Owen Wingrave

First Written for The Reviews Hub

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DUBLIN FRINGE FESTIVAL: Owen Wingrave – O’ Reilly Theatre, Dublin

Composer: Benjamin Britten

Director: Tom Creed
Conductor: Stephen Barlow

Owen Wingrave, which was composed during the height of the Vietnam War, questions whether pacifism is an act of strength or cowardice. By deciding to step away from a life of war and conflict he is also walking away from everything that his family have stood for; honour through courage, defending Queen and Country no matter the cost. More than this it is also about family. The audience is engendered to feel sympathy for Owen as his family turn on him. The weight of his past and his family history bears down on Owen as he breaks away, deciding upon his own belief system even though they conflict so dramatically with those he grew up with.

This may not be the most obvious choice of opera, however, it is an intriguing addition to the Fringe Festival programme. As Owen becomes increasingly isolated the speed of the production increases. The second half flies by, building in intensity to its tragic climax.

The back wall is designed to look like an Army barracks. The soldiers wear green fatigues that give the story a modern touch. At one point a British flag is projected on the back wall. It flutters before disappearing. Although the staging and lighting are relatively simple it is used to maximum effect. Plinths are brought onto the stage and statues of birds of prey placed on top. They are intimidating and dominate the stage. This is a great use of symbolism on stage that both enhances the storyline and also makes it easier to follow for those less familiar with opera.

The cast and orchestra all perform well, however special mention should go to Christopher Cull as Spencer Coyle who carries off the complex part with nuance, and Benjamin Russell who plays Owen with aplomb.

Hopefully, this production will return to Dublin soon.

Runs until 16 September 2017 | Image: Contributed

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