The Belly Button Girl

bellybutton-001

*Edited, longer review. Contains spoilers.*

The Belly Button Girl The New Theatre

Writer and Performer: Tom Moran

Director and Producer: Romana Testasecca

The intriguingly titled The Belly Button Girl opens with our narrator (and sole performer) arriving at ‘Cousin Sharon’s’ 21st at a parochial hall in Dingle. Listless and not really enjoying the night, our narrator soon comes to life when he catches sight of the bar maid. Enchanted by her she quickly gains the moniker: The Belly Button Girl. Over the course of the weekend, through a series of accidents and misspoken phrases, they become close. The weekend closes as they wind up together in her bed in Portobello, Dublin. Our narrator is in love. Infatuated and contemplating their life together, we follow him over twelve months as their relationship grows and changes. Reminiscent of falling in love for the first time, The Belly Button Girl, is a story of love and confusion, edged with the hope of redemption.

A bench took centre stage, with beach paraphernalia decorating the front and back of the stage along with small items that are significant in the plot; an anchor, a small Buddha statue, pieces of driftwood. The set design, by Ursula McGinn, is delicate with each item carefully placed for maximum meaning. The soft blues and sandy pebbles recreate the feel of a small Dingle beach, where accidents and love stories can take place. This was complemented perfectly the excellently times lighting by Eoin Lennon. Bringing this together was the direction of Romana Testasecca, who demonstrates an understanding of the power of space and structure, and whose flair for movement reverberated through the performance.

Moran has a real knack for observation and some of the plays highlights emerge with the introduction of several secondary characters, from the ‘Sambuca lady’, to the ‘Massive Lad’ and the Dublin taxi driver. They offer the narrator an insight into the way in which capturing life’s small pleasures can lead to contentment. These were interesting vignettes, well drawn and showing characters who live a different kind of life, who have perhaps found a more accepting, comfortable way of being. However our narrator doesn’t seem to learn from them. It is not essential that all character arcs show growth, however as the ending circles back to the beginning one might have expected a little more character development. It was uncomfortable that fat bodies were commented on and found funny (the drivers belly jiggling and so on) and yet other bodies were not mentioned at all – to the extent that the belly button girl remains mysterious and unshaped – so it is difficult to believe that the focus on fat bodies and finding humour (often grotesque) out of them could be coincidental. Gross moments were excessive and became unnecessary. I’m not a fan of this type of humour however there came a point where it was just too much even for the biggest gross out fan. My theatre going companion felt that certain moments – particularly the one with the toothbrush – veered into misogyny, that the narrator was taking out his anger at women – and one particular woman – in the most grotesque, childish way he could think of. I’m not sure that the script showed enough awareness of the character, instead revelling in any moment for comedy.

Despite his interactions with others the narrator carries on like a piece of driftwood, washed up on stage, at the mercy of external forces. The key external force is, of course, the belly button girl. While the narrator is like the boy who didn’t grow up, she has her act together. Work, study, the future, and the intricacies of love are tackled by her with ease while he is still struggling with alarm calls and bra clasps. Although she is the focus of his desire, she remains elusive. In the future more could be done to fully flesh out her character, so the audience can see in her what he sees in her, and in turn believe in their relationship. Despite the title the play is very much about the narrator. Little is revealed about the belly button girl and there is an odd moment at the end where the audience expects to find out her name, but the moment is let go.

Overall, The Belly Button Girl is full of finely drawn detail, playful wordplay (such as selling toilets at a place called ‘the drop zone’) and sharp observations. The Belly Button Girl is an entertaining, eccentric, bizarre, funny story that with a little more work could be deeply human and relatable.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Punt

punt the new theatreWriters: Pius McGrath and Tara Doolan

Actor: Pius McGrath

An Honest Arts Production

 

Punt has been receiving excellent reviews since its arrival in Dublin off the back of a successful run at the Limerick Fringe 2017, so it was with interest that on a sweltering Friday evening, theatre goers sought shelter in the cool cavern of The New Theatre.

One of Jack’s earliest memories is of placing a bet at Listowel races and, amazingly, winning. This special treat, shared with his uncle Jim turned out to be the beginning of a lifetime love affair for the small town boy. The excitement and electricity of a day at the races captured the six year old and this recreational, communal activity soon became something much more dangerous. By the time Jack is off to the study in the big city he is preoccupied with making it to high stakes poker games and using his winnings to buy his way into bigger and bigger games.

At the same time internet gambling takes off. How many of us have been tempted by the free cash offers to place a bet and watch the wheel spin? Gambling becomes something meaningful and powerful in Jack’s life as it takes the space of family and former aspirations. Alongside this Ireland is booming and cash is flowing freely.

McGraph uses his body throughout the tell the story. Throwing himself about the stage with abandon and slipping into his memories and other characters with ease. When McGraph takes on the persona his best friend the comedy abounds as his thick accent and unique turn of phrase propel the narrative forward. It takes skill and confidence to be able to pull off a one man play: to hold court, dominate the stage and keep viewers interested with only your body and words. McGraph wears his character lightly. With just a chair, table and black background on which the words “bet now” flash behind him McGraph is alone on the stage as Jack becomes more and more isolated.

Punt delves into the intergenerational nature of addiction and how the big business of gambling is all around us. When I moved to Dublin it was a surprise to see how many betting shops lined the streets. Although with hope being difficult to find in these economically tough times it is not surprising that the momentary burst of optimism that Jack finds in every race, in every win, manages to sustain him for so long.

Skilfully written by McGraph and Doolan Punt is careful to avoid moralising and instead tackles the big issues through the individual story. It is through Jack that we experience the rise and fall of an addict, and it is with feeling that we watch his decline; resisting the urge to shout at the stage every time he takes the wrong step. Backed up by well timed visuals and sound effects it is easy to be carried along on this journey from hope to despair. The ending is powerful and well done.

With Punt The New Theatre continues to champion new work by promising Irish theatre makers and proves again that some of the best nights of theatre are to be found behind a socialist bookshop in Temple Bar.

Runs until July 14th 2018.

Vagabonds: My Phil Lynott Odyssey

Vagabonds: My Phil Lynott Odyssey – Civic Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Robert Mountford and Chris Larner

Director: Chris Larner

Cú Chullain is a traditional Irish legend, known for his beauty, warrior attributes and his incredible feats of strength. On the surface he seems to have little in common with an Irish legend of a different kind, Thin Lizzy front man Phil Lynott. The Dubliner, armed only with his bass guitar and attitude went on to become Ireland’s first rock star. Both of these figures are heroes to many. Vagabonds questions what it means to be a hero and who gets to be one.

One night on Grafton Street, looking up at the Lynott statue, Cú Chullain challenges performer Robert Mountford to tell the story of a great Irish hero. Mountford tells us about his brother Dave and their relationship with the rocker Lynott. This odyssey takes the audience through Mountford’s attempts to discover his cultural identity, exploring how Irish he feels and his relationship with his older brother. He was raised in Sutton Coldfield, a suburb of Birmingham. As a part-Kashmiri young boy adopted into an Irish Catholic family he found a wealth of similarities with Lynott’s early life. Culturally confused Mountford has a strong love of Ireland but doesn’t know if this is where he belongs. Vagabonds tells the story of his family, of growing up and establishing his identity, and of the role Thin Lizzy, and Lynott in particular, played in that process.

The interludes in which Mountford plays the voice of his father are very funny and seem touchingly real. Mountford goes from naïve, enthusiastic youth to Phil Lynott, to Cú Chullain, to his older brother with apparent ease. He maintains the energy throughout this assured performance, which includes character changes, accents and costume switches in quick fire succession. The pace remains high at all points and holds the audience’s attention at all times.

The title comes from a Thin Lizzy album Vagabond of the Western World. The performances this week at the Civic Theatre are timed excellently to coincide with the Vibe for Philo 2017 concerts. It is a reminder that heroes never die. Vagabonds is more than a tribute show. Frequently laugh out loud funny with a delicate vein of sadness running through it this one man show is an excellent start to the New Year and a worthwhile watch for anyone who has ever looked for a hero.

Runs until 7th January 2017 | Image: contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4*

Key Word: Heroic