First Written for The Reviews Hub

Electric – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

Writer: Ali Hardman

Director: Clare Maguire

On balance it is fair to argue that the opening night of Ali Hardman’s new play Electric, is more enjoyable than a trip to Electric Picnic. Although this may say something about the lack of shower facilities at most festivals, it also highlights how fun and entertaining Electric is.

One of the standout points of the play is the level of attention to detail and the set design. When the audience are collecting their tickets, each person is issued with an Electric wrist band, excellently designed and eye catching. While waiting for the doors to open glitter face paint is also available for free. Most audience members have blue glitter wings winking in the dark. Starting the production in this way was a pleasant surprise that put people in a good mood and helped to foster a festival atmosphere. This is enhanced when the theatre doors open and the two actors, Hardman and Roe, have already taken to the stage and are dancing away to the pulsing music familiar to all festival goers.

Joni and Scarlett have both set out on an adventure at Electric Picnic. Scarlett, played by Ali Hardiman, is a privately educated young woman from Dalkey who has been pushed into the festival by her mam. With a dislike of dirt, her friends and being surrounded by people her long weekend does not start out well. In contrast Joni, with a rough Dublin accent, glitter decoration and a pack of lager has been looking forward to this since last years festival ended. With completely different friendship groups their paths do not cross until a chance encounter sees the direction of their weekend change – perhaps for the better. In costuming that complements their characters, Hardiman and Roe play off each other well. Hardiman’s script artfully skewers class divides and stereotypes by reaching beyond them to create a rounded, realistic friendship between two young women. Their new relationship throws existing friendships into sharp focus and forces the characters to assess what they really value in themselves and in others. Supplemented by the engaging and humourous Electric is a comedy with a heart.

Coordinated by set designer Ursula McGinn Electric demonstrates a detailed and precise level of detail that one does not usually see in a one-hour production. In the bar outside picture frames are decorated with flower garlands and lights; the words ‘Welcome’ and ‘Electric’ spelt out in bright multi – coloured blocks. Inside the theatre space strings of lights, ribbons and paper chains hang over the seating area. Lighting Designer Shane Gill works well with McGinn to create a bright, enticing theatre space. Fabric in soft colours, artfully lit from behind drape the rear of the stage. Large dreamcatchers are dotted about the place and the stage itself is covered in colourful confetti. Further, over the past few months there has been a noticeable improvement in the attention paid to creating informative and decent programmes, and Electric fits into the new trend.

Hardman, who last appeared at Theatre Upstairs in Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws, has shown development as a writer with Electric marking her first full length production. The play ended with the audience rising to their feet and cheering, proving that Electric is a play not to be missed.

Runs until 5th May 2019 | Image: Contributed


Director: Romana Testasecca

Writer: Tom Moran

Him: Tom Moran

Her: Danielle Galligan


“One night. Two very different hearts. Dublin City Centre. An Open Mic has ended and a captivating dissection of a chance encounter has just begun.”


Outside it is cold and the rain keeps coming. The pavements are blocked by commuters hiding under shop awnings and the Liffey looks grey in the early evening light. Fleeing the uninspiring spring weather in newly reopened Theatre Upstairs an audience pile into the small theatre, looking for something to lighten the mood and warm the night.

Lyrics is set at the end of an Open Mic night in a Dublin pub. To the left sits a piano, a microphone in the middle and bottles that light up decorate the stage. Lighting Designer Shane Gill has done a great job: for each song the lights dim creating a cosy and intimate setting. The audience could almost be eavesdropping on the chance meeting taking place. The warm tones of the background helps to the enhance the idea that the theatre is a small pub, the audience with drinks in hand like the punters have turned up not exactly sure what to expect.

The play opens with Tom Moran playing the piano and singing a song to a former girlfriend. With his heart on his sleeve, and in his songs, Moran’s character is open to talking. He meets a mysterious singer who has never had a broken heart and is about to set off on a new adventure, played by Danielle Galligan. Taking the form of a dialogue with sharp staccato notes our two protagonists play around and work their way into each others thoughts and feelings. The early wit and humour draws laughter which keeps coming. The interlocking conversation avoids falling into cliché and suggests that director, Romana Testasecca, is growing in confidence with each new production. Slightly heightened the dialogue is well constructed and entertaining.

The couple meet because Galligan wanted to sing for the last time before moving to New York. A dying relative is behind her decision. Working through a recent heartbreak Moran’s song are hilarious with enough just enough honesty to make them more than comedic interludes. As the play progresses there are moments of sadness that emerge from these two broken hearts. At times tender and romantic Lyrics moves between sincerity and hilarity with relative ease. Taking ownership of the stage the characters begin to move together, their physical actions mirroring the movement of feelings as the night progresses.

A clever and touching chamber piece edged full of comedy and romance Lyrics proved to be just the tonic for the grey rainy Dublin evening.


Set and Costume Design: Ciara Murnane

Lighting Design: Shane Gill

Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

Writer: Joyce Dignam

Directors: Joyce Dignam and Meabh Hennelly

Tea + Toast Theatre Company are presenting their entertaining short play Fizzy Drinks With Two Straws at Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs. The play previously premiered at Smock Alley Theatre’s Scene and Heard Festival, which gives theatre makers the chance to present and workshop new writing. It is interesting to see a play develop like this. It has been expanded upon for its current run and is being delivered on the back of a wealth of positive reviews from the festival.

The set sits perfectly in the theatre. The stage is a matter of inches from the front row. It largely consists of a soft green lawn, with a children’s slide and holiday paraphernalia (fizzy drinks, crisp packets, Barbie dolls) scattered about. One quarter of the stage is made of sand with small sandcastles facing the audience. This is Wexford. Sisters Lana are Rosie are here with their parents on holiday. They have been left outside to play while the adults are having a ‘grown up talk’ in the pub. Pints are consumed and the children are left to wonder is something wrong or it just for grownups? The phrase that we all know; “you’re too young to understand” stalks the play.

As the pair spend the day together their family story starts to unravel and through their young eyes the audience see how, although they may not understand, they are taking everything in. The clever use of a story within a story gives a ferocious insight into their family life and one can see how closely intertwined love, rage and fear can be. Both actresses, Ali Hardiman as Lara and Tara Maguire as Rosie, deliver assured performances that are often full of humour and naiveté. In some ways this is also a mystery play as the audience are drawn into the drama and try to work out what has bought the sisters to this point at the same time that they are trying to understand the grownups who keep changing around them. This is an interesting piece of new writing that will continue to entertain and intrigue for the rest of its run.


The Man in Two Pieces – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

First Published April 2015


Writer: Gerard Adlum

Director: Sarah Finlay

Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs has been transformed to Ireland in 1921. Under cover of night Kerrigan’s Vaudeville troupe, which has taken up temporary residence in a country town, is joined by a nameless boy, who sees the dream of the place and thinks ‘this must be the place’. The boy runs away with this miscellaneous group headed by ring-leader and general impresario; Kerrigen.

The first sign that this play could be something special comes before the audience enter the theatre. The announcement on the programme that the character of Kerrigan, one of only two actors to grace the stage, is being played by Stephen Brennan bodes well. Brennan is a well established and accomplished actor who is perfectly cast as the spell binding Kerrigen.

The Theatre Upstairs is a cosy and intimate space, drawing the audience into the world created on stage. The stage is cluttered with strong man apparatus, the lights are often dimmed or reddish in hue as most of the play takes place at night, and gives the magic of the language and mystery chance to breathe. There is something inherently magical and intriguing about a travelling vaudeville troupe; a group of people who are not tied to place and social conventions in the way that the rest of society is. However Ireland is deeply troubled at this time and this eventually starts to permeate the troupe. As the group of misfits struggle to find their way in this changing landscape The Man in Two Pieces tries to get to the heart of not just what makes a man, but a consummate showman like Kerrigen.

The play has been well scripted by debut playwright Gerard Adlum, who has built up a solid background of acting work over the past few years and who showed great ability as an actor during this play. It is astonishing to think that this is Adlum’s debut as a playwright and Dublin audiences can only hope that it will be the start of a long successful career.

Photo courtesy of Theatre Upstairs. Runs until April 18th. 

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score: 4.5*


Mother May I? – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

First Published March 2013

MOTHERMAYI - Theatre Upstairs

Writer: Ranae Von Meding

Director: Steve Gunn

This 50 minute performance introduces the audience to a woman, the only character to grace the stage, who takes the audience from her childhood with a born again Christian mother through to her difficult adult life. The effect of her upbringing is unravelled through a powerful monologue that delves into the question of can you ever break away from your surroundings? If your nature is suppressed from an early age, how will it manifest itself later in life? Fitting in doesn’t seem to always be the best option.

As the audience walk in the stage is in semi darkness with music playing and blue spotlights lighting up the stage. These are used at vital points throughout the play, as the contrast between dark and the bright blue light are used to chime in with dramatic moments in the performance. In each corner of the stage pint glasses, filled with varying amounts of water, take up much of the space and hanging from the ceiling are a dozen custard cream biscuits. The reason for this is discovered later in the play and is an excellent example of the way the stage and setting can become an active part of a performance. This was furthered by the clever use of inverted colours and shapes decorating the back wall and floor.

The title refers to both the familial and religious undertones of the play which seem particularly recognisable in modern Ireland. The religious undertone runs throughout the play yet Von Meding manages to prevent this from overwhelming the text. Taking the audience on a journey through her characters life the mother figure is a running theme that unites the beginning and the ending. The play is well written meaning that the point is never laboured and the audience feel entertained, not lectured to. This is an investigation into what happens to a person who is bought up knowing nothing but suppression, who was taught guilt and shame from a young age, and is unable to understand how these fit into her later life. Finding a way to try to survive she learns to deceive, becoming so good at it that she deceives herself. However in the end she realises that in trying to be forced into measuring up to societal norms, she has lost a little of herself in the process.

Ranae Von Meding acts as both writer and actor which works surprisingly well. With her thorough and deep understanding of the text, as actress Von Meding makes the play and nameless character believable. Spiked with humour this is an engaging watch that keeps the audience’s attention. This is a strong debut from Von Meding as a writer and it will be interesting to see what she does next, having displayed her ability as both a capable writer and actor in Mother May I? Hopefully this will be the first of many outings as writer for Von Meding.

 Photo courtesy of Theatre Upstairs. Runs Until April 4th 2015.

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score: 3.5*


Hollow Ground – Theatre Upstairs, Dublin

First Published March 2013

HOLLOWGROUND2 - Theatre Upstairs
Writer: Katie McCann

Director: Karl Shields

The Theatre Upstairs can be easy to miss but it would be a shame to walk past without going inside. Located above a bar on Eden Quay in central Dublin, it faces out onto the River Liffey making it one of the most surprisingly beautiful of the smaller, independent theatre spaces to have opened up in recent years.

Hollow Ground is written by Katie McCann, who also stars as Hazel. Theatre Upstairs fosters a grass roots approach to theatre making, with many of those involved in productions taking on multiple rôles. Another example of this is Hollow Ground’s co-star Rex Ryan, who plays Graham, an up and coming writer and actor in his own right.

In Hollow Ground the two actors confront the audience. Remaining largely still, they rely on facial and body movements, as well as voice and language, to deliver the story. Both McCann and Ryan are mostly successful in this and use a stark contrast of tension and fluidity to portray emotion.

The script is well written, taking the form of the intersecting monologues of two sibling who, after a time apart, find themselves being pulled back together and forced to confront the past. The audience soon realise that something dark is at the crux of this sibling separation. As Hazel tries to make a life for herself elsewhere, Graham finds himself unable to do so. Both are trapped in the same confused memories that haunt their dreams at night and each character offers differing reactions to these past events. As the two are pulled closer together their reactions become more pronounced as the tension and fear of having to face up to what lies beneath the hollow ground they have based their adult lives upon impacts their present lives.

The theatre space is well utilised with lighting and smoke two particular successes. As the audience enter, the silhouette of the two actors are framed by the smoke, making for an interesting and unique entrance. Orange and yellow lights adorn the wall behind the actors and are used to dramatic effect throughout, often complimented by the show’s sound design. The stage itself is sparse however the flooring has been adapted and functions unusually as a prop for the production.

Hollow Ground is an intense and dramatic tale of two siblings navigating the shared dark and twisted memories of their pasts in order to find their way to the surface.

Photo courtesy of Theatre Upstairs. Runs until March 21st. 

Review Overview

The Public Reviews’ Score: 3.5*