Wunderbar – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

First published January 2015

WUNDERBAR - Project Arts Centre

Wunderbar – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Choreography and Performance: Laura Murphy and Rob Heaslip

Director: Tom Creed

Expert dancers Laura Murphy and Rob Heaslip have bought their two person dance performance to Dublin’s Project Arts Centre for two nights only.

Wunderbar began as a 15 minute set piece for 2014’s Dublin Dance Festival and is developed into a full length, 40 minute performance. The magic of the show lies in the fact that Murphy and Heaslip hold the audience’s attention for the duration, making something beautiful look effortless. The performance feels as though only moments have passed when the final curtain falls.

The title Wunderbar comes from the German word meaning ‘wonderful’; which is an appropriate summation of the performance. The pair investigate power play in romantic relationships through form and movement, with each section building on from the last to grow into something ‘wonderful’.

The two dancers’ physical duet explore relationship stability, tension and power to a live score created by Irene Buckle. At the beginning the dancers are close, moving in perfect unison, following each other’s movements while remaining separate. The stage is bare and makes use of only two stage lights, one on either side of the stage to illuminate the drama and tension being bought to life. Precise and expertly choreographed movements seem to plot out the “couple’s” story, their relationship, on the stage. The emptiness of the stage at the beginning echoes the state of their relationship and as the second light switches on the couple become increasingly close, experimenting with the struggle between power and independence. They move through the space on the stage, gradually branching out from their starting positions, which were defined by the presence of the other.

As the dance progresses the movements become almost confrontational as their search for a balance between togetherness and independence takes place in the space between them. At one point close to the end the duo perform a powerful final choreography, holding and pushing each other’s faces away without ever fully breaking apart. The performance ends with Murphy and Heaslip in a reversal of their starting positions encouraging the audience to look deeply into this cyclical performance.

Wunderbar is a compelling physical expression of commonly felt emotions; the entanglement of confusion and desire that constitutes many relationships, and is guaranteed to hold the audience captive throughout.

Photo courtesy of the Project Arts Centre. Runs until January 9th.

The Public Reviews Score: 4*


The death of Shakespeare: where, when, how?

First Published on Headstuff.ie April 2016

April 23rd 2016 is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Although his plays and poems have lived on and are enjoyed across the globe, relatively little is known for certain about the man himself. This is particularly so for the matters surrounding his death.

Death, violent and natural, occurs frequently in the plays. This was both a way of bringing the story to a close, while also drawing on the perilous nature of life 400 years ago. At the end of Hamlet, one of the greatest meditations on life and death, the title character has to die to bring an end to his story. As he himself says in his last words, “the rest is silence”. However the death and afterlife of Hamlet’s creator has been less clear-cut. The way in which he actually died is still not established, and in a twist to the tale his remains have, in a way, lived on and created a story of their own.

He died in his home town of Stratford–Upon–Avon, Warwickshire in England, where he had been living with his family. The cause of death is not certain. However the most popular theory emerged from a diary entry written by John Ward, a clergyman living in Stratford in the 1660s, who recorded that:

“Shakespear, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and itt seems drank too hard, for Shakespear died of a feavour there contracted”

The famous writer Ben Jonson had recently been selected as Poet Laureate, and the slightly less famous Drayton is most likely to be the Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton. Either way it seems as though the trio made up a raucous group, enjoying the company and drinking more than a little too much. At present there are no other sources that corroborate this idea, and it is worth noting that this diary entry was made several decades after Shakespeare’s death as Ward tried to familiarise himself with the life of a local celebrity.

Nasty, brutish and short

There is another main contender as to the cause of his death. Life in the early seventeenth century was often short. Death from disease was a very likely possibility for many. Indeed, Shakespeare was lucky to survive infancy, as the plague swept through Stratford, just three months after his birth, killing around one fifth of the town’s population. This is marked in the church’s burial register with the words Hic incepit pestis (here begins the plague). The year of the Bard’s death, 1616, saw a serious outbreak of typhoid fever across England. Shakespeare might have been at greater risk as an open sewer ran close by his town house, New Place, and typhoid is born of poor sanitary conditions.

Shakespeare was then buried inside Holy Trinity Church. His unusual epitaph is a curse written in verse:

“Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, 

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

From history buff.com

The afterlife of Shakespeare’s remains have developed their own story of intrigue, as the warning on his gravestone might not have always been heeded. Legend has it that the skull was stolen as a part of a 300 guinea bet in the late 1700s. This theory emerged from two articles written in Argosy magazine. The first article, written in 1879, stated that in 1769 the art historian Horace Walpole offered 300 guineas to anyone who could bring him Shakespeare’s skull. A Doctor Frank Chambers embraced this challenge and broke into the tomb. Having stolen the skull he presented it to Walpole, who then failed to hand over the money for it. Unable to find a buyer for the playwright’s skull, Chambers arranged for its return. All of this seemingly went on unnoticed by the wider world.

The later 1884 article titled ‘How Shakespeare’s Skull was Stolen and Found’ picks up the story with Chambers being unable to sell the skull, and argues that the grave robber panicked and instead of returning it hid it in a local crypt. This explains why many believe Shakespeare’s skull lies in St Leonard’s Church, Beoley, Worcestershire. Although the authorship of the articles has not been confirmed (in the magazine they were labelled as having been written by ‘A Warwickshire Man’) they are thought to have been penned by a Reverend C. K. Langston, who was a vicar in Beoley from 1881 to 1889.

Beoley is around 15 miles from Stratford and has not benefitted in the same way from the tourism industry that has built up over the centuries around Shakespeare’s birthplace. The Langston theory is typical of the Victorian love of the gothic and historical revisionism, which also coincided with a boom in the grave-robbing industry. A request to remove the skull temporarily for DNA testing was refused in 2015.

Recently there was another twist to the tale, when investigations were conducted for a Channel 4 documentary in the UK. For the first time archaeological investigations were carried out using non-invasive, ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to examine the grave site. Their findings were fascinating, to say the least, and some of the results are quite unusual. One of the first things the investigators noticed was that Shakespeare is in fact buried three feet deep, and wrapped in a shroud rather than placed in a coffin. They also found evidence of significant repair works that have been done but not recorded. This tells us that the grave had been disturbed at some point to the extent that new underground supports were needed to prevent it from caving in. Perhaps this damage was done by grave robbers working hastily in the dark to extract their prize? Significantly there is also reasonable evidence to assume that his skull is missing, or at least not buried with the body.

Although it looks unlikely that the custodians of Holy Trinity Church will ever allow the curse to be tempted and the grave opened against Shakespeare’s wishes, it is clear that speculation will persevere.

The riddle of Shakespeare’s death and afterlife will continue to intrigue.

Spending Christmas away from your family

Christmas is a time typically associated with family but many of us this year will be spending the festive season with our friends instead. As a result of work, study abroad, expense and so on there are many reasons why some of us will not be going home to our families this year.

We make connections and bond with people throughout our lives and spending traditional family events with friends can be a fun, fulfilling alternative Christmas. This is your chance to do what you want to do and not what you should do. If this is your first time to do so, here are some top tips to make the day go smoothly:

1. Send out cards and emails to as many people as you can

You can still be connected to people even with distance between you. This is also a good time to keep in contact with lost acquaintances and people you used to work with. People like to know that they are thought of over Christmas.

2. Don’t ask why someone isn’t with their family

Think twice before questioning someone on why they are not with family over Christmas. For some it will be obvious e.g. cannot afford to travel home, working over the Christmas period or they are of a faith or culture that does not celebrate Christmas. Some however will have a difficult background or home life and will not want to be reminded of this. Be brave when looking at what you will do over Christmas and invite people round or suggest a get together.

3. Plan what you will eat

Decide what you are going to eat in advance. Go all out and treat yourself. It may be worth allocating jobs to different people. Want to buy everything pre made from Marks and Spencer? Great. Just make sure one person doesn’t get lumbered with all of the cost or all of the work.

4. Save money with a secret santa

Have a secret Santa instead of buying everyone a present or decide to spend your money and effort on food and decorations. Alternatively you could all make an agreement to donate to a charity the money that would have been spent on cards and presents. Following on from this, volunteering as a group at one of the many homeless charities can be an excellent way to spend your time together. This could be a great chance to get closer to people you care about and also do something worthwhile.

5. Never go empty handed

This applies to most events. Take a different dessert or bubbly drink with you. A non-alcoholic drink may be a particularly good idea.

6. Limit alcohol

This is also not the best time to get completely drunk. You will want to be awake and vibrant throughout the whole day and it is important not to annoy the host!

7. Control your expectations

Just let the day flow and enjoy each other’s company without adding pressure to have the best time ever. This is your chance to do things how you want to so relax. There is nearly always an after dinner slump on Christmas day, when people are perhaps a little tipsy and the atmosphere can become maudlin. Remember this is just a dip and will pass.

8. Keep us your Christmas traditions

Although this may be a good time to break out your favourite Christmas customs or games. Every year you normally play twister, watch Home Alone or indulge in a chocolate box challenge? Now’s the time to relax and have fun.

9. Skype your family if you can’t be with them

Importantly give people a chance and some privacy to skype their family if they choose to do so.

Dealing with landlords

As September brings with it the new academic year, hundreds of students arriving in the city will be discovering that there is little to compare to the joy and relief of finding somewhere to live. After an often depressing and stressful search when one has found a decent place to live, the sheer elation, and perhaps even exhaustion, mean that many say yes to a place without assessing all of the details.

One of the main complications that can arise out of this is the difficulty many tenants have in obtaining either a rent book or written tenancy agreement. When accommodation hunting, particularly when looking to rent a single room in a house, prospective tenants will be faced by the choice of whether to continue the desperate hunt or to accept a place that comes without a contract. As a large number of landlords try to keep all economic activity quiet and away from the gaze of the revenue service, cash transactions have become common.

Rent security

This can be troublesome. It can be very stressful to pay so much money – handing over a cash deposit and the first month’s rent – without being given any paperwork or security in return. Searching for accommodation on my arrival in Ireland, the places I viewed tended to fall into two categories. One: the landlord who had the contract in hand, expecting the deposit as soon as possible and was seemingly hoping that one would overlook the fact that the property should have been condemned back in the 1980s. The second group tended to be live-in landlords, renting out their spare rooms or occasionally second houses. They wanted all transactions to be done in cash and there was never any mention of contracts or rent books. This is a tricky position to be in when you are so desperate for a decent and affordable place. Very few people would feel able to then start asking for paperwork.

Strangely, there were quite a few landlords who offered no form of security and yet wanted proof (letters from the bank or parents for example) from the tenant that they would be able to pay rent for the agreed amount of time. Another dilemma this throws up is the issues of bills. Without a written agreement, it is easy for arguments to break out over methods and timing of payment. This can be trying if one person has the bills in their name and then another tenant does not pay either on time or in full. Furthermore, without a contract, one is faced with the difficulty in attaining proof of address, which provides a surprising number of stumbling blocks. Proof of address is needed to obtain a bank account, library card and often even a GP appointment. Think of every time in your life you have ever been asked to provide proof of address: so many things are blocked off to you without it.

If you find yourself in the position of wanting to apply for a GP visit card, a medical card or any form of social welfare, you will need not just proof of address, but proof that you are a rent payer i.e. a contract or rent book. Keeping all transactions in cash also throws up potential problems for the landlord. Although there may be a verbal agreement that the tenant will be renting for 12 months, the landlord has no protection against the tenant leaving. If one decides that they want to move for whatever reason they can just take off and go, leaving the landlord short of money and facing the prospect of once again searching for a new tenant. There is little help available for renters who find themselves in difficulty, but without paperwork these difficulties are magnified. Very often the tenant finds that they either have few rights and are unable to prove them.

What can you do if you find yourself in this situation?

  • If you are a student ask your college to send your admissions letter to your new home, giving you some form of official proof of address. Similarly it may be worth having bills in the name of all tenants and not just one.
  • Keep a record of all payments made. If making an electronic transfer, be sure to label the payment, e.g. ‘Rent October 2015’. If this is not an option, it is still useful to keep a written record and if your landlord is agreeable, write out a receipt and ask them to sign and date it.
  • Some landlords, it should be noted are very reasonable and will write a letter making it clear that one is a rent payer.
  • Citizens information provide a wealth of information regarding renting and the rights of the tenant. Read their website when you become a tenant and remember that they can be contacted in times of difficulty.

Bleak future for students renting

Bleak future for students renting

A new academic year is getting under way with Fresher’s week now behind us and the hard work, late nights and friendships of a new University year are about to begin. Thankfully for most of us the awful process of hunting for accommodation in Dublin is over for another year.

This is a difficult and often stressful process at best but it is being made even more difficult by rising rental prices and unscrupulous landlords taking whatever they can from incoming students.

If you are not one of the lucky few to be given a room on campus you will be preoccupied with finding accommodation before term starts. So will several thousand others. The news over the past few months has been particularly bleak for renters, students in particular, as they descend on Dublin in their thousands looking to make a life for themselves.

Newspapers, TV, radio, blogs and word of mouth are all carrying similar messages; renting is difficult and expensive. Since January prices have been gradually increasing. According to a recent report by Daft.ie, rental prices have risen by an average of 7.5% across Dublin.

This statistic was seized upon by the Irish Times with the shock headline ‘rent increases a ‘massive concern’ for incoming students’. How this increase is spread across the city is less clear, although it seems likely that the main increases will have been in central and popular student locations, such as Dublin 4 and 7.

From my own experience of viewing rooms, I have seen that even the most unlikely of places will capitalise on any positive and use it to bleed the most money out of unprepared students. One property I visited in the mature residential area in Glasnevin, sandwiched in between Hillcrest park and DCU, charged an average of 600 euro a month, including bills. Even at first sight this seems expensive, however on viewing the room available the price seemed positively absurd. The advert had requested women only.

This didn’t seem strange until it emerged that the house was inhabited by four men in their early thirties. The house was in the process of renovation, i.e. not really appropriate for human habitation. It did not have central heating, a lock on the bedroom door or even a proper bed.

Damp was rising up the walls, filth was ingrained in the kitchen and tiny bathroom and there was a general lack of usable white goods. Although this is at the upper end of the spectrum, many of the other places I viewed in the first ten days were no better. It seemed as though I traipsed through the very worst this city had to offer and it is easy to fall to the temptation of snapping up the first place with four intact walls and a ceiling.

In general this is an OK tactic, however in my case I ended up living with an over friendly alcoholic and my house hunt continued for another week or so. Another hurdle for the incoming student is that it can be surprisingly difficult to even get to the viewing stage. At best one in ten landlords respond quickly to emails and many of those who do, do so because they are desperate to find a tenant, often because their property is one of the ‘un-inhabitables’.

You may have a little more luck if you have an Irish number and know your way around the city, but for those moving to Dublin from abroad this is just another hurdle to finding decent accommodation. With prices continually rising, it is difficult for prospective students to budget accurately and it looks set to get even harder for next year’s students.

After searching the council website, there seems to be little regulation on rental properties and even if there is, it is obviously not being well enforced. With Dublin’s Universities also not maintaining a database or reliable landlords and properties, the rental future for students looks bleak.

Dealing with issues in the workplace

Finding a job can be a difficult task but what can be even harder is to know what to do when things go wrong. Sometimes you can start out with the best intentions but a job can become impossible to continue, leaving you to pick up the pieces and more often than not feel the consequences. I found myself in this situation last summer.

After what felt like an eternity of job hunting I stumbled across a vacancy for a receptionist on gumtree.ie (not the most reliable place for job hunters). Calling the number provided I was offered an interview for the next day and a second interview taking place the following day. Very quickly I found myself in employment. The relief I felt at this change in circumstances was not to be long lasting. Cracks began to appear very quickly and after only two months I felt there was no other option but to leave.

When I began work there I was to be paid monthly. Unfortunately they insisted on paying me in cash, which was obviously less than ideal. On the second month of payment the wages were a day late and eight euro over. They demanded change. A little research showed that so long as you are given a pay slip this is a legal form of payment.

It is however a legal requirement for you to receive a pay slip, no matter the method of payment and do not feel afraid of asking for some form of receipt. It took over two months for the company to send me my final pay slip and p45. A little over €150 was still owed. Despite having my address and bank details the final payment was not sent. Several emails were then ignored. It can be difficult to find help and to know what to do when things go wrong.

When working for large companies there are established hierarchies and complaints systems which can make it easier to file a complaint. It also gives you the option of speaking to several different people, not just your immediate supervisor. At the start try to familiarise yourself with those you work with and also their supervisors, get to know their names and contact details. If things feel as though they are not going well be sure to keep any email or text correspondence between you and your employer or any other parties involved. It may be needed as evidence at a later date.

Similarly, record the date and contents of all conversation that may be relevant. For example, if you are asked to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or is outside of your job description make a note of it; record the date, nature of dissatisfaction and exactly what it is that your employer said or did. Similarly also keep a record of all hours worked and whether any overtime occurred.

However, if you work for a small company or an individual, things can be a little trickier. If after a calm discussion or email exchange it appears that there will be no easy resolution to the problem, whether it is lack of payment, bullying or unfair demands being placed on you, there is help available.

Useful websites include: Union Connect and Citiizens Information. The most helpful source of information that you are likely to find is Workplace Relations. It is here that you will find information on the complaints process, what it involves and how to begin the complaints procedure. There is a section titled ‘Refer a Dispute / Make a Complaint’. This section contains information on how to refer a dispute to a conciliation or mediation service, or taking it further to the Labour Rights Commission (LRC).

The LRC can be contacted directly by email. Contact details can be found here. Their main responsibility is to help those referring employment related complaints and disputes. They are an independent service that aims to improve workplace practices and procedures in Irish workplaces. Whether you are an individual or small group there is help for you in solving your workplace dispute. Complaints should be made as quickly as possible. When it comes to issues surrounding payment, or lack of it, complaints should always be made within six months in order for them to be investigated. If you contact the LRC directly they may be able to advise you on the correct path to take. Often they refer you to the complaints form, which can be found here.

It is important to fill out the form in as clear and detailed manner as possible. This is where it will have been helpful to keep a record of all problems that occurred during the time of your employment. Be sure of what you are complaining about and try to be as specific as possible e.g. stating ‘according to my final payslip dated xxx I am owed xxx in unpaid earnings’, is much easier to deal with than ‘it was an unpleasant working environment and they did not treat me well’. After this you will receive electronic, and later written confirmation of your complaint. This will not be immediate but the wheels will be in motion.

From here on in the LRC will be investigating your complaint and helping to find a resolution, whether that involves the early resolution service or progresses to a hearing. No matter who you are or where in Ireland you are employed you do have rights and there are people out there who can help you tackle workplace disputes and uphold your rights.

12 tips on landing that dream house

Near the end of last year I had a part time job in a small Dublin’s lettings agency. Here the reality of the housing crisis became apparent. Politicians continue to debate solutions, rent controls, increase supply by building more public housing or incentives for landlords but where does that leave the average person looking for somewhere to rent?

In this job I saw people desperately trying to secure accommodation and the attitude and actions of agencies who have the pick of the crop. So what can you do to make sure you are the one that finds somewhere? Here are some of the keys things I learned.

1. Call First

When looking online express an interest in as many properties that look like they could be suitable. Where possible always secure viewings by phone. Contacting individuals and agencies by email rarely results in a reply and when it does it is often too slow; someone else has pipped you to the post. If you are calling an agency and leaving a message always state you name and leave your contact number twice. You have to make it as easy for them as possible. You need them more than they need you.

2. Discuss your requirements with your housemates

If you are searching for somewhere as a group make sure you have discussed what you are looking for before you start hunting. Decide what is essential (e.g. number of bedrooms) and what features can be compromised on (e.g. would you all be willing to live further away from you college / work place in exchange for a lower price?). Avoid any arguments by establishing these facts, in particular costings (rent, bills and transport costs) early on.

3. Have all the necessary paperwork

Attend viewings with all documents (and photocopies of documents) that you might need. You will probably be asked to show payslips, work contracts, bank details and references (preferably from previous landlords). It is becoming increasingly difficult for students, the unemployed and young families to find somewhere so make sure you have everything that they might ask for. They will probably want someone who can move in straight away and begin paying rent immediately. Be prepared for this. Very rarely will you be able to secure a place in May for arrival in September.

4. Present yourself well

Following on from this always present yourself well. Speak to the landlord or agency representative and try to build up a rapport. Engage with the process and appear interested. Treat viewings, open viewings in particular, as you would a job interview. Dress well, not necessarily suit and ties but clean, presentable clothing. Show yourself to be someone who has a serious interest in the property and that you will be a reliable tenant who will always pay rent on time.

5. Have your deposit ready

If you are offered a place move quickly and do not hesitate. Sign the contract and pay the deposit as soon as you can. This is one of those things that everyone says but hardly anyone ever does.

6. Keep photographic evidence

When you move into a place take photographs and notes of the condition of the room or house. Email a copy to yourself to keep them safe. This will also give you proof of date taken so if you need to use them in the future you can prove the condition of the property upon your arrival.

7. Keep copies of everything

When signing documents always make sure they are dated and hand signed by all parties. Makes copies of all documents, again it is always worth emailing a copy to yourself.

8. Discuss what will happen if someone leaves

If you are a group of people taking out a lease on a property decide whether one person is going to be the leaseholder named on the contract or whether all individuals will be on the contract. Ask if one person is forced to break the contract what impact will that have on the others. Will you have to find a new flatmate? Will you have to pay their share of the rent?

9. Keep financial records

Keep a paper trail. Either pay rent by cheque or if transferring money online be sure to label the transaction clearly, e.g. Mr Smith rent payment December 2015. Always ask for confirmation of payment and keep all receipts.

10. When you cannot pay your rent on time

If something should go wrong and you are unable to pay the rent on time one month, but you expect this to just be a one off glitch, contact the landlord or agency as soon as you can to explain your situation. Point out your track record of being a reliable tenant and make it clear how and when you intend to make your next payment.

11. Keep records of your communication

Use email where possible so that there can be no dispute over whether a message was sent or when. Alternatively if staying in contact by post ask for a receipt when posting and notify the intended recipient that you have sent the item.

12. Know your rights

Brush up on tenant’s right. Citizen’s Information are very useful. And most of all, good luck!