The Belly Button Girl

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*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.

 

 

 

 

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Lyrics

Director: Romana Testasecca

Writer: Tom Moran

Him: Tom Moran

Her: Danielle Galligan

 

“One night. Two very different hearts. Dublin City Centre. An Open Mic has ended and a captivating dissection of a chance encounter has just begun.”

 

Outside it is cold and the rain keeps coming. The pavements are blocked by commuters hiding under shop awnings and the Liffey looks grey in the early evening light. Fleeing the uninspiring spring weather in newly reopened Theatre Upstairs an audience pile into the small theatre, looking for something to lighten the mood and warm the night.

Lyrics is set at the end of an Open Mic night in a Dublin pub. To the left sits a piano, a microphone in the middle and bottles that light up decorate the stage. Lighting Designer Shane Gill has done a great job: for each song the lights dim creating a cosy and intimate setting. The audience could almost be eavesdropping on the chance meeting taking place. The warm tones of the background helps to the enhance the idea that the theatre is a small pub, the audience with drinks in hand like the punters have turned up not exactly sure what to expect.

The play opens with Tom Moran playing the piano and singing a song to a former girlfriend. With his heart on his sleeve, and in his songs, Moran’s character is open to talking. He meets a mysterious singer who has never had a broken heart and is about to set off on a new adventure, played by Danielle Galligan. Taking the form of a dialogue with sharp staccato notes our two protagonists play around and work their way into each others thoughts and feelings. The early wit and humour draws laughter which keeps coming. The interlocking conversation avoids falling into cliché and suggests that director, Romana Testasecca, is growing in confidence with each new production. Slightly heightened the dialogue is well constructed and entertaining.

The couple meet because Galligan wanted to sing for the last time before moving to New York. A dying relative is behind her decision. Working through a recent heartbreak Moran’s song are hilarious with enough just enough honesty to make them more than comedic interludes. As the play progresses there are moments of sadness that emerge from these two broken hearts. At times tender and romantic Lyrics moves between sincerity and hilarity with relative ease. Taking ownership of the stage the characters begin to move together, their physical actions mirroring the movement of feelings as the night progresses.

A clever and touching chamber piece edged full of comedy and romance Lyrics proved to be just the tonic for the grey rainy Dublin evening.

Lyrics

Set and Costume Design: Ciara Murnane

Lighting Design: Shane Gill

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Smock Alley Scene and Heard Festival (SASH) 2018 – Dublin
Written & Performed by Karen Killen

Directed by Romana Testasecca

Associate Producer Vincent Brightling
Sarah is 19. She has a camera, a laptop and a ukulele. She wants to take on the world, via YouTube. But is she ready for #CyberSpace?!

Karen Killen wrote and stars in this one woman show. Performed in the Boys School Stage at Dublin’s Smock Alley the architecture makes the perfect backdrop to the play. Orange lights shaped like flowers hang above our protagonist, casting a soft glow. A large TV sits in an empty window, the screen facing the rows of seats. Underneath this sits Sarah. Armed with fresh makeup, a ukulele and a camera she is all set to take on cyberspace.

She is the perfect vlogger. Sharing details of her life freely and singing to her hidden audience. The play opens with Sarah answering fan questions. She is loud, bright and friendly. Her favourite things are YouTube her followers. A slight slip of the tongue however gives a hint of the loneliness that lies beneath. “Do you have a boyfriend? No, I mean yes!”

It is from here that we start to see deeper than the artfully staged videos. When she is not on camera her life is very different. Takeaway food, internet trolls, comfy pyjamas and no real human interaction. The sound of Skype calls and phones ringing interrupt her work. These are always one way conversations as Sarah refuses to let loved ones reach her. By keeping love at arm’s length, she can keep up the pretence of a perfect life for her subscribers.

Click 2 Subscribe is funny from the start to the finish thanks to Testasecca’s capable  direction. Props and clothing are used throughout to further the narrative and create opportunities for humour in this witty, insightful fast paced play.

SASH is a unique theatre event that gives writers, actors and directors the opportunity to present plays in development. This is a vitally important for theatre makers. It is also great for theatre goers who are given the opportunity to see a wide variety of performances in different stages of development. One moment you can be watching a deeply moving family drama, the next a laugh a minute collection of sketches. Last year’s entry from Rosebud Theatre was the poignant and politically timely SYRIUS, which blended movement and powerful imagery to tell the story of a woman forced to flee the horror engulfing Syria. Following last years festival the production has toured Europe to critical acclaim. Hopefully Rosebud Theatre will be able to use the experience and feedback from SASH 2018 to follow and improve on last years success with Click 2 Subscribe.

 

 

 

SYRIUS

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, Scene and Heard Festival 2017.

 

Writer and Performer: Romana Testasecca

Director: Karen Killeen

Movement Coordinators: Stephanie Dufresne

Producer: Palma Testasecca

Sound Designer: Garret Hynes

 

SYRIUS begins with Rasha, played by Testasecca, running in circles around the stage. We can hear her heavy breathing; there is no respite. She is wearing purple and green. As a young woman in Syria she is taking part in a peaceful protest with other women. They decided to wear wedding dresses as they reflect happiness and are as positive and nonthreatening as can be. Standing with her placard, white writing on a red background, Rasha has a wedding veil covering her face. She seems anxious and confused. Scared maybe. A speaker plays out a Syrian protest call. It isn’t long before she is imprisoned by the Assad regime. In a letter to her father she expresses her surprise at being incarcerated for standing on a street with a placard. Surely that is a totalitarian action? Finding the Syria she knew and loved is no longer Rasha tells her father she can no longer stay in the country. She hopes that the rest of her family can join her soon. She expresses the difficulty, fear and poverty of refugee camps and detention centres through her body: shoulders stooped, a constant weariness. However her tent turns into a boat sail and after seven countries and an ocean she finds herself in Portlaoise, Ireland. Here she spins with happiness arms open and free. Rasha has hope again.
Sound is used effectively throughout the performance. Her dance moves, sometimes like marching and stomping, sound out her emotions. The use of lighting, sound and movement is very strong. It is a very physical form of storytelling. If this production is developed on further it would be interesting to see how Rasha fares in her new home.

 

One person plays are particularly hard to pull off and Testasecca does this with aplomb. This is an excellent production telling the story of how and why a young girl would feel she has to leave her native country and family for a foreign land. If you are wary of ‘non – traditional’ theatre this might be the ideal show to see as the narrative and storytelling are so strong.

 

Presented by Rosebuds Theatre Company, who were last seen in All Washed Up at The New Theatre, SYRIUS runs at under 30 minutes as a part of the Scene and Heard Festival 2017.
Catch it while you can.

 

Runs Until 26th February 2017.
Key word: Magical
Rating 4.5*

All Washed Up

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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Creators: Rosebuds Theatre Company

Creative Director: Lorna Costello

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

‘Home is not always where it is supposed to be’.

All Washed Up has opened for its debut at Dublin’s The New Theatre. The staging has been fully utilised. A bed sits on one side, a table and chest of drawers opposite. At the back a book case and basic kitchen set. This is where the barriers between rooms and people have fallen down and are all ‘washed up’ together in this small room. We learn early on that Alice, played by Romana Testasecca, likes to paint in her free time like her mother did. This art is not for the world though, only for herself. Once a piece of art, something beautiful, has been created, should it be preserved, or put aside to be held onto as a pure happy memory?

As the play begins it soon becomes clear that Alice and Fionn, played by Jamie Sykes, share the small flat and the bed. With her rather explosive entrance Kate, played by Karen Killeen, goes from judging the slightly unusual set up to becoming a part of it. Fionn offered her a place to stay because she was lost with nowhere else to go. This seems to be the case for all three of them. The promotional material includes this quote: “anyway, I only ended up here because I’d lost myself. Lost my context. I woke up one day and realised it was missing. Or hell, maybe I got rid of it myself. Flushed it down the toilet in a mad frenzy”. The trio use each other to hide from the rest of the world, each running away in some manner from either a memory or a person.

This is Rosebuds Theatre Company’s first production, having been recently founded by the three actors. They work well together and successfully show the closeness and claustrophobia that can be held between three people. Similarly they bounce off each other, playing games and bursting into childhood before the secrets and differences between them crack through the surface; suggesting that their lives together in this cocoon cannot be permanent. Over the course of an hour the audience see the three come together like a jigsaw before splintering apart, ready to face the world alone.

This is a very strong and commanding debut from Rosebuds Theatre Company that illustrates the best of the city’s new writing.

Runs until 5 November 5 | Image: contributed.  

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4*

Key Word: Impressive