Dinner in Mulberry Street

Dinner in Mulberry Street – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre

Writer: Fitz-James O’Brien

Adaption: Michael James Ford

Director: Bairbre Ni Chaoimh

In Dinner in Mulberry Street Christmas in New York is falling far short of a fairy tale. It is 1857 and newlyweds Agnes and Dick have fallen on hard times. Unable to find work they must use every ounce of creativity and initiative that they have to avoid starvation. As the drama unfolds pieces of their former life are brought to life. Agnes was a social heiress; used to the finer things in life and without a care in the world. When she met Dick, a charming and worldly young man with big ideas they fell in love. Marrying for affection saw them abandoned by their wealthy relatives and left navigating a world of poverty. Having sold all that they own and resorting to using the last of their furniture for firewood, they are in need of a miracle. With Christmas just around the corner will our couple find salvation in time?

The entire play takes place within their tenement room. The world outside is alluded to and feels as though it is pushing inwards. There are thugs on the corner and the ever-present fear of the landlord is stark when a surprise knock comes to their door. Based on a short story by Cork-born Fitz-James O’Brien Dinner in Mulberry Street is of its time. Although an engaging and hopeful story an opportunity to do something a little different was missed. The financial difficulty that the couple found themselves in could have been further drawn out. References to the perilous rental situation and financial strain of the Christmas period should have been particularly poignant.

Under set designer Andrew Murray Bewley’s has been turned into a mid-nineteenth century tenement home. The pallet bed in the corner and furniture made of wine crates immediately placed the action in the poverty and grime of the 1850s. The table set to the back of the stage remains bare except for a tablecloth. This is where much of the action is focused as Agnes and Dick fantasise about past meals and bring them to life with their imagination. A fire faces into the stage and Colm Maher’s lighting design complements the feel of the play as the stage is imbued with warmth and light at key moments.

There were some artful moments of comedy under the direction of Bairbre Ni Chaoimh. As Agnes and Dick role-play their old lives and past meals that they have relished, they each take on the part of former butler Hamish; slipping into Scottish accents to differentiate each character. This was carried on into the comical fight scene between Giacomo and Dick which was entertaining to watch. Ashleigh Dorrell played the part of frustrated, hungry, hopeful wife wonderfully. Subtle changes in mood and hand gestures let the audience into her character. The central relationship is well played and Dorrell and Jamie O’Neill as Dick make a convincing couple.

Dinner in Mulberry Street is a pleasant Christmas treat.

Image: Contributed

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Split Ends

Split Ends, Bewley’s Café Theatre

Split_Ends_Square_960_960_s_c1Performed and Conceived by Lauren Larkin

Writer: Lauren Larking and Aisling Byrne

Director: Aisling Byrne

 

Bewley’s has been turned into an upmarket hair salon, and in place, early as always, is Amy. She is ready to take on the day and confirm her position as providing the best curly blow dry in Dublin. Amy is very much someone who gets what she wants.

 

Amy, played by Lauren Larkin, is on stage as the audience arrives. She knows you have to work hard and wait for what you want. All good things come to those who wait. Don’t they? This is what Amy tells herself. Well, its what Oprah and facebook tell her when she needs them too. However, how long can someone keep waiting patiently with no deadline in sight? She has three regular visitors who are all good company with their own stories to tell. From the older woman who keeps talking to hide what is inside, to the harried career woman with too many plates to juggle, to the young girl who is preparing for her communion like it is her wedding day. The salon is where they find a few moments for themselves and over repeat visits Amy gets to know more about each one as they confide in her. As Larking slips in and out of each character with ease, their secrets start to unravel and in turn we start to learn more about the Amy that the outside world doesn’t get to see.

 

The title fits the play perfectly. Split ends develop after hair experiences weathering and damage. When left too long the split begins to lengthen. This causes irreversible damage and the split has to be cut off. Can Amy refashion her life into something new, or will the split ends continue to damage and break?

 

This was not the first outing for Larkin’s Split Ends. It was developed at FRINGE LAB and first performed as a part of the Dublin Fringe Festival 2018. It is always a pleasure to see a play develop and make use of opportunities like Show in a Bag; to explore what can be done with the script and to fully develop an idea.

 

The set has been very well designed. Larkin is always busy, folding towels, flicking through magazines and on the phone. One suspects that a local salon was raided for the day to provide the necessary props. This was a great touch that elevated Split Ends and added a note of authenticity to the production. Excellent timing is demonstrated throughout, with lighting designer Colm Maher working in sync with the action on the stage. The final emotional scene was good but could have done with a little more oomph. Several days after seeing Split Ends the impact had faded more than it should have done considering the climax cuts close and is slightly uncomfortable to watch for those who have recently shared the same experiences. However this speaks to the power of the central truth at the heart of Split Ends and the skilful way in which Larkin and Byrne have told this story.

Appropriate

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Appropriate, Dublin Fringe Festival 2018, Bewley’s Cafe Theatre – Dublin

Writer: Sarah-Jane Scott

Director: Paul Meade

‘Planning a wedding in Ireland is like preparing for war.’

Scott enters from a door to the left. Climbing onto the stage she drops her wedding bouquet on an empty chair in the middle of the stage. A white carpet is underneath; otherwise, the stage is bare. The focus stays on Scott for the entirety of the play.

Sarah-Jane Scott plays Sorcha. At first, she looks like a runaway bride. It soon emerges that she has slipped out of her own wedding reception and seems to be taking stock of her life; considering who she is and what she wants for the very first time. Her life to this point has always gone as it should. It has been perfectly appropriate. She has just married the man she already wanted, a former county hurling player who has always been kind to her. Surrounded by her mum and friends this should be the best day of her life. Sure, isn’t that what she has always planned. But if it is, why does she feel like hiding away?

Appropriate taxes the audience from Sorcha’s debs, where she saw off the competition in an entirely unorthodox manner to nab her man to the day they said ‘I do’. The journey is frequently hilarious, with Sorcha’s strong accent and turn of phrase bringing the audience out of their seat. Appropriate is the ideal play for a short break from the frequent difficulty of day-to-day life. The character of Sorcha is fully rounded. She sounds like a friend of a friend that you went to school with and fills her friends and acquaintances with Facebook envy, with her well-ordered life. She is a GAA girlfriend with a husband – to – be who is well respected in their rural community and a best friend who would tear strips off anyone who upset her.

Scott embodies the character and this play is clearly her creation as she takes control from beginning to end and makes the stage, and the audience, her own. With the rest of her life stretching out like railway tracks Sorcha has to make a decision. Will she choose the comfortable life that she has established for herself; being the queen bee of her small town, or will she take the road less travelled, and try to find a different her in the expanding future?

Appropriate has come out of Fishamble’s A Show in a Bagscheme that has created some wonderful productions over the years. This show is another example of how this programme and the nurturing environment of the Fringe Festival can bring talent to the fore.

| Image: Contributed

Yeats Besotted

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Yeats Besotted – Bewley’s Café Theatre @ Powerscourt, Dublin

Writer: Cathal Quinn
Director: Cathal Quinn


“Poets should never marry. The world should thank me for not marrying you.”

William Butler Yeats is a man who in Ireland needs little introduction. Even decades after his death the slightest new titbit or revelation generates a buzz of media interest and his writing is taught to every Irish student. His place as one of Ireland’s literary greats assured. With this in mind how best for a playwright to get to the heart of the man? To navigate through the wealth of analysis and study to find the man behind it all?

Yeats Besotted attempts this by dramatising the turbulent relationship between the Nobel Laureate and his greatest love and muse, Maud Gonne. Religion, politics, the occult and the difficult birth of the Irish Free State are all touched upon in Yeats Besotted, however, the focus remains on the love affair between Yeats and Gonne. The pair first met in 1889 when she approached him to seek his support against tenant evictions. Yeats found himself instantly in love, besotted, and from this point onwards she acts as his poetic muse political inspiration. Throughout the play are poems in English and Irish that were written for or inspired by his love for Gonne.

When we are first introduced to Yeats, very capably played by Philip Judge, he is arguing for the legalisation of divorce in the Seanad. Here he is not just a poet but also a politician. There is a suggestion that runs throughout Yeats Besotted that Gonne was also the spark behind much of Yeats political ideas and beliefs. On a whistle-stop tour through their relationship from 1889 to 1928 Gonne is a constant in Yeats life, even as she goes on to marry another. In the rapidly changing Irish political landscape of the first decades of the 20th Century will there be room for an unconventional love story such as theirs? Or will their pasts and love prove too controversial for 1920s Ireland?

Yeats Besotted is a lovely short play that entertains and intrigues in equal measure. It is important to note that prior knowledge of the protagonists is not needed due to the capability of Quinn’s script and the universalism of the plays key themes. With luck, Yeats Besotted will in time become a longer production that can further investigate this unique relationship that had a profound effect on the work and reputations of two of Ireland’s greatest figures.

Honest

First Written for The Reviews Hub

honest_bewleyscafetheatre

Honest – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, Dublin

Writer: DC Moore
Director: David Horan
Reviewer: Laura Marriott

Is honesty always the best policy?

Meet Dave. A frustrated civil servant surrounded by bureaucratic incompetence and hypocrisy. We step into Dave’s life as he seems to be entering some sort of existential crisis. Lying, he argues, is a part of life and it is only the less pleasant or caring who are always honest. After all, who really wants to be given the brutal truth all of the time? However, on this night Dave finds he no longer has it in him to keep telling the lies that are needed to not rock the boat. This new found inability to lie causes havoc on a work night out as he looks around him with bewilderment at the events around him. After a conversation with his boss in which he is more truthful than is advisable he embarks on a quest through the dark corners of inner London before finding himself in a suburban garden.

The one-man play is carried excellently by performer Kevin Murphy. His strong Welsh accent rises and falls as he takes you through one emotional night. The audience starts laughing early on in the play and continues right until the surprisingly deep ending that punches through the barrier between performer and audience member. Dave’s working life in the civil services provides a rich vein of humour. This move towards complete honesty means that he is not always the most attractive of characters; however, Murphy softens him, making him fully rounded and recognisable. Murphy fits this part perfectly and he carries the audience with him on this late night expedition. The theatre is cosy and brings audience members into the eye line of the actor. It feels intimate. It is very easy to get lost in the action as the time whizzes by before landing on a surprisingly powerful and touching final note.

Honest is a 45-minute lunchtime show but is probably one of the best stage productions to hit Dublin this year.

Runs until 26 November 2016 | Image: Contributed

The Reviews Hub Score: 4*

TDFF: To Hell in a Handbag

First Written for The Reviews Hub

ToHellinaHandbag_Bewleys_TDFF

Writers: Helen Norton and Jonathan White

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from lack of imagination.” – Oscar Wilde

To Hell in a Handbag explores the, until now, secret lives of Canon Chasuble (Jonathan White) and Miss Prism (Helen Norton), two fringe characters from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Miss Prism is best known as the woman who accidentally left a baby behind in a railway cloakroom and left with a handwritten manuscript in a handbag. On the face of it Miss Prism is the image of a perfect governess and Canon Chasuble a respectable middle aged rector. Behind the image though they are living tempestuous lives full of negotiation, deception, false identity and black mail. And most importantly money. Both characters have fascinating and surprising back stories. The play is deeply funny. The one liners are excellent and well played; both Norton and White having a knack for timing and comedy.

The stage is small but well utilised. A desk covered with correspondence, a seat and small table hiding something medicinal! To Hell in a Handbag is set during and around the events of The Importance of Being Earnest. Lines from the play are heard over loudspeaker from time to time to move the action on and introduce the less well known characters to the audience. Both Norton and White are experienced actors having undertaken a wide variety of celebrated work on both stage and screen. This can be seen throughout as both actors show skill and nuance, playing each line to full effect.

The play does a good job of going behind the public face to the confusion and absurdity of the private life of this seemingly staid, proper Victorian pair. This is To Hell in a Handbag’s premiere so it will be interesting to see if it goes on to develop a life of its own as many previous shows developed in association with the popular ‘Show in a Bag’ initiative have. This year’s Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival has brought many new plays to the Dublin stage, giving both theatre makers and audiences the chance to experience something new and fresh. Good humoured and more than a little farcical To Hell in a Handbag follows in Wilde’s footsteps and creating an entertaining and comedic spectacle for all to enjoy.

Runs until 24 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: contributed.

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4*

Key Word: Funny