Dinner in Mulberry Street

Dinner in Mulberry Street – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre

Writer: Fitz-James O’Brien

Adaption: Michael James Ford

Director: Bairbre Ni Chaoimh

In Dinner in Mulberry Street Christmas in New York is falling far short of a fairy tale. It is 1857 and newlyweds Agnes and Dick have fallen on hard times. Unable to find work they must use every ounce of creativity and initiative that they have to avoid starvation. As the drama unfolds pieces of their former life are brought to life. Agnes was a social heiress; used to the finer things in life and without a care in the world. When she met Dick, a charming and worldly young man with big ideas they fell in love. Marrying for affection saw them abandoned by their wealthy relatives and left navigating a world of poverty. Having sold all that they own and resorting to using the last of their furniture for firewood, they are in need of a miracle. With Christmas just around the corner will our couple find salvation in time?

The entire play takes place within their tenement room. The world outside is alluded to and feels as though it is pushing inwards. There are thugs on the corner and the ever-present fear of the landlord is stark when a surprise knock comes to their door. Based on a short story by Cork-born Fitz-James O’Brien Dinner in Mulberry Street is of its time. Although an engaging and hopeful story an opportunity to do something a little different was missed. The financial difficulty that the couple found themselves in could have been further drawn out. References to the perilous rental situation and financial strain of the Christmas period should have been particularly poignant.

Under set designer Andrew Murray Bewley’s has been turned into a mid-nineteenth century tenement home. The pallet bed in the corner and furniture made of wine crates immediately placed the action in the poverty and grime of the 1850s. The table set to the back of the stage remains bare except for a tablecloth. This is where much of the action is focused as Agnes and Dick fantasise about past meals and bring them to life with their imagination. A fire faces into the stage and Colm Maher’s lighting design complements the feel of the play as the stage is imbued with warmth and light at key moments.

There were some artful moments of comedy under the direction of Bairbre Ni Chaoimh. As Agnes and Dick role-play their old lives and past meals that they have relished, they each take on the part of former butler Hamish; slipping into Scottish accents to differentiate each character. This was carried on into the comical fight scene between Giacomo and Dick which was entertaining to watch. Ashleigh Dorrell played the part of frustrated, hungry, hopeful wife wonderfully. Subtle changes in mood and hand gestures let the audience into her character. The central relationship is well played and Dorrell and Jamie O’Neill as Dick make a convincing couple.

Dinner in Mulberry Street is a pleasant Christmas treat.

Image: Contributed

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Woman Undone

Woman Undone – Project Arts Centre

Text and Lyrics: Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan, and Mary Coughlan

Original Music: Valgeir Sigurdsson

Director: Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan

Woman Undone premiered at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre and from the queue of people waiting to go in it was clear that this was one of the theatre seasons big draws. For someone unfamiliar with Mary Coughlan the reasons soon became clear.

Mary has lived quite a life. We are informed in the opening that she has paved the way for women, and been one of Ireland’s best-loved singers. But we are also told that she has lost much in the process. This is the story of how she became herself; how a young girl became unraveled; and it is the story of her relationship with her father. As her early life is re-imagined on stage the adult Mary is able to step in and comment. At times her anger and fury are palpable. At others, the fear, confusion, and sorrow pour from the stage. Woman Undone features alcoholism, addiction, abuse, and mental illness. Seen through the prism of Mary’s life these themes reflect many of the tropes of the Irish woman over the past six decades.

Four women dressed as men are first to take to the stage. They are the group Mongoose. Their musical additions complement the haunting score and each person takes on an active role in the re-imaging. Mary’s father, played by Molly O’Mahony, is smart and sure in his army uniform. However, when she is born he doesn’t know what to do with a daughter. He is awkward and uncomfortable around her. The choreography is very well done; showing how loving relationships can be full of pain. Dancer Erin O’Reilly was mesmerising and vital throughout. From the moment she crawled onto the stage as the infant Mary she takes ownership of the role, using movement to tell the often dark and harrowing story.

The set design complemented the action perfectly. A red car to the left of the stage; broken, full of music, steam and the possibility of life. Mary’s life froze when she was involved in a car accident and much of her later trauma comes back to moments spent trapped in that red car. It holds her in place until she is able to break free of the past. Audiovisuals and strobe lighting are used at points of high emotion to elevate the production.

When Mary sang she dominated the stage. The only slight niggle: there were a few moments of speech that showed that more work needs to be done on enunciation and projection to ensure everyone in the theatre space can hear. With such an important piece of theatre, it would be a shame for any of it to be missed.

Mary’s life has involved a lot of pain and hardship. Tonight this pain was turned into art. Emotional, moving and at times deeply sad, it took several minutes to get one’s breath back after the ending.

Image: Simone Rudolphi

 

Saint Nicholas

First Written by The Reviews Hub

Dublin Theatre Festival: Saint Nicholas – Smock Alley, Dublin

Writer: Conor McPherson

Director: Simon Evans

“In the dark, there are vampires.”

So, first things first. This is Brendan Coyle’s return to the Irish stage for the first time since 2002 and he is reuniting with playwright Conor McPherson for the Irish premiere of Saint Nicholas. For everyone wanting to know if it was worth the wait: it was.

Named “the finest playwright of his generation” by The New York Times McPherson is one of Ireland’s favourite contemporary playwrights. The last time he teamed up with Coyle was on the Olivier Award-winning The Weir in 1999. As a result, expectations were high for the mystical monologue Saint Nicholas.

Commanding and charismatic Coyle plays perhaps the most bad-tempered and disgruntled theatre critic to grace the stage. He wields his pen as if it is full of poison. Renowned and feared among Ireland’s acting community our nameless commentator enjoys the fear and power he holds over others. Jaded and uninspired it has been a long time since he really enjoyed himself, felt something real or created a story of his own rather than commentating on the creations of others. (Those with an axe to grind against theatre critics will definitely enjoy Saint Nicholas.) During a mediocre version of Salome (well, in truth he thought it much worse than mediocre) he becomes infatuated with a young actress. From this point on his life is thrown off course. Unsettled and desperate his actions endanger his career and home life. At his lowest, he meets a man with a youthful face and a strange magnetic pull. This is William. And William is a vampire.

The main stage of Smock Alley is perfectly suited to the frequently dark and mysterious feeling of the play. The sound effects were subtle and used to great effect to maximise emotion and change narrative direction. Lights were kept to a minimum. This is a man who lives his life as the skies turn dark; frequenting pubs and theatres when the sun has gone in. The auditorium is shrouded in a fine haze and the darkness of the story – and of our narrator – is reflected in the lack of bright light. Lighting designer Matt Daw has worked hard to create a chilling atmosphere. For the second half candles surround the stage and spotlights are used to follow Coyle as he paces the stage.

An exceptional and absorbing production Saint Nicholas is the Dublin Theatre Festival’s crowning glory.

Image: Helan Maybanks

The End of Eddy

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Dublin Theatre Festival: The End of Eddy – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Edouard Louis

Adaptor: Pamela Carter

Director: Stewart Laing

“Today I will be a man.”

There has been a trend in recent months for plays that explore what it means to be a man and how to go about being so. The End of Eddy fits into this pattern and delves into the ideas of manhood and masculinity in unflinching detail. For the young Eddy, growing up “visibly gay” in a town that values hard labour, violence, and strength, he couldn’t have been more out of place. Based on the groundbreaking book En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule by Edouard Louis The End of Eddy is an innovative and powerful production.

His tale of sexual awakening is both intensely personal and also universal. Kwaku Mills and Alex Austin shine as Eddy. At times playing him simultaneously, at others taking it in turns. They also interact with themselves in character on four screens that line the stage; Austin playing Louis’s mother was a particular highlight. Both actors have an obvious love and appreciation for the source text that reverberates throughout their performance. Although well directed the production could have made more use of the entire stage and the bus shelter at the back was under utilised.

Pamela Carter’s adaptation draws heavily on the text while also creating something new. They take the unusual approach of introducing the play and at times Mills and Austin turn to the audience and step through the fourth wall to change the narrative. This was an interesting and novel approach that made the audience feel a part of the action. Some might feel that this broke up the narrative flow of the piece, however, it was done with such charm and an obvious love for Eddy that it felt natural. The play is at times comic, incredibly serious, and finally tinged with hope. One feels that Carter’s version is perhaps more optimistic than the original and this feeling spread through the audience bringing them to their feet at the end.

Image: Contributed

Klosterhof

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Dublin Theatre Festival: Klosterhof – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Creators: Iwona Nowacka and Janek Turkowski

Dublin is a city that has seen much in the line of building works, regeneration and change over the past few years. Every new brick and LUAS line track that has been laid down builds upon centuries of history. Buildings gone, lives lived and passed. The history that is around us every day can be fascinating. When living in the city though few of us think to pay attention to these changes. Even fewer of us (if any really) would think to record over three hundred hours of footage of life just outside their window.

Theatre makers Nowacka and Turkowski live in one of the few buildings in their city in Poland to survive 1944 and the devastation of war. They decided to turn their cameras on their neighbourhood. In doing so they have collected over three hundred hours of footage that has been pieced together to be placed in a time capsule to be opened in their year 2109. However, this footage, which hopes to capture and preserve, has not been edited down to present only the dramatic moments. They have carefully avoided creating a staged atmosphere and have stuck closely to the desire to be naturalistic and to present their footage as is. Although this is very interesting it does mean that 14 minutes of the production is taken up with footage of contractors taking up paving slabs and replacing tiles on a roof.

Klosterhof is probably philosophically interesting and we can only wonder what will be made of the time capsule in the year 2109; will it feature in the Dublin Theatre Festival? Nowacka and Turkowski are enjoyable companions through this journey and their commentary is often sweet, honest and touching. There is a particularly good section that focuses on the story of a homeless man whose life is unexpectedly changed by the act of filming.

For some, the ideas surrounding Klosterhof will draw them in and it is important to note that this is a very pleasant viewing experience. However, there are many that will not find the appeal in Klosterhof. It is experimental and unusual. Once again one can question if Klosterhof was really well placed at the Theatre Festival, or if like many other recent productions should have been a part of the recent Fringe Festival.

Image: Contributed

Nassim

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Dublin Theatre Festival: Nassim – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Nassim Soleimanpour

Director: Omar Elerian

Nassim is an unconventional play by an unconventional playwright.

Nassim Soleimanpour is a multi-disciplinary theatre-maker from Iran. He has a history of creating experimental, one-of-a-kind productions and Nassim is no different. As the title suggests this is a personal and vulnerable piece of work from the playwright. Each night a different actor takes to the stage. They have not seen a script and do not know what to expect. There is a microphone and a large red X on the stage. To the left, there is also a small desk with a box on top of it. It is from this that 70 minutes of theatre unfolds.

On Tuesday night actor Nyree Yergainharsian stepped up to the challenge and volunteered to be the one in the spotlight. Her performance was brave and well done, despite the fact that she had not been able to prepare. The staff at the Project Arts also helped out along the way to facilitate a smooth performance experience.

The name ‘Nassim’ means breeze, and like his name Nassim’s story breezes through the Project Arts Centre, touching everyone who encounters it. It is impossible to capture and hold onto and yet every person in the theatre knows they have been touched by it. Nassim is humorous and entertaining. The ending ties everything together in a neat bow and the twist is surprisingly sweet and tender.

Nassim was a lovely production and truly unique; however is perhaps another example of a production that should have been a part of the recent Dublin Fringe Festival rather than the Theatre Festival. At present, it can be difficult to see what marks the Theatre Festival out as distinct and unique.

Image: Contributed

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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.

Image: Contributed