Category Archives: The Peacock Theatre

The Peacock Theatre: The Ireland Trilogy

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THEATREclub, without any doubt, is one of those theatre companies that is not afraid to create some truly thought-provoking, relevant and challenging plays that aim not only to entertain but to make people want to take action. The company takes some of the most controversial (often frowned upon by the rest) topics and makes a performance out of it. A performance that can easily be described as naturalistic and close to the real life. As a matter of fact, some of their productions are on such a thin line between the imaginary world and the reality that it becomes difficult to differentiate wether it’s all still just a game. The actors use their own names, they easily and eagerly interact with the audience and make the script come from their heart.

Having been to other productions by THEATREclub, I was somewhat prepared for the trilogy. Well, at least I thought I was. I knew well that I was going to see three pieces about possibly shocking but truthful reality, about what’s going on behind the closed doors and shut mouthes, about what is not only not being talked about but is being ignored and willingly forgotten by many. The company is famous for its thorough research process, for devising their plays inside the company and for the deep belief that a change is always possible. I was ready to be challenged. I was ready to see the real Ireland.

The Ireland Trilogy consists of three plays: The Family, Heroine and History. All of them are played by the same core ensemble of actors and directed by the company’s very own Grace Dyas.

The Family, just like the title suggests, peeks on the life of an ordinary Irish family. Here we have everything from: unrequited love to fathers and sons battles, to a relative leaving for America, to the fact that a family doesn’t exist as a family anymore, it’s just a bunch of cohabiting people who can’t or don’t want to listen, to understand and to support each other. All this is set in a freshly painted cardboard house with the romantic Andy Williams songs playing in the background. A beautifully wrapped glossy candy that is slightly rotten on the inside.

This piece strikes from the beginning as the characters acknowledge the audience’s existence straight away and even keep track of the “show time”. We become part of the play. What’s happening on stage isn’t happening to some faceless fictional “them”. It’s happening to our relatives, to our friends, to our neighbours… Sometimes, it’s even happening to us. The sound of a million voices, all shouting, screaming, whispering at the same time, makes it difficult to make out the words and sentences but impossible not to try to. All we have to do is just listen.

Heroine takes a look at the abuse of illegal drugs in Ireland for the last half of the century. A very beautifully composed piece with elements of poetry, spoken word and nostalgia for the good olden days. Heroine has a totally different feel to it as opposed to The Family. From the pink cotton candy fifties, we move to the cool, leather-jacketed, edgy seventies of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. The children of yesterday have grown up. They live in shabby apartments with their questionable friends, where they pump up hard drugs down the pulsing veins and watch trash TV programmes all day long. They don’t care about the future or the world. All those bad things happening around, they are not happening.

This piece particularly stands out because of the emotional delivery. The ensemble gives a heartbreaking performance of three broken – completely lost and drug dependent – souls.

History is the last part in The Ireland Trilogy. When one starts talking about the history of Ireland, the first thing that springs into mind is, of course, The Civil War, The Revolution, DeV and Michael Collins, the conflict between the Republic and Northern Ireland. History is indeed written by the winners. It’s also written by a selected group of the elite. People, common folks like you and me, unfortunately do not write the history. At least, not the one that will be composed into a book and studied by generations onwards.

And that’s exactly what’s on THEATREclub’s agenda: to show to the public the real history of Ireland (who deep inside is a beautiful ginger girl wearing an emerald green dress), the life of the other half, without sugarcoating or overdramatizing anything. History mainly looks on the historical importance of Richmond Barracks, where the British Army was homed during the Civil War; Goldenbridge Church that once used to be one of the infamous laundries housing unmarried and unwanted young mothers-to-be; and finally on the long tragic sixteen years of regeneration of Dublin’s St Michael’s Estate, that was built to fight the housing crisis of the 60s.

Originally built in 1969, the estate fell in to such a decay that by the end of the 80s  a survey was conducted amongst its inhabitants on what to do with the site. The absolute majority of the tenants preferred it to be completely demolished and rebuilt rather than refurbished. It will take the government sixteen long years to put an end to the inhuman living conditions of Inchicore’s council flats. The government has forgotten about these people, if it ever remembered about them in the first place. Even the statue of Virgin Mary erected on the premises felt like she had failed her devoted worshipers.

THEATREclub looks at modern Ireland through the spectacle of equality, with the broad meaning of this word. All people are equal and all of them deserve equal treatment and promise of a better – fairer – future therefore everybody’s story is important, everybody’s story is relevant and deserves to be heard. For more info about the plays and the company’s work: http://www.theatreclub.ie/our-work/

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Filed under Heroine, history, The Family, The Ireland Trilogy, The Peacock Theatre, THEATREclub, Uncategorized

The Peacock Theatre: The Remains of Maisie Duggan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 Peacock Theatre: Tina’s Idea of Fun

Tina’s idea of Fun is the new play by Sean P. Summers, which is part of The Abbey Theatre’s Waking The Nation programme to commemorate The 1916 Easter Rising Centenary.

The play is set in 2011 during the days around Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Ireland, who was the first British monarch to set foot on Irish soil since her grandfather, King George V, visited Ireland, then part of the British Empire, a century earlier in 1911.

Easily predictable could have been the public reaction to such an event. The nation has divided into those who were looking forward to welcoming the Queen and those who were strongly against it. Paddy (played by Andrew Connolly), locally known as Paddy Long Legs, is a republican from Dublin’s Inner City who is joining a protest against the Queen’s visit to the Republic.

Aaron and Bundy (played by Scott Graham and Josh Carey) are two local boys who soon become friends with Paddy. Having heard about Aaron’s talent for painting and graffiti, Paddy offers the boy a tenner if he draws him a picture of  Charleville Mall. Aaron agrees. The boys start hanging out more and more with Paddy, they are even invited to his small flat, where Paddy lets the boys drink cans. And it looks like they are just having a bit of fun. But Martina (played by Hilda Fay) commonly known as Tina, an ex heroine addict and now an alcoholic who is also Aaron’s mother, is strongly against her son’s friendship with Paddy. On one occasion she hints about Paddy’s mistreatment of another boy, but the subject never elaborates into something more therefore we never find out what exactly happened. Tina’s mother, Fran (played by Ruth Hegarty), notes that the boy deserved it anyway.

The conflict becomes even stronger when we find out about the fact that Paddy isn’t far from being attracted to Tina, while the woman is full of hatred and desire to humiliate the neighbour for no apparent reason.

Apart from hating her son’s new friend, Tina is also upset about the fact that Aaron doesn’t respect her anymore. And all she wants is to be a good mother to him. So, Tina feels like she needs to blow off some steam. And here comes her friend Edel (played by Sarah Morris) with the “perfect” plan that she apparently was inspired by EastEnders.  Why not feed Paddy a sandwich with  dog’s poo?

Confused? Join the club. I guess, the mind of an addicts works in a a very different way. In any case, that’s Tina’s idea of fun (slightly overloaded with fake laughs though).

Hilda Fey and Andrew Connall completely steal the show by brilliantly portraying such contrasting characters as Tina and Paddy.

Otherwise, the play itself somewhat fails to amuse. The script itself has a number of unpardonable plot holes, such as we never find out why exactly Tina hated Paddy (who comes across as a very likable person); is all this about politics or is it what addiction does to you? We never even get to see Aaron’s final drawing of the mall.

Nevertheless, kudos have to be given to Sarah Bacon for creating a very interesting and creative set. A beautiful easily transformed set that within split seconds converts from Tina’s living room into Paddy’s kitchen.

Tina’s Idea of Fun, directed by Conall Morrison, runs in the Peacock Theatre until May 14th. For more info or to book tickets, please, visit: https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/tinas-idea-of-fun

 

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The Peacock Theatre: Cyprus Avenue

“A Protestant’s eyes never smile unless it’s absolutely necessary. But Irish eyes – Fenian eyes – are forever smiling.”

– Cyprus Avenue

The 100th Anniversary of 1916 Easter Rising is finally here. All throughout 2016 there will be celebrations all around Ireland to commemorate one of the most crucial events in Irish history. The Abbey Theatre has created a whole program – Waking The Nation – to celebrate such an important year in life of Irish people.

“My tongue gets tied
Every time I try to speak
And my inside shakes just like a leaf on a tree”, by Van Morrison.

And the first event on the long schedule is Cyprus Avenue, an original play written by Belfast native David Ireland.

Cyprus Avenue is a dark comedy about how the loyal Unionist from East Belfast Eric Miller (played by Stephen Rea) goes from being a good father and husband to almost becoming a terrorist, who might not necessarily kill a lot of people but he certainly did terrorize some of them. As he tells it himself to his psychiatrist Bridget (played by Wunmi Mosaku), after questioning herself on the fact that she is a young black woman, it all started when Julie (played by Amy Molloy), his daughter, gave birth to a baby girl.

Eric never really liked babies. He didn’t even like his own daughter until she turned 12. Unfortunately, the wee Mary May was no exception. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if Eric simply didn’t want to play with his granddaughter, but the matters only worsened when once holding the baby Miller realized that she was Gerry Adams. There was something about her eyes – her Fenian eyes, as he puts it himself – that convinced the old Unionist Nordie that his five week old granddaughter was nobody else but Gerry Adams himself in disguise.

“The last thing I am is Irish. I’m anything but Irish. I’m British. I’m exclusively and non-negotiably British.”, say Eric to Bridget.

For Eric there is no worse insult than being called Irish. He doesn’t really mind the Irish people in general (or so he likes repeating), it’s just he doesn’t want them to be in his house or… part of his family. So, Eric has to think of something in order to get rid of the none-the-less but the president of Sinn Fein, that somehow converted himself into Miller’s newborn granddaughter.

This black comedy starring the amazing Stephen Rea is one of the funniest and darkest plays about the Northern Irish conflict I’ve seen in a long time.

I honestly think that it was a very brave decision made by the Abbey Theatre to stage a play like Cyprus Avenue. David Ireland’s masterpiece, just as any great writing, has no boundaries or limits. Some of the most unthinkable things happen on the Peacock Stage (which has specifically been placed into the center of the auditorium converting it into a thrust theatre space); along with some of the bravest lines that sounded form Ireland’s National Stage.

Stephen Rae gives a jaw-dropping performance of a deeply disturbed and confused Eric Miller. He sings, too! One has to have Rae’s natural talent for acting to be able to pull off a tremendously racist character and actually make him a three-dimensional person that all members of the audience at some point could relate to.

A very special mention goes to Chris Corrigan playing the loyalist terrorist Slim, who hasn’t actually killed anyone yet. Corrigan’s somewhat brief performance leaves a long memory. Somebody, who by definition shall be perceived as unlikable and evil, jumps off Ireland’s pages as quite a hilarious and enjoyable character, who just had an issue with bad temper (but that’s ok, he’s going to an anger management class every Tuesday).

Cyprus Avenue, directed by Vicky Featherstone, runs in Dublin’s Peacock Theatre until March 19th. The play will then travel to London’s Royal Court Theatre. For more info or to book tickets, please: The Peacock Theatre or Royal Court Theatre.

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Waking the Nation – 2016 in The Abbey Theatre

The Abbey Theatre has launched its 2016 Waking the Nation programme. And I must say it looks amazing!

2016 is going to be a very special year for Ireland. A centenary since the 1916 Easter Raising. I won’t be mistaken if I say that many theaters have already started celebrating with plays and performances touching the matter of the Irish Civil War.

The new year for the Abbey Theatre will be opened with the fourth and last in the series of George Bernard Shaw plays: You Never Can Tell. The cast for this production has been only recently announced and it’s going to be fantastic: the veterans of the Irish stage Eleanor Methven and Eamon Morrissey will be joined by some of Ireland’s most finest actors and actresses. The very talented Genevieve Hulme-Beaman will debut on The Abbey stage in this production. And being a huge fan of Pondling, I wish her best of luck and many more shows to come!

2016 will also bid its farewell to the series of the theatre symposia. The last of the three symposia in The Abbey: The Theatre of Change Symposium will take place during three days from January 21st to 23rd. Even though the full list of speakers haven’t been announced yet, my own experience is telling me that it’s an event not to be missed. Here is the link to my post about last year’s symposium.

In February The Abbey will open its doors for nine days only to All That Fall, a new collaboration with the highly acclaimed Pan Pan Theatre Company.

Obviously, no celebration of 2016 would be complete without one of Ireland’s most favourite and dearest plays: The Plough and The Stars. Sean O’Casey’s masterpiece will open the spring season in The Abbey. It has been already revealed that Jack Clitheroe  will be played by Ian Lloyd-Anderson and Kate Stanley Brennan will be our new Nora. The last time The Abbey staged this production was in 2012-2013 winter season, when the main stage was being renovated and the production was shown in The Belvedere Theatre. The Plough and The Stars will tour to Britain and Northern American after the Abbey’s run.

Joe Dowling is coming back to The Abbey. On the 400th anniversary since Shakespeare’s death, Dowling will present one of the bards’ most famous plays: Othello, with Peter Macon as the protagonist.

As the year progresses, another truly and purely Irish play will be produced to commemorate the 1916’s centenary. Tom Murphy’s The Wake will see its new reincarnation on The Abbey stage from late June to July.

The Wake will be succeded by another beloved Irish play about 1916 and one of its bloodiest battles, the battle of the Somme. Frank McGuinness’ Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching towards The Somme will be produced on The Abbey Stage in August and later the production will tour to Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Peacock Theatre will also be facing a very busy but truly challenging and interesting year. Tina’s idea of Fun, a new play by Sean P. Summers about the day before Queen Elizabeth II came to Ireland, will open in mid April. Hilda Fey will play the protagonist – Tina.

Going back to the Theatre of War symposium, The Abbey Theatre wants once again to bring the public attention to the current situation in the Middle East. New Middle East, a new prize-winning play by Mutaz Abu Saleh about the conflict between Israel and Palestine will be brought to Ireland by Khashabi Theatre of Haifa during the Easter week.

David Ireland will be presenting his new black comedy Cyprus Avenue about a Belfast Loyalist Eric Miller who can’t stop living in the past, in February 2016. Stephen Rea has been revealed to play Eric.

In 2016 The Abbey Theatre will also try to focus on the younger generation and try to engage as many children and teenagers into theatre and arts as possible. Ali White will return with her highly acclaimed and deeply touching play Me, Mollser. The play will also tour.

And the last but not least. A special treat for those who enjoyed Alice in Funderland some few years back, the writer Philip McMahon will be presenting his new humorous Dublin music, about the life and the death in the city, Town is Dead.

The booking for all new productions will officially open in two weeks. 2016 – Waking the Nation year in The Abbey looks pretty amazing, so I would strongly advise you to book tickets for any performances you are interested in as soon as possible. For more info: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/full_events_calendar/fin

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The Peacock Theatre: Shibboleth (Dublin Theatre Festival 2015)

From Hebrew, the word Shibboleth means “A custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important”. 

The proud daughter of its country and its city, Belfast born Stacey Gregg presents Shibboleth, an original play about building a peace wall that would separate the Irish “taigs” from the “nordies”.

My first encounter with Stacey Gregg happened during the last year’s The Theatre of Memory Symposium in The Abbey Theatre, where she presented a very memorable speech. I was very happy to learn that Stacey was also on the speakers list for this year’s The Theatre of War Symposium that took place in January. Stacey talked about growing up in Belfast, about witnessing a peace wall being built, about barriers and boundaries.

The discussion was followed by a rehearsed reading of Shibboleth. With 11 actors on stage and what sounded like a hell of a set (in a good way!), I just couldn’t imagine how such a huge (in both senses) play could ever stand even a chance of being staged on the teeny tiny Peacock stage. 9 symbolic months after, I was sitting in the very same auditorium of The Peacock Theatre waiting for the play to begin. I could’t believe it was actually happening.

I was beyond excited. I have a very special relationship with Northern Ireland, and Belfast in particular. And just as one of the characters from the play, Alan (played by Andy Kellegher) puts it himself “I LOVE this city – should call it Bel-Fest”. I love Belfast and in a million years I couldn’t explain why. It’s just one of those unreasonably unexplainable loves that one might have. Every time I go there, I ask myself “what’s so special about this city?”… but there is only silence in response. Bel-Fest. I guess it might be because of the history; the humid air that the northern winds bring from the Irish Sea is just soaked with history. Wherever you look: the houses, the streets, the people, the art (especially, the art!) everything screams history.

But back to the play.

Shibboleth is a story about five builders and one wall. Brick by brick by brick by brick… Four Nordies (played by Rhys Dunlop, Vincent Higgins, Andy Kellegher and Conor McNeill)  and one Polak (played by Piotr Baumann) work hard all day to build a Peace Wall. They all have families, they all have lives and stories of their own. This is just a job. For some a bit more meaningful than for the others. A Wall they are building is going to be a Peace Wall. It will separate them, the catholics, from us, the protestants. And even though there is no war (and hasn’t been one for the last fifteen years), the wall is supposed to maintain the peace in the city.

The Berlin wall. The wall separating Famagusta and Nicosia. The Peace Wall in Uganda, Rumania, Irak… now Belfast.

A Peace Wall – an oxymoron. Never ever in the history of the humanity there has been a wall raised to bring peace. A wall is just another confirmation of separation, of a barrier, of a physical evidence and proof that they are them and we are us. And we need a physical wall to stop us from our own wrong doings.

Shibboleth is a play, where even the wall has a voice. And quite a strong one. It’s a voice of a woman (played by Cara Robinson), who is begging to build her, to finish her up.

It might be just my imagination, but I think the whole Peacock Stage has expanded for this production. And an amazing two leveled set was mounted to transport us from the middle of Dublin into a tiny part of west Belfast.

From having heard the play before, I had quite an idea of what was happening. But the way the play was staged was truly and honestly magnificent. I would have never expected it to have jazz style songs. The music and the sound effects were absolutely amazing. I don’t want to give anything away but there is a fantastic moment in the play, when the builders go for a fag break, they just sit down stage, while we have three women on the upper level making making sounds of smoking a cigarette. The absolute silence, the slight echo and the easily recognisable sounds of lighting a cigarette, inhaling and exhaling is magical. The whole art of smoking without actually smoking.

I’ll never get tired of repeating that fantastic and memorable are the plays that engage all fives senses. As soon as you walk into the auditorium, the smell and the sight of sand and smoke in the air immediately provoke associations with a building site. The scene is set, the mood is established.

Through songs, spoken word, thick Belfast accent (and a thick Polish accent), sandy air, family and friendships, we witness how easily a wall can be built… Brick by Brick by Brick by… If only we, humans, could build relationships just as easily as build the walls.

Shibboleth, written by Stacey Gregg and directed by Hamish Pirie, runs in the Peacock Theatre until October 31st. For more info or to book tickets, please, visit: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/shibboleth2

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