The Eurydice Project and the Trapped Woman

First Written for Howlround.com

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“If she has a baby then she can’t leave me.”

Dublin, Ireland’s The Project Arts Centre, which has made a name for itself by hosting innovative and new theatre productions, hosted The Eurydice Project in the Spring of 2017. The Eurydice Project is a radical retelling of the Greek Orpheus and Eurydice myth created by White Label, a collective of independent theatre artists. Dating back over two thousand years, the most commonly told version of the myth is attributed to Latin poet Virgil. It is to be found in book four of Georgics, Virgil’s book of rural poetry thought to have been published 29 BC. Joanna Crawley’s script flips the original myth on its head by telling the story from Eurydice’s perspective, giving her a voice and agency, perhaps for the first time.

Women’s voices and stories are becoming increasingly common in Dublin’s theatres. Over the past few years there has been an active attempt to investigating women’s stories and bringing women’s voices into mainstream Irish culture. In 2016, #WakingTheFeminists was born. When the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National Theatre, released their Waking the Nation program for 2016, intended to commemorate the 1916 Easter Uprising, there was a surge of frustration and anger at the male dominated program. Many felt that women were being erased from their own history and culture. At this point it is worth noting that the majority of theatre goers are female (one statistic states that in the early 1700s two-thirds of theatre goers were female and that in 2010 this was still the case). Despite this they have not had an equal presence backstage or onstage. #WakingTheFeminists brought attention to this and set out to change things. This production of The Eurydice Project is also noticeable for its heavy female presence in the form of lead actress India Mullen, playwright Joanna Crawley, composer Jane Deasy, and choreographer Monika Bieniek.

The Eurydice Project at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Photo by Joey Moro.

Crawley taps into this sense of fear, jealousy, and lack of trust to create an entirely modern retelling of the myth. The idea of women not being trusted is particularly important. The myth has always been considered a tragedy. A story of young lovers torn apart; at first by fate and then by insecurity, Eurydice has never had a happy ending. A tragedy by its very nature is based on human suffering. In this case, grief and loss run throughout the play. As Crawley demonstrates, much of this suffering is self-inflicted. It does not come from external sources, but from within.

In the play, at first Eurydice is hesitant to embrace her feelings for Orpheus. She meets him as he is returning from war on his way to claim his crown after his father’s death. In time, she falls for him and he for her. Their love is equal and eternal. As his duties compel him to return to the city, she is taken away from her natural habitat and held within a maze of roads, brick buildings, walls. For someone who is used to freedom this is a difficult change to navigate. At night she leaves the city for the woods. There she discovers that the place that has always nurtured her is endangered. Women are being found hanging from branches. Trees are being cut down to make way for urban development. All that Eurydice held dear is being eroded. In town she hears misogynistic comments. Always one to fight back, she challenges these slurs but her husband tells her ignore them, just let them go to preserve harmony.

Into this complex mix walks Hades. Wearing purple and red velvet and snazzy dancing shoes in Crawley’s script, he is a former friend, perhaps a past lover, of Eurydice’s. They share an understanding of where she is from and what she values, which increasingly Orpheus seems to discount. Orpheus has always been jealous of her relationship with Hades. A mischief maker with a sinister smile, his appearance does not bode well for their relationship. His form of mischief is decidedly modern though. An audio visual is played on the back of the stage of Eurydice and Hades sharing confidences of her frustrations with her current relationship and reflecting on the relative freedom she felt in the wild (and by association with Hades). This dramatic moment shatters Orpheus. This allusion to revenge pornography is a clever trick by Crawley. It is at once believable and modern. Here Orpheus is given the unpleasant chance to slip back in time and witness his lover in a previous relationship. The idea that she will never stay with him is shattering. He had hoped that having a child together would hold her in place next to him. But what is there between them now?

The Eurydice Project at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Photo by Joey Moro.

This alludes to two issues that are prevalent in Ireland at the moment. The first as touched upon is revenge pornography, which has become distressingly common with the proliferation of smart phones, social media, and the internet. Alongside this is the idea that through pregnancy and motherhood, Eurydice will be trapped. Encased as a “good wife” and a “good mother” next to him and away from the forest. At present the debate around abortion rights is raging in Ireland as the Repeal the Eighth movement hopes to push for a referendum which will ultimately lead to the removal of the laws currently forbidding Irish women to have abortions. An estimated twelve women a day travel overseas, usually to England, Wales, or Scotland for medical help that they feel should be available at home. The same theatre that produced The Eurydice Project recently hosted A Day of Testimonies. This was a response by artists in support of Repeal the Eighth and included film, live performances, music, installations, and discussions about a woman’s right to choose. The theatre has become a prime battleground for individuals and groups to bring this timely and complex issue into the light.

Everything Not Saved

DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Everything Not Saved – Project Arts Centre

Devised by: MALAPROP with Dylan Coburn Gray

Director: Claire O’Reilly

Everything Not Saved is this year’s Fringe Festival presentation from MALAPROP theatre company. In 2015 they were awarded Spirit of Fringe award for LOVE+ so expectations are high for their new show. They tackle the big subjects through three very different scenes. As the play begins a voice speaks out over the theatre as the words spoken are projected for all to see. From the beginning, we are asked to question our memory and how our thoughts and ideas change over time. By remembering someone or an event we change it. This is shown in the first scene. A former couple (who are not named), one of whom is a photographer, have very different ideas of how their relationship began to come to an end. The photographer keeps a photo of her former partner that reminds her of the shyness and later blossoming of her now friend. The other woman however, sees this image as an argument. She didn’t want it to be taken and the fact that it still exists highlights the different way they view not just their past together but also their key values. The topic of memory and the telling of history are particularly important at the moment. Many people in the audience will see illusions to current politics and the shattering of a set narrative that all parties can agree upon.

MALAPROP make use of interesting staging, that allows them to change scene easily within the relatively small stage (the performance is staged on the Cube stage at the Project Arts Centre) and is supplemented by audio visuals throughout. The play is frequently funny and sparky. The voiceover elicits laughs from the audience early on. The penultimate scene is powerful and unexpected. It may have been better to close the play here. Queen Elizabeth II, the police, a dancing Rasputin all feature in the abstract and thoroughly enjoyable Everything Not Saved.

Futureproof

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Futureproof – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Lynda Radley

Director: Tom Creed

Futureproof opened for the first time in Dublin tonight at the Project Arts Centre. This intriguing play by Lynda Radley had a previous outing several years ago in Scotland where it was well received and won an award at the Fringe Festival in 2011. The new artistic director of Cork Everyman Theatre, Julie Kelleher, was determined to bring this show to Ireland. It ran at The Everyman for several weeks in June before bringing its unusual story to the Dublin stage.

A sign hanging from the ceiling, facing away from the audience tells us that we are now witnessing an ‘Odditorium’: a Victorian style travelling show featuring novelties and curiosities. The characters enter the stage and break through a locked fence. Carrying their lives on their backs they begin to settle down. There is the world’s fattest man, a bearded countess with no arms, identical twins joined at the hip, a mute mermaid and a hermaphrodite. They are led by owner and entrepreneur Riley who is struggling to find a way to make the show reach the audiences. Time has moved on and they are no longer the big draw that they used to be. When he does hit upon an idea it will have irreversible consequences for all involved.

As the group move from selling the odd to selling hope, they try to make themselves more and more like the audience. This play is an exploration of identity. As people are unmade, changed and presented as something new there is a constant struggle for each individual to decide whether they are happy as they are, or whether they want to be considered ‘normal’. Alongside this are the complications that money brings into the equation. If they can no longer profit from their difference how will they carry on?

In an interview with The Guardian Radley summed it up thus: “They were originally viewed as marvels, or as God’s jokes, but then as time went on and ideas about science and evolution developed, they became people to be pitied. In America there were even laws that meant they weren’t allowed to be shown. But, of course, a lot of these people were happy to be involved – it was a way for them to make sometimes quite substantial amounts of money, and not to be institutionalised and kept out of sight”.

Radley has hit on an excellent idea. She deals well with the nuances of identity and selfhood. However, the execution of this idea still needs a little work in order for it to reach its full potential. There are moments that feel as though they should be funny but they don’t quite manage to be. Similarly, there are moments of sadness, rage and confusion that could be truly intense and powerful. The play is well acted and the set design is inventive; a mix of glamour and tat. Futureproof is a one of a kind show and Dublin will not see it’s like again any time soon.

Runs until 1 July 2017 | Image: Miki Barlok

Harder, Faster, More

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Harder, Faster, More – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Tracy Martin

Director: Tracy Martin

 

Harder Faster More opened to an excited audience at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre before closing to a standing ovation. The only downside is that this play is running for such a short time.

Harder Faster More tells the stories of women negotiating the modern world where sex sells and they are expected to sell it. From the female TV presenter traded in for a younger model planning extensive plastic surgery to revitalise her career, to the young woman making pornography while her sister looks after her infant son to the incredibly funny story that is cut to repeatedly of a woman juggling two calls at once; one on her sex phone line, and the other from her mother. Some of the stories are one offs. These are often touching and at times heart breaking. Several stories are resumed repeatedly throughout the performance. One of the most notable opens and closes the play. Kacey, a trained dancer, is working in clubs in Europe to make some fast money. Her increasingly intermittent calls with her best friend detail her life from excitement and humour to confusion then drug fuelled horror.

The stage is empty except for large lights pointing outwards from the back. Lighting is used throughout to highlight speakers and emphasise the stories being told. The three actresses Charlene Gleeson, Clare Monnelly and Aoibheann McCann work well together; their movements exact and cohesive. The lighting director (Susannah Cummins) and movement director (Paula O’Reilly) have clearly worked closely together to create a tight seventy minute play in which not a single moment is wasted. Each actor plays at least four different parts throughout. They all wear white and switch accents and mannerisms with each new character in an impressive dramatic feat.

A note from writer and director Tracy Martin in the programme tells us that Harder Faster More was created around the idea of tackling pornography. Taking the audience on a journey behind the scenes of the sex industry to the real lives behind it. The play surprises and entertains in equal measure. Martin avoids preaching or retelling popular tabloid tales, instead focusing on individuals in all roles of life and the way in which pornography affects their relationships with friends and family. This has been done excellently with Martin opening up a whole new angle into the subject. The use of telephone conversations to frame the dialogue allows the audience to dip inside the otherwise hidden private lives of women doing their best to survive and thrive in this daunting new world. Harder Faster More is an intelligent and humorous play that is not to be missed.

The Eurydice Project

First Written for The Reviews Hub

The Eurydice Project – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Joanna Crawley

Director: Lee Wilson

Composer: Jane Deasy

Choreographer: Monika Bieniek

Project Arts Centre is hosting a radical retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth: The Eurydice Project. This time the story is told from Eurydice’s perspective. In the original myth she was an oak nymph, a child of Apollo, who wed the adoring musician Orpheus. She was a daughter of nature, at home in woods and forests. This is shown in the play by her wildness and freedom. Unconstrained by human society she is feisty, intelligent and speaks freely. Dressed in browns and earth tones with mud patterns on her limbs when she moves it is more like a dance than footsteps. In this version Orpheus is half God; returning to Thrace after his father’s death to take over the kingdom and heal the rifts that war and neglect have caused. However on his way to Thrace he bumps into Eurydice. They quickly fall in love and the story grows out of their love affair. Is it possible for a creature of the woods to adjust to city life and should Orpheus even ask this of her?

Joanna Crawley’s script investigates relationships and the nature of being a woman in modern day Ireland. Going behind the scenes The Eurydice Project opens up the doors of a male dominated society to show how women – and men – are both left suffering and confused. This version of Eurydice and Orpheus are very recognisable, as they experience loss and lack of trust. Hades rounds off the cast in a surprisingly humorous way. Dressed in purple and red velvet he is out to make trouble. A former flame of Eurydice he is not content to sit back as she pursues happiness with another. Incorporating live music, video, lighting and prose to create a visually intriguing performance with the musicians adding atmosphere and contributing to the comedy throughout. The three person cast worked very well together giving each other a chance to shine. India Mullen was sparky and as Eurydice and Michael – David McKernan and Barry McKiernan were well cast as Orpheus and Hades respectively.

The Eurydice Project skewers relationships and brings out their turning points as they love, fight and struggle to reconcile themselves to their life together. The way this is done is startlingly real; moving from tender to painful. It is a wonderful way to reinvigorate an ancient myth and use it to shine a light on modern society. Full of rage, music, fury and the cold calm of political decision making The Eurydice Project is a highly watchable and powerful piece of theatre.

Heresy

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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Heresy is a remarkable electronic opera from dramaturg and composer Roger Doyle. In his first outing as composer Doyle has created a unique work that is inspired by the life and works of Renaissance figure Giordano Bruno. The Italian Dominican friar is best remembered for his cosmological theories which included, among other things that the Universe was infinite with no clear centre and he expanded upon the Copernican model with his belief in cosmic pluralism.

Although he was also a philosopher, mathematician and poet, it was his cosmological theories,  which contradicted some of the main teachings of the Church, that he is best remembered for and that, ultimately, resulted in his downfall. In the early 1590s, the Roman Inquisition arrested him for heresy. Bruno refused to recant. Eventually, he was executed in 1600 when he was burned at the stake.

In Heresy, we meet Bruno as he demonstrates his system of magic memory before the court of Henry III of France. This is followed by excerpts from his inquisition, the time he spent imprisoned and the night before his execution. The narrative gives the idea that with conviction and truth anything is possible. This is then reflected in the nature of the opera itself, which is revolutionary in its delivery. In bringing Ireland its first electronic opera, Doyle has also chosen to investigate the idea of opera itself. Doyle is the co-founder of META Production, which aims to explore new forms of opera. This ambitious work shows the best of new and explorative opera, with the use of electronic music rather that a live orchestra is a unique and daring.

There are moments of light relief and surrealist humour. Heresy has a wide variety of characters, everyone from London policemen, Elizabeth I, a French maid with pink hair, a janitor with a neat line in props and one-liners, and Henry King III of France. The singers are all accomplished, especially 14-year-old soprano Aimee Banks who plays the young Bruno. There are, however, a few moments when the music threatens to make the singers difficult to hear.

The staging is minimal. In the back centre stands a throne. At either side, scaffolding with metal ladders rises above the audience. Throughout, additional props are bought on during scene changes. With practice, this process should become smoother. On the back wall of the stage are large strip lights in bold colours – blues, reds, oranges, greens – which light up throughout to signal mood changes and narrative movement.

There are frequent costume changes. One that stands out is the red outfit of Cardinal Bellarmine, who is played by male soprano Robert Crowe. While holding a copy of The Catholic Times his red suit seems to shine. His matching red boots brand new. This contrasts with the plain black of Bruno, accessorised only with the chains that bind him. Other costumes reflect the cosmological nature of Bruno’s work; white, silver and gold.

For opera lovers and those with a keen interest in music, Heresy is a brilliant watch. It is also a good choice for those with less experience. The story is intriguing and the characters unexpected and surprising. It was this reviewer’s first experience of opera and is without a doubt a very positive one that has sparked a desire to seek out other examples of the genre.

Runs until 5 November 2016 | Image: contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub 4*

Key Word: Theatrical

DTF: Wishful Beginnings

First Written for The Reviews Hub

wishfulbeginnings_pac_dtf

Writer: VERK Produksjoner Theatre Company

Reviewer: Laura Marriott

Wishful Beginnings is an unusual performance piece to be included in the Dublin Theatre Festival; it coming across more as performance art than necessarily a piece of theatre. Created by Norwegian Theatre Company VERK Wishful Beginnings opens with an intentionally awkward conversation between a woman stood on one side of the audience wearing gold, and a man stood opposite her, across the audience, his clothes slowly changing throughout the conversation. She questions him. The questions encompass happiness, hopes, death and the future, all of which are explored throughout by movement, light and sudden loud, jarring noises. They go on to investigate the idea of Hamlet and action, or inaction, and the idea of listening to ghosts in order to spur one on. This idea did not however fully come through and was only made clear by the performance notes. Interestingly the group have decided to significantly decrease the size of the stage, blocking it off with wooden panelling, bringing the performers into the space of the audience.

Midway through the performance one character begins a monologue which discusses the idea of travelling through the hard and difficult stuff of life to find one’s wishful beginning. This seems to be the central theme to the work and if one can get on board with this then there is enjoyment to be had in Wishful Beginnings. Other monologues, in which the players are often in darkness except for the speaker who is illuminated, go on to discuss ecological failure, sexual dystopia and the collapse of democracy. The five performers wear body makeup, strange masks and capes that are somewhat reminiscent of ancient gods, and 10 inch white platform heels. They look both alike and very dissimilar to the audience. Improvisation, the idea of getting lost and then finding the end point are themes that run throughout the piece, however without a clear narrative or characters these ideas can be difficult to grasp. Wishful Beginnings does not allow the watcher to sit back and relax, but to be challenged. It is strange that VERK have decided to upload the entirety of the performance online before the end of their run, perhaps undermining the idea of fresh improvisation and openness each night.

Wishful Beginnings is for anyone who has an interest in experimental theatre that sets out to bush the boundaries and ideas of traditional theatre.

Runs until 8 October as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival | Image: contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score: 2*

Key Word: Experimental