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.