Category Archives: Project Arts Center

Project Arts Center: Coast

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From The Beach I slowly migrated last week to the Coast.

Presented by the award-winning Red Bear Productions, Coast is a drama about four lost souls anchoring on the edge of  darkness and reality. Each one of them finds him- or herself in a very difficult, unstable, place in life. A coast is a beautiful metaphor to the state of mind for the characters in the piece. Neither water nor ground, they are in such a state when there is no possible connection could be made with either the deepest darkness of the blue or the solid steady soil. Inbetweeners on the edge of eternity.

Carol (played by Camille Lucy Ross) is caring for her elderly mother, who has dementia and struggles immensely with the simplest of everyday tasks. The situation only worsens when the mother wonders off and Carol can’t find her anywhere.

Ann Marie (played by Aoibhéanne McCann) is a young mother of two suffering from severe depression, who wants to run away. But is it her children or herself she is running from?

Karl (played by Gordon Quigley) is a young gay guy, who lives with his sister and spends all of his free time watching porn. But even he isn’t happy with his life. Lonely, he also finds himself stranded along the coast, where he encounters Gerry (played by Donncha O’Dea), a man about a dog. Quite literally. He is walking his dog along the shore on the night. We find out quite little about Gerry’s past, but from the monologues it’s evident – it wasn’t the happiest one. He also has some dark secrets hidden deep inside and bothering his mind.

Written by Tracy Martin, in this magnolia type of play all the characters will come to cross each other’s paths at one or another point. The beautifully entangled script will unravel itself in front of the audience but only as much as it needs to. The rest will be left to the wildest of imaginations.

With the simple but spot-on set design by Ciara Murnane, thanks to the cubes turned into seaweed decorated boulders the Project Art’s Cube seems to disappear into the space while we are being transported to the lonely, almost melancholic, seaside. The darkish, cold autumn night mood is being brilliantly conveyed by the wonderful acting. All four actors give quite a touching performance but Donncha O’Dea outshines them all. Whether it’s the tragedy of the character itself of the actor doing masterly his job, Gerry’s story is heartbreaking.

Coast is an 80 min piece of quality theatre that won’t leave anyone indifferent. Catch it before it ends on September 24th. The second week of Tiger Dublin Fringe has a handful of surprises and treats! For more info or to book tickets: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/coast

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Filed under Coast, Project Arts Center, Red Bear Productions, Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, Uncategorized

Project Arts Center: This Beach

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The first week of Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016 has drawn to its end with some of the shows having their last curtain call just last night. Personally, I closed the first week of this edgy, risky and ever so wonderful theatre experience with This Beach by Brokentalkers.

Not knowing what to expect from the play, I was quite intrigued from the moment I entered the auditorium. Usually wide opened, the Space Upstairs in The Project Arts Center had a drawn shower curtain hiding the stage. What’s behind it? – was saying my inner voice. And with a click of somebody’s finger (the power of the theatre) we were transported from rainy autumny Dublin to a sunny sandy beach in a somewhat more weather-lucky country. The only downfall was that that beach was private therefore no aliens allowed.

You see, the people who own the beach – a typical  caucasian upper middle-class European family, of course –  have had it for generations now. From father to son, this promised land has always remained in the same family. The current heir of the place, Bryan, is to marry the young and beautiful artist Breffni; so they can live and breed happily ever after on this beach. As Breffni is being concerned about the safety of the world outside of the beach, she tricks her mother, Pom, to join them. Resilient at first, Pom quickly realises that in this piece of paradise you are either in or dead. So, the family lives on the beach, where the sun is always shining and the beer is plenty, until one day a complete stranger – an alien – is being washed onto their shore. The obvious question arises: shall we keep him or kill him? The stove hasn’t cooled down yet.

This stunning production by Brokentalkers brilliantly reflects the current world situation through the play. It shows the immense and boundless power that some people have and the utter despair that is left to the rest. This Beach, directed by Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan, doesn’t create unnecessary metaphors or blurred out images of the shadowy reality, it openly shows the absurdity of the current situation concerning refugees. The world is an unfair place. The world where somebody owns a beach and is allowed to kill anyone who washes in on it (either willingly or not) is a dangerous, nightmarish place. A world, where people have forgotten how to dance, emphasize or care is a world that is doomed.

In addition to the brilliant concept of the story, I was taken by surprise when all the actors used their own names all throughout the play. They were not hiding behind a mask that somebody else has cut for them; they were proudly standing with their faces up high and bare in support of what they were doing.

Having seen quite a few shows during the first week of the Fringe Festival, I have to say that This Beach is one of the most, if not the most, powerful production with a huge emotional impact on its audience.

Presented as part of Europoly, the play was devised for Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016. Unfortunately, the play ended on September 18th. But, I strongly believe and hope that it’ll make a come back. A play like that should be seen. A tragic, but beautifully created story of a rotting future, if we don’t do something about it. For more info:  http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/this-beach

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Filed under Brokentalkers, Project Arts Center, This Beach, Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, Uncategorized

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

Project Arts Center: After Miss Julie

I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for productions that have running water on stage.

After Miss Julie opened yesterday in Dublin’s Project Arts Center. Visiting the Blue Building for two weeks only, before it sets out on its tour around Ireland, After Miss Julie is a current production by Prime Cut in association with The MAC, Belfast.

Being adapted from Strindberg’s Miss Julie by Patrick Marber, this quite heightened emotionally play tells us the story of one night in a life of an upper class young missy – Miss Julie (played by Lisa Dwyer Hogg). It’s  VE-day and everybody is celebrating. On the night when even the princesses joined common people on the streets of London to cheer for the great victory , Miss Julie wanted to be no different. But could she ever have imagined how this night will turn out for her? The bloody war might be over but Julie’s own battle is only about to begin.

This fast 90 minute piece is a whole rollercoaster of emotions. A kiss. A slap. An “I love you”. An “I hate you”. Let’s run away together. Let’s die together… A laugh. A cry. A sigh. A bloody stain. People are cheering outside. Something huge is happening… Something is starting. Something is finishing. Something will never even get a chance to begin.

How far is too far? Is New York too far from this god-forsaken place in Northern Ireland? Is Julie going too far by provoking somebody to do what they don’t want to do?

John (played by Ciaran McMeniman) is just a man, a driver, a servant… worlds apart from Miss Julie; and yet he is the one who she is attracted to. Playing a game of her own or not, she gets what she wants but there is a price for everything. The church bell will be tolling, and soon, the question is for whom.

Even though all three actors give a very strong performance, special kudos go to Pauline Hutton who plays Christine, John’s somewhat aging, overworked fianceé with low expectations. Hutton’s performance is a very beautiful contrast to Dwyer Hogg’s overemotional Julie. Both actresses did an amazing job and created very different but hugely enjoyable to watch characters. As for McMeniman, I simply loved to hate John.

An amazing set designed by Sarah Bacon is an integral part of this production. Not only an atmosphere of an Upstairs/Downstairs house has been created but there is also a very strong representation of an outside world. I always have very strong respect for productions that not only manage to build a set but also give a sense of a real house.

Directed by Emma Jordan, After Miss Julie is an intense piece of theatre that will bring you on an unforgettable journey of what it’s like to give in to your animalistic desires and just grab the sweet forbidden fruit in its prime blossom.

After Miss Julie runs in The Project Arts Center until March, 19th. For more info or to book tickets, please, visit: http://projectartscentre.ie/event/miss-julie-2/

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Project Arts Center: This Lime Tree Bower

February blues hasn’t passed you by? And what could be better than treating yourself to a good play! Project Arts Center happened to have one: This Lime Tree Bower by Conor McPherson has entered  its final week.

This tragicomedy by one of Ireland’s finest playwrights tells us the story of two brothers Joe (played by David Fennelly) and Frank (played by Stephen Jones). Joe, the younger brother, is an awkward school boy who doesn’t have many friends. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he has any friends at all. But everything changes when a new boy, Dylan, is being transferred to his school. One thing after another and Joe and Dylan become some sort of best pals. Or at least, that’s what Joe believes into. On a night out in a club Dylan picks up a girl. On their way home Joe, Dylan and the girl take a detour through the local cemetery. Soon Joe becomes the witness of one of the most gruesome scenes in his life. But being the good friend he is, he decides not to tell the Gardaí about what Dylan has done.

In the meantime, Joe’s elder brother Frank comes up with an idea of robbing the local bookies. Not out of real necessity but purely because he didn’t like the people working there and wanted to bring them down a peg or two. By pure chance and an absolute coincidence, he manages to get away with it: he robs the place, humiliates the bookmakers and flees the scene without being recognized.

There is another character in this story: Ray (played by Peter Daly). Ray is an occasional boyfriend to Joe and Frank’s sister. Therefore the three lads are on quite good terms and get along with each other. Ray becomes involved in the whole story because it was him who unwittingly helped Franks getaway  from the crime scene. Nevertheless, Ray has a story of his own, being a middle-aged university teacher about whom can be easily (and rightly so) said: there is no fool to the old fool. One girl today, another tomorrow… Who cares? Ray definitely does not.

Wonderfully directed by Eoghan Carrick, this light comedy about dark matters, set in a small Irish seaside town is a great example of how life sometimes works in the most strange and unexpected ways. Peppered with a generous spoon of laughter, even the most dark moments of the play are being presented in an easily enjoyable and humorous way.

Thanks to the brilliant cast, all three characters are interesting and appealing to watch in their own ways: be it the truthfulness and simplicity of Frank, the innocence of Joe or the cockiness of Ray.

The intimate and cozy atmosphere of Project Arts’ Cube allows the audience (which is seated on three sides around the stage) to enter the true spirit of things. Alyson Cummins’ simple but fine design of the set adds to the above mentioned feeling of the space and time. I was particularly fond of the fake window, outside of which the night was changed by daylight and the birds were high and flying. It breaks out the static picture and creates a beautiful illusion of the world outside.

This Lime Tree Bower runs until February 27th (with an additional performance on the last day). For more info or to book tickets: http://projectartscentre.ie/event/lime-tree-bower/

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Open Forum: Contemporary Dramaturgical Practice in Ireland

Earlier last year, I was interviewing a fellow artist about an upcoming show, when the subject of dramaturgy and the role of a dramaturg came up. Being acquainted with the word and its academic meaning, to my own horror I realised that I wouldn’t be able to describe precisely the role of a dramaturg in a production. As many shows as I have personally done (which is not that many, to be honest), I have never worked with a dramaturg before. So at that moment a personal note was made to myself. How happy I was to find out that Project Arts Center was holding an Open Forum about dramaturgy: Contemporary Dramaturgical Practice in Ireland.

The event hosted three pairs of theatre makers that had worked together on a project. Each pair consisted of a dramaturg and a playwright: 1. Shannon Yee and Hannah Slattne (who focused on talking about their play Reassembled, Slightly Askew), 2. Sophie Motley and Dan Celley (talking about Farm and Care) and 3. Deirdre Kinahan and Gavin Kostick (talking about Spinning).

Being the over-wordy person I am, I am not going to describe the whole three hour long talk, I’d rather concentrate on the interesting and educative things that I learnt from it.

First of all, all three plays were very unlike each other. The creative process of writing a play has never been easy; but it’s amazing and reassuring to find out that there could be more than a handful of approaches. Reassembled Slightly Askew, for example, was an almost autobiographical emotion/feeling-specific (it might not be the correct term for it, but I like it) play. Having suffered from quite a very specific health issue that left her one side paralyzed and also completely messed up when it came to distinguishing sounds and outside noises, Shannon knew that she had to share her traumatic experience. Shannon’s main aim was to let the audience experience what she had experienced (without having suffered the actual illness) rather than just telling them about it. As you can imagine, the final piece was going to be far from what a traditional play is. It was an audio installation that would allow the audience not only to deepen themselves into Shannon’s experience (through headphones), but also the whole atmosphere of being in a hospital and lying down in a hospital bed was created.

Farm by Willfredd Theatre Company is a very different play from Reassembled, Slightly Askew, but it’s also a very unusual and challenging piece of theatre. As Sophie explained it to the audience, she wanted to show the difference between rural and urban; to see and understand the meaning of land, legacy and estate agents. She also wanted to have a real horse in the play. Finding a staging space was a big challenge, Sophie knew that no traditional theatre space would suit the content or the intention of the play. The solution was a warehouse at The Trinity College. Sophie pointed out that it was crucial for her to show the contrast between the busy with traffic Pearse Street and the rural peaceful atmosphere of a farm to the audience. Based on the stories of real Irish farmers, two Dublin and two coming from the country actors (and a horse) brought this piece to life in a sold out and award winning run during Dublin Fringe Festival in 2012. A play that required very little of a traditional research, but more of workshops, improvisation and trying things out and see what works and what doesn’t, to this date is a great example of how Willfredd Theatre Company works. If the previous piece was mainly focused on audio and sounds, this one had a very strong element of dance and movement.

The last but not least is Spinning by Deirdre Kinahan. This one is somewhat more traditional but, by no means, no less interesting play than the previous two. The original idea was inspired by Deirdre Crowley’s kidnapping in 1999 and later murder by her own father. Originally Kinahan wrote a short piece titled Broken for the Tiny Plays for Ireland in 2012. The performance composed of a number of short plays was supposed to show the audience the voice and face of Ireland after the big crush in 2008. What Kinahan wanted to show in her play was the state of distress, of the new understanding of what a family is and what it means (after the abolition of prohibition of divorce in Ireland in 1995) and mostly important how it affected Irish men and women.

Now that we’ve got a tiny bit familiar with the plays presented, we can talk about the role of a dramaturg in the creative process that led to staging the above mentioned productions.

Hannah Slattne noted that the dramaturg is the person thanks to whom the artists working on the project can create a certain creative mess and allow themselves to be in that mess for some time. The dramaturg facilitates the creative flows to flow in all possible directions, but he/she is there to bring the artists back onto the ground and remind about the initial idea and meaning of the project. Slattne called it “being the memory” of the project.

Sophie Motley said that even though dramaturgy exists and being widely exploited in the Irish arts, we are still discovering the true meaning of the role of being a dramaturg. A very interesting (and very true, as I think about it myself) point; especially, as somebody from the audience pointed out that the role of a dramaturg predates that one of a director.

From what I learnt from this talk, it can be very difficult to stretch your creativity to its limits, if you also have to be the one who is constantly pulling yourself back to the real world and its routine and nuances. Having a dramaturg on board gives you the liberty to go deeper (and sometimes, go completely crazy in a good sense), to fly away exploring your piece; and not being afraid of losing those links with the reality.

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Filed under Contemporary Dramaturgical Practice in Ireland, Open Forum, Project Arts Center

Project Arts Center: East of Berlin

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

– Yehuda Bauer

It’s a well known fact that history is written by the victors. We rarely hear “the other side” of the story. Why ask the murderer when you have a survived victim?

East of Berlin is a play written by the Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch. It’s one of those plays that has a very unusual point of view, which makes the difference and presents the plot under a yet unshaded light.

Rudi (played by Colin Campbell) was born in 1945. And as he puts it himself, just as he was being born his “father was losing the war.” Rudi lives in Paraguay now; he speaks Spanish and almost does not bear any memories of his fatherland. And even though his own father has a picture of Hitler on his study desk, years after the defeat, Rudi does not ask many questions about the war. At least not until the day his school friend, another German expat and a war criminal son, Hermann (played by Liam Heslin) tells him what he knows about Rudi’s father’s duties during the war.

Disgusted and overwhelmed with all the new information, Rudi decides to leave Paraguay for Germany. Good for him, Odessa takes care of all the money problems. Odessa takes care of everything, for that matter. After a university graduation and years of living in Berlin, it looks like Rudi, or Otto as he’s now know, has almost settled for the quite, almost boring and measured, European life. He has achieved that stage in life when even he himself started believing in the lies that he was telling his new friends about his childhood, thus, for convenience reasons, he “killed” his parents in a car crash. But everything changes when a Jewish American girl Sarah (played Erin Flanigan) comes into the picture.

East of Berlin, directed by Lee Wilson, is a tense ninety minute almost a monologue (with a number of flashbacks) performance that tells a very usual story with a very unusual insight. Moscovitch achieved to create interesting characters that are very easy to feel for and empathize with. All three actors on stage, in their turn, give a performance to remember.

The story has a very nice organic build-up to its climax, with an unexpected twist at the end, which always is a bonus.

East of Berlin is yet another great example of  a serious matter being presented with a spoon of sugar. You can’t talk holocaust, death and betrayal for almost two hours without sparing the audience a smile every once in a while.

The set was quite basic (almost bare), but the practical and uncommon storage of the props made it the more interesting. The idea of hiding things in the base of the stage and only picking them up when they are needed made a wonderful allegory with the plot. Sometimes, there is more than just a skeleton in the closet.

I also quite liked the lighting design (by Zia Holly). Just like in Anna Bella Eema, Holly has an extraordinary feeling for the space in which she works and  definitely knows how it can be filled with the light for its benefits and the benefits of the actors performing.

East of Berlin runs in the Project Arts Center until January 16th, for more info or to book tickets, please, visit: http://projectartscentre.ie/event/east-berlin/

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Filed under East of Berlin, Hannah Moscovitch, Project Arts Center