The New Theatre: The Belly Button Girl

The Belly Button Girl, written and performed by Tom Moran, is a story about a twenty-something guy who falls in love with the cute barеутвук at his cousin Sharon’s 21st birthday party.

The story is simple and quite straight forward. Except, that it’s not. Set in, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful corners of the Emerald Isle – Dingle Peninsula, this piece tells us a story of a guy who fell in love and wasn’t afraid to admit it to himself and to the others. In an age of masculinity and in a country when showing your feelings is still a dangerous and, mostly by choice and ever so pressuring society, unexplored territory (especially by men), this is a huge deal.

All throughout the 60 min piece not for second is The Guy scared to say what is really on his mind. The story is easy to follow and understand because it doesn’t come out as a pretentious overwritten piece but rather like somebody’s natural train of thought. Yes, it’s ridiculous at times, but it’s very truthful. Thanks to this, we forgive and even laugh with Moran’s character when he mentions some of the most unspeakable and unmentionable details of his dating the Belly Button Girl. Why would you say something like that? the audience might think. But then you remember, that’s something we all think about and there is nothing bad in saying the truth. It’s like Moran removed the filter that was holding the society’s daily courtesy talk routine and just poured it all out.

Another element that immediately attracted me to this play was the amazingly believable characterization. Every single one of them: from the main characters – The Belly Button Girl – to the smallest ones – The Massive Lad or The Sambuca Lady. It’s a very interesting tool that not many playwrights use: to identify characters by who they really are. Without too much description or an overload of names, I could easily picture all the characters in the play and know what kind of people they were.

Now to the setting. Dingle is a very attractive place to set a story. The furthest corner of the Irish land; anything can happen there. But Moran, once again hits the jackpot, with some very modest but easily recognisable imagery. If you’ve ever been to Dingle Peninsula, of course you would have heard about its main attraction: Fungie, the dolphin, who doesn’t show himself to everyone. And, even though being one of the most gorgeous places of nature and typical Irish landscape, there is very little to do on the peninsula.

I was also quite fond of the structure of this sixty minute piece. It finishes very much the way it had started. The circle has been complete. With the only difference that our main character – The Guy – isn’t the same anymore; he has grown up emotionally. And that’s what all the good stories are about: the characters journey on a self-exploration and self-development.

A tearing comedy with a somewhat unusual ending, The Belly Button Girl, directed by Romana Testasecca, is a beautiful piece of very touching and truthful theatre. Tom doesn’t use any props and there is barely any sound effects, the play is one hundred percent about  stripping down one’s own soul and sharing the experience with the audience.

The Belly Button Girlbrought to us by Squad Theatre Company and Intensive Purposes Productions, runs in The New Theatre, Temple Bar until August 27th. It’s the kind of play that has all the potential to woe the Fringe (be it Dublin or Edinburgh) audience. A very refreshing piece of truthful theatre. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=268&gi_sn=57bd6f62e9ebe%7C0 

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Filed under Intensive Purposes, romana testasecca, Squad Theatre Company, The Belly Button Girl, The New Theatre, Tom Moran, Uncategorized

The Abbey Theatre: Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme

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The final curtain is falling on the Abbey Theatre’s summer season and with it we must witness the end of Waking the Nation – Ireland 2016 programme. The centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising is a few months short of being over, but The Abbey is already bidding its farewell with Frank McGuinness’ play Observe the Sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme.

A truly unusual choice of a theatrical piece to celebrate an important milestone in Irish history. McGuinness’ play, as the title might suggest, captures immediately before events occurring a short time prior to the battle of the Somme (July 1916), during which the British and the French armies fought against the German Empire. Some might say those events were insignificant and even unimportant on a bigger scale, but they might have made all the difference to the seven young Nordies and one Englishman who have all just signed up to fight in the first world war. Seen from the point of view of the eight volunteers, the play is primarily about the human side of the war. Eight young men: each one of them is very different from the other, each with his own background, beliefs and destiny. But all of them with one solemn reason: to fight for Ulster. The young men are thrown together into one barrack and then into one battlefield, but war smooths all the indifferences and disagreements so they can become brothers – the true sons of Ulster.

Knowing McGuinness from such works as The Hanging Gardens, Someone who will watch over me, Mutabilitie and many many others, it’s quite evident that the Donegal-born playwright has a very particular style of delivering a story. Observe the sons of Ulster isn’t an exception. Looking up to such prodigies as Shakespeare, this play opens with a twenty minute monologue of an old man (played by Sean McGinley) reminiscing, almost in a state of delirium, about his own experience prior and during the battle of Somme.

It’s been thirty one years since The Sons of Ulster Marching towards the Somme premiered in The Abbey Theatre. Now, this Award-winning play might not be the most obvious choice for an Irish centenary, but it’s an interesting choice regarding the diversity of plays staged in Dublin in 2016. McGuinness’ play shows the alternative story of 1916, what was happening in the world (and, by the way, let me just remind you that  WWI was happening) and how that might have affected the future events in both the Republic and the North. By no means, I want to underestimate the Easter Rising and overshadow it by a different piece. On the contrary, Observe the sons of Ulster just draws a broader picture of the horror happing in the world at the beginning of the twentieth century.

This production immediately stood out for me thanks to the ever so creative and hardworking cast and crew. The lighting design (by Paul Keoghan) was simply outstanding. An amazing example it was of a piece that hugely benefited from the light changes. The perfectly captured shades of bloody red or peacefully blue sky made all the difference while setting the mood. I was also quite fond of the idea to elevate upstage (designed by Ciaran Bagnall). It slightly changed the perspective but hugely influenced the perception of the space, which made the first couple of rows be really grateful for.

I have to mention that the acting and directing (by Jeremy Herrin) was quite on a top level; nevertheless, it made me wonder if a female perspective would have revealed something interesting and unexpected in this purely male piece?

The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme runs in The Abbey Theatre until September 24th. The last piece in Waking The Nation – Ireland 2016 programme. For more info or to book the tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/observe-the-sons-of-ulster-marching-towards-the-somme/

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Filed under 2016 The Abbey Programme, frank mcguinness, observe the sons of ulster marching towards the somme, The Abbey Theatre, Uncategorized, Waking the Nation

LWI Blog Awards 2016

Absolutely delighted to be on the shortlist for LWI BLOG AWARDS 2016. A huge thank you to all my readers, every single one of you made it possible. One more step to go!

Now I need your help! If you read this blog and enjoy it, please, vote for Unforgettable Lines! The vote will start on August 17th!

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More reviews and interviews will soon be coming this way! Let’s spread the joy of World Theatre together!

Love,

Yana

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Interview with Romana Testasecca and Tom Moran

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It’s less than a week before The Belly Button Girl opens in The New Theatre. I had an amazing opportunity to talk to the play’s writer and performer Tom Moran and Romana Testasecca, who is directing the piece.

Just before we dive into the interview, I want to make a special mention. I meet a lot of creative artists and theatre makers, who are, of course, very proud of their creations. But Tom and Romana were so passionate and enthusiastic about their upcoming play that the fire in their eyes were so contagious I couldn’t bare the thought of keeping it all to myself. Unfortunately, not always such an amount of belief and passion about your own work can be transmitted through the screen; so, I decided to simply say it.

Now to the interview.

I sat down with Romana and Tom primarily to talk about Squad Theatre company and The Belly Button Girl. It’s interesting to note that The Belly Button Girl is being brought to the audience not by one but two theatre companies. Walking almost hand in hand, Squad Theatre Company and Intensive Purposes are as close as sisters. Being formed around the same time (and as recently as 2015) by a group of DIT Drama graduates, both companies have quite an extensive experience behind their belts, including participation in Scene and Heard festival. Always trying to work side by side but allowing each other enough creative freedom at the same time, the two companies focus on creating their own content. The Squad is a company with 5 core members (and more than ten in total), while Intensive Purposes is pretty much a one-man project. It was Tom’s decision to be separated from the rest as he wanted to have the freedom to work on his own writings. At the same time, Tom and Romana gave me a feeling of a close unity between the two companies, they are always there to help each other to produce and present.

Having already some experience in writing and performing, creating The Belly Button Girl took more than a year to be fully developed.  Starting as a completely different story, with a different plot and a different title, Tom’s inspiration for the play came while practicing yoga. To be more precise, in a downward-facing dog pose. Acknowledging that he might have not been the best yogi and always being pushed to the back of the class, Tom felt like he was not getting enough attention from the teacher. Thus the idea of a guy who falls in love with his yoga instructor was born. “But then I realised that the play wasn’t about yoga at all, it was about the relationship”, says Tom. And that’s exactly what was left in the second draft: the relationship between two human beings.

“It’s very unfiltered”, says Tom about the nature of the play. “He – the protagonist – is not ashamed. There is a lovely kind of confidence in just being himself. He just says everything the way it is”, adds Romana.

Always trying to mix things up, Tom admits that he likes his “comedies to be dramatic and his dramas to be comedic”. “Otherwise it doesn’t feel real”, says he.

But it’s never easy to be the writer who performs in his or her own piece. Tom says that he always knew he was going to be the one telling the story not only from the page but also from the stage. When asked which of the two crafts he enjoys more, he honestly answers “I have this bone in my body that if I wasn’t performing I would probably go a little bit crazy”. He also notes that writing has become a huge part of his daily life and he couldn’t imagine himself not doing it anymore.

Tom admits that music is a very important component of his writing routine. It doesn’t only influence and inspire him and his mood, but it also helps him to find the rhythm of the piece. Evidently having a very well trained musical ear, he counts the bits in every word and every phrase to make it sound right.

Just like in any creative task, being the writer of the piece you are performing apart from the evident benefits also inputs some challenges. One of such might be that the actor starts taking liberties and creative freedom with his own (well-penned and already brought to perfection) script. It’s easy to change a word or a whole line while it’s your own creation. That’s why you have a director who is there to help you master the performance.

Romana came on board only a few months ago. While Tom knew from the beginning that he was writing a play for himself, he didn’t have yet a person in mind to direct it. “She gave me the best notes on the play”, says Tom who enjoys working with Roman and admits that he gets really excited when the two creative opinions collide in the rehearsal room and they have to find a way to make the scene work for both of them. Also coming from an acting background, Romana says that she always respects the actor’s point of view and ideas about how a scene should be acted out. But it’s always a mutual decision and the director has the benefit of seeing the performance from the outside. It’s definitely a challenge to find the balance in between imposing yourself as the director and listening to what your actor is trying to communicate to you.

The Belly Button Girl isn’t biographical”, says Tom “there is a lot of me in it, but none of it actually happened to me.” Inviting people to have a look at his own experience, Tom quotes Mark Birbiglia: “If you are not telling your secrets, you are not doing it right”.  And that’s exactly how Tom wants to engage his audience. “That’s what good art is”, he says, “telling your secrets. And this is what this play  – The Belly Button Girl – is. It’s the most unfiltered thing. He – the main character – is so free and lovely, and so disgusting. This play tries to show every part of a person and every part of a relationship.”

Not hugely relaying on the set design or props, the play is as stripped down as the protagonist’s soul in front of an audience. “He is there and he is telling you his story”, says Romana. “There is nothing else. It’s this guy on stage telling his story”.

Both Romana and Tom want the audience to have a real truthful understanding of a human experience. In his play, Tom aims to show people that it’s ok to go through different emotions internally but it’s even more ok to release them to the outside world. There is nothing to be worried or scared about. Even if you are a man. Especially if you are a man. Because before being a man, you are a human being. “Comfortable vulnerability” is the beautiful term that Tom uses for it, “to be comfortable with your own emotions and showing them.”

Tom and Romana have big plans for The Belly Button Girl. It’s less than a week before the play opens in one of Dublin’s city center venues, but the talk has it that the play will be well up for the Edinburgh Fringe in the next couple of years. Described as an “Unflinching, romantic and personal” play, The Belly Button Girl promises to be truly epic! So start booking the tickets before they are gone. For one week only with one day (Monday) preview at the price of 12.50 EUR only: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=268&gi_sn=57b34ad04e5ef%7C0 

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Filed under Intensive Purposes, Interview with, romana testasecca, Squad Theatre Company, The Belly Button Girl, Tom Moran, Uncategorized

Smock Alley Theatre: Pygmalion

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“I tell you I have created this thing out of the squashed cabbage leaves of Covent Garden; and now she pretends to play the fine lady with me.” – Henry Higgins, Pygmalion.

G B Shaw’s absolute classic – Pygmalion – is one of the funniest, wittiest and most enjoyable plays ever written in the history of world class theatre. Not unlike many other plays penned by the master, Pygmalion is a piece about the transparent battles of class, status and money. What does it take a girl but a proper pronunciation and even more properer professor to pass for a duchess, even thought she was born in the dirtiest corner of London’s east end.

Throughout the play we follow Eliza Doolittle (played by Anna Shiels Mc-Namee) on her journey from being a shabby flower girl into becoming a respectable upper-class lady. All Eliza wanted was to learn to speak more genteel, so she could work in a flower shop… but Henry Higgins (played by Paul Meade) and Colonel Pickering (played by Gerard Byrne) have plans of their own about the poor – in both senses – girl. The two professors, and deep aficionados of the English language, they don’t only take upon themselves the task of teaching Eliza the proper English but they also bet on whether she’ll be up to it (Y’know, you can take a girl out of the East End, but can you take the East End out of a girl?). Blinded by the thrill of the race, they almost disregard the remarks made by Mrs. Pearce (played by Tara Quirke), Higgins’ housekeeper, who plays the voice of reason in the piece and notes to the brutally rude and mannerless Higgins that the girl, in fact, has a soul and it might be a good idea to think about her feelings about the situation and where it all might lead. Higgins will take none of this nonsense. For him the game had already started, and the bet was placed.

Shaw uses a very powerful method of diversion in this play. All the attention is on Eliza and her journey through the play. But the girl isn’t the only one who’s fate has been drastically changed. Emotionally challenged Higgins – the Pygmalion – starts to shift, too. And I can’t help but quote another famous playwright here: “A crack in the wall?—Of composure?—I think that’s a good sign. . . . A sign of nerves in a player on the defensive!”  (A Streetcar named desire, T. Williams). Without even knowing it, upon taking Eliza on, Henry Higgins set himself on a journey from where there is no returning.

To be completely honest, even though Pygmalion is one of my favourite plays, I was a bit skeptical about this staging. By no means, I expected it to be not good enough… it’s just a few years ago I was completely blown away by the Abbey’s production of the same play. With an almost dream-cast, the play was a masterpiece of theatre. And, as we all know, it’s quite difficult to beat the unbeatable.

Nevertheless, I’m more than happy to report that Pygmalion, directed by Liam Halligan is quite a piece of art in itself. It made me see, once again, that nuances picked up by different directors and actors make all the difference. Meade’s Higgins comes across as the absolutely unlikable, unattractive and even appalling human being. There is so much truth in his character, that not for a second you believed that he’s being pretentious.  While Byrne’s Pickering – being somewhat the good policeman of the story – is so hilariously funny and charming that it’s impossible not to like him. But the real jewel in the crown is Tara Quirke, whose ability to project oneself into two polar characters is simply astonishing. Another mention shall go to David O’Meara, who plays Eliza’s father. Even though brief, his part is memorable. He is the perfect example of a an actor playing a character, whose appearance is always met with a cheer and anticipation. Such a character full of… character that he’s pure joy to be watched.

It’s good to remember that Pygmalion isn’t only a play with great characterization and unpretentious story line, but it’s a language masterpiece, as well, where every line, every word was carefully chosen. It shall just suffice to mention my personal favourite “bloody boots, butter and brown bread.”, pronounced by Mrs. Pearce. We might have only two true professors and connoisseurs of English language in the play but, in the reality, every single character in Pygmalion is a poet of his or her own.

The set design (by Colm McNally) for Pygmalion is quite nice and simple. It makes it easy to transform one space into various contrasting ones. With some essential pieces of furniture being brought in and out, the multiplicity of locations is easily established.

While the summer is still in its ripe, why not treat yourself to a never forgettable lesson in English phonetics and grammar. Or just go and see Pygmalion in the Smock Alley Theatre. Fore more info or to book tickets: http://smockalley.com/pygmalion/

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Filed under G B Shaw, liam halligan, Pygmalion, Smock Alley Theatre, Uncategorized

Olympia Theatre: Once, The Musical

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“Tear your curtains down for sunlight is like gold.”

Theatre is always beautiful, in all its shapes and forms. Unfortunately, I’ve never been lucky enough to see many musicals, though I immensely enjoy musical theatre as a genre. It just doesn’t bother me when in the middle of a thought or a scene the actors burst into singing and dancing. I actually find it rather entertaining and truthful.

After the huge success of the namesake film in 2007, Once The Musical has enjoyed quite a successful run in New York, London and pretty much all over the world. In an out-of-ordinary occurrence of events, Once started Off-Broadway, then was transferred to Broadway itself and only after that was brought to Dublin, its hometown, and London’s West End.

With the original songs by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (who themselves appear in the film), the script for the musical was written by Enda Walsh. Once is a typical story of a girl (played by Megan Riordan) and a guy (played by Sam Cieri) who met in Dublin and fell in love. He is a busker, she has a broken hoover. He helps her to repair the hoover, she helps him to pursue his dream.

Unlike all the other love stories, Once, first and foremost, is a very charming and touching tale about having to make choices and the importance of never giving up on your dream no matter what; it’s also a tale about love and separation, about believing in oneself; a tale about what happens where words are not enough anymore and the souls bursts into singing.

Dublin has a tradition of bringing musical from overseas, Once is a unique case all together. Apart from the fact that original story is set on Dublin’s very own Grafton Street. This production of the musical was also Dublin-cast and brought up. In 2015 the musical enjoyed a hugely successful three month run and it’s no surprise Landmark Productions decided to bring it back to the Olympia Theatre this summer.

Directed by John Tiffany, Once is set in a very stylised pub with dozens of mirrors all over the place. The mirrors play a very important part in the whole play. With the help of the lighting crew (by Natasha Katz), we are able to observe the actors on stage both directly and through the looking glass. It creates a magical, at times almost surreal, effect of being in a different place at a different time. The whole set design, though simple, is very well-thought. It easily transfers from Dublin streets into Girl’s house, into Guy’s bedroom, into recording studio, etc. All we really need is the right lighting and music to set the mood and within seconds we know where we are.

Another nice touch is that the full cast is on stage all throughout the play. The actors are ready to spring into dancing and singing any second. Everything is so beautifully stylised and set that you forget it’s a play. There is absolutely no awkward pauses or set changes. The choreography (by Steven Hoggett) of this piece is on the highest level. Even the smallest changes in between scenes are impossible to take eyes off.

And all this splendour in addition to the fact that unlike the absolutely majority of all other main stream traditional plays, Once starts long before the it actually starts. All guests are invited to have  drinks in the bar that is part of the stage. But that’s not even the best part, the best part is that the actors are already on stage singing and dancing with the members of the audience. I’ve never witnessed a better mood-setter. You are not only allowed to enter the actors’ sacred space, but you are also invited to be part of it.

I’m going to be straight here and say that I wasn’t a very huge fan of the original film. It made me not want to see the musical when it came to Dublin in 2015. And only by a happy coincidence I was in the auditorium yesterday. Not expecting too much, I was completely blown away by literally everything in this musical. Apart from great tunes (the ones that you can actually listen to), simple yet quite fresh plot and absolutely splendid acting, dancing and singing, the musical left me wanting for more. Once wasn’t enough to see Once.

Once The Musical runs in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre until August 27th. The tickets are selling super-fast, so don’t miss on a chance to see it … at least once. Fore more info or to book tickets: http://www.olympia.ie/whats-on/once-the-musical/ 

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Filed under Enda Walsh, Landmark Productions, olympia theatre, Once The Musical, Uncategorized

At Large Theatre Company: Edfringe Lift-Off

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Now that the Dublin Preview Lift-Off is over, At Large Theatre Company is packing up the goods to bring them over to Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016.

After the interview with Grainne Curistan, I was more than excited to see what At Large had in stock for their big returning to one of the most important of Fringe festivals in the world. Being a participant in 2012, four years later the company has decided to take Fringe by storm. At Large Theatre is bringing three in-company productions to this year’s festival.

“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”, L. Cohen

Beryl, written by Lesley-Ann Reilly and directed by Grainne Curistan, is a tough 45 min cookie: a two-hander by lost, lonely and very confused souls. Beryl (played by Lesley-Ann Reilly) and Frank (played by Alan Rogers) are two people with dark secrets from the past. Their unusual paths cross when Beryl advertises her services as a dresser for cross-genders and Frank answers it. Being somebody who used to crossdress in the past, Frank is quite entitative from the scarves and rags, but can’t resist the temptation of putting on the elegant black silhouettes. It’s not the shape or the colour, it’s not even the the feeling that the high heels give to Frank… it’s the click clack sound that they are making while the owner is walking in them. Like the password to access Frank’s pass – he hears the noise, and the crack inside is growing bigger and bigger.

With Leonard Cohen tunes, vine and overall darkish mood, Beryl is a tragedy of two broken people. This play will keep you thinking long after the characters have left the stage. Brilliant characterization is what makes Beryl such a  strong  piece. The clash of Beryl’s and Frank’s opposite personalities creates a captivating scenario where every curve is a painful turn that somebody’s life took dramatically and unexpectedly.

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” J. M. Barrie

The Meeting, written and directed by Grainne Curistan, is a 50 min comic relief. Set in a typical office environment, the play is a tale about cubical rats and their work “adventures”. Presented in a style of an actual office-meeting, the piece is amazingly believable. 9 superb characters played by 9 brilliant actors make The Meeting an incredible spot-on in all senses piece. Here you’ve got everything a proper real-life office has: the whiner, the hater, the dreamer, the can-do-it-all, the absent attendee and, of course, The Boss, whose plate might have just overflowed.

Sharp lines, reasonably fast pace and the perfect casting ensemble makes The Meeting an irresistibly funny play that is way too easy to relate to. With this work Curistan proved that the writer sometimes is the best director. Written from experience, The Meeting has one of the closest to real life scenarios that I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. Grainne’s casting choice left the whole audience in a deep awe for how perfectly the actors suited their characters. Onece or twice they made me forget I was in a theatre and not at a real office meeting.

“Where is the beef?”, a catchphrase from an ad for Wendy’s fast-food chain restaurants.

The third and last piece on the menu is Nowhere Now, written and directed by Daniel O’Brien. After the tragedy and the comedy, let’s deepen into something completely surreal: the world of Irish Beef industry. This 60-min piece shows us how the modern society of goods-trading, selling and buying can be. What do we have? Beef! What shall we do with it? Sell! “We will make a fuck-tonne of money.” It’s all about the money, it’s all about business. What does a cow do but only says Moo. Where’s the Prime Minister? The CEOs of powerful companies, the Ambassadors of nuclear-possessive countries, The Ministers of important affairs are all gathered waiting for him to finally start talking beef. Because Beef is Money. And it’s a capitalist world, people.

O’Brien’s play offers an engaging, though surreal but not too far from the real take on a very important issue. With a strong cast of six, the play is also quite interesting from the technical point of view. All the characters are dress-coloured according to the roles that they are playing. The tech crew behind the piece created a nice play of light and shadow to highlight and differentiate various locations and mood changes all throughout the performance.

All three plays by At Large Theatre Company will be performed at the Sweet Grassmarket Theatre (Venue 18) from August 15th to 27th. Two weeks of Irish theatre in Edinburgh! At Large Theatre is offering a special deal (£25)  if you are booking all three plays in one go. Otherwise, the tickets for each play can be purchased separately on Edinburgh Fringe 2016 official website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/

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Filed under At Large Theatre Company, Edfringe Lift-Off, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Grainne Curistan, Uncategorized