Kate Crackernuts

Kate Crackernuts, Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin

Writer: Sheila Callaghan

Director: Kate Cosgrave

 

Presented by No Drama Sheila Callaghan has rewritten the Scottish fairy tale, taking it from late nineteenth century Scotland to something with a decidedly more modern sensibility.

As with most good fairy tales’ beauty, jealously and unpleasant step parents set the action moving. Anne is the beautiful daughter of a king. His wife had a daughter called Kate – far less pretty but full of love for her sister. Unfortunately, the queen didn’t feel the same way. She placed an enchantment on Anne, turning her head into that of a sheep. This is an unusual turn of events but jealousy in fairy tales has a way of resulting in these things. Kate, furious at what had happened, wrapped Anne’s head in a green cloth, and set out to ‘fix’ her. Little did she know that it wasn’t just Anne’s life that had been changed that day. Her own future was on a new path. In practice this resulted in a philosophical sheep who feared he had lost his head (not a surprising fear given the context), an ailing moon of a boy / man called Paul who comes to life under disco lights but has lost the ability for words, an enchantress with a fondness for dead crows and much more besides.

The yearning to be needed runs throughout the production and manifests in painful, ugly, recognisable ways. It is possible to interrogate the text for a feminist reading of the nature of women in relationships and how they have been cultured into valuing beauty and being needed. It is when dancing, sickly, addicted Paul says he needs Kate, that she feels emotion pooling in her thighs, and knows that she will mind him in return for his need. The original tale ends with two marriages; two happy ever afters. In Callaghan’s version both sisters find themselves in the position of trying to change themselves, put themselves second, in order to keep the interest of the men they love. The fast pace and heightened humour ensures the action keeps moving and it is not until afterwards that one takes a moments to realise that, as Kate briefly said, all may not be well. It is a twist on the idea of a happy ending that leaves the audience both satisfied and with a small ball of uncertainty; the knowing that happily ever afters do not exist.

There was a great moment of heightened comedy near the end when everything fell into place in a self knowingly absurdist way that had the audience howling with laughter. The second half played better than the first; smoother, faster, more action and comedy. The text incorporates poetry throughout, some lines of which works better than others. The poetry Kate uses to talk about her newfound loved for the Paul, is particularly lovely and the sheep (go with it) summing up at the end, had some great lines; particularly when he reminded us all that we are always beginning and went on to liken marriage to a cotton thread of misery unravelling forward.

Kate Crackernuts takes place in the Main Stage of Smock Alley and there were a few issues with the staging. One wonders if it would have been better in the Boys School – using the old church windows to show Paul’s dancing sickness while Kate continues on her quest below. In the future it might be a good idea to rope off the side seating areas to keep the audience front and centre. From the reaction of the audience it became clear that there were things – physical comedy, gestures – that those at the sides missed out on. This was perhaps also a side effect of keeping most of the action in the centre and front of the stage and using the back to store props until needed. There were frequent scene changes that required different staging, meaning that set pieces were regularly being moved around while the action continued. Cosgrave dealt with this by integrating it into the show. Having two actors, dressed in white and pvc tutus dance and leap across the stage and at one point even interact with the cast. Although this was a good idea work needs to be done to make the transitions smoother in the future.

Kate Crackernuts was an interesting choice for No Drama, who are, in theory at least, an amateur dramatics group. I say in theory because their last production at Smock Alley, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, easily stood its ground next to ‘professional’ productions. Kate Crackernuts is a challenging piece to stage and it is impressive that they decided to take this one. No Drama certainly haven’t made it easy for themselves. There were some bumps in the production but overall Kate Crackernuts is a modern retelling of an old story; told with enthusiasm, humour and a large dash of absurdity. A philosophical comedy unlike anything you have ever seen on the Smock Alley stage before.

Runs Until 13th July 2019.

 

kate crackernuts

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Shakers

Shakers, Smock Alley – Dublin

Writer: John Godber, Jane Thornton

Director: Claudia Kinahan

Cast: Connie Doona, Meg O’Brien, Hannah Osborne, Heather O’Sullivan

 

It is Friday night and fancy bar Shakers is packed to the rafters and four waitresses are rushed off their feet. Smiling and indulging the customers it is only when they are alone that their masks are taken off and the real characters emerge.

Carol, Adele, Nicky and Mel are going to be working until the last customer leaves, whether that means they will be there until 11pm or 2am. It is not an easy job and as they tell us, in rhyme (a great addition to the script), at times it is hellish, but the relationships they have made with each other lighten up the long nights. We follow the four over the course of one night, as they deal with every time of punter you can imagine, from young business men out on the pull to shop assistants who have saved up to spend their night off in the most glamorous spot in town. Occasionally each character takes the spotlight and launches into a soliloquy. This gives the audience a chance to hear their inner thoughts, hopes and fears. Their life situations are understandable and likely to be shared by many in the audience. The fear of saying ‘I just want to be looked after’, ‘I wish I could be footloose and fancy free’, ‘I’m scared of what the future holds’, stands out in its simplicity and truth.

The difficulty of working in places like this, particularly when female, are brought to the fore. The manager wants them to wear shorts, has previously told waitresses to lose weight, tells them to smile at bottom pinchers and put up with leerers and handsy customers. None of this feels exaggerated or laboured. The ultimate dilemma is highlighted when Carol considers breaking ranks with the others and wearing the shorts. She has a young daughter to get home to and principle often has to take a back seat to reality. During each soliloquy the stage goes dark except for a spotlight on the speaker. The others busy themselves with customers on the fringes. The set is kept to a minimum with light bouncing off the brick wall of the Boys School. Two lamps stand to the left of the stage. They are statues of women’s legs with lamps on top. This felt vaguely reminiscent of the milk bar in A Clockwork Orange but it is more likely that they were designed to parallel the action on centre stage; four women who when at work are not themselves, they are taught to hide their personalities and instead present a light and airy persona. On a practical note it would have been helpful if the lights had have been turned back on during the interval.

The four actors are obviously well practised as they work off each other with ease. It was particularly enjoyable to follow the adventures of the four young shop assistants, gearing up for a 21st, as they get ready to hit Shakers, party, dance, and maybe pin Rob Kelly down for once. There were some lovely moments of physical comedy under the direction of Claudia Kinahan (who also directed a personal favourite and award winner Knowing Nathan at the Complex in 2018), as the four slip between characters with ease, using accents and movement to inhabit each new character. The writing is frequently sharp and witty and the use of rhyme throughout keeps the action bouncing along. Although Shakers didn’t quite have the bite that the script suggests it wanted, and on occasion felt like a display of acting technique, it is a sparky and fun production at one of the top destinations in town.

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Kracked

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Kracked – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
Writer: Aibhe Cowley

Director: Eadaoin Barrett

Uncle Tony overdosed last month and has left the future of the family business resting on Sharon’s shoulders. Will KitKats and cocaine be her saving grace or will a frantic ex, fifty debts and a recent death in the family cause her to finally crack? Sharon’s story could be pitch black; certainly, she hasn’t had the best of luck in her young life, but the love and security she finds with her Uncle Tony brings a lightness to her story. Told in her broad accent and comedic manner this a touching portrayal of familial love.

Kracked first appeared on Irish stages as part of the Smock Alley Scene and Heard Festival 2018 as a half hour play in development. Now developed into a full production, Kracked is one of the many plays that have benefited from this chance to evolve.

Music is the major driving force of this production. Sharon and Tony, not great at expressing emotions, connect through song. There are several moments in the play as it progresses towards the end when songs propel the narrative forward and give the audience an insight into our protagonist.

Set design is kept to a minimum; with a pink yoga ball and yellow rubber ducks being free to capture the eye with their bright colours and quirkiness against the darker backdrop of the Boy’s School stage. Lighting director Bucky Emmerling’s timing is excellent; keeping the focus on Cowley at all times. With further development, the scenes that swell with emotion and sadness could be sharpened in juxtaposition to the frequent laughs and humour that runs through Cowley’s script.

It is clear that Cowley has lived with her character since her creation. She seems perfectly at home inhabiting her cadence and mannerisms. Kracked is a one-woman show and Cowley pulls off the difficult task of keeping the audience listening with aplomb. Several moments of audience interaction worked very well and gave Cowley’s Sharon the chance to show off her friendly and bashful side – along with her knowledge of horses and KitKats!

However, the title Kracked isn’t quite apt. The character of Sharon is so well drawn and easy to like that the audience are pulled into her both her humour and her grief. Sharon is too fully recognisable (to Cowley’s credit as writer and performer) to be seen as cracking up.

Soon to be performed at The Mill Theatre, there should be plenty more time for Kracked to continue blossoming.

Image: Contributed

Saint Nicholas

First Written by The Reviews Hub

Dublin Theatre Festival: Saint Nicholas – Smock Alley, Dublin

Writer: Conor McPherson

Director: Simon Evans

“In the dark, there are vampires.”

So, first things first. This is Brendan Coyle’s return to the Irish stage for the first time since 2002 and he is reuniting with playwright Conor McPherson for the Irish premiere of Saint Nicholas. For everyone wanting to know if it was worth the wait: it was.

Named “the finest playwright of his generation” by The New York Times McPherson is one of Ireland’s favourite contemporary playwrights. The last time he teamed up with Coyle was on the Olivier Award-winning The Weir in 1999. As a result, expectations were high for the mystical monologue Saint Nicholas.

Commanding and charismatic Coyle plays perhaps the most bad-tempered and disgruntled theatre critic to grace the stage. He wields his pen as if it is full of poison. Renowned and feared among Ireland’s acting community our nameless commentator enjoys the fear and power he holds over others. Jaded and uninspired it has been a long time since he really enjoyed himself, felt something real or created a story of his own rather than commentating on the creations of others. (Those with an axe to grind against theatre critics will definitely enjoy Saint Nicholas.) During a mediocre version of Salome (well, in truth he thought it much worse than mediocre) he becomes infatuated with a young actress. From this point on his life is thrown off course. Unsettled and desperate his actions endanger his career and home life. At his lowest, he meets a man with a youthful face and a strange magnetic pull. This is William. And William is a vampire.

The main stage of Smock Alley is perfectly suited to the frequently dark and mysterious feeling of the play. The sound effects were subtle and used to great effect to maximise emotion and change narrative direction. Lights were kept to a minimum. This is a man who lives his life as the skies turn dark; frequenting pubs and theatres when the sun has gone in. The auditorium is shrouded in a fine haze and the darkness of the story – and of our narrator – is reflected in the lack of bright light. Lighting designer Matt Daw has worked hard to create a chilling atmosphere. For the second half candles surround the stage and spotlights are used to follow Coyle as he paces the stage.

An exceptional and absorbing production Saint Nicholas is the Dublin Theatre Festival’s crowning glory.

Image: Helan Maybanks

The Lonely Luchador

Writer and Director: Conor Duffy

Presented by Head Above Water Theatre Company

 

The Lonely Luchador is Head Above Water’s contribution to this year’s Scene and Heard Festival at Smock Alley Theatre. Given the chance to present a work in progress, the stage floor is open for risks, novelty and new ways of storytelling.

 

El Hombre, the worlds greatest wrestler, is in Mexico to compete for the Mexican Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Title. In spandex and blue face mask he is ready to rumble. Or is he? Perhaps the time come to retire? To live a gentle life in the countryside with his beautiful wife Anna Lucia (Nathalie Clément). However, his manager Dexter (Tom Doonan) and Anna Lucia  have other plans and insist on him taking on this last fight. Sure, all he has to do is take on the monster among men that is Mister Muerto. His black mask and deadliest finishing move in Combat Sports are legendary. Young, powerful and deadly Mister Muerto is El Hombre’s greatest challenge. As the two titans of wrestling come face to face, the plot unwinds in a series of twists, turns, surprises and daring feats of physical comedy that make The Lonely Luchador a festival hit.

 

With The Lonely Luchador Head Above Water have succeeded in their aim of bringing original theatre and physical comedy to the Dublin stage. 30 minutes of riotous fun The Lonely Luchador features sharp and precise physical comedy at its finest. Compere and referee Joe Clinton, as Earl, kicks off the performance by inviting the audience to join in with boos and cheers; to involve themselves in the play like a real wrestling audience would. This was set upon with Friday night joy by the audience; who took little persuading to cheer on the good guy. As Conor Duffy’s El Hombre and Gavan O’Connor Duffy’s Mister Muerto face off tightly choreographed physical comedy is on full display. Body slams, kicks to the face, fighting off stage in the midst of the audience, this action – packed scene is excellently coordinated to draw as much entertainment as possible from the raucous fight scene. It will turn even the disinterested into a wrestling fan for the night.

 

Writer, director and El Hombre Conor Duffy shines throughout; imbuing his character with just enough emotion to make the audience root for him. Clément, armed only with her sharp tongue and hand fan, manages to utilise props and accents to great effect. Rounding off the group is Tom Doonan as El Hombre’s manager: a Texan with a cowboy hat and heeled boots, he is a chancer on the make. The accents are hammy and the action fast and physical. Every opportunity is mined for laughs in this ensemble piece.

 

Fun from beginning to end The Lonely Luchador was a very enjoyable part of this years Scene and Heard Festival. It will be very interesting to see what Head Above Water are planning to do with this in the future. Whatever they decide, it is bound to be cracking good fun.

Sweet Sensations

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Sweet Sensations, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin – Dublin Fringe Festival 2018

Writer: Teri Fitzgerald

Director: Teri Fitzgerald

Welcome to Peafield Hospital for the Elderly. Here you will find staff and residents living in harmony. Or not. This is a hospital where the staff like a slower pace of life than that of their patients. After all, what is the point in pushing oneself too much when the day could be spent on gossip, tea breaks, and sneaking cigarettes at every opportunity? Visitors are few and far between and life is quite dull. That is until HIQA turn up to inspect the hospital and the staff are driven into a frenzy of trying to present a good image. Their mission is frustrated by the residents, who have decided that they are going to rebel. Led by well-spoken and fiery Josie it is time for the tables to turn.

Oil is added to the fire with the arrival of Toby. On community service for drug offences, he is lairy, hilarious and a deeply kind figure in the midst of madness. When residents are living in such conditions, the somewhat unorthodox life and manner of Toby begins to seem normal, and soon he and the residents have concocted an explosive plan.

Writer and director Fitzgerald works to keep the tone upbeat, comedic and timely. The stage is set early on with an interesting rap and dance production from the staff who admit that they are running a ‘shit show’. This had the audience laughing from the off but at first, it was a bit uncomfortable for this reviewer who has had the experience of months spent in a hospital, and the hard edges of the staff, here used for comedy and to try and make a political point, seem painfully close to reality. It is not long before one is carried away by the fast pace and broad humour. There are many moments of physical comedy and the two care assistants, played by Ali Fox and Gemma Kane, and Laurence Falconer as Toby, are particularly entertaining to watch. The ending is surprisingly touching and meaningful and helped to elevate the play into something with a message to share.

It is also of note; the programme was well done, free to patrons and informative. This is something that is unfortunately quite rare.

Image: Contributed

Beat

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Beat, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin – Dublin Fringe Festival 2018

Writer: Fionntan Larney
Director: Dominic O’Brien

Beat. starts out as a raucous and rude rap musical drama. Full of pills and alcohol friends A and B are hungover after a night out. How much can they remember? The unconscious B may have finally taken things too far this time: after too many pills he ended up unconscious on the floor shouting at A’s girlfriend Sarah. or at least that’s what he’s told he did. Although he was the one leading the charge it is A that seems to experience most of the consequences. After his girlfriend walks out, tired of waiting for the day he will pull himself together, he also loses his job. As his day goes from bad to worse B sails through an interview high on cocaine and adrenalin. He hatches a plan to make his friend feel better: the session to end all sessions. However, a confrontation in a club with someone from the past triggers a turning point in the narrative. The characters are suddenly thrown into a new light.

Martha Breen changes characters many times throughout the performance. She started off introducing the show with bombast before becoming the long-suffering boss, the school bully, the ex-girlfriend and more. Dressed in black and white Breen became each new character with ease and fluidity. Harry Higgins and Fionntan Larney excel as friends struggling to say what they mean to each other. Their final scenes together are emotionally wrought and very well done. A changing lightscape with colourful strobe lighting is complemented by pulsating, beating, heavy music. Together they act to change the mood and propel the narrative forward.

This reviewer has never seen an audience rise to their feet, as one complete body, so quickly and seamlessly as they did at the end of Beat. Without a doubt one of the finest shows of the festival.

Image: Contributed