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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The Restoration of Hope – The New Theatre, Dublin

The Restoration of Hope

The Restoration of Hope – The New Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Philip St John

Director: Matthew Ralli

 

The Restoration of Hope is The New Theatre’s pre – Christmas offering for 2017 and it is an interesting choice. It has one of the most unusual plot lines to grace the stage this year.

The action begins in an office on the quays. A man walks in singing a medley of Christmas songs and he sets about decorating his office with tinsel. The festive cheer doesn’t last however when out of the blue a drowning woman appears. Standing inside a red triangle is the newly deceased Hope Whyte, played by Jody O’Neill. In shock it takes her a few moments to realise that she is no longer on Dun Laoghaire pier, and is instead face to face with a strange man wielding a Bounty bar.

Partly inspired by the Faust legend Hope is given the chance to be restored to life, for a limited period of time, but only if she commits to a blood soaked contract. Working with her mentor Larry McGraph, played by Nick Devlin, Hope has to decide what another shot at life is worth and whether she is the sort of person who can take that step. Added in to the mix is demon Luca, played by Shane O’Regan, who is out to capture as many souls as he can. Hope is not a normal victim; she is a single minded business woman who is prepared to negotiate even this devilish pact.

There are moments of humour throughout and the play alludes to the larger issues of the day at different moments. This individual story offers an insight into the wider issues of power, authority and revenge. At times The Restoration of Hope is dark and wicked, with it’s tongue firmly in cheek. Much of the play is a two hander between Devlin and O’Neill who bounce off each other and expose each others fears and weaknesses.

Carl Kennedy’s sound design works very well throughout. The audience enter the theatre to the sound of a Christmas theme with a dark undercurrent twinkling in the background. Lights and careful staging are used at times to create atmosphere and momentum. A driving scene is a particular pleasure. Similarly, although sparse there is a good use of props throughout (look out for the sword!).

This is the second part in The Eerie Trilogy by playwright Philip St John but it is not necessary to have seen The Temptress as The Restoration of Hope stands alone excellently. This supernatural tale is also a great anecdote to the sentimentality that predominates at this time of year.

 

Runs Until 16th December 2017.

 

Co – Produced by Speckintime and High Seas Productionss, in association with Mermaid Arts Centre and The New Theatre

The Snow Queen

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Writer: Ian Toner

Director: Sarah Finlay

Gerda and Kay live in a watery town in a watery world. All ice and snow have been lost in the warming. Now people travel by gondolas and school children are told tales by their teachers about how in the past awful thing happened such as cold, gloves, scarves, carols and most frightening of all Christmas. In this watery world, there seems to be no one who remembers Christmas or all that it stood for. When the adventurous Kay questions his surroundings he is pulled into the ice world of the long banished, forgotten snow queen. Join his best friend Gerda on her epic adventure to find Kay and bring back Christmas.

Ian Toner’s The Snow Queen is inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. This version, however, plays more with the idea of good and bad, suggesting that most people want to be good, but they are just often quite bad at it. This more nuanced approach works for today’s audience and creates ample room for humour. Above all this production is frequently laugh out loud funny. Furthermore, there is a new meaning beneath it all as Toner tackles the topic of climate change. Like all of the best stories, this message is there for those who seek it, or will slowly sink in to those who sit back and enjoy the laughs.

It is remarkable that the whole play is carried off by just six cast members (plus two blue parrots). Clodagh Mooney Duggan, who is in nearly every scene, is perfect for the role of Gerda, imbuing her with a mix of innocence and bravery. She makes for a wonderful companion through the dangers and excitement of the watery world and the ice queen’s lair. The pirates she encounters are one of the highlights. When we meet them the three buccaneers are considering giving up their life of high-seas adventure in favour of becoming landed gentry. Other characters such as Old Nick and Rudolpho, the Lighthouse Keeper, underwater creatures and killer whales all help Gerda on the way. By her side is her trustworthy yet slightly temperamental parrot Pollyanna, who turns out to provide bountiful laughs throughout. It is also a great display of incorporating puppetry into theatre.

The costumes have been excellently detailed and colour coordinated by set and costume designer Molly O’Cathain. The Snow Queen takes place in Smock Alley’s main stage, which, with its openness and multiple entrances and exits, works well. The cast has room to manoeuvre. On the floor are drawings of boats and sea creatures in white and blue. The stage is occupied by two raised platforms of differing heights. Deceptively simple it gives the cast ample opportunity to display motion and movement in narrative via the different levels of staging. On the wall at the back stars shine in the darkness. Lighting, music and sound all add to the multi-layered storytelling. On a side note, it is great to see a production take so much effort with their programme.

The Snow Queen is billed as a family show and while this is true it is definitely a must see for adults. It is entertaining, intelligent, with a strong moral underlying the action, before it finally ending on a warm note. Toner has done very well to create a wonderful show that can be enjoyed by all. There seems to be much more to come from this very talented troupe.  This is a fully formed, excellently written, produced, created and acted play that hopefully all of Dublin will go to see.

The Reviews Hub Score: 5*

Key Word: Captivating

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.