The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill

Walking in to the Boys School at Smock Alley feels just like walking into The Last Corner Shop on Misery Hill. Run by chalk and cheese brothers Mick and Joe O’Reilly they spend their days obsessing over missing money and missing socks. They are trying to withstand the tide of supermarkets and online shopping without much success. The staging has been excellently and carefully designed to look like all corner shops; nostalgia and curiosity jumbled together. A second glance at the very unusual selection of items on offer gives the audience a clue as to why this is misery hill; eggs for 8 euro next to 100 euro for a used, plain white T – shirt that was once worn by an under 21 footballer. Unsurprisingly the shoppers are not flocking to their store. The brothers are joined by friends Deana and Johno as they stagger through their day finding humour where they cannot find money. In their current situation, how long before they have to give in to their arch enemy: Dunnes (try and imagine the name Dunnes uttered in an over the top panto voice to signal doom and the enemy). How is a corner shop to survive in the modern world?

Joe (Barry John Kinsella) likes to start the day with his tunes. It sets him off on the right note as he dances around the shop with a broom. It’s a fun start to the day. George Benison’s Give Me The Night is bouncy and infectious. It sets the pace and at first the play kept up; with comedy wrapped around sharp social observations. The was developed upon by the introduction of Deana (Eimear Keating). A firecracker of a character full of energy and bite, it is difficult to see why she stays friends with them but her presence on stage is full of entertainment. Then, in walks Johno (Colm Lennon). A down and out he is a friend of sorts. The kind that you are stuck with from childhood and never manage to separate yourself from. He is prone to exaggeration and flights of fancy that are used to (ever diminishing) comedic effect.

Most of the play felt a bit grimy. Johno started off being funny, but his speeches continued to the point of almost pain. At the end there is a sudden emotional revelation. I say sudden because it came from absolutely nowhere, no lead up at all. There were moments earlier in the play that were supposed to act as breadcrumbs, but they were not fully formed enough to pave the way for the ending. The audience were left looking around wondering what had happened. There is much else throughout the play that goes unanswered. Story lines and plot points are started and then forgotten about. There is one plotline that dovetails through the production well. That of the mad old bat of a customer Mary (Denise O’Connor). Her transformation at the end fits and her explanation for the absurdity going on makes sense in the context of misery hill. If the final scene with Johno, can be worked back to flow so well from beginning to end then the script will soon come up to the great standard of acting on display. Keating had a particularly great roll to get into. Comedy, brutality, the voice of reason and justice all rolled into one, she without doubt had some of the most entertaining and enjoyable scenes. Lennon plays the part of homeless raconteur well and brings out the best in the others, including Kinsella’s Joe. And of course, none of this would work without the ‘straight’ man of the group, Owen O’Gorman’s long suffering older brother Mick, who acts as an excellent foil for the others and provides the anchor around which the production revolves.

There is a strain of Irish comedy that is very black, and this is an example of a production that veers too much away from comedy and into the black. The last few scenes in The Last Corner Shop have a brilliant twist and are surreal and wonderfully done. The Last Corner Shop is rough, rude and a little too long. It has the bones of a great play here, with key plot points, characters and vignettes. The middle needs to be worked on and the main through points sharpened so the audience can get involved with the action unfolding around them. Hopefully Last Corner Shop will be revisited in the future and buffed up into a diamond.

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Director: Mack Mirahmadi

Writer: Ciaran Gallagher & Mack Mirahmadi

Cast: Barry John Kinsella, Colm Lennon, Denise O’Connor, Eimear Keating, Owen O’Gorman

N.B. Interesting fact: there used to be a misery hill in Dublin 1.

N.B. Happy fact: I went home singing Benison’s Give Me The Night but was going mad when I couldn’t remember the name of the song or find it on youtube. Polliwog Theatre Company kindly responded to my facebook message and told me the name of the song.

From July 2019.

Kate Crackernuts

Kate Crackernuts, Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin

Writer: Sheila Callaghan

Director: Kate Cosgrave

 

Presented by No Drama Sheila Callaghan has rewritten the Scottish fairy tale, taking it from late nineteenth century Scotland to something with a decidedly more modern sensibility.

As with most good fairy tales’ beauty, jealously and unpleasant step parents set the action moving. Anne is the beautiful daughter of a king. His wife had a daughter called Kate – far less pretty but full of love for her sister. Unfortunately, the queen didn’t feel the same way. She placed an enchantment on Anne, turning her head into that of a sheep. This is an unusual turn of events but jealousy in fairy tales has a way of resulting in these things. Kate, furious at what had happened, wrapped Anne’s head in a green cloth, and set out to ‘fix’ her. Little did she know that it wasn’t just Anne’s life that had been changed that day. Her own future was on a new path. In practice this resulted in a philosophical sheep who feared he had lost his head (not a surprising fear given the context), an ailing moon of a boy / man called Paul who comes to life under disco lights but has lost the ability for words, an enchantress with a fondness for dead crows and much more besides.

The yearning to be needed runs throughout the production and manifests in painful, ugly, recognisable ways. It is possible to interrogate the text for a feminist reading of the nature of women in relationships and how they have been cultured into valuing beauty and being needed. It is when dancing, sickly, addicted Paul says he needs Kate, that she feels emotion pooling in her thighs, and knows that she will mind him in return for his need. The original tale ends with two marriages; two happy ever afters. In Callaghan’s version both sisters find themselves in the position of trying to change themselves, put themselves second, in order to keep the interest of the men they love. The fast pace and heightened humour ensures the action keeps moving and it is not until afterwards that one takes a moments to realise that, as Kate briefly said, all may not be well. It is a twist on the idea of a happy ending that leaves the audience both satisfied and with a small ball of uncertainty; the knowing that happily ever afters do not exist.

There was a great moment of heightened comedy near the end when everything fell into place in a self knowingly absurdist way that had the audience howling with laughter. The second half played better than the first; smoother, faster, more action and comedy. The text incorporates poetry throughout, some lines of which works better than others. The poetry Kate uses to talk about her newfound loved for the Paul, is particularly lovely and the sheep (go with it) summing up at the end, had some great lines; particularly when he reminded us all that we are always beginning and went on to liken marriage to a cotton thread of misery unravelling forward.

Kate Crackernuts takes place in the Main Stage of Smock Alley and there were a few issues with the staging. One wonders if it would have been better in the Boys School – using the old church windows to show Paul’s dancing sickness while Kate continues on her quest below. In the future it might be a good idea to rope off the side seating areas to keep the audience front and centre. From the reaction of the audience it became clear that there were things – physical comedy, gestures – that those at the sides missed out on. This was perhaps also a side effect of keeping most of the action in the centre and front of the stage and using the back to store props until needed. There were frequent scene changes that required different staging, meaning that set pieces were regularly being moved around while the action continued. Cosgrave dealt with this by integrating it into the show. Having two actors, dressed in white and pvc tutus dance and leap across the stage and at one point even interact with the cast. Although this was a good idea work needs to be done to make the transitions smoother in the future.

Kate Crackernuts was an interesting choice for No Drama, who are, in theory at least, an amateur dramatics group. I say in theory because their last production at Smock Alley, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, easily stood its ground next to ‘professional’ productions. Kate Crackernuts is a challenging piece to stage and it is impressive that they decided to take this one. No Drama certainly haven’t made it easy for themselves. There were some bumps in the production but overall Kate Crackernuts is a modern retelling of an old story; told with enthusiasm, humour and a large dash of absurdity. A philosophical comedy unlike anything you have ever seen on the Smock Alley stage before.

Runs Until 13th July 2019.

 

kate crackernuts

Shakers

Shakers, Smock Alley – Dublin

Writer: John Godber, Jane Thornton

Director: Claudia Kinahan

Cast: Connie Doona, Meg O’Brien, Hannah Osborne, Heather O’Sullivan

 

It is Friday night and fancy bar Shakers is packed to the rafters and four waitresses are rushed off their feet. Smiling and indulging the customers it is only when they are alone that their masks are taken off and the real characters emerge.

Carol, Adele, Nicky and Mel are going to be working until the last customer leaves, whether that means they will be there until 11pm or 2am. It is not an easy job and as they tell us, in rhyme (a great addition to the script), at times it is hellish, but the relationships they have made with each other lighten up the long nights. We follow the four over the course of one night, as they deal with every time of punter you can imagine, from young business men out on the pull to shop assistants who have saved up to spend their night off in the most glamorous spot in town. Occasionally each character takes the spotlight and launches into a soliloquy. This gives the audience a chance to hear their inner thoughts, hopes and fears. Their life situations are understandable and likely to be shared by many in the audience. The fear of saying ‘I just want to be looked after’, ‘I wish I could be footloose and fancy free’, ‘I’m scared of what the future holds’, stands out in its simplicity and truth.

The difficulty of working in places like this, particularly when female, are brought to the fore. The manager wants them to wear shorts, has previously told waitresses to lose weight, tells them to smile at bottom pinchers and put up with leerers and handsy customers. None of this feels exaggerated or laboured. The ultimate dilemma is highlighted when Carol considers breaking ranks with the others and wearing the shorts. She has a young daughter to get home to and principle often has to take a back seat to reality. During each soliloquy the stage goes dark except for a spotlight on the speaker. The others busy themselves with customers on the fringes. The set is kept to a minimum with light bouncing off the brick wall of the Boys School. Two lamps stand to the left of the stage. They are statues of women’s legs with lamps on top. This felt vaguely reminiscent of the milk bar in A Clockwork Orange but it is more likely that they were designed to parallel the action on centre stage; four women who when at work are not themselves, they are taught to hide their personalities and instead present a light and airy persona. On a practical note it would have been helpful if the lights had have been turned back on during the interval.

The four actors are obviously well practised as they work off each other with ease. It was particularly enjoyable to follow the adventures of the four young shop assistants, gearing up for a 21st, as they get ready to hit Shakers, party, dance, and maybe pin Rob Kelly down for once. There were some lovely moments of physical comedy under the direction of Claudia Kinahan (who also directed a personal favourite and award winner Knowing Nathan at the Complex in 2018), as the four slip between characters with ease, using accents and movement to inhabit each new character. The writing is frequently sharp and witty and the use of rhyme throughout keeps the action bouncing along. Although Shakers didn’t quite have the bite that the script suggests it wanted, and on occasion felt like a display of acting technique, it is a sparky and fun production at one of the top destinations in town.

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The Belly Button Girl

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*Edited, longer review. Contains spoilers.*

The Belly Button Girl The New Theatre

Writer and Performer: Tom Moran

Director and Producer: Romana Testasecca

The intriguingly titled The Belly Button Girl opens with our narrator (and sole performer) arriving at ‘Cousin Sharon’s’ 21st at a parochial hall in Dingle. Listless and not really enjoying the night, our narrator soon comes to life when he catches sight of the bar maid. Enchanted by her she quickly gains the moniker: The Belly Button Girl. Over the course of the weekend, through a series of accidents and misspoken phrases, they become close. The weekend closes as they wind up together in her bed in Portobello, Dublin. Our narrator is in love. Infatuated and contemplating their life together, we follow him over twelve months as their relationship grows and changes. Reminiscent of falling in love for the first time, The Belly Button Girl, is a story of love and confusion, edged with the hope of redemption.

A bench took centre stage, with beach paraphernalia decorating the front and back of the stage along with small items that are significant in the plot; an anchor, a small Buddha statue, pieces of driftwood. The set design, by Ursula McGinn, is delicate with each item carefully placed for maximum meaning. The soft blues and sandy pebbles recreate the feel of a small Dingle beach, where accidents and love stories can take place. This was complemented perfectly the excellently times lighting by Eoin Lennon. Bringing this together was the direction of Romana Testasecca, who demonstrates an understanding of the power of space and structure, and whose flair for movement reverberated through the performance.

Moran has a real knack for observation and some of the plays highlights emerge with the introduction of several secondary characters, from the ‘Sambuca lady’, to the ‘Massive Lad’ and the Dublin taxi driver. They offer the narrator an insight into the way in which capturing life’s small pleasures can lead to contentment. These were interesting vignettes, well drawn and showing characters who live a different kind of life, who have perhaps found a more accepting, comfortable way of being. However our narrator doesn’t seem to learn from them. It is not essential that all character arcs show growth, however as the ending circles back to the beginning one might have expected a little more character development. It was uncomfortable that fat bodies were commented on and found funny (the drivers belly jiggling and so on) and yet other bodies were not mentioned at all – to the extent that the belly button girl remains mysterious and unshaped – so it is difficult to believe that the focus on fat bodies and finding humour (often grotesque) out of them could be coincidental. Gross moments were excessive and became unnecessary. I’m not a fan of this type of humour however there came a point where it was just too much even for the biggest gross out fan. My theatre going companion felt that certain moments – particularly the one with the toothbrush – veered into misogyny, that the narrator was taking out his anger at women – and one particular woman – in the most grotesque, childish way he could think of. I’m not sure that the script showed enough awareness of the character, instead revelling in any moment for comedy.

Despite his interactions with others the narrator carries on like a piece of driftwood, washed up on stage, at the mercy of external forces. The key external force is, of course, the belly button girl. While the narrator is like the boy who didn’t grow up, she has her act together. Work, study, the future, and the intricacies of love are tackled by her with ease while he is still struggling with alarm calls and bra clasps. Although she is the focus of his desire, she remains elusive. In the future more could be done to fully flesh out her character, so the audience can see in her what he sees in her, and in turn believe in their relationship. Despite the title the play is very much about the narrator. Little is revealed about the belly button girl and there is an odd moment at the end where the audience expects to find out her name, but the moment is let go.

Overall, The Belly Button Girl is full of finely drawn detail, playful wordplay (such as selling toilets at a place called ‘the drop zone’) and sharp observations. The Belly Button Girl is an entertaining, eccentric, bizarre, funny story that with a little more work could be deeply human and relatable.

 

 

 

 

The Lonely Luchador

Writer and Director: Conor Duffy

Presented by Head Above Water Theatre Company

 

The Lonely Luchador is Head Above Water’s contribution to this year’s Scene and Heard Festival at Smock Alley Theatre. Given the chance to present a work in progress, the stage floor is open for risks, novelty and new ways of storytelling.

 

El Hombre, the worlds greatest wrestler, is in Mexico to compete for the Mexican Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Title. In spandex and blue face mask he is ready to rumble. Or is he? Perhaps the time come to retire? To live a gentle life in the countryside with his beautiful wife Anna Lucia (Nathalie Clément). However, his manager Dexter (Tom Doonan) and Anna Lucia  have other plans and insist on him taking on this last fight. Sure, all he has to do is take on the monster among men that is Mister Muerto. His black mask and deadliest finishing move in Combat Sports are legendary. Young, powerful and deadly Mister Muerto is El Hombre’s greatest challenge. As the two titans of wrestling come face to face, the plot unwinds in a series of twists, turns, surprises and daring feats of physical comedy that make The Lonely Luchador a festival hit.

 

With The Lonely Luchador Head Above Water have succeeded in their aim of bringing original theatre and physical comedy to the Dublin stage. 30 minutes of riotous fun The Lonely Luchador features sharp and precise physical comedy at its finest. Compere and referee Joe Clinton, as Earl, kicks off the performance by inviting the audience to join in with boos and cheers; to involve themselves in the play like a real wrestling audience would. This was set upon with Friday night joy by the audience; who took little persuading to cheer on the good guy. As Conor Duffy’s El Hombre and Gavan O’Connor Duffy’s Mister Muerto face off tightly choreographed physical comedy is on full display. Body slams, kicks to the face, fighting off stage in the midst of the audience, this action – packed scene is excellently coordinated to draw as much entertainment as possible from the raucous fight scene. It will turn even the disinterested into a wrestling fan for the night.

 

Writer, director and El Hombre Conor Duffy shines throughout; imbuing his character with just enough emotion to make the audience root for him. Clément, armed only with her sharp tongue and hand fan, manages to utilise props and accents to great effect. Rounding off the group is Tom Doonan as El Hombre’s manager: a Texan with a cowboy hat and heeled boots, he is a chancer on the make. The accents are hammy and the action fast and physical. Every opportunity is mined for laughs in this ensemble piece.

 

Fun from beginning to end The Lonely Luchador was a very enjoyable part of this years Scene and Heard Festival. It will be very interesting to see what Head Above Water are planning to do with this in the future. Whatever they decide, it is bound to be cracking good fun.

Arachnophilia

Arachnophilia, The New Theatre – Dublin

Writer: Aidan Fitzmaurice
Director: Sarah Bradley
Having friends or family over to stay can be a fraught experience at times as ones house is taken over by another persons habits and demands. It turns out this is never more so than when the guest is a spider, or a Chilean rose tarantula to be precise. Not only that but it is apparently a well known phenomena that if a spider comes to stay ones spider sense (sorry) will soon be tingling and the day will be defined by feeding times and ukulele playing. And that is how is is in Aidan Fitzmaurice’s quirky comedy drama Arachnophilia.
Conor and Alice have been together for five years and it is time to start asking the big questions. The only problem with this is that Conor thinks they are having a conversation about children. Alice however thinks they are considering separating. When facing this new stage in life how is Conor to prepare; to lay the groundwork for a possible new family? Like many people he thinks that a pet will be a good idea. Whereas most people would come home with a puppy or a cat, Conor comes home with a spider. When Alice wants to know how a spider could possibly prepare one for having children she finds a quirk in Conor’s personality that had never shown itself before.
Alone with his spider Conor descends into a strange kind of obsession that quickly takes over his life (and work life). What he doesn’t know is that his pet can hear and understand everything he says. Bellhop lives in his glass box with his exoskeleton for company. They (yes the exoskeleton can move and talk) are a web weaving, game playing couple that adapt quite well to the idea of being spiders trapped in a glass with only a human being for company. That is until the singing starts. And the terrible movies. And hang on … what’s with the wasp without a sting?
Hugely entertaining Arachnophilia somewhat defies description. Full of laughs and spider related puns it has a touch of the absurd but this only adds to the comedy. It would be great to have the chance to slip into the mind of the writer as he created the premise. On Saturday The New Theatre was packed, with people standing at the back of the theatre in order to see the show. The set was very well done with Conor’s home life and Bellhop’s split down the middle; as they constantly interact but never manage to communicate.
Arachnophilia is charming and unusual. Full of laughs but some heart too this was an enjoyable and one of a kind play.
P.S. For those terrified of spiders, like myself, there are no creepy crawlies to be afraid of (unless a talking exoskeleton debating class war is not your thing).
Cast: Caoimhe Mulcahy, Harry Butler, Ian Dunphy, Meg Healy and Tony Canwell.
Presented Octopussouptheatre.

Punt

punt the new theatreWriters: Pius McGrath and Tara Doolan

Actor: Pius McGrath

An Honest Arts Production

 

Punt has been receiving excellent reviews since its arrival in Dublin off the back of a successful run at the Limerick Fringe 2017, so it was with interest that on a sweltering Friday evening, theatre goers sought shelter in the cool cavern of The New Theatre.

One of Jack’s earliest memories is of placing a bet at Listowel races and, amazingly, winning. This special treat, shared with his uncle Jim turned out to be the beginning of a lifetime love affair for the small town boy. The excitement and electricity of a day at the races captured the six year old and this recreational, communal activity soon became something much more dangerous. By the time Jack is off to the study in the big city he is preoccupied with making it to high stakes poker games and using his winnings to buy his way into bigger and bigger games.

At the same time internet gambling takes off. How many of us have been tempted by the free cash offers to place a bet and watch the wheel spin? Gambling becomes something meaningful and powerful in Jack’s life as it takes the space of family and former aspirations. Alongside this Ireland is booming and cash is flowing freely.

McGraph uses his body throughout the tell the story. Throwing himself about the stage with abandon and slipping into his memories and other characters with ease. When McGraph takes on the persona his best friend the comedy abounds as his thick accent and unique turn of phrase propel the narrative forward. It takes skill and confidence to be able to pull off a one man play: to hold court, dominate the stage and keep viewers interested with only your body and words. McGraph wears his character lightly. With just a chair, table and black background on which the words “bet now” flash behind him McGraph is alone on the stage as Jack becomes more and more isolated.

Punt delves into the intergenerational nature of addiction and how the big business of gambling is all around us. When I moved to Dublin it was a surprise to see how many betting shops lined the streets. Although with hope being difficult to find in these economically tough times it is not surprising that the momentary burst of optimism that Jack finds in every race, in every win, manages to sustain him for so long.

Skilfully written by McGraph and Doolan Punt is careful to avoid moralising and instead tackles the big issues through the individual story. It is through Jack that we experience the rise and fall of an addict, and it is with feeling that we watch his decline; resisting the urge to shout at the stage every time he takes the wrong step. Backed up by well timed visuals and sound effects it is easy to be carried along on this journey from hope to despair. The ending is powerful and well done.

With Punt The New Theatre continues to champion new work by promising Irish theatre makers and proves again that some of the best nights of theatre are to be found behind a socialist bookshop in Temple Bar.

Runs until July 14th 2018.