The Restoration of Hope is The New Theatre’s pre – Christmas offering for 2017 and it is an interesting choice. It has one of the most unusual plot lines to grace the stage this year.
The action begins in an office on the quays. A man walks in singing a medley of Christmas songs and he sets about decorating his office with tinsel. The festive cheer doesn’t last however when out of the blue a drowning woman appears. Standing inside a red triangle is the newly deceased Hope Whyte, played by Jody O’Neill. In shock it takes her a few moments to realise that she is no longer on Dun Laoghaire pier, and is instead face to face with a strange man wielding a Bounty bar.
Partly inspired by the Faust legend Hope is given the chance to be restored to life, for a limited period of time, but only if she commits to a blood soaked contract. Working with her mentor Larry McGraph, played by Nick Devlin, Hope has to decide what another shot at life is worth and whether she is the sort of person who can take that step. Added in to the mix is demon Luca, played by Shane O’Regan, who is out to capture as many souls as he can. Hope is not a normal victim; she is a single minded business woman who is prepared to negotiate even this devilish pact.
There are moments of humour throughout and the play alludes to the larger issues of the day at different moments. This individual story offers an insight into the wider issues of power, authority and revenge. At times The Restoration of Hope is dark and wicked, with it’s tongue firmly in cheek. Much of the play is a two hander between Devlin and O’Neill who bounce off each other and expose each others fears and weaknesses.
Carl Kennedy’s sound design works very well throughout. The audience enter the theatre to the sound of a Christmas theme with a dark undercurrent twinkling in the background. Lights and careful staging are used at times to create atmosphere and momentum. A driving scene is a particular pleasure. Similarly, although sparse there is a good use of props throughout (look out for the sword!).
This is the second part in The Eerie Trilogy by playwright Philip St John but it is not necessary to have seen The Temptress as The Restoration of Hope stands alone excellently. This supernatural tale is also a great anecdote to the sentimentality that predominates at this time of year.
Runs Until 16th December 2017.
Co – Produced by Speckintime and High Seas Productionss, in association with Mermaid Arts Centre and The New Theatre
Blacklight productions present the Irish premiere of Charlotte Delbo’s play Who Will Carry the Word? This play, and the playwright, are criminally under known and this offers an opportunity to bring Delbo’s experiences and writings to a whole new audience.
Who Will Carry the Word? draws on Delbo’s wartime experiences as an active member of the French Resistance, who along with other members of her brigade, was taken prisoner and eventually sent to Auschwitz. Delbo and her fellow comrades had prepared for the thought of prison and even torture, but nothing could prepare them for the reality they were about to find themselves in. This was a place where, Delbo tells us, truth, certainty and all past understanding no longer had any meaning. The only question left, was whether to try to survive, or to die. For some suicide was the only right, the only choice they felt they had left. For others the need to survive outweighed all of the horror. After so many deaths it became essential that their experiences, their voices, could be heard, and given meaning. For these resistance fighters the act of resistance didn’t end with their capture.
This is one of the few times that a play might benefit from being performed on a smaller stage: to emphasise the feeling of claustrophobia, of closed doors and no chance to escape. The large open space of the stage invited the audience in, however it meant that the action was at times spread too far apart, with key moments occurring to the left or right of the audience’s viewpoint. A large all female cast pull together to imitate standing at roll call, in straight lines, unable to hold onto each other. For the rest of the time only several actresses are brought to the fore. For many of us this will be our first time hearing about the female experience of Auschwitz.
Sound and lighting were used to great effect. At times searchlights roam over the women. Each woman straightens her back and looks ahead when caught in the light. Sirens and gunshots are well timed to complement the action on stage. The production improves as it progresses. The philosophies being debated at the beginning become increasing personal. The audience become attached to the characters as more is revealed about them. The final scene is tenderly told and devastating. It would have been easy to over play this section however the director and actors manage to infuse the final moments of the play with honesty and a sad beauty.
Each character has a five digit number tattooed onto her arm. An important reminder that they represent real women who suffered this horrendous fate. Although it is not quite possible to say that one enjoyed this production it was one of the most singular and worthwhile theatre going experiences in Dublin this year. This is an ambitious production that attempts to tell a difficult story and it can only be enhanced as more and more people take the opportunity to see Who Will Carry the Word?.
Runs Until 2nd December 2017 at the Complex, Dublin 7. Running time 1hr 40 mins.
Dublin, Ireland’s The Project Arts Centre, which has made a name for itself by hosting innovative and new theatre productions, hosted The Eurydice Project in the Spring of 2017. The Eurydice Project is a radical retelling of the Greek Orpheus and Eurydice myth created by White Label, a collective of independent theatre artists. Dating back over two thousand years, the most commonly told version of the myth is attributed to Latin poet Virgil. It is to be found in book four of Georgics, Virgil’s book of rural poetry thought to have been published 29 BC. Joanna Crawley’s script flips the original myth on its head by telling the story from Eurydice’s perspective, giving her a voice and agency, perhaps for the first time.
Women’s voices and stories are becoming increasingly common in Dublin’s theatres. Over the past few years there has been an active attempt to investigating women’s stories and bringing women’s voices into mainstream Irish culture. In 2016, #WakingTheFeminists was born. When the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National Theatre, released their Waking the Nation program for 2016, intended to commemorate the 1916 Easter Uprising, there was a surge of frustration and anger at the male dominated program. Many felt that women were being erased from their own history and culture. At this point it is worth noting that the majority of theatre goers are female (one statistic states that in the early 1700s two-thirds of theatre goers were female and that in 2010 this was still the case). Despite this they have not had an equal presence backstage or onstage. #WakingTheFeminists brought attention to this and set out to change things. This production of The Eurydice Project is also noticeable for its heavy female presence in the form of lead actress India Mullen, playwright Joanna Crawley, composer Jane Deasy, and choreographer Monika Bieniek.
Crawley taps into this sense of fear, jealousy, and lack of trust to create an entirely modern retelling of the myth. The idea of women not being trusted is particularly important. The myth has always been considered a tragedy. A story of young lovers torn apart; at first by fate and then by insecurity, Eurydice has never had a happy ending. A tragedy by its very nature is based on human suffering. In this case, grief and loss run throughout the play. As Crawley demonstrates, much of this suffering is self-inflicted. It does not come from external sources, but from within.
In the play, at first Eurydice is hesitant to embrace her feelings for Orpheus. She meets him as he is returning from war on his way to claim his crown after his father’s death. In time, she falls for him and he for her. Their love is equal and eternal. As his duties compel him to return to the city, she is taken away from her natural habitat and held within a maze of roads, brick buildings, walls. For someone who is used to freedom this is a difficult change to navigate. At night she leaves the city for the woods. There she discovers that the place that has always nurtured her is endangered. Women are being found hanging from branches. Trees are being cut down to make way for urban development. All that Eurydice held dear is being eroded. In town she hears misogynistic comments. Always one to fight back, she challenges these slurs but her husband tells her ignore them, just let them go to preserve harmony.
Into this complex mix walks Hades. Wearing purple and red velvet and snazzy dancing shoes in Crawley’s script, he is a former friend, perhaps a past lover, of Eurydice’s. They share an understanding of where she is from and what she values, which increasingly Orpheus seems to discount. Orpheus has always been jealous of her relationship with Hades. A mischief maker with a sinister smile, his appearance does not bode well for their relationship. His form of mischief is decidedly modern though. An audio visual is played on the back of the stage of Eurydice and Hades sharing confidences of her frustrations with her current relationship and reflecting on the relative freedom she felt in the wild (and by association with Hades). This dramatic moment shatters Orpheus. This allusion to revenge pornography is a clever trick by Crawley. It is at once believable and modern. Here Orpheus is given the unpleasant chance to slip back in time and witness his lover in a previous relationship. The idea that she will never stay with him is shattering. He had hoped that having a child together would hold her in place next to him. But what is there between them now?
This alludes to two issues that are prevalent in Ireland at the moment. The first as touched upon is revenge pornography, which has become distressingly common with the proliferation of smart phones, social media, and the internet. Alongside this is the idea that through pregnancy and motherhood, Eurydice will be trapped. Encased as a “good wife” and a “good mother” next to him and away from the forest. At present the debate around abortion rights is raging in Ireland as the Repeal the Eighth movement hopes to push for a referendum which will ultimately lead to the removal of the laws currently forbidding Irish women to have abortions. An estimated twelve women a day travel overseas, usually to England, Wales, or Scotland for medical help that they feel should be available at home. The same theatre that produced The Eurydice Project recently hosted A Day of Testimonies. This was a response by artists in support of Repeal the Eighth and included film, live performances, music, installations, and discussions about a woman’s right to choose. The theatre has become a prime battleground for individuals and groups to bring this timely and complex issue into the light.
The past few years Dublin has seen a flourishing of small scale theatre productions that are tackling the big issues of the day. Social concerns such as homelessness, unemployment, masculinity, and violence are played out on stages above pubs, behind shops, and in old churches. If you want to see potentially challenging, difficult, socially conscious stories that reflect the lives of ordinary people who have been left behind by mainstream politics then head to the closest improvised, unconventional theatre space. By engaging with these issues playwrights are returning empathy and awareness to a society that is increasingly hostile to anything that fits outside of traditional norms.
Daniel Wade’s debut play The Collector opened to rave reviews and a full house at Dublin’s The New Theatre this January. It is striking for several reasons. The first being that it was first introduced to the public as a staged reading at the same theatre, and came to full production thanks to an online Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
The Collector opened in a dark, spare pool hall. The stage hummed with a darkness that belied the social issues burbling underneath. The stage was small—the actors stood within an arm’s length of the audience. The lights were set low and a large pool table set centre stage with a small desk and seat served as the set dressing.
Our protagonist Oren, is young and angry. Played in barnstorming fashion by Graeme Coughlan, Oren always knows how to find trouble. His bartender Uncle Des is more resigned to the way his life has turned out. Several years ago his son killed himself and in doing so killed a part of Des too. He lost his identity as a father and family man. Now Des works under the counter to supplement his benefits. The bar is a dangerous place frequented by gangland figures; staying open all night to serve the waifs and strays of the city. It is not the ideal place for anyone to find themselves but Des has few other options. Employment opportunities for his age group and skill set are thin on the ground and few workplaces are willing to give people time to recover from such a blow.
Suicide among young men, masculinity, and poverty are issues that are explored through this character driven narrative.
Oren’s life is thrown into chaos when he finds the body of his younger brother, Frank, who has also committed suicide. Frank was forlorn after a relationship with a visiting American male professor ended when he returned to America. To make matters worse, it seemed that everyone knew of Frank’s homosexuality except for Oren. To pay for Frank’s funeral, Oren borrows money and ends up in debt to a violent money collector.
Underlying all of this are different versions of masculinity. Oren’s violence and anger look helpless in this modern world and his new environment. He was unable to accept his brother for who he was and later finds himself unable to deal with his grief. Turning inwards he becomes increasingly aggressive, almost as if he wishes to destroy everything around him. Like everyone else he knows Oren has spent his life trying to get by, to make ends meet. Ultimately this is something he fails at. Unemployed, in debt and alone, his actions catch up with him one fateful night.
We in Ireland have been living in difficult financial times. With the economic crash of 2008 Ireland’s financial Celtic Tiger imploded and with it went the dreams and expectations that many had grown used to. Wade’s play resonates, as does the question it asks: What is it that makes a man a man? The traditional role of breadwinner is harder to fulfill in an economy fueled by low wages, casual contracts, continual reductions in welfare, and a greater number of potential workers than jobs. With the advantage firmly in the hands of employers it is harder for workers to assert their rights.
Although the two suicides are of characters that the audience never met they are the driving factor and catalyst for the events unfolding onstage. Suicide has barely been touched upon elsewhere on the Irish stage. This is very surprising when one considers the alarmingly high rate of suicide in Ireland’s men. According to the National Suicide Research Association in 2015 the number of female suicides per 100,000 people numbered three whereas the number of male suicides per 100,000 numbered sixteen. This is similar across Europe and North America. In the United States the average annual suicide rate is thirteen per 100,000 with men being three and a half times more likely to die in this manner than women. Characters like Des and Oren represent the many who are some of the most effected by the rollback of the state and reduction in funding for community and social services.
Ireland’s current bleak economic reality also serves as the backdrop for another recent small scale production produced by Purple Hare Theatre Company, that examines an important social issue. Taking place above a city centre pub at the improvised theatre space The International Bar, Mark Richardson’s Anonymous is about homelessness. It is about how men with jobs and families end up living on the streets. How they survive and how friendship and art can provide hope in even the darkest corners. One of the main characters, Sean, is a poet. This is something he largely keeps secret, writing his thoughts in his notebooks, the only items he has left that are his. Under Nathalie Clement’s able direction, we see how writing helps Sean to feel human and fill his endless days. It might also be his only way out of poverty.
The two central characters Sean and Dolan are both men who once lived in relative comfort until bereavement and unemployment tore their lives apart. No one wanted things to turn out the way that they did. Anonymous highlights how everyone is just a step or two away from losing everything. The staging echoes the narrative. Sean, played by Zeff Lawless, makes his home on the floor; alone, next to bags of garbage. When Lawless speaks though, the audience hears someone ostracised from society who they can also relate to. Richardson manages to bring empathy back into the conversation around homelessness.
Walking out of the play, I noticed people huddled in sleeping bags in shop doorways, and it was a startling reminder that homelessness is all around us. The play works to humanize people we might otherwise walk past, feet quickening, eyes averted. By introducing the audience to individuals who just happen to sleep on the streets the audience respond to their humanity and real human fears and hopes.
At the moment theatre productions such as The Collector and Anonymous are tackling important issues that affect the audiences’ everyday lives. As older, more traditional ideas of masculinity, of how to live and work are being challenged on all fronts, the theatre is serving as one stage where these issues can be worked through.
By The Skin of Our Teeth – Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin
Writer and Director: William Dunleavy
What happens after it’s all over?
The actors are already on stage as the audience files in. The dark stage is covered in chairs that have been upturned, making it difficult to navigate path from one side of the theatre to another. It looks like a disaster scene. There are seven people on stage; six men and one woman. They are all wearing white tops that are ripped and stained with black trousers. One person is lying like a hospital patient at the back. The rest of the actors look like they are hiding or have taken shelter where they have fallen. No one speaks or moves. The tableau is broken when a man wearing a damaged white boiler suit rushes onto the stage and wakes up one of the men.
They are in some post – apocalyptic world. It soon emerges that they all know each other. They had all been imprisoned for violent, and in some cases strange, crimes, and yet it was these prisoners that survived the devastation. By The Skin of Our Teeth is surprisingly funny for a dystopian play. William Dunleavy’s script is witty and original, peppered with humour and insights into the human condition. There is nowhere else in Dublin where one will be able to hear jokes about cannibalism and the benefits of surviving the apocalypse on a cold winter night.
By The Skin of Our Teeth has been presented as a part of the Smock Alley Scene and Heard Festival 2017 which gives new writing to opportunity to get feedback so that a play can continue to develop. By The Skin of Our Teeth is an excellent demonstration of this ethos. With a little more work and a longer running time has the potential to turn into a powerful dark comedy. The final scene is quite moving as it makes the audience question themselves and their preconceptions. In this new world they can start over. Will they now have the chance to be seen as just people rather than criminals?
Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, Scene and Heard Festival 2017.
Writer and Performer: Romana Testasecca
Director: Karen Killeen
Movement Coordinators: Stephanie Dufresne
Producer: Palma Testasecca
Sound Designer: Garret Hynes
SYRIUS begins with Rasha, played by Testasecca, running in circles around the stage. We can hear her heavy breathing; there is no respite. She is wearing purple and green. As a young woman in Syria she is taking part in a peaceful protest with other women. They decided to wear wedding dresses as they reflect happiness and are as positive and nonthreatening as can be. Standing with her placard, white writing on a red background, Rasha has a wedding veil covering her face. She seems anxious and confused. Scared maybe. A speaker plays out a Syrian protest call. It isn’t long before she is imprisoned by the Assad regime. In a letter to her father she expresses her surprise at being incarcerated for standing on a street with a placard. Surely that is a totalitarian action? Finding the Syria she knew and loved is no longer Rasha tells her father she can no longer stay in the country. She hopes that the rest of her family can join her soon. She expresses the difficulty, fear and poverty of refugee camps and detention centres through her body: shoulders stooped, a constant weariness. However her tent turns into a boat sail and after seven countries and an ocean she finds herself in Portlaoise, Ireland. Here she spins with happiness arms open and free. Rasha has hope again.
Sound is used effectively throughout the performance. Her dance moves, sometimes like marching and stomping, sound out her emotions. The use of lighting, sound and movement is very strong. It is a very physical form of storytelling. If this production is developed on further it would be interesting to see how Rasha fares in her new home.
One person plays are particularly hard to pull off and Testasecca does this with aplomb. This is an excellent production telling the story of how and why a young girl would feel she has to leave her native country and family for a foreign land. If you are wary of ‘non – traditional’ theatre this might be the ideal show to see as the narrative and storytelling are so strong.
Presented by Rosebuds Theatre Company, who were last seen in All Washed Up at The New Theatre, SYRIUS runs at under 30 minutes as a part of the Scene and Heard Festival 2017.
Catch it while you can.
Runs Until 26th February 2017.
Key word: Magical