Close to the Sun

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Advertisements
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?

 

Anecdotal Evidence

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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*