Arachnophilia, The New Theatre – Dublin
Writers: 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.
Director: Romana Testasecca
Writer: Tom Moran
Him: Tom Moran
Her: Danielle Galligan
“One night. Two very different hearts. Dublin City Centre. An Open Mic has ended and a captivating dissection of a chance encounter has just begun.”
Outside it is cold and the rain keeps coming. The pavements are blocked by commuters hiding under shop awnings and the Liffey looks grey in the early evening light. Fleeing the uninspiring spring weather in newly reopened Theatre Upstairs an audience pile into the small theatre, looking for something to lighten the mood and warm the night.
Lyrics is set at the end of an Open Mic night in a Dublin pub. To the left sits a piano, a microphone in the middle and bottles that light up decorate the stage. Lighting Designer Shane Gill has done a great job: for each song the lights dim creating a cosy and intimate setting. The audience could almost be eavesdropping on the chance meeting taking place. The warm tones of the background helps to the enhance the idea that the theatre is a small pub, the audience with drinks in hand like the punters have turned up not exactly sure what to expect.
The play opens with Tom Moran playing the piano and singing a song to a former girlfriend. With his heart on his sleeve, and in his songs, Moran’s character is open to talking. He meets a mysterious singer who has never had a broken heart and is about to set off on a new adventure, played by Danielle Galligan. Taking the form of a dialogue with sharp staccato notes our two protagonists play around and work their way into each others thoughts and feelings. The early wit and humour draws laughter which keeps coming. The interlocking conversation avoids falling into cliché and suggests that director, Romana Testasecca, is growing in confidence with each new production. Slightly heightened the dialogue is well constructed and entertaining.
The couple meet because Galligan wanted to sing for the last time before moving to New York. A dying relative is behind her decision. Working through a recent heartbreak Moran’s song are hilarious with enough just enough honesty to make them more than comedic interludes. As the play progresses there are moments of sadness that emerge from these two broken hearts. At times tender and romantic Lyrics moves between sincerity and hilarity with relative ease. Taking ownership of the stage the characters begin to move together, their physical actions mirroring the movement of feelings as the night progresses.
A clever and touching chamber piece edged full of comedy and romance Lyrics proved to be just the tonic for the grey rainy Dublin evening.
Set and Costume Design: Ciara Murnane
Lighting Design: Shane Gill
Daddy Long Legs – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
Book: John Caird
Music and Lyrics: Paul Gordon
Director: Killian Collins
Performers: Eoin Cannon and Roisin Sullivan
Daddy Long Legs, presented by Boulevard Productions Ireland, is Smock Alley’s inaugural musical.
Daddy Long Legs is a simple but sweet story. Opening in the John Grier Home for Orphans the audience is introduced to Jerusha Abbott, played by Roisin Sullivan. It is 1908 in New England, USA, and she is set for a day of work as the “oldest orphan in the John Grier home” she knows no other life and is alone in the world. This is until a wonderful moment of charitable intervention. One of the home’s trustees, played by Eoin Cannon, has enjoyed her essays and stories and is going to fund her through college with the intention that she will become a professional writer. Although determined to remain anonymous her benefactor does have one condition: Jerusha is to write to him once a month. She is not to say thank you and he will not respond to these letters.
Embracing her new life with gusto and her unique wit and personality Jerusha writes lovingly each month. She gives her benefactor a nick name: Daddy Long Legs. He is surprised to be touched by her letters, which are full of life, curiosity and a desire to love. Soon Jerusha befriends her fellow students and is invited to join them. She meets the worldly and interesting Jervis Pendleton who introduces her to books, travel and adventure. Over the four years of her study Jerusha grows and begins to discover herself and the benefactor learns about her – and himself – through her letters. Their relationship is touching and surprising. One of the great mysteries is will the two ever meet?
It takes skill to bring a musical to life and make it so believable. Director Killian Collins does very well at bringing out the humour throughout. There are some brilliant comedic moments that make the most of the props and staging to draw laughter from the audience. The set is well designed; functional and attractive and Karl Breen on guitar and Gerald Peregrine on cello make a great accompaniment to the action on stage. It goes without saying that both Cannon and Sullivan are excellent performers with voices that reach the back rows with ease and clarity.
For both the musical lover and the novice this is a must watch. It was impossible not to smile at the end and the audience rose to their feet to give a standing ovation. The show has so far been immensely popular with critics and audiences so one hopes that it will continue to perform around Ireland in the coming months. If the production does come back to Dublin I will be first in line to buy a ticket!
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Smock Alley Scene and Heard Festival (SASH) 2018 – Dublin
Written & Performed by Karen Killen
Directed by Romana Testasecca
Associate Producer Vincent Brightling
Sarah is 19. She has a camera, a laptop and a ukulele. She wants to take on the world, via YouTube. But is she ready for #CyberSpace?!
Karen Killen wrote and stars in this one woman show. Performed in the Boys School Stage at Dublin’s Smock Alley the architecture makes the perfect backdrop to the play. Orange lights shaped like flowers hang above our protagonist, casting a soft glow. A large TV sits in an empty window, the screen facing the rows of seats. Underneath this sits Sarah. Armed with fresh makeup, a ukulele and a camera she is all set to take on cyberspace.
She is the perfect vlogger. Sharing details of her life freely and singing to her hidden audience. The play opens with Sarah answering fan questions. She is loud, bright and friendly. Her favourite things are YouTube her followers. A slight slip of the tongue however gives a hint of the loneliness that lies beneath. “Do you have a boyfriend? No, I mean yes!”
It is from here that we start to see deeper than the artfully staged videos. When she is not on camera her life is very different. Takeaway food, internet trolls, comfy pyjamas and no real human interaction. The sound of Skype calls and phones ringing interrupt her work. These are always one way conversations as Sarah refuses to let loved ones reach her. By keeping love at arm’s length, she can keep up the pretence of a perfect life for her subscribers.
Click 2 Subscribe is funny from the start to the finish thanks to Testasecca’s capable direction. Props and clothing are used throughout to further the narrative and create opportunities for humour in this witty, insightful fast paced play.
SASH is a unique theatre event that gives writers, actors and directors the opportunity to present plays in development. This is a vitally important for theatre makers. It is also great for theatre goers who are given the opportunity to see a wide variety of performances in different stages of development. One moment you can be watching a deeply moving family drama, the next a laugh a minute collection of sketches. Last year’s entry from Rosebud Theatre was the poignant and politically timely SYRIUS, which blended movement and powerful imagery to tell the story of a woman forced to flee the horror engulfing Syria. Following last years festival the production has toured Europe to critical acclaim. Hopefully Rosebud Theatre will be able to use the experience and feedback from SASH 2018 to follow and improve on last years success with Click 2 Subscribe.
Dublin Theatre Festival closed with a performance of Eugene McCabe’s King of the Castle. It was the first time that this play had been brought to the stage in over thirty years. McCabe is often seen as a faded Irish gem. The legendary and innovative theatre company Druid were the ones who decided to bring this play back to life. King of the Castle premiered at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1964 so there is a symmetry to it being resurrected for the same festival. Perhaps it was with this in mind that the creators chose to stick closely to the original interpretation of the play?
King of the Castle is set in rural Leitrim in the 1950’s. The agricultural community had survived for generations but the threats to this way of life only ever increase. This is symbolised by the character of Matt, soon to emigrate to Canada, and most prominently by Scober and Tressa. Married for three years they have been unable to have children. Scober has risen himself up from poverty to be the main property owner in the district. The men work for him and he is the new occupant in the ‘big house’, but without any one to leave it to what is it all worth? He wants to write his family name on the mountains; to feel ownership and roots in one place. The frustration of being childless is compounded by the attitude of Maguire; a working man with an intense dislike for Scober he takes every opportunity he can to needle his boss.
Right from the off the stage directions tell us that the men stare at Tressa “lecherously, smiling”, setting the tone for the following events. This was demonstrated excellently on stage. Tressa has been giving the men food and drink as they sit around talking at the end of the working day. She is assisted by an unnamed and silent woman who only features in this scene. Maguire is continually making inappropriate and pointed remarks. Soon these begin to effect Scober. Stage directions: “the old man, has been watching her with Maguire. He crooks a forefinger towards her; she goes up to him and pours into his mug. Unlike the other men, he watches the mug filling and not her. When it is full, he nods.” The scene is silent but weighty. Tressa is not spoken to, included or acknowledged. This exchange is uncomfortable to watch. One can argue that the scene has more bite exactly because Tressa is the only female; surrounded by men who all seem to have an opinion and something to say. She is often acted upon, rather than having agency and the freedom to dictate her own actions.
It becomes clear that Scober and Tressa want children but have so far been unable to have them. It is suggested early on that this is the cause for discontent and the strained atmosphere on stage. It is also clear that it is seen as a failing of Scober’s. After the meal Maguire arranges to be alone with Tressa. His following words go on to shape the direction of the play. “What a woman for? … To drain a man – make a chile – and rear a man. ’Less she does that – she’s fat – good for nothing, but walkin’ about, chewin’ her cud, – empty – a loss…”. After making his point he digs the knife in by telling her that he is always available to solve their problem: “Empty – a loss – but that’s up to you – if he’s away – and you want service with profit – Jemmy can oblige anytime – with pleasure”. Said with a leer and so that no one can over hear these words are cruel and designed to both make Tressa uncomfortable and also to exert some influence over her. They echoed around the theatre.
One aspect of the play is treated so normally that it is almost easy to miss. It is not until the Second Act that we find out Tressa’s name. Until then she is referred to as “daughter” or “woman”. Although it was relatively common for a female to be called daughter in this part of the world by non-relative’s it is still striking that as the only spoken female role she is unnamed for such a large chunk of the play. Alongside this the only other female character only appears briefly and does not have any lines. She is a helper to Tressa during meal times. She is kept very firmly in the domestic sphere, pushed to the background by the working men.
This raises the question of could some of the background characters have been played by women? When one goes to the theatre one is choosing to suspend disbelief and be taken into a new world as the story unfolds on the stage. It is not much of a stretch from this point for typically male parts to be played by women. The Festival was criticised for the lack of female representation and this was keenly felt during King of the Castle. It is important to note that this production was directed by Druid founder and national treasure Garry Hynes, a woman who has bought to the stage some of the most exceptional plays that Ireland has seen in recent years.
One the other hand this play is very rarely performed and there is a truth in recreating the play as it was probably intended by the playwright. On top of this the treatment of Tressa shines out when she is surrounded by men. It emphasises her isolation and loneliness. Many of the comments are steeped in misogyny and cruelty. One can argue that they have greater bite when uttered by a bitter old man, face lined with stress and hard work, towards a young woman in a place that isn’t quite hers.
In a heightened conversation with Tressa Scober lashes out after hearing Maguire’s offer. His focus though is primarily on Tressa and sex. “Tomorrow – you’ll let me know our time’s up – the next day you’re bitchy, the next itchy”. In the harshness of his words his insecurity and fears that he does now really know Tressa are clear. “Below I watched you – goin’ ’bout with plates and teapots – lek as if you were stripped – on fire … You don’t sweat for me like that”. He feels betrayed and angry. His inability to father a child is a matter of personal failure, and perhaps in his mind an act of revenge upon him for his greed and the way he has exploited others for his gain.
This final jibe from Maguire proves to be too much for Scober. He sets out to solve his problem in the only way he knows how: as a business man. In a breath taking move he bypasses Tressa and approaches the young Matt. If he impregnates Tressa Matt will receive payment and Scober will raise the child as his own. His desire to not lose face in front of the working men pushes him to take this unusual step. His anger and confusion come through in his conversation with Matt. He references the fact that Tressa is thirty years younger than he. “Twenty – six on the clock when I got her – and never had a hand on her – bonnet never lifted – so she swears. But for a virgin she’s well run in. sits on secrets like a broody hen.” Even when Matt is sat at Scober’s dining table, with Tressa bought down from her room to serve them food, he still does not tell Tressa his plan. This economic transaction feels a little like the way he deals with his livestock.
The morning after, with their lives irrevocably altered, Tressa stays with Scober. She is dismissive and contemptuous of Matt. She was initially attracted to Scober because he was a man who achieved, who made deals, who got things done. The audience feel her pain at not being able to reach Scober, to share their pain of childlessness. As a domestic drama King of the Castle is ambiguous and touched with sadness. The issues it raises around female representation, the patriarchy and the role of women still resonate powerfully today.
Knowing Nathan – The Complex, Dublin
Writers: Tony Doyle and Laura O’Shea
Director: Claudia Kinahan
(Laura O’Shea as April and Tony Doyle as Danny)
Knowing Nathan, currently running at The Complex, is the new play from actors and writers Tony Doyle and Laura O’Shea.
When Tallaght native Danny meets Limerick girl April in a pub on the Dublin Quays their lives will be altered forever.
Knowing Nathan begins with a kick. For the audience the jokes about Dublin and Limerick stereotypes went down a treat as April and Danny discover that they have a lot in common. The conversation moves quickly as does their relationship. Soon they go from meeting in pubs and bars to being introduced to the parents and sharing a home. Their relationship is hit with a surprise that will determine whether love will conquer all.
Knowing Nathan is funny and sparky from the off. As Danny and April’s monologues join together into one flow of conversation and ideas, the way in which they speak mirrors their relationship. There are many laugh out loud moments as their relationship begins to blossom. Doyle and O’Shea occasionally slip into other characters with just a change in stance and accent. They bounce off each other excellently and are convincing as a young couple in love and under pressure. As the narrative evolves Knowing Nathan becomes something delicate and full of emotion; surprising the audience with how much they can feel in the space of an hour.
The duo make good use of staging and props; evoking the idea of home, parents, pubs, a hospital and an empty bed with simplicity and fluidity. Knowing Nathan is a beautiful play that moves with ease between humour and sadness; told with sincerity and skill. I went into this play not knowing what to expect but this was an evening well spent. There was a full house and a standing ovation at tonight’s performance. Book ahead to guarantee a seat.
Runs Until 27th January 2018.