The Abbey Theatre: Donegal


“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The beautiful season of golden Irish Lughnasa inevitably brings us back to county Donegal. After the successful national and international run of McGuinness’ Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme, we have the pleasure to witness another work by the Donegal-born playwright. In his new play Frank McGuinness introduces us to The Days, a west country Irish family with a musical spark.

Donegal isn’t a musical, it’s “a play with songs”. Quite good and catchy ones, too. Once rich and famous, Irene Day’s (played by Siobhan McCarthy) singing career has seen better times. She barely sells any tickets, no matter how hard her husband Conor (played by Frank Laverty) and sister Joanne (played by Eleanor Methven) work to lure the audience in. Irene has the whole family working for her to regain the love of the Irish music lovers. But no family is a proper family without a black sheep in it. Jackie Day (played by Killian Donnelly), Irene’s own son, is a country singer, too. Be it the jealousy of his success or the accusations that he throws at her for being a bad mother, Irene admits that she had never listened to anything that he had ever produced. But, life is a tricky thing. Now she depends entirely on him to bring her old life back.

What we once learnt with Brian Friel, we can now solidify with Frank McGuinness. Every good Irish play has a deviated torn apart family in it. Generation after generation, they hate, bad mouth and poison each other, but no bonds are stronger than the family bonds. Relatives wash down with liquor all their little tragedies and unhappinesses just to wake up the next morning and carry on with life as it is. The only difference with Donegal is that this play also has some sparkly costumes (designed by Joan O’Clery) and nice tunes (by Kevin Doherty) that you can hum to.

One of the absolute bonuses of seeing this show is evidently the fact  they there is a live band at the very back of the stage (under a black veil). Personally, it’s always a plus when for the price of one you get to see a production and listen to some high quality music. It’s also a positive if you are into west-country songs but even if you are not, the melodies of the show create a very powerful atmosphere of a different (somewhat unknown in Dublin) Ireland.

The stunning set design (by Liam Doona) converts from something very simple outdoor-ish into The Day’s house, pub and even a performing arena. That’s when the lighting design (by Ben Ormerod) plays its memorable part. It does create a feeling of a very colourful bright experience; the light will be shining long after the play is over.

Always at its best is Frank McGuinness with the profound characterisation and pencil-sharp lines. Such characters as Magdalene Carolan (unforgettably played by Deirdre Donnelly) shall remain in the history  of fictional bad mouthes for a long time. The modern plays are getting corkier and corkier. The usage of language is changing; what once used to be a taboo or, well, fringe, is now a part of life.

An entertaining show, undoubtedly unlike any other, probably makes Donegal one of the absolute highlights of this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival. Impossible not to enjoy, that’s for sure. Runs until November 19th. For more info or to book tickets:

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dlr Mill Theatre: Hamlet


“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

Hamlet, W. Shakespeare

How many Hamlets per year is too many? One of Shakespeare’s classics has returned to Dublin. And those of you, who can’t find a way to escape the Festival madness, maybe should take the green line bound to Dundrum’s Mill Theatre.

It’s no secret that Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been staged an unimaginable amount of times. So when one goes to a play that one would have seen many times before, it’s not the big picture it’s the smallest details that make all the difference and allow one production to differ and stand out. Directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, this somewhat more traditional version of Hamlet is an almost three hour piece filled with action, reaction and emotion that won’t leave a single audience member indifferent.

The story of a murdered king (played by Neil Fleming) and his longing for vengeance son Hamlet (played by Shane O’Regan) unravels in one of the most beautiful decorations I’ve seen (designed by Gerard Bourke). It’s not even the set itself but the way it transforms from scene to scene that fascinates the wildest of imaginations: what starts as a castle ends up as a graveyard.

The creation of The Ghost of Hamlet’s father is always something to look forward to. The idea of casting the same character to play both parts, The Ghost and his villain brother Claudius, is quite fresh and ingenious. Projecting a picture of the character on different sides of the set was a very strong visual choice. It also created a proper otherworldly  atmosphere. The moments of communication between father and son were breathtaking and quite chilling.

A very important part in a play like Hamlet is, no doubt, the game of light and shadow. The characters in the play always balance on the thin line between this and the other world. Kris Mooney’s design is flawless in general and especially when it comes to detail. The scene at the graveyard was impossible to take eyes off.

The mention of the costume designs (by Sinead Roberts) shouldn’t go astray either. It’s satisfying to see that many directors and designers choose to use more modern costumes for their Shakespearean productions nowadays. But a light touch of a somewhat more traditional design has never hurt anyone. This time, I loved the dark colours and the presence of the red in some characters’ attires. Ophelia’s (played by Clara Harte) dress, for example, said so much about her personality and the way it changed, it was eye-opening. It’s fascinating how much the colour balance (or disbalance for that matter) can enhance the perception.

All the above details, as you might have guessed already, create a very powerful visual piece. Now let’s get down to the acting side of it. O’Keeffe collected an undoubtedly strong cast of 12 actors, some playing more than one part. O’Regan’s Hamlet is an amazingly embodied and physical character. His voice, his movement, his engagement with fellow scene partners are pure joy to watch. One of the best things about watching a good production is that you never know whether it was the director or the actor him/herself who came with an interesting decision for a scene. At the end, it doesn’t matter, of course. It’s always a privilege to see the birth of a well-known character but as a different, new human being.

Another actor who unquestionably stood out for me was Brian Molloy, who played the roles of Player Queen (this one is always a winner), Messenger and Gravedigger. Astonishing but true, pardon for the cliché but there is no such thing as a small character. And Molloy is amazing at each and every part that he has portrayed in this play. Believe me, the piece is worth seeing just to watch him play the Gravedigger.

Hamlet at dlr Mill Theatre has shows available three times a day (see the link for more info), so no excuse to miss it! To book the tickets:

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The Peacock Theatre: The Remains of Maisie Duggan


One door closes just for another one to fly open. 18 days of first -class theatre are in full swing with Dublin Theatre Festival.

While The Abbey stage is about to open with Frank McGuinness’s new musical Donegal, the Peacock is enjoying its second week of provincial Irish surrealism. A new play by Carmel Winters – The remains of Maisie Duggan – is probably the perfect link between the grotesque fringe and the modern theatre festivals.

As any proper Irish story, this sharp 90 min piece unravels the string of life and misfortunes of the Duggans, a family from North Cork. No family is a proper family unless there is a boiling mixture of hatred, resentment and well tucked deep down inside love for one another. The Duggans aren’t an exception. Maisie, the mother of the family (played by Bríd Ní Neachtain), has a car accident which makes her believe (or rather wish for) that she is dead. In a terrible confusion in the post office involving an Eastern European newbie Maisie’s long estranged daughter, who is now living with the Salvation Army in London, receives a message on Facebook which simply states that her mother had died and funeral arrangements would follow. Booking a three day trip to her long forgotten homeland, Kathleen (played by Rachel O’Brien) finally steps on the wet Irish soil. The mad mother, the resentful and abusive father (played by John Olohan) and the slightly autistic brother (played by Cillian Ó Gairbhí) might be exactly the reason why Kathleen left in the first place. But she too has demons of her own and unresolved issues that she chooses to run from.

I don’t think it would be an underestimation to say that The Remains of Maisie Duggan is quite a dark play. Unimaginably controversial things happen on stage in plain sight. To mention but a few perfect examples of the thin border between fringeness and social taboo: urination on a new grave and death of an animal (not a real one though, but still!).

The Remains of Maisie Duggan is, it’s safe to say, a play unlike any other. Even though not a very realistic one but it portrays the essence of life in rural Irish community, the mentality of the country folk and the secrets well hidden behind the closed doors. It shows the existence of people for whom death is a better looking option than life. The play bears no buried metaphors, it openly shocks, unnerves and staggers the wildest of imaginations.

With the atmospheric set design (by Fly Davis), the Duggans house represents the border between this and the other life. Half-burned, half-neglected, it’s a portal to the afterworld. And something’s telling us that for people like the Duggans it just might not be heaven. But anything is better than hell on earth.

The lighting design (by Sarah Jane Shiels) reminded me a lot of the one elaborated for The Gate’s current production of The Father. Unfortunately for this play, Rick Fisher’s idea worked quite nicely for the kind of the piece The Father is, while in the case of The Remains of Maisie Duggan, it mostly blinds people who are already in a deep awe from what’s happening on stage.

Otherwise, quite an interesting viewing, The Remains of Maisie Duggan, directed by Ellen McDougall, is a very brave piece of theatre that will challenge the views of some of the audience members. Runs in the Peacock Theatre until October 29th. For more info or to book a chance of peeping through the closed curtains:

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Filed under carmel winters, Dublin Theatre Festival, The Peacock Theatre, The remains of Maisie Duggan, Uncategorized

The Teachers’ Club: Franner and Joey


Somewhere in furtherest corner of Dublin North Side unofficial theatre district, there is a tiny performing space in the basement, where every night for the past week two partners in crime, Franner and Joey, find their shelter from a robbery gone horribly wrong.

Little Shadow Theatre Company presents Franner and Joey, a tragicomedy about two twenty-something best pals and drug addicts. Petite crime hooligans looking for a big fish in a small pond, they attempt to steal a bag from an old lady. She fights back. Joey (played by Sean Sheppard), already half-high on the next fix, doesn’t give a second thought and pushes the woman. She falls on the ground and smashes her head. This wasn’t the plan at all. People start gathering. The two friends have to flee the scene. They end up on the roof of one of the buildings. Waiting for the commotion to settle down and keeping an eye on the updates on the old woman’s health (which can quickly convert them from street junkies into murderers), Franner (played by Adam Tyrell) have the whole night to reminisce about their past, dream about their future and fear the ugly present.

Franner and Joey tells the kind of story that usually never gets heard. Who cares about the junkies? Who wants to hear their side of the story? Do they have any right to have their side? In Eddie Naughton’s intense 60 min piece we are faced with the reverse side of the coin. And it’s tragic. But so real and human. Among other things Franner and Joey touch on such subjects as child abuse (both physical and verbal), broken families, drugs and alcohol overdose, premature death, etc.

Performed in a thick and easily recognisable North Dublin inner city accent, both actors do an amazing job in portraying their characters: the voices, the movement and the physicality are on an admirably high level in this piece. Being hugely convincing all throughout the play, they undoubtedly succeed in bringing across the nastiness and the dislikability that people like Franner and Joey would normally evoke in others. At the same time, Tyrell and Sheppard give their characters a human side, a reason and a tiny sip of hope.

The perfect atmosphere has also been created thanks to the great lighting (by Alan Lynch) and set design (by Alan Lynch and Donna-Marie Mahony). I like to think that theatre is probably the only place where a rooftop can be built in a basement. The team worked out the tiniest details, graffiti on the walls were my personal favourite. As for the lighting, it ideally matched the mood, especially when it came to the most intense scenes.

An uneasy piece of emotionally charged theatre that is presented in a very enjoyable way, Franner and Joey (directed by Kieran McDonnell) runs in The Teachers’ Club until October 8th. For more info or to book tickets:


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The International Bar: Triangles


If you are in a bad need of a post-fringe detox (as one might easily be since there is such little time to get over one event just before another one is about to hit), then I’ve got just the right play for you. Sad Strippers Theatre presents Triangles.

Written by the company’s very own Ciara Smyth and performed by the other two company members, the play is an indescribable kaleidoscope of games that the characters play on stage and that entangles into one whole piece. Chair (played by Laura Brady), Muesli (played by Meg Healy) and Bread (played by Ciara Smyth) entertain themselves by re-enacting different scenes that they might have witnessed.  After the end of  each scene they repeat it again and again each time adding something new or switching characters. The result is always the same though usually unpredictable.

In this crispy fast-paced thirty minute piece, the three actors give a performance filled with an incredible amount of energy, joy and laughter. With the bare minimum that the performing space in the International bar can offer, the three actors did an amazing job to create the atmosphere. Not relying particularly on lights, set or props (as the majority of other productions usually do), the show was completely stolen by the beautiful and very skillful acting. The characterisation was remarkably strong. I was reminded of cartoons where each personality, even though blown up immensely, still remains believable, carefully crafted and quite unique.

Triangles is a great example of a story where the third isn’t necessarily the odd one out, but the wheel that keeps the show (and the laughter) rolling. So, if you find yourself stranded and lost on the path in between the two biggest theatre festivals, allow yourself a break and pop into the International Bar for a bun and a blast. Triangles is closing on September 30th. For more info or to book the tickets:


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Filed under Ciara Smyth, Sad Strippers Theatre, The International Bar, Triangles, Uncategorized

Bewley’s Café Theatre: To Hell in a Handbag


Tiger Dublin Fringe might be just over (all the winners have been announced) but I’m yet to write one more review. And let me say just how delighted I am the festival has ended on such a high note for me.

To Hell in A Handbag, The Secret Lives of Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism, by Helen Norton and Jonathan White is an amusing play about… And that’s exactly how you would expect me to start a review. But, not this time! Do you love fan fiction as much as I do? I can tell you even more, I myself might have penned a line or two re-imagining the lives of my favourite characters and fantasizing about what they might be doing and talking about behind the scenes. And that’s exactly why To Hell in A Handbag was such a dear to my heart production. You’ve been warned now, so proceed with care!

Who hasn’t heard about Oscar Wilde’s The Importance about being Earnest? We have all seen the numerous stagings and re-stagings of cucumber sandwich eating and posh talking snobs in their most beautifully designed English households and countryside manors. Even Lady Bracknell being played by a man isn’t  novice anymore. But what about the little people? Those who usually say little but mean much more. Shall they forever be forgotten in the shadows?

Helen Norton and Jonathan White decided to give the resolution (and a chance for a slightly better future) to some of the most colourfully shaped of Wilde’s characters: Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism. In a wonderfully staged 60 min production, Wilde’s original ending of the story is happening off-stage (“Oh dear, I think I can hear him turning in the grave”, one might be thinking) while the main stage is being overtaken by Chasuble and Prism who happen to have quite a lot to tell each other. Being faithful to the title of the original play, they also show each other the importance of being earnest (and how to get away with it). While they reveal to us their own secrets and events form the past, we are also given the opportunity to witness their personalities and relationship with each other unravel.

Needless to say (but crucial to mention in a review) that the dialogue in this play is a pure masterpiece. Not for a second it sounds as if it hadn’t been written by the master Wilde himself. And those who know Wilde well will appreciate it as his style is quite unique, to say the least. In addition to the language, both Norton and White deliver their lines and reactions with such precision and perfect timing that the outcome exceeds itself: the audience is left in stitches  with amusement.

I would also like to point out the quite masterful lighting design (by Colm Maher) that really helped to bring out some of the moments and enhanced change of locations and moods. The piece also wouldn’t be complete without the absolutely Wilde-esk set design (by Maree Kearns) that once again helped shape the play as one whole piece.

The usage of the audio was quite a nice touch. It added that extra something that would make you believe the characters existed outside of the stage. It was also a great reminder of the story itself and how it fitted and intervened with what was happening on stage.

Definitely one of the major highlights for me during the festival! If Sir Wilde was still present amongst us (even though I am quite convinced he was, in spirit) this day, I am sure he would be in the first row giving a standing ovation. I can only add that Helen Norton and Jonathan White did all the justice to their characters; they did even more: they gave them a second life. For more info on the play:


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Filed under Bewley's Café Theatre, Oscar Wilde, show in a bag, Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, To Hell in a Handbag, Uncategorized

The Bewley’s Theatre: The Wickedness of Oz


“I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart.”

– The Wizard of Oz

Sooner or later all good comes to an end. Tiger Fringe Festival isn’t an exception. Two weeks of creativity and arts are ready for its final applause. Tonight the final curtain will fall on one of the undoubtable highlights of the festival – Kate Gilmore’s The Wickedness of Oz.

Presented as show in a bag, Gilmore’s 60 min play is a superb mixture of music, theatre and storytelling. The Wickedness of Oz isn’t all about the strength of the story (even though the script is amazingly entertaining and amusing to follow) but rather the stunning performance given by Gilmore, who is also the writer of the piece.

With the familiar tunes from the beloved musicals (slightly new wording though!), we follow Debbie, a young Dublin girl who holds a degree in hospitality and works in a travel agency. Debbie is twenty one, in love with her boyfriend and slightly irritated slash bored with her life trapped in the same old routine. She checks her phone only to see photos of other people, who seem to enjoy life much more than she does. And a light of hope sparks for Debbie when her boyfriend gets a visa for New Zealand and invites her to come with him. Will she go with him? Can she go with him? Can she be so selfish to leave her mother and father, who already lost two of their children? The middle one, Debbie is stuck. The yellow-bricked road seems to lead nowhere and sometimes there’s truly no place like home. No matter how grey the reality there might be.

Kate Gilmore brings her  play off the stage right into the midst of the happily roaring audience. Easily transforming from a dancer into a cabaret singer, and back into an office assistant, she blows her viewers away with her talents (that seem countless) and the ability to capture different characters and their traits.

The Wickedness of Oz is one of those plays that is so vocally strong that you start perceiving it from a different angle. Everything ceases to be only and simply visual; the different voices, the songs, the sounds, the pronunciations of the words start playing a huge role in the creation of the bigger story. Close your eyes and the picture will be just as vivid and colourful. It shows Gilmore’s incredible gift for transmitting the meaning through her voice.

I don’t want to underestimate other things, like the performance itself or the choreography (by Kitty Randle), which were all impossibly flawless. I just want to point out what made this performance in particular stand out from the bunch of other shows on offer. Kudos to Gilmore’s vocal coach Shelley Bukspan and the direct of the piece Clare Maguire, who made the Kate’s inner sunshine spread to the last rows of the packed theatre that the Bewley’s was on the night I visited it.

If you are choosing to step on a yellow path, let it bring you to The Wickedness of Oz, there might be no great wizard there but a very talented artist instead, who pulls down all the curtains to tell her story. The Wickedness of Oz, directed by Clare Maguire, closes on September 23rd. For more information:

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Filed under Bewley's Cafe Theatre, kate gilmore, Th Wickedness of Oz, Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, Uncategorized