Category Archives: Smock Alley Theatre

Smock Alley Theatre: Bronte

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Illustrated Productions present a bitter tale of feminism, family and fame.

A story within a story, Bronte brings us through the lives of five members of The Bronte family. Growing up near a moor in Yorkshire, the three famous sisters start their story by explaining why their tales have always been inhabited by so many orphans. Though there was a father (played by Ruairí Lenaghan), the mother Bronte has departed from this world way too early; the same cruel fate has not passed by the elder two sisters. But Charlotte (played by Louise O’Meara), Emily (played by Katie McCann) and Anne (played by Ashleigh Dorrell) together with their only brother Branwell (played by Desmond Eastwood) lived long enough to give this world such truly outstanding stories as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Illustrated Productions has created an atmospherical story that brings you back to the nineteenth century England in a blink of an eye. The beautifully structured two hour piece mainly centers on the lives of the three sisters but doesn’t leave out the not-so-famous brother, either. In a very subtle way the play shows us what and, mainly, who inspired the Brontes to write their masterpieces. Here is the overprotective father, the abusive brother, the virgin, the mad wife, the lover… the list goes on and on. The barrier between the real world and the Bronte’s one at times gets so thin that you forget who is a fictional character and who is the real one. The company has used a visually powerful device: when one of the sisters is writing a new passage of her story, another member of the family re-enacts it on stage.

The brilliant casting decisions are more than evident from the very beginning. All five protagonists come across as real truthful human beings. The diversity and particularity of character of the Bronte sisters that McCann, O’Meara and Dorrell so masterfully portray is striking and quite appealing to watch. The way the characters build up the story and develop the relationships between each other is incredibly strong.

Bronte grabs your attention and doesn’t let it go until the very end. The set (designed by Sinead Purcell), the lighting (designed by Brian Nulty), everything is there to transport you to anything but charming Victorian England and show how three poor unknown spinsters became some of the finest female writers of their century and beyond.

Bronte, written by Polly Teale and directed by Clare Maguire, has enjoyed a sold out run in Smock Alley Theatre. For those who didn’t get lucky, there is still a chance to catch this absolutely magnificent production when it transfers to the dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum next week. From 16th to 18th March. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.milltheatre.ie/events/bronte/

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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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Filed under Colette Cullen, Home You Go Productions, Scene and Heard Festival, Smock Alley Theatre, Tender Mercies, Uncategorized

Smock Alley Theatre: The Snow Queen

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’tis the season, indeed! And what a delight to open it with a play like The Snow Queen.

Based on the original story by H.C. Andersen, Ian Toner’s version, with a modern global warning twist, is slightly different but not a single bit less interesting or entertaining. I won’t be shy here and will say that the play won me over from the moment I sat down and opened the progrmme: what a stage design and what a cast!

In this two hour piece, directed by Sarah Finlay, we meet the canonical characters: Kay (played by John Doran) and Gerda (played by Clodagh Mooney Duggan), who live in a place very much resembling Venice, except that Venice doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the first of December and it’s warm. It’s always warm there now. In Kay and Gerda’s dystopian hometown, The Corporation is in charge of everything. Children are not allowed to read books, they’ve never seen snow and Santa Clause is the bad guy who used to come through the chimney to steal your presents. But everything changes the day Kay goes to the library and gets a book. And it’s not just any book, it’s The Snow Queen (played by Nessa Matthews). The book is enchanted by the protagonist and she lures the boy out of town to her frozen kingdom. Having lost her closest soulmate, Gerda and her pet friend Pollyanna (played by Aislinn O’Byrne) sets on a dangerous adventure to save Kay. Along the way they meet pirates, the creatures that live under the water, Santa Clause himself (played by Gerard Adlum) and even Rudolpho, the red-nosed deer (played by John Merriman) who shares with them his tragic story.

The Snow Queen is a play for both the little and the grown ups. It’s filled with beautiful images, touching songs (Rudolpho’s one shall always be my favourite!) and truly Christmas spirit and magic.

Both the costume and the stage design (by Molly O’Cathain) create a very beautiful visual imagery. Starting with the stage floor itself, where the northern star is drawn with the constellations and all the way to the moment when it actually starts snowing on stage. Pure magic! The way both actresses (Mooney Duggan and O’Byrne) convey the state of being cold when reaching The Snow Queen’s kingdom sends a chill to the audience, where some even start shivering.

Another perfectly mastered moment was the creation of The Snow Queen herself. A very nice usage of audio (by Jack Cawley) that created a powerfully fleshed out character who we are yet to see in flesh and blood. Nessa Matthew’s beautiful voice carried it ver nicely.

But kudos have to be given to the whole ensemble without exception! Every single one of the six actors (the absolute majority of whom play more than one character) under the masterful direction of Sarah Finlay creates a strong and vivid character that is enjoyable to watch.

The Snow Queen is a real treat for this Christmas. So, whether you’ve been naughty of nice, don’t deny yourself an opportunity to experience a fairytale. Give yourself or a loved one the gift of true magic – the gift of theatre! Runs until December 28th, fore more info or to book tickets: http://smockalley.com/the-snow-queen/

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Filed under Fast Intent, Fast Intent Theatre Company, Ian Toner, sarah finlay, Smock Alley Theatre, The Snow Queen, Uncategorized

Smock Alley Theatre: The Aeneid

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When the bookings opened to public for the Tiger Fringe Festival 2016, the very first ticket I booked was The Aeneid by the Collapsing Horse Theatre Company. Before even reading the description or the cast list, there was something about this production that hugely attracted me from the very first glance.

Based on Vergil’s epic poem – also called The Aeneid – the play follows a young translator (played by Maeve O’Mahony) who, presumably inspired by the spirit of Aeneis, re-tells the  original story of Aeneid, a Trojan solder, who decides to leave his destroyed and burnt down by the Greeks city of Troy. Hearing the prophecy that he is destined for a bright future, he sets out on a journey through the seas with a handful of survivors and faithful followers. Being deprived from his motherland, Aeneid is to become the founder of one of the greatest cities that ever existed – Rome. On his way to do so, he stops in Carthage, a new place founded by princess Dido (played by Aoife Leonard), who falls in love with Aeneid. The Trojan shares her feelings and is ready to stay with his new beloved but he is being promptly reminded of his duty. Is the man’s fate in his own hands? Can he make his own decisions and follow his heart?

The Aeneid by Collapsing Horse is a great example of a story in a story. With a quite basic, but very creative set (by Hanna Bowe) and costume (by Katie Davenport) design the play comes across as a pretty grand-scale solid production. I can easily see it being staged somewhere in a warehouse in London or New York, because that’s where all the cool stuff happens nowadays. It’s very fringy but it has enormous potential and a great idea behind it.

In the programme it says that improvisation played a big part in bringing up this production. And, from my experience, some of the best and most fun shows come from the improv and the exploration of the unknown. The creative freedom gives to the actors  the opportunity to bring to life and existence the best moments. In The Aeneid there is a very simple beauty in the momentum: when the actors communicate between each other, when they step out of characters and create those links in between the scenes.

With the total cast of 5, I must say that it was quite an interesting – and wise – decision to cast an actress to play the part of Aeneid. O’Mahony did an amazing job as the main character and certainly added a glow to the piece. The whole ensemble seemed to work in unison and created a beautiful production, but I couldn’t help mentioning John Doran and his immensely enjoyable and fun to watch Tedd. There might have been one too many moments when he absolutely stole the show.

I must add that before coming to see The Aeneid, I’d heard about the Trojan war and was familiar with little bits of it (such as the Trojan horse, for example) but I had no idea what the story was about. After leaving the auditorium, I realised that the greek tragedies might not be exactly my cup of tea, but I enjoyed what I saw (the reimagined version), I was quite entertained and hugely amused by the acting. And from the audience’s reaction, so were they and that’s the best proof of a success.

The Aeneid, directed  by Dan Colley, runs in The Smock Alley’s Main Space as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016 till September 24th. Get your Greek mythology refreshed. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/the-aeneid 

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Filed under Collapsing Horse Theatre Company, fringefest, Smock Alley Theatre, The Aeneid, Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, Uncategorized

Smock Alley Theatre: Animalia

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Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016 is in its prime with the first week shows in full swing. With the three shows under my belt, this review will be about Ian Toner’s new play Animalia.

Developed at Fringe Lab with the support of Tiger Dublin Fringe and Theatre Lovett, this fifty min piece follows the story of two girls who could’ve been best friends: Danielle (played by Louise O’Meara) and Sarah (played by Ashleigh Dorrell) – two eleven year olds, who are going through fifth grade crisis of identity, popularity, friendship and first love and loss. What could be more existential than two children being faced with every day – every life issues known to anyone who has ever been a child.

So, why go and see this play out of all others on offer during the fringe? The answer might be somewhat more obvious that many would expect. Because we’ve all been eleven years old, we’ve all experienced what Sarah and Danielle (and Brigid and other girls and boys in the play) are going through. And now, when we are in our twenties and thirties or further down the road, now we can finally look back and not only smile at our young selves, now we can see how smart we were and how big some of those issues were and how wise we managed them despite our age and inexperience. Animalistic instinct – first rule of survival.

To bring this onto a different level, one of the main characters – Sarah – is given a trivial, at first look, but crucial to the story hobby: she loves reading about animals and natural life. So, the characters are not only being compared to the inhabitants of the somewhat wilder nature, but their actions, decisions and personalities are all animalistic to the very core. Simply because inside of each one of us there is an animal.  That helps to understand the play on a more instinct-driven level. We’ve all had a friend who was as hissy as a snake, as cute and adorable as a panda or as timid as mouse. When we talk about animals, we don’t consider only the outside but rather the inside, the very nature of a being.

Animalia, with its absolutely superb acting, is the perfect example of how tragedy is shown through comedy. Both O’Meara and Dorrell portray a whole range of characters (varying quite masterly both gender and age). Even though it does take some time to get used to the idea that one actor can be playing two different characters in the same scene, once you’ve got your head around it, the characters come across quite vividly and crystal clear.

With a quite minimalistic set (by Katie Foley), Animalia is one hundred percent acting driven. But then, who needs layers and layers of decor and elaborated design (as fancy as it might sometimes be), when the almost magical space that The Boys’ School is can be filled with wonderful voices, movements and real human emotions.

If you are on a lookout for a time travel machine into the past (with the benefit of not having to travel too far), then I couldn’t recommend anything more than Animalia, written by the talented Ian Toner and directed by the wonderful Sarah Finlay. Runs in the Smock Alley Theatre until September 18th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/animalia 

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Smock Alley Theatre: Pygmalion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smock Alley Theatre: Tender Napalm

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Pain is real when you get other people to believe in it. If no one believes in it but you, your pain is madness or hysteria.
– Naomi Watts

It’s only natural that children see their parents go; but when parents have to witness their children die, this is not right. It brings pain, an incomparable state of sadness and despair that no parent will be able to recover from. In order to survive your mind decides to wander off into the wilderness.. or a deserted island.

Have you seen the view?

It’s beautiful out there. The sea. The sand. The sky. You can be the king of the world. Or the queen. And all the monkeys that inhabit the island will follow you; they will bring you food, too: mango and passion fruit.

He (played by Stephen Tadgh) and She (played by Asleigh Dorrell) now live on the island. Actually, they are the island. Having the reality hitting them like a tsunami, it wrecked the ship of their lives and stranded them on this deserted island. The modern, but far from sinless, Adam and Eve are stuck in a place where the border between what’s real and what’s not so much is anything but transparent. Monkey wars, giant sea serpent and even a castle made out of bones and resembling Taj Mahal is all part of it. But what brought this man and this woman here? What made the two of them embark this reckless and barely stable on the waves “ship” in the first place?

Tender Napalm, written by Philip Ridley and directed by Sarah Finlay, is a beautifully structured piece. The far from conventional way of the narrative makes the whole story captivating from the beginning till the very end; the audience never knows where another piece of puzzle will be dropped. And only towards the very end you see the whole picture and even the maddest bits finally start making sense. This story makes you wonder, it makes your imagination run wild and believe in the craziest of the scenarios. The solid story that Tender Napalm is, it has it all: it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s captivating, it even has elements of stage fighting…

Enhanced by the atmospheric lighting (by Cillian McNamara) and sound (by Enda Roche) effects, in addition to the already magical space the Smock Alley’s Boy school is, Tender Napalm is a strong visual piece. But I am happy to report that the small cast of two big stars outshines it all. Dorrell and Tadgh are simply superb as Man and Woman. They make the ninety minute play fly by. Their stage skill and ability to tell stories makes it very difficult to lose attention even for a split second. Their different approach to bringing alive their characters is what makes this play so beautifully outstanding.

Tender Napalm runs in The Boys’ School at the Smock Alley Theatre until July 9th. Do not miss this gentle piece of heart-breaking theatre. For more info or to book tickets: http://smockalley.com/tender-napalm/

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Filed under Good Buzz Productions, Smock Alley Theatre, Tender Napalm, The Cup Theatre Company, Uncategorized