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

THEMANINTWOPIECES - TUptairs

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*

Magical

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*

Surprising

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*

Intense