The Abbey Theatre: Arlington

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The new season, and what looks like a whole new life for The Abbey Theatre, opened 2017 with one of Enda Walsh’s most recent plays – Arlington, a dramatic performance of a new dystopian world that jumps out of page on Ireland’s National Stage in a fascinatingly profound embodiment.

In this ninety minute non-stop piece, Walsh brings us on a multi-dimensional journey into a strangely scary futuristic world of broken people and imprisoned emotions. What roughly could be divided into three parts, Arlington is a powerful combination of spoken words, dance, movement, monologue, sound and visual effects. Almost like something out of a George Orwell novel, in reality Arlington is a beautifully metaphorical closed room drama, speaking both literally and metaphorically.

Isla is a girl (played by Charlie Murphy) who has spent almost an entire life inside this weird empty waiting room just waiting for her number to be called. The only source of communication with the outside world for her has been a mic on the wall. There is a guy – the new guy (played by Hugh O’Connor), as we soon find out – on the other side, nevertheless. In a small cluttered office, like a rat in his preassigned cubicle, he listens to Isla’s wildest dreams and thoughts. It’s only a matter of time now before he himself will take her place inside the locked madness.

And just as quickly as the door opens in front of Isla, it soon closes behind the other girl (played by Oonagh Doherty). Without saying a single world, she offers us her tale entirely through movement and dance. With an absolutely breathtaking game of light and shadow (designed by Adam Silverman), not a single bit of text or explanation is needed to transmit the meaning behind the silent story to the audience. The girl  uses her own body to convey the concept of a locked space: be it a room or a human body.

Walsh’s play premiered last year at Galway International Arts Festival. An abstract piece with more than defined meaning, Arlington combines in itself a hurricane of human emotions. Three very diverse, very different pieces about human nature , deep grief and yearning for something that they are being stripped off, present very nicely balanced contrast one to another.

The set design (by Jamie Vartan) and its symbolism also plays a huge part in the piece. Like a fish herself, the appropriately named Isla, for example, waits in a bare room with almost nothing but three plastic chairs and a forever empty fish tank.

A trap that you would love to fall into, Arlington runs in The Abbey Theatre until February 25th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/arlington?gclid=CP7IgfaZn9ICFW4B0wodBbcA_Q

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The Complex: Horae

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Here’s a saucy one: a play about whores!

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about Horae – a unique theatre piece about the ancient craft of prostitution. From virgins to whores: in this roughly 40 minute performance Susie Lamb (the creator and performer) dances the audience through her darkishly enlightening tale.

Presented through the eyes of a single character, Lamb deepens us into the ancient world of sacred temples, where the street girls weren’t from the streets at all, they were regarded as almost holy creatures capable of providing the best cure, care and comfort. The goddesses of high places they were. And how quickly everything changed. Horae brings us back in time to learn how drastically the history can turn sometimes. In her mix of movement and spoken word, Lamb narrates the story of how once a sacred profession, a trade of respect and honour, fell so low it became a shame, an unspoken taboo.

Brought to us by NEST theatre company, Horae is an amazing example of theatre created by women and about women that could be easily enjoyed by everyone. Horae is a very strong, very unlike anything else piece of raw daring theatre at its best. It uses powerful elements to carry the already quite substantial and important subject forward and present it to the audience in a unique shape.

In Horae it quickly becomes obvious that Lamb knows her trade inside out. A professional actress and dancer, she is comfortable enough in her natural habitat to present the story to the others while keeping it fresh and engaging at all times.

Horae is a combined piece of many big and small elements. It’s a rich performance when it comes to interpretation but quite appropriately modest regarding the set design and costumes. Nevertheless, the one thing that does stand out is the lighting design (by Adrian Mullan). Visually striking beginning – the red light dot traveling through the body of the actress – was the perfect opening for such a performance.

A thoroughly researched and even more masterfully performed piece that shouldn’t be missed, Horae runs in the The Complex till February 26th. For more info or to book the tickets, do not hesitate a second and contact: http://thecomplex.ie/cinema/horae/

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Scene and Heard Festival: Interview with Romana Testasecca – Syrius

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Another day – another show. The second week of Scene and Heard Festival has already begun and we are talking human interest, international crisis and physical theatre now. All combined in one: SYRIUS, a new movement piece produced and performed by Romana Testasecca in association with Rosebuds Theatre Company.

In the interview below Romana talks about why she chose such a difficult subject as Syrian civil war and its effects on common civil Syrians; Romana also explains why she decided to present her new play as a movement piece rather than anything else.

SYRIUS will run for three nights only from Feb 24th to 26th in the Smock Alley Theatre’s Main Space. To book the tickets: http://entertainment.ie/show-/Smock-Alley-Theatre/Scene-Heard-Syrius/event-2789898.htm

 

Tell me a little bit about the piece. Is it your first solo movement performance?

1. We’re very excited to present this piece on behalf of Rosebuds, Karen Killeen and I (co-
founders) have never worked on anything like this before. The process has been very interesting and a real eye-opener. The piece is centred around the story of a young Syrian woman, Rasha, who is forced to leave her country. The piece starts just before Rasha takes part in a peaceful protest against Bashar al-Assad which leads to Rasha’s imprisonment. In prison she realises that “the Syria she knows has gone” and it’s time for her to leave. This is my first solo piece and I am very grateful that it will be taking place at Smock Alley Theatre main space to meet its first audience this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 6.30 pm. (24th -26th Feb)

What made you decide to create a movement piece? Why this genre in particular?

2. Movement is extremely effective especially when the subject matter is so difficult for us to talk about. In many catastrophic situations, like the Syrian civil war happening right now and the subsequent difficulties thousands of refugees are facing, people find it hard to express their feelings about it. It’s hard to comprehend, we say things like “there are no words”, we find it hard to process and vocalise painful news. When matters are beyond our control and we feel helpless it is hard to express our thoughts. Sometimes a visceral bodily reaction is all we have.

Who and how came up with the story behind the piece? Tell me a little bit about the creation of the piece.

3. The process started from an idea I had about telling a specific story of a refugee and the circumstances that led up to that happening. Conversations between myself and the director Karen Killeen gave a structure and arch to the piece. After a lot of research, we pin-pointed what was going to happen, section by section. We then brought in our wonderful choreographer Stephanie Dufresne. She shaped a lot of the movement for each section. We have never had a written piece. You can’t express movement on paper. There was a lot of filming and watching back and repeating over and over. Myself and Karen rehearsed and devised all in one.

What are the main elements that can be achieved through movement and sound that wouldn’t be as noticeable or as enhanced if done in a more traditional style (i.e. a play or a monologue)?

4. Different feelings bring about movement in the body. Sometimes thoughts are hard to elaborate through words. You can achieve a certain flow when you’re moving and that sequence of movements can mean something to one person and a different thing to someone else. People can interpret movement in different ways and that’s what makes it so interesting and unique. Movement connects a different part of us which is very rarely exposed.

The sound, designed by the talented Garret Hynes, is extremely helpful in conveying the message and feeding the narrative. The tricky part of abstract movement is that when it gets too abstract people don’t know what’s going on. When you are invested in the story and you’re creating it, you know what is going on so you feel it’s obvious. You aim to leave the audience as free as possible but you can’t give them too little either or you’ll lose them. It has to be balanced out and the sound provides a great equilibrium and serves as a guide for the audience. The audience then connects the visual with the audio.

What are the main challenges // advantages for you rehearsing and performing the piece?

5. The process is very free and liberating. There are no boundaries but if anything doesn’t work, we’re not afraid of letting it go or moving sections around so that the pieces fit together. It’s good to peel back and get to the core of what we’re trying to achieve. As a performer, you don’t always get the chance to move freely in the space and follow your physical instincts so that has been incredibly interesting to explore. I found it very useful to record myself and to watch it back with an objective eye. The challenge is assigning the correct weight to each part and moving coherently from section to section. The piece is abstract but it does follow a linear narrative, we have inserted voiceovers and certain moments in the story to give a little more context.

What would you like to achieve through the piece? What would you like the audience to bring home with them after the performance?

6. Ideally, we would love for the audience to connect with this story, no matter how far away it is from their own reality; SYRIUS is a universal story about losing everything you hold close, starting with your country. Geographically we are far from what is happening in Syria but that does not excuse us from being mentally disconnected from it. I’d like for the audience to reflect upon what is happening right now and ask themselves what we can do to help refugees. As a nation but also as individuals. These people need our help and all we have is our voice and our bodies. We have to use ourselves to speak out on behalf of people like Rasha. We have to welcome them in our countries. We have to give them a voice.

If you could describe the piece in three words only what would they be?

COLD , HARD , HOPE.

 

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Scene and Heard: Tender Mercies

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The yearly festival of the original raw writing Scene + Heard is in its full swing. Colette Cullen, the creator of YES and Blind Date, together with Home You Go Productions presents a brand new play – Tender Mercies.

In this poignantly darkish tale of life, love and loss we follow the story of Mary Fortune (played by Denise Quinn), a middle-aged hairdresser who happened not to be as fortunate as her last name might suggest. Tender Mercies invites us to an hour long ride during which we don’t only meet some of Miss Fortune’s most notorious costumers but also get a peek into Mary’s somewhat more personal affairs. A smoker and a hopeless wine drinker, she isn’t a cliché. She is a person who, just like anyone else, wants to love and be loved back.

In this wild and, at times, unbelievable mixture of dark comedy and bitter tragedy, Quinn blows the life into her character and creates an unforgettable one woman show. Her doubtlessly outstanding performance is hugely supported by the thoroughly written script. You cry, you laugh, you are left in an awe. The time flies as you are getting more and more involved into Mary’s entangled story. The twisted ending hits you unexpectedly and hard. I didn’t see that coming! – the whispers from the audience exclaim.

With quite a simplistic but elaborated set and decorations (designed by Carolyn Croke), Tender Mercies benefits from some very nice creative touches when it comes to both directing (also by Colette Cullen) and staging. No doubt though that apart from the solid script the strongest side of the play is Quinn’s absolutely breathtaking portrayal of Mary Fortune. Taking into account that this is still a kind of a raw material brought out to the audience basically for a trial, the play has an enormous potential. Especially, if staged in a somewhat smaller and more intimate space. And once all the little things are sharpened, Tender Mercies is going to be a must-see of the year.

Unfortunately, the show enjoyed quite a short two-day only run at the Smock Alley’s Main Space. But, for more information (and fingers crossed for its soon return) about Tender Mercies and its future, please, follow: http://www.homeyougoproductions.com/index.html 

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The New Theatre: Happy Birthday Jacob

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You know a decent play from the very start! Beautifully designed stage (by Ciara Murnane), intriguing beginning and an adorable 10 year old playing one of the main parts! It’s unusual enough for a big production to have child actors (never mind The Abbey’s latest staging of Anna Karenina), let alone a first production of an original play. Challenge must definitely be something Púca Productions aren’t afraid of and ready to embrace.

A poignant tragedy about two brothers: a 17 year old Jacob (played by Sean Basil Crawford) and a 10 year old Lucas (played by Finian Duff Lennon). After both of their parents left them, for eight years Jacob has been looking after his baby brother. Perhaps not an ideal brother himself, with demons of his own as we all are, Jacob was the one who stayed behind and always cared for Lucas. Living in a run-down flat and barely making ends meet, the situation, nevertheless, takes an even worse turn when Lucas suddenly gets into fight at school and parents are being called in. Jacob quickly realises the gravity of the situation; his baby brother, the only person he has in this world, can be soon taken away from him as there is no parent or legal guardian looking after the two underaged boys. The only hope remains that in a couple of days it’s Jacob’s 18th birthday. And then a sudden knock on the door from the past comes…

In Michael Marshall’s roller-coaster script, there is everything a good audience can wish for. Hand in hand with the impeccable and obviously talented cast, the author brings you on a hugely enjoyable though highly emotional journey to Jacob’s life and loss. In Happy Birthday Jacob there is absolutely everything a solid plot needs: there is tragedy, there is comedy, there is singing and dancing (in a very cute and adorable way!), there are carefully crafted characters who make the audience really care about their lives.

Nowadays it’s quite difficult to pull off a twist at the end that is not predictable all throughout the play but Marshall did it and he did it well. Just when you think you know what’s happening, the very last scene comes as a complete jaw-dropping surprise and as the lights go out, you suddenly understand that the blackout isn’t only for the audience.

But no play, no matter how good it is, is ever truly alive without the actors actually performing the scenes and saying the words. The small cast of four in Happy Birthday Jacob beats all the possible expectations. Every single one of them absolutely shines on stage and truly gives a performance of a lifetime that shall never be forgotten. All the characters are very diverse and beautifully shaped out by both the actors and the playwright. The absolute jewel of the crown is the immensely talented Finian Duff Lenon portraying Lucas. But kudos must also be given to Maree Jane Duffy (playing Mary), whose storytelling skills were so moving it made some cry; to Karen Kelly (playing Terry) for bringing us back to the 90s in a way that no travel machine could have done better! And, of course, to Sean Basil Crawford who created a truly beautiful complex human being.

Done to a very high standard was also the technical side of the show. Happy Birthday Jacob wouldn’t be what it is without the outstanding music and sound design (by Bill Woodland).

So, if in doubt, it’s simple: don’t think twice: Happy Birthday Jacob is a play that has to be seen. It’s touching, it’s heart-breaking, it’s probably one of the best written and performed plays that you will see this year! See where I’m going with that?.. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=288&gi_sn=589af5e1ee950%7C0

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O’Reilly Theatre: King Lear

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“Nothing can come of nothing, speak again.”

–       King Lear, W. Shakespeare

Just when you think that there is nothing left to surprise you in Shakespeare and his work, a new company pops up and completely re-imagines the good old well-known.

It’s highly admirable when the audience attention can be captured from the moment one walks into the auditorium. And The C Company with its production of King Lear achieved it no doubt whatsoever. Refreshing and captivating it was to see the actors in their natural habitat even before the first word was said. The beginning of the play was so natural; it almost felt like you are eavesdropping on the characters while they are carrying on about their everyday business.

The Leir of England is mad and doesn’t need an introduction or explanations. Perhaps, one of Shakespeare’s most famous and greatest plays about the quarrels of fathers and sons, or rather daughters, truly finds a new interpretation on the O’Reilly’s stage. It’s like Aoife Spillane – Hinks, the director of the piece, opens the window of the old locked house and lets a wave of fresh air in. Everything is eye-catchy and fascinating about this production, starting with the drastic cuts to the script (the piece is slightly under two hours, no interval) and continuing with an interesting set and imaginative costume designs.

It always depends on the director which characters to show off (unless a sneaky actor decides to steal the show, of course). In this particular interpretation, two characters stood out for me: Goneril (played by Maeve Fitzgerald) and the Earl of Gloucester (played by Simon Coury). Not to undermine the rest of the cast, I must note that the ensemble performed absolutely beautifully from the beginning to the very end. With such talented and truly outstanding performers as Breffni Holahan, Mark Fitzgerald and, of course, Jonathan White who took upon himself the title role of the piece, it couldn’t be any other way.

Feminist bags, fairylights skirts, Dr. Martins shoes, funky glitter jackets… it’s only a tiny hint into what one is in for when going to see this King Lear. Hanna Bowe, the designer of the play, has taken some very brave decision on how to dress the stage and the actors. And now she can be well-deservedly praised for it.

One thing that particularly stands out about The C Company’s production of King Lear is the stage craft and movement. And here I’m not talking about stage combat or fighting. The way the actors interacted with the furniture and props was fascinating. The O’Reilly’s Theatre is a very difficult space to perform in as the audience is separated from the stage by a huge stretch of emptiness. Thus, the decision to use that space and to have some actors exit and enter through the auditorium was a strong choice.

So, if you are getting the January blues and in need of some theaterapy, do not look any further and come to see The C Company’s production of King Lear. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.oreillytheatre.com/

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Theatre Upstairs: Hero

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A new season in Theatre Upstairs has started with what can only be described as one of the most touching love stories told by a man. Ken Rogan’s new play Hero is an absolutely breath-taking one hour piece about a love, loss and life as it happens sometimes.

Smithy (played by Daithi Mac Suibhne) is a good-looking single guy who enjoys just as much the big sport as the company of his best mates. And everything is going well for The Captain Smithy until one night the football pitch converts into a dance floor and he meets her, the girl who is to steal his heart forever. But he doesn’t know it yet. All that matters for the moment is that he, the man, gets her, the woman. Marissa studied law and bends her head the way that makes Smithy forget about everyone else. A couple of unoriginal cheeky chat up lines later, a kiss lands on her cheek that is to change everything… for Smithy. For Marissa life continues the way it used to be: occasional night out with a friend, facebook status updates, texting him when she’s had one too many. All this time, Smithy seems to be happy to fool around and to be fooled. But everything changes when he realises: she is the one, the true love he was looking for. And for the first time, he wants to tell her this using the actual words. But she doesn’t seem to understand. She just wants to have another round. The game has changed for Smithy. The stakes are as high as they have never been. But is he to win or lose this one?

A wonderfully structured piece that goes right through your heart doesn’t only benefit from Rogan’s masterful writing. The outstandingly passionate solo performance given by Daithi Mac Suibhne makes all the justice to the carefully crafted script. It’s all in the little, almost subtle, details that Mac Suibhne brought so skillfully to life with the help of Amilia Stewart, for whom Hero is none the less but a directing debut. Stewart added a very nice gentle female touch to a play both written and performed by a man. It made Hero not only better or different, but very diverse and with a certain grain of profundity .

The magic of the space that Theatre Upstairs is has been hugely enhanced by the absolutely smashing set (by Naomi Faughnan) and lighting (by Eoin Byrne) design. Such a beautiful game of light against the sparkling glass all throughout the piece is indescribable; the perfect example of something that no amount of words can paint and it simply has to be seen.

Once again Theatre Upstairs has exceeded all the expectations and brought to life a truly beautiful and tremendously touching production that has both elements of comedy and tragedy. A play that demonstrates clearly: a true love is always worth fighting for. In association with Lakedaemon, Hero runs till January 28th. For more info or to book a seat: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/what-is-on

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