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

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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?

 

Anecdotal Evidence

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Anecdotal Evidence – Smock Alley, Dublin

Writer: Grainne Curistan

Director: Noel Cahill

It’s funny from where you’re standing.

Anecdotal Evidence premiered at Smock Alley Theatre’s Scene and Heard Festival 2017 in the theatre’s main space. It is without a doubt one of the most strange, interesting and powerful uses of theatre and satire that one is likely to see in the near future.

The play begins with distorted circus music. It feels uncomfortable and unavoidable. A table is placed near the back of the stage; decorated with large multi coloured lightbulbs and covered in blank paper. A man wearing a white toga, orange fright wig and clown makeup (face painted white, red mouth turned down at the sides and black make up around the eyes) takes up the position of a judge overlooking a court room. This is not an ordinary court room though. The ‘lawyers’, dressed all in black, are also made up to look like clowns, as is another cast member who facilitates the proceedings. Evidence is pulled out of storage boxes and important issues are reduced to being scribbled down on paper. A woman is bought onto the stage covered in a white sheet before she is unveiled like a prize. We learn that her name is Miss Reed and she acts almost as if a prop in proceedings. Even when the defendant is bought in, smartly dressed and able to defend himself verbally she remains mute. Her mouth has been covered and her body is dressed and manipulated as she stands there in silence.

It is important to note that Anecdotal Evidence is funny; its humour a little twisted, like a knife. The last few scenes are troubling and dark. They reach out and tell the audience to focus. Without giving away the narrative these last moments are perhaps the most frightening because this is where absurdity and parody fade into reality. The story is powerful and truthful. At the end it is impossible to look away and the strength of this makes one stop and breathe at the end. There is a moment of silence before the applause begins. This is innovative and entertaining theatre but it is also powerful political and social commentary that will linger on in the minds of all who see it.

By The Skin of Our Teeth

By The Skin of Our Teeth – Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin

Writer and Director: William Dunleavy

 

 

What happens after it’s all over?

 

The actors are already on stage as the audience files in. The dark stage is covered in chairs that have been upturned, making it difficult to navigate path from one side of the theatre to another. It looks like a disaster scene. There are seven people on stage; six men and one woman. They are all wearing white tops that are ripped and stained with black trousers. One person is lying like a hospital patient at the back. The rest of the actors look like they are hiding or have taken shelter where they have fallen. No one speaks or moves. The tableau is broken when a man wearing a damaged white boiler suit rushes onto the stage and wakes up one of the men.

 

They are in some post – apocalyptic world. It soon emerges that they all know each other. They had all been imprisoned for violent, and in some cases strange, crimes, and yet it was these prisoners that survived the devastation. By The Skin of Our Teeth is surprisingly funny for a dystopian play. William Dunleavy’s script is witty and original, peppered with humour and insights into the human condition. There is nowhere else in Dublin where one will be able to hear jokes about cannibalism and the benefits of surviving the apocalypse on a cold winter night.

 

By The Skin of Our Teeth has been presented as a part of the Smock Alley Scene and Heard Festival 2017 which gives new writing to opportunity to get feedback so that a play can continue to develop. By The Skin of Our Teeth is an excellent demonstration of this ethos. With a little more work and a longer running time has the potential to turn into a powerful dark comedy. The final scene is quite moving as it makes the audience question themselves and their preconceptions. In this new world they can start over. Will they now have the chance to be seen as just people rather than criminals?

 

 

Pacemaker

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Pacemaker – Smock Alley, Dublin

For Pacemaker the day couldn’t get worse. But then it does.

Two women are at work. They have never gotten on and soon things develop into a full-scale feud when they find themselves speaking to management. Charges range from ‘she smells of egg’ to ‘she ate my sandwiches’. Oh and a mistimed joke about weight loss. Things intensify until the recently promoted Pacemaker finds herself being escorted out of the building to begin a week of temporary suspension before her disciplinary hearing. The week goes downhill from here. Soon she finds herself having a strange conversation with a pharmacist about the morning after pill, being accused of stealing shoes in a dole centre and running away from the scene despite the cries of ‘murderer’ coming after her. At the same time her former colleague finds herself engulfed by guilt which she then drowns in wine and drunken mistakes. For both characters one small action goes on to effect the rest of their week as they have to face who they are while also being forced to leap through various comic hoops.

The scenes in the dole centre and the pharmacy are hilarious. They begin as something recognisable before escalating into something absurd and strange; Pacemaker is living a week long nightmare told through the lens of comedy. The dialogue is fresh and pacey. The speed of the piece does not drop for a second so the 30 minutes go by in a flash. Movement, speech and facial expressions are timed perfectly.

The play is performed by Meg Healy and Camille Lucy Ross. Both Ross and Healy are very fine comic actresses and have the audience laughing from the beginning with a short silent routine before the conversation begins. There were also moments for the audience to take away with them that are honest and touching. Anyone, including this reviewer, who has ever had a day they just wished would end will be able to return to Pacemaker and breathe a sigh of relief that they are not living her life.

Pacemaker, written by Ciara Elizabeth Smyth, is a must see and a highlight of the Dublin theatre calendar. It is with excitement that we will wait for Smyth’s next piece of work.

Runs until 25 February 2017 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview: 5*

At Odds

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At Odds – Smock Alley, Dublin

Director: Colum Folan

The audience first hear the two actors before they see them. They are singing in a soft, mournful manner as they enter from the left of the stage. The stage has been left empty except for two clipboards resting at the back. This keeps the attention on actors Lucy Cray – Miller and Clara Mallon. They are both dressed in black and the lighting is simple. The focus remains on the speech in this production; a mixture of dialogue and monologue with occasional singing.

The two characters, who we soon learn are mother and son, share dialogue with the audience before moving into alternate monologues. It is revealed that the problems in their relationship began at pregnancy when the mother felt as though her own body was fighting against her. This continued after birth when she was presented with a child that never cried; in fact he rarely seemed to react at all. He remains blank and she is distraught that he doesn’t seem to need her. Believing that there is something wrong she takes him to specialists who find him to be a very healthy child but begin to question the mother’s mental health. Soon the two characters are diagnosing each other, questioning, and trying to find a way to live with each other. There is a saying that it is not enough to love someone, they have to know that they are loved.

At Odds is presented by Kepler Theatre Works as a part of Smock Alley Theatre’s Scene and Heard Festival, which gives new writers a chance to see their work on stage. Running at only 30 minutes long At Odds is a fascinating investigation into an unusual mother son relationship in which love is uncertain and confused. It is a deep and intense piece of work that is well balanced between the two characters and very well delivered.

Runs until 24 February 2017 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 3.5*

Key Word: Intriguing

HashtagRelationshipGoalz

First Written for The Reviews Hub

HashtagRelationshipGoalz – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Director: Emma Jane Purcell

HashtagRelationshipGoalz begins with a young couple sat on chairs in the centre of the stage. The only props they use are the two chairs, a patterned blanket and a small table. He has his arm slung over her shoulders while playing on an ipad. She is obviously bored. So is he. They bicker and laugh and try to figure out how to spend the night. Cinema, restaurant, pub or back to their parents’ house? It is clear that they love being together although they argue near constantly. There are brief monologues when the actors are alone on stage, turn to the audience and we hear their inner thoughts and frustrations. Our young couple begin the show together, will they end it the same way?

Actors Costello (who also writes) and Sean Doyle have been cropping up in productions in the Dublin theatre scene for several years now. Both bringing their experience and wit to this new production. Interestingly Costello also has credits to her name as a writer and director and we are bound to be seeing much more of her talent in the coming years. Alongside Costello and Doyle the cast is rounded out by the assured Laura O’Leary as the interfering, teenage sister who barges into her older sister’s life with her frequent disasters and embarrassing questions.

HashtagRelationshipGoalz is presented by Squad Theatre Company as a part of Smock Alley Theatre’s Scene and Heard Festival, which gives new writers a chance to see their work on stage. Running at only 30 minutes long it is a playful, realistic and touching portrait of three young people trying to find their way in the world with each other. It is very pleasant to find a play of such quality at the Festival and it will hopefully be resurrected at some point in the near future.

Runs until 24 February 2017 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 4.5*