Category Archives: The Abbey Theatre

The Abbey Theatre: Arlington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Abbey Theatre: Anna Karenina

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“Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. ”

– Anna Karenina

2016 has been a huge year for the arts. 2016 was anything but a challenging year for the Abbey Theatre in particular, a year filled with the most unexpected, brave decisions and thought-provoking plays. In addition to seeing one year round up of #WakingTheFeminists meeting; Ireland’s National Theatre has also had a change of directors welcoming Neil Murray and Graham McLaren to the steering wheel.

The last play of the departing year is none the less but Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, adapted for the stage by Ireland’s very own literature giant Marina Carr.

No doubt, Tolsoty’s masterpiece is a poignant, heavy piece in all senses possible. Starting with the fact that the play lasts approximately three and a half hours (which then pass by quicker than a fly). But above all, it’s a Russian tragedy where, unfortunately, there is no place for a happy ending.

Anna Karenina (played by Lisa Dwan) is a wife, a mother and a woman, who one day falls in love with Vronsky (played by Rory Fleck Byrne), a well-built handsome young man. Tolstoy has never created a weak woman in his work and Karenina isn’t an exception, either. But just as any human being isn’t safe of making mistakes, she gives in to temptation and finally decides to leave not only her husband but also her son Seryoza and the respected position she occupies among the Russian intelligentsia. She looses everything for a chance to live maybe not a happy but an emotionally fulfilled life. Nevertheless, happiness does come but only for a short time before Anna realises that some things can never be replaced or substituted in life; that people remember it when you did them wrong; that people betray, lie and simply get tired of what once excited them; that some of the most tender souls hide behind the thickest walls; that no heart is made out of stone and every heart breaks in its own way.

This absolutely stunning interpretation of a Russian classic is a truly jaw-dropping piece to watch. It should definitely be placed among the strongest pieces produced by the Abbey last year. Unsurprisingly brilliantly directed  by Wayne Jordan, the play transports us to pre-revolutionary Russia where the  freshly spilled blood is an ever constant contrast to the peacefully falling snow. In a very simple but wonderfully decorated set (by Sarah Bacon) we witness the lives, loves and tragedies of a grand total of 42 characters. Dressed in some of the most eye-catching ribbons and bows (by Sarah Beacon),the piece presents to our display a whole range of mothers, daughters and wives and their everyday struggle. From Dolly (played by Ruth McGill), who perhaps doesn’t even remember what it feels like not to be pregnant and who also is living a tragedy as she has a cheating husband, to Kitty (played by Julie Maguire) a young girl who is only preparing to enter wifehood.

In one single play, we are given the incredible opportunity to see the same problems being dealt with by different people and from alternative angles. With beautifully stylised musical accompaniment (by David Coonan), the cruel Russian reality ideally translates to the Irish stage. Anna Karenina has it all: tragedy with elements of comedy, very nice pace for a long piece, stunning decorations and costumes and some absolutely superb acting. The cast, the majority of whom double and triple, truly gives a performance of a lifetime with each single one of the ensemble being exceptional.

Anna Karenina is a beautiful experience that won’t leave a dry eye. The play runs in The Abbey Theatre until January 28th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/anna-karenina/

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The Abbey Theatre: Donegal

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“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: https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/donegal/

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The Abbey Theatre: Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme

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The final curtain is falling on the Abbey Theatre’s summer season and with it we must witness the end of Waking the Nation – Ireland 2016 programme. The centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising is a few months short of being over, but The Abbey is already bidding its farewell with Frank McGuinness’ play Observe the Sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme.

A truly unusual choice of a theatrical piece to celebrate an important milestone in Irish history. McGuinness’ play, as the title might suggest, captures immediately before events occurring a short time prior to the battle of the Somme (July 1916), during which the British and the French armies fought against the German Empire. Some might say those events were insignificant and even unimportant on a bigger scale, but they might have made all the difference to the seven young Nordies and one Englishman who have all just signed up to fight in the first world war. Seen from the point of view of the eight volunteers, the play is primarily about the human side of the war. Eight young men: each one of them is very different from the other, each with his own background, beliefs and destiny. But all of them with one solemn reason: to fight for Ulster. The young men are thrown together into one barrack and then into one battlefield, but war smooths all the indifferences and disagreements so they can become brothers – the true sons of Ulster.

Knowing McGuinness from such works as The Hanging Gardens, Someone who will watch over me, Mutabilitie and many many others, it’s quite evident that the Donegal-born playwright has a very particular style of delivering a story. Observe the sons of Ulster isn’t an exception. Looking up to such prodigies as Shakespeare, this play opens with a twenty minute monologue of an old man (played by Sean McGinley) reminiscing, almost in a state of delirium, about his own experience prior and during the battle of Somme.

It’s been thirty one years since The Sons of Ulster Marching towards the Somme premiered in The Abbey Theatre. Now, this Award-winning play might not be the most obvious choice for an Irish centenary, but it’s an interesting choice regarding the diversity of plays staged in Dublin in 2016. McGuinness’ play shows the alternative story of 1916, what was happening in the world (and, by the way, let me just remind you that  WWI was happening) and how that might have affected the future events in both the Republic and the North. By no means, I want to underestimate the Easter Rising and overshadow it by a different piece. On the contrary, Observe the sons of Ulster just draws a broader picture of the horror happing in the world at the beginning of the twentieth century.

This production immediately stood out for me thanks to the ever so creative and hardworking cast and crew. The lighting design (by Paul Keoghan) was simply outstanding. An amazing example it was of a piece that hugely benefited from the light changes. The perfectly captured shades of bloody red or peacefully blue sky made all the difference while setting the mood. I was also quite fond of the idea to elevate upstage (designed by Ciaran Bagnall). It slightly changed the perspective but hugely influenced the perception of the space, which made the first couple of rows be really grateful for.

I have to mention that the acting and directing (by Jeremy Herrin) was quite on a top level; nevertheless, it made me wonder if a female perspective would have revealed something interesting and unexpected in this purely male piece?

The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme runs in The Abbey Theatre until September 24th. The last piece in Waking The Nation – Ireland 2016 programme. For more info or to book the tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/observe-the-sons-of-ulster-marching-towards-the-somme/

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The Abbey Theatre: The Wake

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The summer season is on. While The Gate is hosting The Constant Wife, The Abbey Theatre is having a grim wake. More precisely The Wake, one of Tom Murphy’s most famous plays. If that wasn’t enough to make you run for the tickets, then let me also mention that this particular production is directed by Annabelle Comyn.

Tom Murphy has a long history of working side by side with the Abbey Theatre. Written for the Abbey and originally staged in the venue in 1998, eighteen years after The Wake makes its return.

As many traditional Irish plays are, The Wake is a story of a deeply dysfunctional family from the West of Ireland. After years of leading a promiscuous life in New York, Vera O’Toole (played by Aisling O’Sullivan) returns home to Ireland. After the death of her dear grandmother, Vera now is in possession of a family hotel. Making Vera the only owner of the hotel made the other three of her siblings breathe fire and brimstone. (Just like in any good Irish play: it’s always all about the land. Brothers turn against brother when it comes to a piece of tangible property). In her childhood hometown, surrounded by the ghosts of the past and present half-dead half-alive, Vera reminisces on her life. The only person she ever cared for – her grandmother – is now dead and nobody cared to let Vera know. Now, being finally back, the only thing she wants to do is have a wake: a wake for her grandmother, or just maybe for her childhood dream. Vera’s wake for a dream.

In this beautifully staged production of one of Murphy’s classics, the mood is being superbly conveyed by the stunning lighting design (by Sinéad McKenna). As the space is being filled with the dark game of light and shadow, it gives us the perfect feeling of Vera’s emotional state. Sometimes, the only light that you have in life is a small candle dancing in the obscure corner of your soul.

Together with the lighting, another hugely influential mood-setter is, of course, the set design (by Paul O’Mahony). From the very first scene until the very end, the somewhat minimalistic stage is just like a chameleon turning  from a tiny one-bed room into a hotel, a family home and finally into a graveyard. It’s just another example of how much can be achieved with very little.

Whenever it comes to seeing a play in The Abbey, the high quality of acting is just something that goes practically without saying. But, in this particular piece, I want to mention the absolutely amazing performance given by Aisling O’Sullivan and Brian Doherty. Tom Murphy’s dialogue driven script with many quite static scenes, in addition to a handful of references to Greek tragedies and Shakespeare, is being completely turned upside down by the energy that the actors bring with them onto the stage.

A truly Irish play, The Wake will keep you thinking about the bad and good in people, about their dreams and failures, about life and death long before the final curtain falls heavy onto the floor. The play runs in The Abbey Theatre until July 30th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/the-wake

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The Peacock Theatre: Town is Dead

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The Abbey Theatre continues to be waking the nation. After the enormous success of Cyprus Avenue and Tina’s Idea of Fun, another gem has just hit the Peacock’s stage: Town is Dead, written and directed by  Phillip McMahon with the music composed by Raymond Scannell.

Through this series of Ireland-focused plays, the Abbey theatre wants to present to the nation a window into the life of common Irish people: what’s happening behind the closed doors of those, whose stories normally never get to be heard; what’s going on in the lives and minds of those who live on the edge of city and sanity.

Town is Dead is brought to the Peacock theatre by Phillip McMahon. Some of you might be already familiar with McMahon’s previous work, which includes the hugely successful musical comedy Alice in Funderland (premiered on the Peacock’s stage in 2012) – a play also dedicated to Dublin and its citizens.

At this stage it’s safe to say that Mcmahon definitely has a good set of skills for writing an enjoyable musical that stands out and also carries a message.

Town is Dead is a North Inner city Dublin story unlike many others. A typical creature of her natural habitat Ellen (played by Barbara Brennan) is being moved from her house into a shoebox room in her sister’s place. And just before the last box is packed and sealed, an unexpected visitor (played by Fia Houston-Hamilton) comes for a visit. Ellen’s house and mind is anything but ghostless… and that’s exactly the reason why Rachel is there. No matter how hard one is trying to escape the ghosts of the past, in one form or another, they will soon inevitably reach you.

The first impression of the play starts with an incredible set design (by Paul O’Mahony). The stage is divided into two spaces: Ellen’s house and the backspace, where the live mini-orchestra is placed behind a veil. With the skillfully elaborated lighting design (by Sarah Jane Shiels), one or another part of the stage is accented at different times, the veil being a huge part (both literally and metaphorically) of it too especially when it comes to play with light and shadow. Let me just point out here that unlike many somewhat more traditional musicals, Town is Dead is first and foremost a play. The beautiful ensemble of keyboard (by Danny Forde), harp (by Christine O’Mahony) and clarinet (by Conor Sheil) is used primarily to enhance and highlight the dialogue.

Town is Dead counts with five on-stage debuts: Kate Gilmore, Fia Houston-Hamilton, Conall Keating, Danny Forde and Conor Sheil, all starring alongside one of the veterans of the Irish stage: Barbara Brennan, who gives an absolutely smashing performance. McMahon’s writing is refreshing with spot on jokes, which is easily proved by the unstoppable laughter coming from the audience.

Town is Dead is only in its previews, but it’s already selling super fast. Don’t miss your chance to see the play. For more info or to book your tickets, please, visit: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/town-is-dead

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The Abbey Theatre’s Costume Storehouse tour.

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When the weather is nothing but gloomy and gray, here is one way to bright up the day: a trip to the Abbey Theatre’s Costume Department Storehouse.

Even though located in a somewhat far away Finglas Business Park, the storehouse is quite easy to access by public transport from the city center. And the roughly 40 min ride is absolutely worth it.

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A few posts ago, I’ve already written about my experience doing the behind the scenes tour at The Abbey Theatre itself; this time I’ve decided to take it a bit further. As a member of the Abbey Theatre, I got an amazing chance to visit the costume storehouse and literally touch a tiny part of Abbey Theatre’s history.

The costume storehouse is already of a quite considerable size, but they are constantly expanding. The props storehouse, that is currently located across the road from the Abbey theatre, is soon going to be relocated and part of all the props will be stored in the new building next to the costume storehouse that has been purchased by the theatre. At the moment in the costume department there are two floors absolutely packed with clothes and shoes plus a room full of hats, gloves and other accessories.

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The storehouse would be of a huge interest to anyone who has ever seen a play on either The Abbey or The Peacock stage or is in any way interested in theatre/TV costumes and what they are made of.

Abbey Theatre’s Costume Department is most probably one of the biggest places of its kind in Ireland that rents period and stylised clothes. The Abbey’s costumes can be seen not only in The Abbey Theatre but also in such famous TV Productions as Rebellion and Ripper Street. The costumes are also available for hiring by both professional and amateur theatre companies. And the best news is that the hiring price couldn’t be more reasonable and affordable. This allows some of the smaller companies that don’t have a huge budget to be able to stage a quality production.

 

If you are a usual goer to the Abbey Theatre, then you will be able to see (and touch) some of the most beautiful and carefully hand crafted dresses, gowns and shirts: anything from Hester Swane’s wedding dress in By The Bog of Cats (the pre- and post fire versions) to Dolly’s red tutu in You Never Can Tell, to an almost century old shawl that has been used in every single one of Abbey’s stagings of The Plough and The Stars (except for the most recent one), to Fiona Shaw’s extremely detailed and crafted dress from John Gabriel Borkman to (personally, my favourite) Alan Rickman’s costume from the mentioned Ibsen’s play that he did in the Abbey in 2010.

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An amazing experience and just more proof of how much thought and detail goes into each theatre production. A lot happens on stage, there is no doubt there, but even more happens off stage. Abbey’s Costume Department is just a perfect example of this; some of the best designers have worked for the Abbey, including Joan O’Cleary, Peter O’Brien, Joan Bergin and many others.

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The Abbey Theatre’s Costume Department is open to the public (by appointment only!) for viewing and also for costume hiring (if you are staging a production not a Hallowe’en party). For more info: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/about/costume-hiring/ 

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