Category Archives: Irish Stage

Project Arts Center: Northern Star

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It was on a Belfast mountain I heard a maid complain
And she vexed the sweet June evening with her heartbroken strain,
Saying, "Woe is me, life's anguish is more than I can dream,
Since Henry Joy McCracken died on the gallows tree.
- Irish Folk Song

We need to talk about The Rebellion. The 1798 Rebellion.

Being completely overshadowed by The Troubles and the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish Rebellion of 1798 has been almost completely forgotten in the twenty first century. To the Republican ears of 2016 such names as Henry Joy McCracken or James Hope are nothing but estranged ghosts of the past. Rough Magic‘s strategically brilliant decision to bring a piece like Northern Star onto the Irish stage on the centenary of the Easter Rising is  quite admirable.

Having directed Northern Star a number of times before, this might be the year that Lynne Parker (who also happens to be a niece of the playwright’s) has finally “cracked” one of the most famous and much loved of  Stewart Parker’s plays.

Lynne Parker didn’t only create a very strong production, she has also pushed the boundaries to such an extent that any theatre maker can use the example of Northern Star as a play where gender has very little or absolutely no relevance. Having both Eleanor Methven and Ali White play male roles put this production onto a completely new level and linked the 1984 script with the Irish reality of 2016.

Northern Star is undoubtedly nothing less but a theatrical masterpiece. Telling the story of one very shaky night in the life of Henry Joy McCracken, a founding member of the Society of the United Irishman and what looks like a chronic insomniac, who is going through seven (st)ages of a man’s life. While the young and beautiful Mary Bodell is trying to catch some sleep upstairs in the loft with McCracken’s illegitimate baby daughter by her side, the young Irishman meets the ghosts of  past and present. He talks to them, he converses with them, sometimes he just sits there and listens to their stories… sometimes the visions are interrupted by the reality: McCracken is visited by his sister Mary Ann, who helps him to get new  identification documents just before the British officer comes to inspect the Irishman’s shed.

Northern Star is a juicy bone; it has a lot of substance in it, a lot to take it, a plot worth sticking your teeth into. For two solid hours the intriguing storyline and the mesmerizing acting grabs your full attention and doesn’t let it go even for a blink of an eye. Divided into seven (st)ages in total, we first witness McCracken during his Sheridan innocence, slowly but firmly progressing into Boucicault old-fashioned melodrama (which slightly resembles the pompous and over the top Commedia dell’arte), then going through somewhat witty and highly amusing Wilde-ness straight into Shaw’s realism, O’Casey’s heroism and Irishness, and rounding up with a very Beckettian chilling to the core ending. All the way from laughter to tears, this piece will leave you in beats.

Even for those who are not that much into theatre, all the styles used in this play will be easily identifiable and much enjoyed. Not to give any spoilers I can only add that one or two scenes will make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle, be it from the horror of the realism of the terror and spookiness of the supernatural. Every viewer will find something to enjoy and to identify with, that one I can guarantee.

It’s not just the brilliantly written and structured story that will amuse and completely conquer the audience, it’s the wonderful ensemble of actors (Rory Nolan, Eleanor Methevn, Ali White, Darragh Kelly, Charlotte McCurry, Robbie O’Connor, Paul Mallon and Richard Clements) and crew that has visibly put an enormous amount of time and thought into this production.

If all that hasn’t been enough to make you want to go and see Northern Star, then wait until I mention the technical aspects of the play. I have never doubted the amazing Zia Holly in her craft but in this production her work is simply stunning. With a very sharp and precise direction on Lynne Parker’s side and Holly’s designs of set and lighting, the play immediately transports you into the agonising night of McCracken’s tired mind. Conveniently, it has a strong resemblance to a theatre’s wings. “All the world’s a stage,  and all the men and women merely players…” says McCracken quoting Shakespeare.

Joan O’Cleary is the one who is responsible for the costume designs. With a total cast of eight actors, almost all of them are doubling and tripling, the costume changes happen so quickly that one can’t help but question oneself if it’s the same person standing on the stage. “But that’s what Stewart Parker wanted”, says Lynne Parker “the actors can switch roles by simply taking off or putting on a hat”. Nevertheless, the idea of having McCracken always wearing the same jacket that would easily identify him (the character is played by different actors male and female) during different (st)ages of his life is simple but ingenious, at the same time.

All the music and sound effects are done live by the actors on stage. Some of the sounds are really basic and created by simply tapping on a tambourine, but it’s the perfect timing and the effect it makes on the scene that makes all the difference. Charlotte McCurry’s a’capella singing is simply stunning.

Northern Star runs in The Project Arts Center until May 7th, after which the play is going go on a short tour to The Lyric Theatre Belfast and The Tron Theatre Glasgow. Perfect for its time, this production is a true masterpiece of Northern Irish Theatre. For more info or to book tickets: http://projectartscentre.ie/event/northern-star/

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Filed under Irish plays, Irish Stage, Lyric Theatre, Northern Star, Project Arts Center, Rough Magic Theatre Company, The Lyric Theatre

The Peacock Theatre: Monsters, Dinosaurs, Ghosts.

Monsters, Dinosaurs and Ghosts by Jimmy McAleavey had a way too intriguing title not to book the tickets!

Monsters, Dinosaurs and Ghosts is McAleavey’s debut play in The Peacock Theatre. It premiered for the first time ever this June, 2015. It was first performed as part of Abbey’s Theatre Something Borrowed short plays reading in 2011.

Monsters, Dinosaurs and Ghosts tells us a story of three ex-IRA soldiers now living in a peaceful world. After having killed many people, Nig (played by Lalor Doddy) can’t cope with the real world anymore. He is old now. The war is over. Nobody cares about it anymore. Nig sees ghosts, those people he killed long ago. He is really sorry but there is nothing he can do. He keeps a gun under his pillow. His life is meaningless. He is a shadow of a person… He is not living anymore, he is existing. Wee Joe (played by David Pearse) is a friend of Nig’s. He also used to be a soldier and is now trying to deal with the new reality as best as he can. But once a soldier – always a soldier, there is no such thing as quitting the IRA. Wee Joe and Nig go on one last operation.

This play wins the audience thanks to its brilliantly written dialogues and characterisations. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s tragic… it’s a play about a war, a war that one bottles against oneself. And as in every war there is always a winner and there is always a looser.

The Northern Irish accents and the slang set the right mood straight away. And you don’t have to be a Nordie to enjoy and understand it. All four actors brilliantly portray their characters. The set is quite simple: naked dark walls that appear in both Nig’s flat and later in the factory where Nig and Joe are preparing for the operation. One can’t help but sense that the darkness and nakedness of the place represents something more than just a space.

Monsters, Dinosaurs, Ghosts runs in The Peacock Theatre until June 27th, catch it before it ends! For more details or to book: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/monsters-dinosaurs-ghosts/

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The Peacock Theatre: Scratch Night

Nothing wakes you up after a week holiday in Spain better that a night of theatre, laughter and friendly atmosphere in The Abbey Theatre.

Peacock Scratch Night takes place, as you could have guessed, in the Peacock Bar. The chairs are brought out and the mics are installed for a series of brand new extracts reading from works-in-progress by emerging Irish artists.  I would also like to mention that Scratch Night 2015 was completely sold out and when I arrived there were people waiting to see if they could get it.

This year there were 8 different extracts presented by 8 new but already highly acclaimed Irish playwrights; and a bonus piece by a well-know writer, whose name was kept in secret till the very end. It came as a nice surprise to find out that 4 actors will be doing the readings. For some reason I thought that the playwrights themselves might present their works.

So the four actors were: Ali White, Kate Stanley Brennan, Manus Halligan and Don Wycherley. Needless, to say that the acting (or shall I say the rehearsed reading?) was on an excellent level. It never ceases to amuse me how so naturally and believably some actors can switch characters.

The 8 extracts, each lasting approximately seven minutes, were: “Baggage” by Erica Murray, “Angels of Mercy” by Lee Coffey, “Through the Tabernacle” by Philip Doherty, “Normal” by Catriona Daly, “The Kudome Valentine” by John Morton, “Long to me thy coming” by Neil Flynn, “Something Lost” by Barry McStay and “The Church of Matthias Mulcahy” by Fiona Doyle.

All the pieces were very different. Some are better than others or, well, better to say that some were more elaborated than others. The mood was very different and constantly changing. Murray’s “Baggage”, for example, was light and funny, a perfect piece to set the mood and open the night while Coffey’s “Angels of Mercy” was about such a difficult and profoundly contrasting topic as euthanasia.

Personally my favourite one was “Through the Tabernacle” by Philip Doherty. The extract could have easily been an episode of Father Ted had it been written some twenty years ago. Very funny and edgy. Great characterisation and dialogue.

The long waited and gossiped about “Bonus” piece was an extract from a new play by Marina Carr. Another amazing piece with a very entertaining and original plot about a happy couple leaving in paradise, literally.

All the pieces left me wishing to hear more. Here goes to the hope that one day, hopefully in the near future, all nine productions will be staged!

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Filed under Irish Stage, New Plays, Peacock Thetare, Scratch Night, The Abbey Theatre, Theatre

The Gaiety Theatre: The Field

“There’s another law stronger than the common law. The law of the land.”

The Field by John B Keane is, probably, one of the most known of all Irish plays. In addition to that, this year The Field celebrates its 50th anniversary since the first production in The Olympia Theatre, in 1965.

Those of you who have never seen a production of The Field or read the play might still be familiar with it thanks to the 1990 film version starring Richard Harris and Sean Bean.

The story is as old as the world. Southwest of Ireland. 1965. An old widow (played by Catherine Byrne) has a piece of land that she wants to sell by the auction. She goes to the local auctioneer (also a pub owner, played by Stephen O’Leary) and asks him to organise the event for her. In the meantime, her neighbour and the local bully known as “The Bull” McCabe (played by Michael Harding) finds out that the land has gone on sale. He thinks that he and only he has the right to buy this land for he has grown up next to it. He spent all his life waiting for the moment to attach this little piece of land to his own. On top of that, The Bull doesn’t want to pay the asked price because he has been renting this very land for the last five years and believes that he had already paid half of the price anyway. So he goes to the auctioneer and bribes him not to spread the word about the coming auction. But a foreigner appears (an Irish immigrant from Galway) who is also interested in buying that piece of land. His plan is to build a factory there. He is ready (and more than eager) to pay above the asked price.

“The Bull” and his son Tadhg (played by Ian Lloyd Anderson) aren’t happy with the newcomer in the village. They decide to scare him away. Things get a bit out of hand and the businessman dies. The local priest (played by Geoff Minogue) and an garda (played by Conor Delaney) try to investigate the crime. But nobody would come forward, nobody would testify against the McCabe family. Even the Bishop (played by Seamus O’Rourke) comes to the village and pleads anyone who knows anything to come forward. Nothing works. The Bull succeeds at both buying the land and getting away with the murder.

The play was very beautifully done! Much better than I expected and much better than anything else I’d seen in The Gaiety (probably the only theatre that sells pop corn) before.

The cast was outstanding, except, maybe, for the main character “The Bull” who had to be scarier. His bigness and power just didn’t come across as much as it should have, taking into account that the whole village was afraid of him. On the other hand, The Bishop appeared very briefly, but his monologue was very powerful and reached every single one of us (even those sitting in the upper circle). A very special word goes to Fiona Bell, who played Mamie Flanagan and Mark O’Reagan who played “The Bird” O’Donnell. These two characters were incomparably different to each other and both actors showed a very high-class acting.

The set was one of the best I’ve seen. It’s normal that such a big theatre to produce a decent set for its productions. But the set of The Field was quite something. I especially liked the the bit outside when The Bull is talking to Tadhg in the field. The tree, the moon and the moving clouds just made it all so vey real. The whole atmosphere just gives you the needed eerie feeling that one would have on such a night alone in a field.

The Field closes on May, 30th. Catch it before it ends. For more info or to book: http://www.gaietytheatre.ie/index.php/whats-on-buy-tickets/calendar/john-b-keanes-the-field/569

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Theatre Upstairs: Peruvian Voodoo

Drugs. Sex. Rock-n-Roll. Without the Rock-N-Roll part. Dublin style.

From the moment I started watching the play one word appeared in my head: “Magnolia”. If you’ve ever seen that film and enjoyed the structure, then this play is for you.

Written and directed by Bitter Like A Lemon’s Lee Coffey, “Peruvian Voodoo” presents you a story about one ordinary for everyone, but quite an extraordinary for the characters of the play, day in Dublin city. The thing is that “the day” is described by three different characters from their correspondent points of view.

The day starts with O’Brien (played by Laurence Falconer) going to work just to find out that his literary submission was rejected once again by the publisher he works for. Good for O’Brien he’s submitted it to another publishing giant, Behan. O’Brien gets half a day off, which he decides to spend with his young wife. If only she answered the phone. He goes to a local pub instead for a pint, but the things don’t really go the way he’s planned.

The second character we meet is Murphy (played by Finbar Doyle). He is a beggar. But a nice guy. But a beggar. Murphy is a man with a sweet personality who had made some bad choices once, so now he lives on the street. After getting some food from a shelter, he has to leave the place (and there is a good reason why) to eat it somewhere else. Just as he sits down and is ready to nibble on his sandwich, Murphy notices a mother with a small daughter. Beggars, as well. He feels bad for them, they look like nice people. He shares his food with them. Not long after “the goatee” appears, the father of the girl. He is a real scumbag. One word after another,… today is not Murphy’s best day.

The third character is Behan (played by Kevin G. Olohan), the publisher. His day is worse than anybody else’s. From the very morning he can’t get a decent blow-job and … well, we all know, how bad things can turn out from there. He decides to cool it down in a local pub, but his best mate, who usually goes there with him, doesn’t want to go to the local, so they go somewhere else. One thing after another leads to taking drugs and setting the whole place on fire… A bad day, indeed. But it’s far from over yet.

Quoting Kevin C. Olohan the play is basically about a day “that went wrong from the very beginning”. But, obviously, it’s much more than that. Three men. One Day. One city. One story.

Being second of Lee Coffey’s plays, you can see the obvious progression from Leper and Chip. The plot has got stronger, so did the narrative and the character-building. On the other hand, the play kept to very typical of Coffey’s fast pace (nicely compared to a moving train) and the way of delivering lines. The characters don’t interact with each other at all. They recite their monologues towards the audience and only the audience.

The language is still strong and explicit. But it has its beauty! The beauty of not being afraid to say exactly what you want and the way you want. Any piece of modern theatre must challenge its audience. The era of comfortable plays is quite over. Nobody is there to listen to elaborated euphemisms and the sweet way the author had sugar coated everything just to make the audience comfortable.

A special word goes to acting. All three performances are completely different. It’s clear that all three actors worked out their characters to perfection.

Technically the play does have its difficulties, first being the extremely fast pace. Each of three actors gets about 20 mins to tell their story, but those 20 mins must be so incredible intense. The next characters starts while the previous one is still speaking. It’s essential not to miss your cue. You missed the fist line, that’s it. The moment is gone. Apart from that all, after the monologue (or before it) the two actors who are not performing have to sit completely still for forty minutes, which is a challenge itself. And even though there was a couple of mess ups, not for a second it distracted neither the audience nor the actor performing.

The set was very smartly done, as well. Very simple, but suited perfectly the plot. Some very smart directing decisions were made around breathing (yes, breathing!). It gave a very distinctive tone (together with the red light) to when the narrative jumped from the reality to dreaming. In other words: a great piece of theatre. Really different from anything else running on at the moment in Dublin. Catch it before it ends on May, 30th in Theatre Upstairs. For more info or to book, visit: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/peruvian-voodoo

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Filed under Go and See, Irish Stage, Peruvian Voodoo, Theatre Upstairs

Project Arts Center: Little Thing, Big Thing.

Fishamble Theatre Play Company presents Little Thing, Big Thing, a play written by Donal O’Kelly.

Little Thing, Big Thing is a hilarious comedy that tells the story of Martha McCann (played by Sorcha Fox), a middle-aged Scottish nun who had spent the last 25 years working in Nigeria. On the last day there, a child came to her and put a film roll with a picture on it into her hand. The film roll was meant to be handed to Henry Barr, who she would meet in Dublin. Until then she is to trust no one. Larry O’Donnell (played by Donal O’Kelly) is a small time crook from Finglas who had spent the last 10 years in the Montjoy jail for the possession of stolen goods and cannabis. He has been recently released and now, as a favor, he has to bring the Statue of Mary from Mayo back to Dublin. The statue is in Lazarus House and that’s where Sister Martha is going to stay while in Ireland.

But no good action story would be complete without some racing and chasing. Two dangerous security agents are after the film roll. They are ready to do anything to prevent sister Martha from delivering it to Henry Barr. Larry, being a criminal, yet is a very good person, so he helps Martha to escape from the agents and get safe (well, almost) to Dublin. But, will they meet Henry Barr? What’s so important on that film roll? The answer might be not as simple as one might think.

The 80 min play consists of 19 (!) characters who couldn’t be more different! All of them are played by the two main actors. It has to be seen: such a fine acting craft of stepping out of one character and stepping into a different one. Every single one of them, no matter how big or small he/she is or how many lines he/she has, is so different and so perfectly shaped. There is no costume changes, no masks, it’s all in the posture and speech. In one word: brilliant!

The other thing is the set. Very simple, very basic! An empty barrel, two chairs and a fence kind of wall. How much can you do with that? Apparently, a lot! I have to add: there will be some miming!

Another interesting thing about this play is that a lot of actions are vocalised. That was a bit unusual for me at first, but then you get used to it and it just becomes another layer of the play.

Little Thing, Big Thing is a very fine piece of theatre full of laughter and witty lines. Both Sorcha and Donal are doing some really high-quality acting. In other words, not to be missed!

Little Thing, Big Thing runs in the Project Arts Center until May 16th, for more info or to buy tickets, please, visit: http://projectartscentre.ie/event/little-thing-big-thing/

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The Peacock Theatre: The Man in The Woman’s Shoes.

Loco and Reckless Productions Ltd. presents “The Man in the Woman’s Shoes”.

Originally “The Man in the Woman’s shoes” was commissioned by Sligo’s Hawk’s Well Theatre for the Bealtaine Festival 2012. And this spring 2015 the play came to Dublin’s Peacock Theatre.

To be honest, when I booked my ticket for this performance I had no idea what it was going to be about. I try to see as much as possible and I never judge a production by its description (well, almost never!). And when a friend of mine (from Co. Mayo I must add) had gone to see it weeks before me, I was really worried. She said that to fully appreciate the play you have to be “…of a certain age and from the Irish country.”

Ok. I thought. I’ll manage, I thought.

So, yesterday, when it rained cats and dogs I arrived at The Peacock Theatre to get my piece of matinee Irish village life in the late 70s. To my big surprise, the place was absolutely packed with all-aged audience.

And so it started… Ireland, Co. Sligo, year 1978.

“The Man in the Woman’s Shoes” is a one-man show (written and performed by Sligo’s very own Mikel Murfi) telling the story of a cheerful and easy-going (as much as he possibly can) person Pat Farnon. Pat is a happy middle-aged man who mostly lives in his head. You see, he is deaf and mute but it does’t stop him from enjoying life. He is a shoe maker. A sort of. And on this October day he has an important task to do: he’s just made the shoes for Kitsy Rainey (an extraordinary local GAA club supporter) and he has to break them in, so the minute Kitsy puts them on it’ll be like walking on a cloud. In order to do that Pat puts the shoes on (himself) and walks into town to have a bite to eat before the mass and a match later on. On his way to the town he meets a number of locals…

Mikel Murfi is an amazing actor and mimer. I just had to say that. It is a real skill to keep the audience engaged for an hour and a half! He is funny. He is smart. He is serious. His ability to play so many different, truly different, characters is extraordinary. And yet again, there is absolutely no confusion (as it could be in a one man show sometimes) of who is who talking on stage, be it Kitsy herself or the Bishop from Roscommon.

The audience was absolutely in stitches as the well-known and easily recognisable characters came alive on stage.

I was really enjoying myself and think that I even got the majority of the jokes (“The bees” one is still rumbling in my head… Do you really have to let them know when their feeder dies?). It might be because I personally am more than familiar with Co. Sligo (the Benbulben sightseeing was very much appreciated! No Sligo piece should be performed without mentioning Benbulben!) and its life or because Murfi gave such an amazing and truly outstanding performance.

Unfortunately, the show closed yesterday. But it did tour a lot a lot and there is hope that it will tour more. For more details or to listen to The Abbey’s podcast about the show, please, visit: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/loco-and-reckless-productions-ltd-the-man-in-the-womans-shoes/ 

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