The Shaughraun

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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The Shaughraun – Smock Alley, Dublin

Writer: Dion Boucicault

Director: Clare Maguire

The Shaughraun is a melodrama by Irish playwright and actor Dion Boucicault. In the small village of Suil-a-beg, County Sligo, mystery, intrigue and drama unfold as a vast range of absurd, exciting and interconnected events set the scene for a night of fun and frivolity. It is difficult to introduce the plot in a few sentences as so much happens, but The Shaughraun is an excellent night’s entertainment and it is a joy to see it being revived at Dublin’s ‘oldest and newest theatre’.

First performed in 1874 the play was an instant success. It was traditional to use pantomimes to address difficult social topics and in a way, Boucicault does the same here. Lack of female autonomy, a housing crisis, intercultural differences, particularly between the British and Irish, bubble underneath the comedy and as director Clare Maguire shows are as relevant today as they were when first penned. As noted in the programme “the melodramatic themes of the play: faith, hope, romantic love and the love of one’s country are set against greed, betrayal, deception, and abuse of power. They are the required themes of melodrama but Boucicault deploys them to cut across national and class boundaries and to give his characters depth and colour”.

One highlight of the play was the relationship between Clare and Captain Molineaux. The attraction is instant however their different backgrounds mean that love doesn’t run smooth. Clare is fierce, defiant and patriotic so it is a surprise when a charming British soldier walks into her life and takes a shine to her. There are many moments of amusement to be found from Captain Molineaux who is consistently bemused by “you Irish” and their different ways. Well acted and drawn out this relationship helps to steer the action, subvert stereotypes and cuts to the heart of the themes of the play.

In future work needs to be done on voice projection and enunciation, to make sure that the Sligo accent (which is well done) does not prevent the listener from taking in every word. This is also true for the singing. Although the musical interludes are enjoyable they would be easier to follow if the actors could project to the back of the theatre. Unusually the characters introduced themselves at the beginning which was a nice touch.

Although arguably old-fashioned The Shaughraun had the audience laughing and brought comedy to the underlying social issues. The Shaughraun is wild, witty (as are the characters!) and fast-paced. Full of twists, turns and surprises, and a good versus evil story line The Shaughraun is farcical and riotous fun with a heart.

Runs until 1 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

Electric

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Electric – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

Writer: Ali Hardman

Director: Clare Maguire

On balance it is fair to argue that the opening night of Ali Hardman’s new play Electric, is more enjoyable than a trip to Electric Picnic. Although this may say something about the lack of shower facilities at most festivals, it also highlights how fun and entertaining Electric is.

One of the standout points of the play is the level of attention to detail and the set design. When the audience are collecting their tickets, each person is issued with an Electric wrist band, excellently designed and eye catching. While waiting for the doors to open glitter face paint is also available for free. Most audience members have blue glitter wings winking in the dark. Starting the production in this way was a pleasant surprise that put people in a good mood and helped to foster a festival atmosphere. This is enhanced when the theatre doors open and the two actors, Hardman and Roe, have already taken to the stage and are dancing away to the pulsing music familiar to all festival goers.

Joni and Scarlett have both set out on an adventure at Electric Picnic. Scarlett, played by Ali Hardiman, is a privately educated young woman from Dalkey who has been pushed into the festival by her mam. With a dislike of dirt, her friends and being surrounded by people her long weekend does not start out well. In contrast Joni, with a rough Dublin accent, glitter decoration and a pack of lager has been looking forward to this since last years festival ended. With completely different friendship groups their paths do not cross until a chance encounter sees the direction of their weekend change – perhaps for the better. In costuming that complements their characters, Hardiman and Roe play off each other well. Hardiman’s script artfully skewers class divides and stereotypes by reaching beyond them to create a rounded, realistic friendship between two young women. Their new relationship throws existing friendships into sharp focus and forces the characters to assess what they really value in themselves and in others. Supplemented by the engaging and humourous Electric is a comedy with a heart.

Coordinated by set designer Ursula McGinn Electric demonstrates a detailed and precise level of detail that one does not usually see in a one-hour production. In the bar outside picture frames are decorated with flower garlands and lights; the words ‘Welcome’ and ‘Electric’ spelt out in bright multi – coloured blocks. Inside the theatre space strings of lights, ribbons and paper chains hang over the seating area. Lighting Designer Shane Gill works well with McGinn to create a bright, enticing theatre space. Fabric in soft colours, artfully lit from behind drape the rear of the stage. Large dreamcatchers are dotted about the place and the stage itself is covered in colourful confetti. Further, over the past few months there has been a noticeable improvement in the attention paid to creating informative and decent programmes, and Electric fits into the new trend.

Hardman, who last appeared at Theatre Upstairs in Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws, has shown development as a writer with Electric marking her first full length production. The play ended with the audience rising to their feet and cheering, proving that Electric is a play not to be missed.

Runs until 5th May 2019 | Image: Contributed