock Alley Theatre at the bottom of Cow’s Lane, an area of Dublin on the edge of Temple Bar, that is crammed with cake shops and boutique jewellery stores. It is the perfect place to set a play. One of the benefits of the Fringe Festival is that small scale plays such as End Of. are given the chance to show off what they can do in unusual or different locations.

End Of., a play by writer Seanan McDonnell, makes excellent use of its setting. The story is set in the bookshop itself. The characters move around the counter and boxes of books as if they have been doing so for years. It feels natural and is a clever use of space to further a story. Near the end the setting becomes increasingly significant. Without giving spoilers, the production team have managed to do wonders with the space provided.

The characters spend their lives with books. They are surrounded by the summation of human knowledge and experience. This becomes overlooked though as an argument at the beginning of the working day begins to escalate. Shiv, played by Charlene Craig, and Drew, played by Will Irvine, are getting ready for the day when they are interrupted by Ciaran, their new boss played by Damian Gildea. Drew has always aspired to be an actor but life has not gone to plan and he finds himself working year in year out in the shop. Shiv still has hope of a different life although her academic history is less than inspiring. When they discover something unusual has made its way to the counter Shiv is full curiosity, calling Ciaran to take part in her excitement. Drew however is sceptical. As they argue their points become increasingly polarised, angry and personal.

Written during the recent political changes in America and Europe End Of. skewers the violence of modern disagreements in a humorous and interesting way. This was a pleasant evening and another valuable addition to the Fringe Festival programme.

Runs until 24 September 2017 | Image: Contributed

Owen Wingrave

First Written for The Reviews Hub

DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Owen Wingrave – O’ Reilly Theatre, Dublin

Composer: Benjamin Britten

Director: Tom Creed
Conductor: Stephen Barlow

Owen Wingrave, which was composed during the height of the Vietnam War, questions whether pacifism is an act of strength or cowardice. By deciding to step away from a life of war and conflict he is also walking away from everything that his family have stood for; honour through courage, defending Queen and Country no matter the cost. More than this it is also about family. The audience is engendered to feel sympathy for Owen as his family turn on him. The weight of his past and his family history bears down on Owen as he breaks away, deciding upon his own belief system even though they conflict so dramatically with those he grew up with.

This may not be the most obvious choice of opera, however, it is an intriguing addition to the Fringe Festival programme. As Owen becomes increasingly isolated the speed of the production increases. The second half flies by, building in intensity to its tragic climax.

The back wall is designed to look like an Army barracks. The soldiers wear green fatigues that give the story a modern touch. At one point a British flag is projected on the back wall. It flutters before disappearing. Although the staging and lighting are relatively simple it is used to maximum effect. Plinths are brought onto the stage and statues of birds of prey placed on top. They are intimidating and dominate the stage. This is a great use of symbolism on stage that both enhances the storyline and also makes it easier to follow for those less familiar with opera.

The cast and orchestra all perform well, however special mention should go to Christopher Cull as Spencer Coyle who carries off the complex part with nuance, and Benjamin Russell who plays Owen with aplomb.

Hopefully, this production will return to Dublin soon.

Runs until 16 September 2017 | Image: Contributed

Close to the Sun

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Dublin Fringe Festival: Close to the Sun – Smock Alley, Dublin  

 

Writer: Philip Doherty

Director: Stephen Darcy

Is it ever possible to outrun your past?

The play begins with a story. Three workmen with Irish accents introduce the audience to an old Irish curse. A family have been plagued by alcohol, devotion so deep it turns in on itself, the dark thoughts of jealousy and confusion and the bloody release of an early death. The curse runs through the generations. When we meet Colin, an Irish emigrant to Australia, he is trying to live a life as far away from this torment as possible. With his sweetheart Sophie, they are planning their wedding when out of the blue his older brother Rory turns up on his doorstep. His arrival throws everything into disarray as our couple must face themselves and each other, to work through the lies to a place of honesty.

Close to the Sun also explores the relationship between the Irish diaspora and ‘home’. For Oisin, soon to move back to Cavan, with his children who were born in Australia he will soon find out whether the place he once left still exists and if his new family can make a life there. It is also through him that the cast realise that they have been drawn to other Irish abroad, finding it difficult to find a way in to a new culture. They are a part of ‘the lost generation’ who left their homeland and then experienced the dislocation that comes with this. For Colin though his marriage to Sophie could be about to change all of that. Played by Mary Murray she is a surprising and sparky character. Toni O’Rourke, who was wonderful in Donagh Humphrey’s All That We Found Here, features as Sophie’s niece and confident Alexis. Each member of the cast holds their own. The play feels very cohesive as it glides from scene to scene. Close to the Sun is alternately funny, poignant and surprising. It is a thoroughly entertaining addition to the Dublin Fringe Festival 2017.

Runs Until 17th September 2017 | Image: Contributed

Everything Not Saved

DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Everything Not Saved – Project Arts Centre

Devised by: MALAPROP with Dylan Coburn Gray

Director: Claire O’Reilly

Everything Not Saved is this year’s Fringe Festival presentation from MALAPROP theatre company. In 2015 they were awarded Spirit of Fringe award for LOVE+ so expectations are high for their new show. They tackle the big subjects through three very different scenes. As the play begins a voice speaks out over the theatre as the words spoken are projected for all to see. From the beginning, we are asked to question our memory and how our thoughts and ideas change over time. By remembering someone or an event we change it. This is shown in the first scene. A former couple (who are not named), one of whom is a photographer, have very different ideas of how their relationship began to come to an end. The photographer keeps a photo of her former partner that reminds her of the shyness and later blossoming of her now friend. The other woman however, sees this image as an argument. She didn’t want it to be taken and the fact that it still exists highlights the different way they view not just their past together but also their key values. The topic of memory and the telling of history are particularly important at the moment. Many people in the audience will see illusions to current politics and the shattering of a set narrative that all parties can agree upon.

MALAPROP make use of interesting staging, that allows them to change scene easily within the relatively small stage (the performance is staged on the Cube stage at the Project Arts Centre) and is supplemented by audio visuals throughout. The play is frequently funny and sparky. The voiceover elicits laughs from the audience early on. The penultimate scene is powerful and unexpected. It may have been better to close the play here. Queen Elizabeth II, the police, a dancing Rasputin all feature in the abstract and thoroughly enjoyable Everything Not Saved.

Bottlenote

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DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Bottlenote – 13 North Great Georges Street, Dublin

Bottlenote have taken over one of Dublin’s hidden gems. 13 North Great Georges Street is an old tenement building that has fallen into disrepair. While every other building near it seems to be in perfect condition number thirteen feels as though it hasn’t been touched in the past one hundred years. It is a great choice of venue. Immediately the audience is presented with something a little bit out of the ordinary.

Bottlenote are a collective of Irish musicians, six of whom have joined together to form Power of Two, a night of improvisory music supplemented by the surroundings and acoustics of the Georgian building and soft focused lighting. Much of the building is in darkness with only the musicians highlighted. Each room has a different colour theme. On the ground floor, with the outside world shut out, electronic music with purple and blue lights dominate the room. There are no chairs for the audience. Instead one follows the music from room to room, viewing the musicians at work, a little like a living art exhibition.

The performers are David Donohoe and Justin Carroll on synths, David Lacey on percussion, Sean MacErlain on clarinet, Shane Latimer modular musician, and Matthew Noone on a sarod. In the 1950s a working-class family lived on the second floor. At night, the young daughter would look up at the ceiling, listening to the ceili dancing above. This performance brings that feeling of wonder alive in a truly unique and interactive way.

Bottlenote fits in well with the Fringe Festival ethos and provides a great opportunity to discover something new and different.

 

Happy Birthday Jacob

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Writer: Michael Marshall

Director: Laura Bowler

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

A well lived in kitchen, with children’s toys and fairy lights under the table dominates the stage with a door either side; one leading to an unseen upstairs, another leading outside. This door is always closed. Soon two brothers enter the stage. Jacob is seventeen and tense. Lucas is ten, in blue pyjamas, red socks and smiling. It takes a moment to realise what is missing from the domestic scene. The brothers are alone. Their mother has been gone for years. Their father, a drinker left one night. They are waiting for him to return, which helps to explain Jacob’s tension. As the older of the two he has taken on the role of parent. He is helped by his friend Terry who is loud, brash and sweary. She also loves Jacob and Lucas and tries in her own way to help. Her character is a little exaggerated but she brings warmth and comedy to the play.

The audience enter the theatre to the sound of 90s music: The Spice Girls, Madonna, The Backstreet Boys. Although not everyone would admit to it there was a lot of singing along and heads bobbing. Music is an important part of this production. Lucas plays and bonds with Jacob and Terry through music. They sing out loud, dance, jump about the kitchen with abandon. It is fun and beautiful. Music and recordings also plays a pivotal role in relation to their parents. The support team have done fine work on the sound, costumes and setting which complements the actors and narrative movement at all times.

Jacob has struggled to keep their parent’s absence a secret. He works, gets Lucas to school and does his best to be the adult. However, when their mother turns up again how long will they be able to carry on? The relationship between Jacob, played by Stephen O’Leary, and Lucas, played by Finian Duff Lennon, is excellently portrayed and is the highlight of the play. As their life together is forced to adapt to change the audience waits to see whether they will be able to hold on to each other. Despite everything that Jacob has done Lucas still holds out hope of one day having a family. He likes fairy tales with happy endings and more than anything would love his own. There are moments in the play that are touching and heart breaking; that provoked tears. To be able to make an audience both laugh and cry is quite a skill.

The New Theatre champions new writing and has given this play the chance to develop and respond to criticism. Happy Birthday Jacob seems to have benefitted massively from this experience and the team have turned out a well-formed theatre experience. There are few other places that give writers and theatre makers the chance to premiere new work. Plays such as this are a testament to the theatres ethos and show why it is important for new writers to be nurtured and given the chance to put their ideas of the stage. This is a very strong debut from playwright Michael Marshall.

 

The Rivals

First Written for The Reviews Hub

The Rivals, Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin

Writer: Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Director: Liam Halligan

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

Smock Alley Theatre has an interesting claim to fame. Dublin’s oldest surviving theatre is well known for helping to bring the plays of celebrated playwright, poet and essayist Richard Brinsley Sheridan to the stage. 242 years after Sheridan’s first ever play The Rivals graced the Smock Alley stage, it makes its long overdue return to the theatre’s main stage. Minutes into this vibrant and entrancing production it becomes clear that Smock Alley theatre goers should not have had to wait so long for The Rivals return.

Written in 1774 this comedy of errors is set in the English spa town of Bath. It is here that conspiracy, intrigue, duels and love rivals flourish. Seventeen year old Lydia Languish is hopelessly romantic. Inspired by the novels she reads she is desperate for a love affair, devoid of financial ties or obligations. Her lover ‘Beverley’ is actually Captain Jack Absolute, who has created a false identity for himself so that he can woo Lydia and eventually elope with her. Lydia’s Aunt, Mrs Malaprop, is keen that she should make a good match. She is an excellent character that continues in the vein of The Merry Wives of Windsor’s Mistress Quickly. Well-meaning middle aged women who meddle and interfere. Mrs Malaprop’s interesting use (or perhaps more accurately misuse) of language is used to create comedy and confusion in equal measure. Lydia has two other suitors and soon it becomes impossible for her romance with the mysterious ‘Beverly’ to continue. Alongside our star couple are Julia and Faulkland, who despite their love for each other cannot seem to move past their insecurities. To add to the confusion is Irish Sir Lucius O’Trigger. This combative and vivacious character is conducting his own romance by letter. However mischievous Lucy, paid to carry his letters to Lydia, instead allows them to go astray. Further buffoonish Bob Acres has an interest in Lydia and Sir Anthony Absolute is always on the verge of a temper as he tries to negotiate the engagement of his only son Jack.

If the plot sounds a little confusing is it played smoothly and with humour. One can’t help but sit back and enjoy. The capable cast work well together to keep the audience laughing from beginning to end. Mrs Malaprop is excellently played by Deirdre Monaghan, who brings full meaning to her misuse of language while also making her a likeable and sympathetic character. Finbarr Doyle, Colm O’Brien and Aislinn O’Byrne all carry off the difficult task of playing more than one character. They make this seem easy and the changing of hats (or wigs) is used to add to the comedy. The costumes are well done and each reflects the character well. A special mention has to go to Fag/Bob Acres’ ever changing colourful and unmissable wigs.

The Rivals is performed on the main stage which backs onto one of the original stone walls. This works perfectly for the set with soft lighting at the back creating a divide between inside and outside. The set pieces are simple but well done. The colours of the divan and sofa work sympathetically with the costumes. The stage gives the actors plenty of room to manoeuvre, meaning that at one moment the audience can be in a upper class dressing room, the next in the middle of a duel in the cold early morning fields.

This joyously entertaining production by Smock Alley is not to be missed. Hopefully it will not be another 242 years until The Rivals makes its way back to this stage.

Runs until 2 September 2017