Debris

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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Writer: Dennis Kelly

Director: Cathal Cleary

It is very unusual that one sees a theatre production that is truly unique, however Reality Check’s opening night of Debris, at Smock Alley Theatre, really was a one-of-a-kind night of entertainment.

Debris has a powerful opening. Shane O’Regan, playing the sixteen year old Michael, takes to the stage and tells the audience a story. On his sixteenth birthday his father built an eighteen foot crucifix in the living room.

Taking place in the Boys School, the stage has been decreased in size to bring the actors and audience closer together and to emphasise the gritty, earthy feel of the play. This is reinforced by the floor covered in gravel and dirt. Low lighting, smoke, and the use of pulsating sounds create an atmosphere of tension as the audience enter.

Described in the programme as an “odyssey of pain, blood, love and loss” as the play unfolds the audience are taken on a journey to see how this family of three ended up in this situation. Michael’s sister Michelle, played by Clara Harte, is equally disturbed. Telling different stories about how she was born Michelle has created a fantasy world around her, whereas Michael ends the play with a new awareness of what it means to be alive in the world.

Debris is Kelly’s first play and also marks the first time that Debris has been performed in Dublin. Under the direction of Cleary, Debris flows as O’Regan and Harte take turns to offer their perspective and drive the narrative forward, occasionally linking together their stories and reflections. When the world is seen through their child’s eyes it seems even more absurd and confusing than usual. A thick strain of black humour runs from start to finish as Michael and Michelle try to make sense of their surroundings.

Debris is a compelling short play that never dips in intensity or drama.

Runs until 21st April 2018 | Image: Contributed

Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Book: John Caird

Music and Lyrics: Paul Gordon

Director: Killian Collins

Performers: Eoin Cannon and Roisin Sullivan

 

Daddy Long Legs, presented by Boulevard Productions Ireland, is Smock Alley’s inaugural musical.

daddy long legs

Daddy Long Legs is a simple but sweet story. Opening in the John Grier Home for Orphans the audience is introduced to Jerusha Abbott, played by Roisin Sullivan. It is 1908 in New England, USA, and she is set for a day of work as the “oldest orphan in the John Grier home” she knows no other life and is alone in the world. This is until a wonderful moment of charitable intervention. One of the home’s trustees, played by Eoin Cannon, has enjoyed her essays and stories and is going to fund her through college with the intention that she will become a professional writer. Although determined to remain anonymous her benefactor does have one condition: Jerusha is to write to him once a month. She is not to say thank you and he will not respond to these letters.

Embracing her new life with gusto and her unique wit and personality Jerusha writes lovingly each month. She gives her benefactor a nick name: Daddy Long Legs. He is surprised to be touched by her letters, which are full of life, curiosity and a desire to love. Soon Jerusha befriends her fellow students and is invited to join them. She meets the worldly and interesting Jervis Pendleton who introduces her to books, travel and adventure. Over the four years of her study Jerusha grows and begins to discover herself and the benefactor learns about her – and himself – through her letters. Their relationship is touching and surprising. One of the great mysteries is will the two ever meet?

It takes skill to bring a musical to life and make it so believable. Director Killian Collins does very well at bringing out the humour throughout. There are some brilliant comedic moments that make the most of the props and staging to draw laughter from the audience. The set is well designed; functional and attractive and Karl Breen on guitar and Gerald Peregrine on cello make a great accompaniment to the action on stage. It goes without saying that both Cannon and Sullivan are excellent performers with voices that reach the back rows with ease and clarity.

For both the musical lover and the novice this is a must watch. It was impossible not to smile at the end and the audience rose to their feet to give a standing ovation. The show has so far been immensely popular with critics and audiences so one hopes that it will continue to perform around Ireland in the coming months. If the production does come back to Dublin I will be first in line to buy a ticket!

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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.

 

 

 

Close to the Sun

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Dublin Fringe Festival: Close to the Sun – Smock Alley, Dublin  

 

Writer: Philip Doherty

Director: Stephen Darcy

Is it ever possible to outrun your past?

The play begins with a story. Three workmen with Irish accents introduce the audience to an old Irish curse. A family have been plagued by alcohol, devotion so deep it turns in on itself, the dark thoughts of jealousy and confusion and the bloody release of an early death. The curse runs through the generations. When we meet Colin, an Irish emigrant to Australia, he is trying to live a life as far away from this torment as possible. With his sweetheart Sophie, they are planning their wedding when out of the blue his older brother Rory turns up on his doorstep. His arrival throws everything into disarray as our couple must face themselves and each other, to work through the lies to a place of honesty.

Close to the Sun also explores the relationship between the Irish diaspora and ‘home’. For Oisin, soon to move back to Cavan, with his children who were born in Australia he will soon find out whether the place he once left still exists and if his new family can make a life there. It is also through him that the cast realise that they have been drawn to other Irish abroad, finding it difficult to find a way in to a new culture. They are a part of ‘the lost generation’ who left their homeland and then experienced the dislocation that comes with this. For Colin though his marriage to Sophie could be about to change all of that. Played by Mary Murray she is a surprising and sparky character. Toni O’Rourke, who was wonderful in Donagh Humphrey’s All That We Found Here, features as Sophie’s niece and confident Alexis. Each member of the cast holds their own. The play feels very cohesive as it glides from scene to scene. Close to the Sun is alternately funny, poignant and surprising. It is a thoroughly entertaining addition to the Dublin Fringe Festival 2017.

Runs Until 17th September 2017 | Image: Contributed

The Rivals

First Written for The Reviews Hub

The Rivals, Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin

Writer: Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Director: Liam Halligan

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

Smock Alley Theatre has an interesting claim to fame. Dublin’s oldest surviving theatre is well known for helping to bring the plays of celebrated playwright, poet and essayist Richard Brinsley Sheridan to the stage. 242 years after Sheridan’s first ever play The Rivals graced the Smock Alley stage, it makes its long overdue return to the theatre’s main stage. Minutes into this vibrant and entrancing production it becomes clear that Smock Alley theatre goers should not have had to wait so long for The Rivals return.

Written in 1774 this comedy of errors is set in the English spa town of Bath. It is here that conspiracy, intrigue, duels and love rivals flourish. Seventeen year old Lydia Languish is hopelessly romantic. Inspired by the novels she reads she is desperate for a love affair, devoid of financial ties or obligations. Her lover ‘Beverley’ is actually Captain Jack Absolute, who has created a false identity for himself so that he can woo Lydia and eventually elope with her. Lydia’s Aunt, Mrs Malaprop, is keen that she should make a good match. She is an excellent character that continues in the vein of The Merry Wives of Windsor’s Mistress Quickly. Well-meaning middle aged women who meddle and interfere. Mrs Malaprop’s interesting use (or perhaps more accurately misuse) of language is used to create comedy and confusion in equal measure. Lydia has two other suitors and soon it becomes impossible for her romance with the mysterious ‘Beverly’ to continue. Alongside our star couple are Julia and Faulkland, who despite their love for each other cannot seem to move past their insecurities. To add to the confusion is Irish Sir Lucius O’Trigger. This combative and vivacious character is conducting his own romance by letter. However mischievous Lucy, paid to carry his letters to Lydia, instead allows them to go astray. Further buffoonish Bob Acres has an interest in Lydia and Sir Anthony Absolute is always on the verge of a temper as he tries to negotiate the engagement of his only son Jack.

If the plot sounds a little confusing is it played smoothly and with humour. One can’t help but sit back and enjoy. The capable cast work well together to keep the audience laughing from beginning to end. Mrs Malaprop is excellently played by Deirdre Monaghan, who brings full meaning to her misuse of language while also making her a likeable and sympathetic character. Finbarr Doyle, Colm O’Brien and Aislinn O’Byrne all carry off the difficult task of playing more than one character. They make this seem easy and the changing of hats (or wigs) is used to add to the comedy. The costumes are well done and each reflects the character well. A special mention has to go to Fag/Bob Acres’ ever changing colourful and unmissable wigs.

The Rivals is performed on the main stage which backs onto one of the original stone walls. This works perfectly for the set with soft lighting at the back creating a divide between inside and outside. The set pieces are simple but well done. The colours of the divan and sofa work sympathetically with the costumes. The stage gives the actors plenty of room to manoeuvre, meaning that at one moment the audience can be in a upper class dressing room, the next in the middle of a duel in the cold early morning fields.

This joyously entertaining production by Smock Alley is not to be missed. Hopefully it will not be another 242 years until The Rivals makes its way back to this stage.

Runs until 2 September 2017 

Collected Stories

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Collected Stories – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Writer: Donald Margulies

Director: Aoife Spillane – Hinks

Collected Stories began its short run at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre this evening and closed to a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls. This two-handed play, written by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, was delivered excellently by actors Brid Ni Neachtain and Maeve Fitzgerald. Tonight’s success is not surprising when one considers the rave reviews this production received for its earlier performances at Dublin’s Viking Theatre and Civic Theatre.

The play begins in the home of celebrated short story writer and college lecturer Ruth Steiner. She has invited one of her pupils, Lisa Morrison, to join her for a tutorial in which they will analyse and work on Lisa’s short story Eating Between Meals. Fitzgerald’s Lisa is an over-excited, nervous young woman who is overwhelmed at the chance to meet her idol. She is keen to sit at Ruth’s feet to listen and learn. This is something that she perhaps does a little too well as becomes clear in the play’s closing scenes. Their relationship continues after this original meeting as Lisa takes on the role of Ruth’s assistant. In time she becomes an accomplished writer and the role of tutor and student goes on an interesting journey over the six years of their friendship. Under Spillane – Hinks careful direction Collected Stories shows the development and growth of Lisa and the loneliness, jealousy, and love that Ruth holds for her, with finesse.

Ni Neachtain does not put a foot wrong as the brittle and witty Ruth. There is a particularly interesting scene where Lisa receives her first professional review. It is a glowing piece in The New York Times. Margulies writing skewers the fear, hope, and frustration of the writer excellently and truthfully in this one scene. Lisa quickly moves from nerves to elation, to despair at the thought of having to recreate and develop upon this small success. Collected Stories investigates the life of a writer and the power and ownership of language; of stories. As each audience member walks away they carry with them a new story that change in tone and meaning over time.

Special attention has gone into the set design created by Hanna Bowe, which uses colour and dimmed lighting to evoke the feeling of a Manhattan apartment, whose owner has moved from beatnik poet to professional wordsmith. The shelves at the back of the stage are full of colour coordinated books and the desk and telephone table contain the organised clutter of a writer. The sofa and chair are homely and help to present the idea of middle-class literary success. It is the very picture of understated and aspirational.

Then This Theatre Company have presented a well paced, intelligent and absorbing piece of theatre. In a year that is already proving to be excellent for Dublin theatre Collected Stories is one show that truly stands out of the crowd.

 

Vampirella

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Vampirella – Smock Alley, Dublin

Director: Conor Hanratty

Composer: Siobhan Cleary

Librettist: Katy Hayes

Conductor: Andrew Synnott

The world premiere of Opera Briefs 2017 production of Vampirella took place this evening in the main stage of Smock Alley Theatre. This work by composer Siobhan Cleary is the result of a creative partnership between the Royal Irish Academy of Music and The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Trinity College Dublin.

Based on Angela Carter’s story this makes for an interesting and entertaining basis for an opera. As the somewhat unusual title suggests vampires feature heavily in this work. Set deep in the Carpathian Mountains The Count watches posthumously over his beloved daughter. His love outliving death. The young Countess meanwhile is consumed by loneliness, living in the shadows with only her Scottish Governess for company. In 1914 an English soldier called Hero seeks shelter in a desolate castle. Arriving on a bicycle in tweeds with a perfect upper class English accent his hunt for a cup of tea couldn’t be more out of place in this home of the undead. Soon he meets the beautiful Countess but is taken aback by her unusually sharp, pointy teeth and lengthy nails. When her pet cat scratches him she cannot resist the chance to drink.

Hero is presented as an innocent. He enters the stage from the right completely free of fear with a naïve sense of humour. Throughout the performance one waits to see whether he will retain this innocence and go onto survive or whether he will eventually be drawn into darkness. The final scene sees a change in tone that rounds of the opera on a sad and tragic note. Traditionally, in pantomime in particular, the characters representing good enter from stage right and those representing evil enter from stage left. This idea is used and played with in Vampirella when our protagonists take their places on the stage. The Count sits above the proceedings, only descending to the stage when he fears that his daughter will be lost to the charms of this invading Englishman.

Special applause should go to the orchestra who navigated the piece successfully from beginning to end while also managing to play in near darkness. They seemed to be both technically exact while supplementing and furthering the narrative without ever overpowering and obstructing the vocalists. The compact team worked well together in this tightly organised and plotted production. In line with this the stage is effectively utilised with simple props; a bicycle and a bed moving easily from one side to the other. Eight cloaked figures holding candles haunt the stage; singing, chanting, moving in unison.

This is an ideal opera to take place in the city that gave birth to Bram Stoker and that has been drawn year after year into tales of vampires. At the close of Vampirella one is left questioning who the real monsters are and can innocence survive in this world?