The Girl Who Believed in Magic – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

First Published April 2015

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THEGIRLWHOBELIEVEDINMAGIC - PAC

Creator: Julie Feeney

Director: Mikel Murfi

The Girl Who Believed in Magic is a unique one woman show by Julie Feeney. Galway born singer, composer and producer Feeney has achieved great success with her self-produced debut album 13 Songs, which won the Choice Music Prize for Irish Album of the Year. Feeney’s third album Clocks went also straight to number one in the Independent Irish Album Charts on its release. Talented and experimental Feeney has bought her one woman show to Dublin’s Project Arts Centre. Songs from her first three albums are featured as are new compositions.

Although magic is mentioned in the title and features throughout the performance love seems to be the key theme that threads from beginning to end. For those unfamiliar with Feeney and her body of work one should be aware that this is not a traditional play, magic show or concert. It is a fusion of music and composition with performance to create something quite unique. Stylised and controlled this is a performance, not a play with a clear narrative.

As the audience enter the theatre the stage is empty except for a transparent screen at the front of the stage, acting as a barrier between performer and audience. Different coloured lights and images are projected onto the screen and the stage behind with Feeney often interacting with these in time to the music. Midway through this screen falls and the performance progressively becomes more intimate. Similarly, Feeney’s voice progressively increases in power throughout.

The costumes were an elaborate and enjoyable part of the performance. Created by couture designer Umit Kutluk each outfit is beautiful and tells a story in its own right. The detailing is excellent; from the glittery dresses to the matching head pieces. Starting the show in white the intensity of the costumes increases in line with the rest of the performance until Feeney is dressed in a powerful red and black ensemble. Wearing very high platform boots Feeney seems to tower above the audience. During the costume changes black and white movie clippings are shown these include a couple falling in love and a clock, counting down the time they have. The costume changes could have been smoother. There were a few moments of silence as the film ended but Feeney was not yet ready to return to the stage.

Interestingly the performance is directed by the multi-talented physical theatre artist Mikel Murfi, who last summer was seen in Enda Walshs’s Ballyturk and is touring his own production: The Man in the Woman’s Shoes. His touch is evident throughout the performance and he and Feeney appear to have worked well on their shared vision for the show.

Feeney is obviously very talented but this show does not give full expression to that, throughout the performance there is a sense of waiting for her voice to take off, which it doesn’t do until the very end. The venue was sold out on the night, half of the audience seemed a little bewildered, but the other half clearly loved every second. This is a unique performance and certainly something to go and see if you would like to do something new or are a fan of Feeney.

Photo courtesy of the Project Arts Centre. Runs until April 11th 2015.

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score: 2.5*

Unique

Mother May I? – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

First Published March 2013

MOTHERMAYI - Theatre Upstairs

Writer: Ranae Von Meding

Director: Steve Gunn

This 50 minute performance introduces the audience to a woman, the only character to grace the stage, who takes the audience from her childhood with a born again Christian mother through to her difficult adult life. The effect of her upbringing is unravelled through a powerful monologue that delves into the question of can you ever break away from your surroundings? If your nature is suppressed from an early age, how will it manifest itself later in life? Fitting in doesn’t seem to always be the best option.

As the audience walk in the stage is in semi darkness with music playing and blue spotlights lighting up the stage. These are used at vital points throughout the play, as the contrast between dark and the bright blue light are used to chime in with dramatic moments in the performance. In each corner of the stage pint glasses, filled with varying amounts of water, take up much of the space and hanging from the ceiling are a dozen custard cream biscuits. The reason for this is discovered later in the play and is an excellent example of the way the stage and setting can become an active part of a performance. This was furthered by the clever use of inverted colours and shapes decorating the back wall and floor.

The title refers to both the familial and religious undertones of the play which seem particularly recognisable in modern Ireland. The religious undertone runs throughout the play yet Von Meding manages to prevent this from overwhelming the text. Taking the audience on a journey through her characters life the mother figure is a running theme that unites the beginning and the ending. The play is well written meaning that the point is never laboured and the audience feel entertained, not lectured to. This is an investigation into what happens to a person who is bought up knowing nothing but suppression, who was taught guilt and shame from a young age, and is unable to understand how these fit into her later life. Finding a way to try to survive she learns to deceive, becoming so good at it that she deceives herself. However in the end she realises that in trying to be forced into measuring up to societal norms, she has lost a little of herself in the process.

Ranae Von Meding acts as both writer and actor which works surprisingly well. With her thorough and deep understanding of the text, as actress Von Meding makes the play and nameless character believable. Spiked with humour this is an engaging watch that keeps the audience’s attention. This is a strong debut from Von Meding as a writer and it will be interesting to see what she does next, having displayed her ability as both a capable writer and actor in Mother May I? Hopefully this will be the first of many outings as writer for Von Meding.

 Photo courtesy of Theatre Upstairs. Runs Until April 4th 2015.

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score: 3.5*

Surprising

Hollow Ground – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

First Published March 2013

HOLLOWGROUND2 - Theatre Upstairs
Writer: Katie McCann

Director: Karl Shields

The Theatre Upstairs can be easy to miss but it would be a shame to walk past without going inside. Located above a bar on Eden Quay in central Dublin, it faces out onto the River Liffey making it one of the most surprisingly beautiful of the smaller, independent theatre spaces to have opened up in recent years.

Hollow Ground is written by Katie McCann, who also stars as Hazel. Theatre Upstairs fosters a grass roots approach to theatre making, with many of those involved in productions taking on multiple rôles. Another example of this is Hollow Ground’s co-star Rex Ryan, who plays Graham, an up and coming writer and actor in his own right.

In Hollow Ground the two actors confront the audience. Remaining largely still, they rely on facial and body movements, as well as voice and language, to deliver the story. Both McCann and Ryan are mostly successful in this and use a stark contrast of tension and fluidity to portray emotion.

The script is well written, taking the form of the intersecting monologues of two sibling who, after a time apart, find themselves being pulled back together and forced to confront the past. The audience soon realise that something dark is at the crux of this sibling separation. As Hazel tries to make a life for herself elsewhere, Graham finds himself unable to do so. Both are trapped in the same confused memories that haunt their dreams at night and each character offers differing reactions to these past events. As the two are pulled closer together their reactions become more pronounced as the tension and fear of having to face up to what lies beneath the hollow ground they have based their adult lives upon impacts their present lives.

The theatre space is well utilised with lighting and smoke two particular successes. As the audience enter, the silhouette of the two actors are framed by the smoke, making for an interesting and unique entrance. Orange and yellow lights adorn the wall behind the actors and are used to dramatic effect throughout, often complimented by the show’s sound design. The stage itself is sparse however the flooring has been adapted and functions unusually as a prop for the production.

Hollow Ground is an intense and dramatic tale of two siblings navigating the shared dark and twisted memories of their pasts in order to find their way to the surface.

Photo courtesy of Theatre Upstairs. Runs until March 21st. 

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score: 3.5*

Intense

Run/Don’t Run – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

First Published March 2013

RUNDON'TRUN -  JEDA DE BRI.

Writer: Gary Duggan

Director: Aoife Spillane-Hinks

Run / Don’t Run is the latest offering from successful Irish playwright and screenwriter Gary Duggan. This pacy, well timed performance was first performed at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght and this March has made its way to central Dublin’s Project Arts Centre. Having toured Ireland here is a rare opportunity to view a polished performance from a successful Irish writer during its first run.

The location is Spanish Harlem 1999. It is the tail end of the dance scene and New York is buzzing, helped in no small part by the pills and petty criminality that joins the Irish and the American branches of one family in a sense of shared understanding.

All of the action takes place in one flat shared by disintegrating couple; American Gene, played by Aonghus Óg McAnally and Dominican Perdita, played by Leah Minto. These two young, accomplished and experienced stage and screen actors seem to naturally fall into place and loving, but often warring, American couple – their accents as strong and easily definable as the twists and turns in their home life are compelling.

It is into this hot, steamy, uncomfortable setting that young Ballymun native Eoin stumbles. Played by Sean Doyle, he staggers into the play. Soaked in sweat with a back packers ruck sack weighing him down. When the audience discover that he is Gene’s distant cousin it quickly becomes obvious that he is hoping to stay. But Eoin is not travelling on a J1 summer work visa. He is on the run. We learn that he is in trouble but it is not until much further into the play that what he has left behind and all that he is running from, is revealed.

This theme, established in the title, is carried by all three characters. Their home seems more like a temporary place to stay where they each make their decision as to when to stop running and settle down.

Eoin’s north side accent stands out at first but he is quick to insinuate himself into the late 90s dance scene and becomes more familiar with the city than its long term inhabitants. The language and occasional violence is as strong as the heat that pushes down on the trio as they make their way through the sweltering summer. Eoin’s arrival triggers a change in fortunes, not necessarily for the better, as he interrupts his cousin’s life which had been hanging over the edge of implosion.

With Eoin’s insertion into their lives the action takes a surprising turn of events, forcing the characters to finally stop and decide whether they are able to begin new lives with a clean slate.

Run / Don’t Run is an immigrant story which captures the themes and motivations that regularly occur in ‘Generation Emigration’ stories and questions whether we are ever really able to out run our pasts. Placed into this thrilling love triangle their story is something that is easily recognisable and yet still manages to remain surprising.

With Run / Don’t Run the Project Arts Centre is continuing a strong run this year of showcasing new and innovate performances

Aged 16+ only

Photo by Jeda De Bri. Runs until the 14th of March.

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score: 4*

Dramatic

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Abbey Theatre, Dublin

First Published February 2015

AMSD - Ros Kavanagh

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Gavin Quinn

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being staged at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre for the first time in 35 years. Given the fact that this is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays this time gap is a little baffling however the Abbey seem to be rediscovering Shakespeare’s more magical texts since last year’s successful performance of Twelfth Night.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a story of lovers in ancient Athens who find their way through the confusion and magic of a night in the woods, populated by nymphs and fairies, to their final married end.

As it is so well known one of the difficulties for theatre companies hoping to stage a new production is how to make it surprising, how to bring out the comedy in jokes and scenarios that are so well known?

This is something Pan Pan have tackled head on by inverting the audience’s expectations and setting the play in a nursing home. This is a daring move by director Gavin Quinn. Quinn has worked with Pan Pan for many years and has pulled out all the stops for his Abbey theatre debut. The actors, many of them veterans of the Abbey, are sure and steady in this production. Four of them appeared in the Abbey’s last 1979 production.

Thwarted lover Hermia is denied permission to marry her beloved Lysander not by her father but by her son and Helena finds herself spurned by ageing lothario Demetrius. As they flee into the woods to avoid a marriage enforced by the Duke of Athens they walk into an argument between the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania. When a six piece acting troupe get caught up in the middle of this the stage is set.

This excellent adaptation stays very close to Shakespeare’s text, comes at a time when the lack of rôles for older people within the acting industry are being questioned. Pan Pan without doubt deliver a deeply humorous and at times touching play the makes it clear that age is no barrier to acting ability and to the ability to entertain an audience.

The play’s multiple plot lines are well – handled and never become confusing. The famous play within a play; the tale of doomed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, performed by the Rude Mechanicals makes the audience laugh continuously. Furthermore the way Pan Pan play with age allows for new areas of humour, with one scene in which mobile phones take the place of an almanac.

The attention to detail is exquisite; from the shoes worn by the nursing home assistants to the colour of the walls to the use of lighting and colour. The company augments the actors’ voices by using sound to elicit changes in emotion, from sincerity to humour. For example the play opens to the sound of Riders on the Storm, the curtains drawing back to show the home’s inhabitants exercising to the music.

The apparatus of a nursing home; Zimmer frames, wheelchairs and walking sticks are used successfully to comedic effect. The nursing home theme is carried through to the surreal setting of the woods as love potions and cures are delivered by drip and oxygen mask.

Pan Pan’s performance has innovated the tried and tested format of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and captured the timelessness of love.

Photo by Ros Kavanagh. Runs until March 28th.

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score 4*

Timeless

Flann’s Yer Only Man – Theatre@36, Dublin

First Published January 2015

FLANNISYOURONLYMAN - Theatre@36

Flann’s Yer Only Man – Theatre@36, Dublin

Writer and performer: Val O’Donnell

Director: Terry O’Dea

Theatre@36 is in the basement of a beautiful Georgian property in Parnell Square. The stage is square and nestles among the comfortable seating. It is an unassuming setting for a theatre but as Bare Bodkin Theatre Company’s production proves, great theatre and great performances can happen behind any Dublin door. This critically acclaimed performance of Flann’s Yer Only Man has been toured across Ireland and has come to a temporary stop at Dublin’s Theatre@36. The intimate setting of theatre@36 perfectly suits this one man tour de force.

The Flann of the title refers to novelist, playwright and satirist Brian O’Nolan (1911 – 1966). O’Nolan is perhaps better known by the name of Flann O’Brien and also Myles na Gopaleen, the name under which he wrote his hugely popular and often savagely entertaining celebrated satire Cruiskeen Lawn, which ran as a regular column in the Irish Times for many years. He is often considered to be the finest Irish satirist since the inimitable Jonathan Swift. O’Brien wrote in both English and Gaelic and is considered to be one of the twentieth centuries leading Irish literary figures even though his work was not always appreciated on its release (the destruction of most copies of his 1939 debut novel At Swim Two Birds in a London warehouse during the Second World War put an end to any dreams of mass popular appeal with his structurally revolutionary novel).

O’Donnell tackles a wide range of extracts from O’Brien’s novels, plays and in particular his newspaper column while also pinpointing key biographical events in the writer’s life. O’Donnell does this with aplomb. He makes the audience want to go away and discover, or rediscover, O’Brien’s works. This concise and wide ranging performance helps to delve into the very core of what it is that made O’Brien’s writing so popular and visionary. The performance retains a strong sense of respect and appreciation for O’Brien without being sycophantic. It is difficult to create a one man show that both appeals and holds the audience’s attention but this one does. O’Donnell is a consummate performer. His love of both O’Brien and the relationship between his works and the process that occurs on stage between the audience and actor shine through.

O’Donnell is a long term member of the Club na Muinteoiri, the Teachers Club, and home of Theatre@36 in Dublin and is very welcome back on stage. Appropriately for the venue Flann’s Yer Only Man is a fusion of documentary and theatre, creating a unique performance that both entertains and educates the audience. Importantly the performance never fails to entice laughter from the audience as O’Donell acts out chosen scenes from a wide variety of published works.

The performance is very well directed, with O’Dea working closely with writer and sole performer O’Donnell to create a clear course through the wealth of source material provided by O’Brien. It has an accessible and circular narrative that navigates both the writer’s works and his life. Additional focus is given by the selective use of spot lighting and classical music which emerges at significant moments in the narrative.

Prior knowledge of O’Brien’s work is not necessary to enjoy this production, certainly it will speak to those new to his works as much as to lifelong fans. Flann’s Yer Only Man is O’Donnell’s very funny one man play that brings to life the works and literary genius of Flann O’Brien.

Photo courtesy of Theatre@36. Runs until February 7th. 

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score: 4*

Engaging

The Puffin’s Nest – The New Theatre, Dublin

First Published January 2015

THEPUFFINSNEST - The New Theatre

The Puffin’s Nest – The New Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Oliver McQuillan

The Puffin’s Nest is currently playing at Dublin’s The New Theatre. It marks an assured return to the stage for writer and actor Oliver McQuillan. Having taken a break from acting (after starting his career at Dublin’s Lantern Theatre) McQuillan has recently returned to acting and The Puffin’s Nest is his first feature length play for several years. Dublin’s theatre scene is all the better for having McQuillan back in it.

One enters the theatre through a bookshop where there is time to mingle with other guests and buy refreshments. In the theatre itself the stage was turned into a living room with a table and three chairs, a CD playing Pachelbel in the background and a drinks cupboard open and ready for action. This comfortable domestic setting invites the audience right into the heart of the home and family. What is most notable however about the setting is the isolation. The family live in their cottage on a cliff path overlooking Dublin Bay. The beauty of the scenery only serves to heighten the isolation and separation that creates the environment in which the action on stage emerges.

Puffins breed on coastal cliffs or off shore islands and they nest in crevices, among rocks, or burrow into the soil; somewhat like the family of the play who nest on a cliff path seemingly barely touched by the outside world. The title of the play acts as a recurring metaphor throughout, first uttered to some derision by wife and mother Jane (played by Ann Russell) before being picked up on by the rest of her family.

The Puffin’s Nest begins with a long term couple in their living room speaking in that way that only years of intimacy can engender, in which every comment could be construed as either close chat or bickering. The alcohol flows, particularly for Harold (played by Tom Laidlaw) propelling the characters forward. The quiet, although not altogether happy nest, is thrown into disarray with the return home of their only child; an aspiring actress who has found herself pregnant (played by Ellen Cloney). This throws into light the differences between the three, as Harold’s protestations that he has been a good and supportive father are undermined at every turn by his wife and daughter. Further his ideals are bought into question in a quietly humorous way as the family argue over burnt ground before making up and moving on. For Harold they are the only two women in his life.

However many years ago there was a third; an American woman whom Harold wooed then deserted. As she comes back to haunt him and extract her revenge the play takes an unexpected turn, keeping the audience hooked from the beginning to the end. As Harold learns to believe in ghosts his world is opened up by the reintroduction of these women into his quiet life. The play also throws up questions regarding the differences in beliefs and attitudes between the generations; with the daughter being both more liberal and more conservative from her older parents. Their differing religious backgrounds appear to have some responsibility for this disconnect between them and is an interesting twist on the traditional depiction of the Irish home.

The cast worked well together, Russell and Laidlaw playing the parts of frustrated couple particularly successfully with Dempsey bringing an intense focus to her character. Young actress Ellen Cloney who recently graduated from The Gaiety School of Acting shows promise of going on to be an excellent actor. One key marker of this performance is that the time flew by as the plot twists and excellent delivery worked to keep the audience entertained throughout.

Photo courtesy of The New Theatre. Runs until January 24th.

The Public Reviews Score: 4*

Surprising