Text and Lyrics: Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan, and Mary Coughlan
Original Music: Valgeir Sigurdsson
Director: Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan
Woman Undone premiered at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre and from the queue of people waiting to go in it was clear that this was one of the theatre seasons big draws. For someone unfamiliar with Mary Coughlan the reasons soon became clear.
Mary has lived quite a life. We are informed in the opening that she has paved the way for women, and been one of Ireland’s best-loved singers. But we are also told that she has lost much in the process. This is the story of how she became herself; how a young girl became unraveled; and it is the story of her relationship with her father. As her early life is re-imagined on stage the adult Mary is able to step in and comment. At times her anger and fury are palpable. At others, the fear, confusion, and sorrow pour from the stage. Woman Undone features alcoholism, addiction, abuse, and mental illness. Seen through the prism of Mary’s life these themes reflect many of the tropes of the Irish woman over the past six decades.
Four women dressed as men are first to take to the stage. They are the group Mongoose. Their musical additions complement the haunting score and each person takes on an active role in the re-imaging. Mary’s father, played by Molly O’Mahony, is smart and sure in his army uniform. However, when she is born he doesn’t know what to do with a daughter. He is awkward and uncomfortable around her. The choreography is very well done; showing how loving relationships can be full of pain. Dancer Erin O’Reilly was mesmerising and vital throughout. From the moment she crawled onto the stage as the infant Mary she takes ownership of the role, using movement to tell the often dark and harrowing story.
The set design complemented the action perfectly. A red car to the left of the stage; broken, full of music, steam and the possibility of life. Mary’s life froze when she was involved in a car accident and much of her later trauma comes back to moments spent trapped in that red car. It holds her in place until she is able to break free of the past. Audiovisuals and strobe lighting are used at points of high emotion to elevate the production.
When Mary sang she dominated the stage. The only slight niggle: there were a few moments of speech that showed that more work needs to be done on enunciation and projection to ensure everyone in the theatre space can hear. With such an important piece of theatre, it would be a shame for any of it to be missed.
Mary’s life has involved a lot of pain and hardship. Tonight this pain was turned into art. Emotional, moving and at times deeply sad, it took several minutes to get one’s breath back after the ending.
Dublin Theatre Festival: The End of Eddy – Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Writer: Edouard Louis
Adaptor: Pamela Carter
Director: Stewart Laing
“Today I will be a man.”
There has been a trend in recent months for plays that explore what it means to be a man and how to go about being so. The End of Eddy fits into this pattern and delves into the ideas of manhood and masculinity in unflinching detail. For the young Eddy, growing up “visibly gay” in a town that values hard labour, violence, and strength, he couldn’t have been more out of place. Based on the groundbreaking book En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule by Edouard Louis The End of Eddy is an innovative and powerful production.
His tale of sexual awakening is both intensely personal and also universal. Kwaku Mills and Alex Austin shine as Eddy. At times playing him simultaneously, at others taking it in turns. They also interact with themselves in character on four screens that line the stage; Austin playing Louis’s mother was a particular highlight. Both actors have an obvious love and appreciation for the source text that reverberates throughout their performance. Although well directed the production could have made more use of the entire stage and the bus shelter at the back was under utilised.
Pamela Carter’s adaptation draws heavily on the text while also creating something new. They take the unusual approach of introducing the play and at times Mills and Austin turn to the audience and step through the fourth wall to change the narrative. This was an interesting and novel approach that made the audience feel a part of the action. Some might feel that this broke up the narrative flow of the piece, however, it was done with such charm and an obvious love for Eddy that it felt natural. The play is at times comic, incredibly serious, and finally tinged with hope. One feels that Carter’s version is perhaps more optimistic than the original and this feeling spread through the audience bringing them to their feet at the end.
Dublin Theatre Festival: Klosterhof – Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Creators: Iwona Nowacka and Janek Turkowski
Dublin is a city that has seen much in the line of building works, regeneration and change over the past few years. Every new brick and LUAS line track that has been laid down builds upon centuries of history. Buildings gone, lives lived and passed. The history that is around us every day can be fascinating. When living in the city though few of us think to pay attention to these changes. Even fewer of us (if any really) would think to record over three hundred hours of footage of life just outside their window.
Theatre makers Nowacka and Turkowski live in one of the few buildings in their city in Poland to survive 1944 and the devastation of war. They decided to turn their cameras on their neighbourhood. In doing so they have collected over three hundred hours of footage that has been pieced together to be placed in a time capsule to be opened in their year 2109. However, this footage, which hopes to capture and preserve, has not been edited down to present only the dramatic moments. They have carefully avoided creating a staged atmosphere and have stuck closely to the desire to be naturalistic and to present their footage as is. Although this is very interesting it does mean that 14 minutes of the production is taken up with footage of contractors taking up paving slabs and replacing tiles on a roof.
Klosterhof is probably philosophically interesting and we can only wonder what will be made of the time capsule in the year 2109; will it feature in the Dublin Theatre Festival? Nowacka and Turkowski are enjoyable companions through this journey and their commentary is often sweet, honest and touching. There is a particularly good section that focuses on the story of a homeless man whose life is unexpectedly changed by the act of filming.
For some, the ideas surrounding Klosterhof will draw them in and it is important to note that this is a very pleasant viewing experience. However, there are many that will not find the appeal in Klosterhof. It is experimental and unusual. Once again one can question if Klosterhof was really well placed at the Theatre Festival, or if like many other recent productions should have been a part of the recent Fringe Festival.
Dublin Theatre Festival: Nassim – Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Writer: Nassim Soleimanpour
Director: Omar Elerian
Nassim is an unconventional play by an unconventional playwright.
Nassim Soleimanpour is a multi-disciplinary theatre-maker from Iran. He has a history of creating experimental, one-of-a-kind productions and Nassim is no different. As the title suggests this is a personal and vulnerable piece of work from the playwright. Each night a different actor takes to the stage. They have not seen a script and do not know what to expect. There is a microphone and a large red X on the stage. To the left, there is also a small desk with a box on top of it. It is from this that 70 minutes of theatre unfolds.
On Tuesday night actor Nyree Yergainharsian stepped up to the challenge and volunteered to be the one in the spotlight. Her performance was brave and well done, despite the fact that she had not been able to prepare. The staff at the Project Arts also helped out along the way to facilitate a smooth performance experience.
The name ‘Nassim’ means breeze, and like his name Nassim’s story breezes through the Project Arts Centre, touching everyone who encounters it. It is impossible to capture and hold onto and yet every person in the theatre knows they have been touched by it. Nassim is humorous and entertaining. The ending ties everything together in a neat bow and the twist is surprisingly sweet and tender.
Nassim was a lovely production and truly unique; however is perhaps another example of a production that should have been a part of the recent Dublin Fringe Festival rather than the Theatre Festival. At present, it can be difficult to see what marks the Theatre Festival out as distinct and unique.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.