Category Archives: Theatre Upstairs

Theatre Upstairs: The words are there

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If a picture tells a thousand words, then what about a movement, a gesture, a pose, a step? How much of a story can be told by the way we move, turn, look or keep completely still and silent?…

Silence… Ronan Dempsey’s new piece is anything but silent. As a matter of fact, it’s screaming louder than any amount of words. A story about a man, whose whole life is as turned and broken inside as it is outside: a table balancing on three legs, a puddle of spilled wine so similar to a quickly growing pool of blood, a festive sign “Welcome Home” written to someone special, who was never meant to see it in the first place.

The Words Are There is the kind of tragedy that usually happens behind the closed doors. It’s not talked about. But it doesn’t make the screams of the abused one being any less louder. It’s just not everyone wants to hear them. The walls people build conceal everything.

He – The Man (played by Ronan Dempsey) is a person who has seen abuse from an early age. When he meets her – The Woman (voiced by Jessica Leen) – a little hope of a possible happiness is being born in his heart. They will live in Bettystown, by the sea. And everything is going to be fine because he has her and she has him. But not unlike him, she has demons of her own who are tearing her broken soul apart.

In his fifty minute piece and one single, almost spilled out, line, Ronan Dempsey presents a story deeper than those books worth a thousand pages. When actions speak louder than any words, the tale tells itself.

The Words Are There balances on the border between reality and fantasy created by The Man. Trained in physical theatre and mime by the very masters of their art, Dempsey builds a whole world on stage; only a true genius can make a mop not only come alive but also represent something beautiful and lovable.

A performance that speaks for itself. The Words Are There is an unforgettable piece of theatre that won’t leave anyone unmoved. The play is written and directed by Ronan Dempsey and presented by The Nth Degree Productions in collaboration with Theatre Upstairs, where it runs till May 20th. Fore more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/thewordsarethere 

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Theatre Upstairs: Monster?

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A new collaboration between Theatre Upstairs and EGM Productions has brought a real gem to its audience. Emily Gillmor Murphy’s new play Monster? is an original poignant story that won’t leave anyone feeling indifferent.

Let’s have one more conversation about women’s reproductive rights. Let’s look at the situation from a different point this time: what if she just doesn’t want to be a mother? Does it make a monster out of her? After all, all that a woman wants is to have a choice and not to be judged or frowned upon for how she feels.

Nell (played by Aisling O’Mara) – a mother-to- be – a woman – an individual and a human being just like anyone else – keeps repeating to her unhappened partner Adam (played by Jamie O’Neill) that the body is hers. Not his or the baby’s, but hers. After a drunk one night stand, she quickly discovers her unexpected new condition. Adam, though a nice guy but definitely not yet ready for becoming a father, after a brief freak out offers Nell to move in with him and, maybe, start a family. Isn’t it, after all, what every girl dreams of? Almost an orphan herself, Nell already knows she doesn’t want this baby. Not because she is an evil creature or a witch from a kid’s fairy tale but simple because she doesn’t feel ready to bring a new life into this world. My body – my choice? Or shall Nell just follow the rules of the society and silently consent to what God has created every woman for?

This roughly an hour long play doesn’t only take an unconventional approach to an important (mostly unspoken of) social topic but it also has an absolutely perfect sharp ending for a piece of this kind. With a small cast of three, Monster? is a surprisingly funny play. Michael Glenn Murphy (who plays Ru) provides the ultimate comic relief, while the other two actors wonderfully balance the tragedy and the heaviness of the story. All under the directing hand of the master himself – Karl Shiels.

Lisa Krugel’s simple but quite stunning stage design – a bar – is the first thing that welcomes you into Theatre Upstairs’ cosy auditorium. It provides the perfect setting for the story and the unforgettable beginning.

Monster? is a play that gives you more than mere entertaining and a nice night out. It gives you some real food for thought. It’s a brave, challenging production created by a bunch of undoubtedly talented and creatively inspiring artists.

Monster? by Emily Gillmor-Murphy runs in Theatre Upstairs till April 29th. So, there is no excuse not to go! For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/monster

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Theatre Upstairs: Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws

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Tea + Toast Theatre Company in association with Theatre Upstairs presents Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws. And if the title itself hasn’t already intrigued you enough, then maybe you should stick around for a bit longer to find out what it’s all about.

An original piece of theatre, written by Joyce Dignam and directed by Dignam herself and Meabh Hennelly, Fizzy Drinks is a simple story told from a very nontrivial point of view. It tells us about an Irish family on their holidays in Wexford. Maybe not the fanciest of all holiday destinations, one might think and Lara (played by Ali Hardiman) and Rosie (played by Tara Maguire) will definitely agree with you. But it’s not the lack of exoticism or Mediterranean sun on the resort that upsets the little girls; it’s the feeling that something bad is going on in their family and nobody would tell or explain them anything. Mam and Dad seem to be enclosed in a local pub with a family friend, while Lara and Rosie are left to play by themselves in a playground outside. Nevertheless, their minds can’t help but wonder what’s really hiding behind all that grown-up talk that even playing Mommies and Daddies doesn’t help.

In this approximately one hour play, we witness the story from the point of view of two little girls – the eldest being only ten. It’s definitely catchy and refreshing. Both Hardiman and Maguire are excellent at portraying little girls as well as adults. The sense of naiveness and childishness that they transmit to the audience is nothing but adorable and hugely entertaining.

Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws is an easy to watch and enjoy production showcasing some of the raising talents of the Irish theatre. The play was presented as part of this year’s Scene and Heard Festival last month. Apart from decent acting, there is some nice lighting (by Shane Gill) and sound (by Conrad Jones-Brangan) designs. As for the set design, being presented as a playground, it’s quite outstanding with a real slide mounted on the Theatre Upstairs’ cozy stage.

Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws runs in Theatre Upstairs till April 8th. It’s never too late to be a child again and perhaps remind yourself how it all used to feel like. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/fdwts

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Theatre Upstairs: Murder of Crows

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“The only way to get what you want is to make them more afraid of you than they are of each other.”

– The Crimson Crow

Christmas could be very different. And sure it’s unlike anything else in Theatre Upstairs, where unravels a dark tale of friendship, foulness and fighting for the ones you love.

Bitter Like a Lemon in association with Theatre Upstairs presents its latest play Murder of Crows, a story about a school trip to hell. The three best friends Sam (played by Katie Honan), Dee (played by Amilia Stewart) and Jess (played by Aisling O’Mara) aren’t even meant to go in the first place but end up on the bus to the Garden of Ireland anyway. Just before the trip begins the girlfriends hear a prophecy that warns them of the black crows and begs them not to go anywhere near them. Not taking it too seriously, the girls set off on a journey that is going to change their lives forever. In Wicklow, they are scheduled to do some obligatory scholar activities that nobody is particularly excited about but the real fun starts after. The girls of St Brigit’s are being joined by students – mainly boys – from other schools. They start drinking, intermingling and do things that teenagers normally do. But the fateful hour has already been set. And maybe some people should be more careful with what they say and do, maybe they shouldn’t bully and make fun of others – weaker – ones… Maybe deep inside each one of us lives a little devil that is only waiting to be set free. The consequences of which sometimes can be harmful, even mortal or soul destroying.

Lee Coffey’s Murder of Crows is a heartbreaking piece with an unbelievable twist at the end. It’s almost impossible to digest how much raw meaty parts there is in this slightly under one hour play. Under the superb direction of Karl Shiels, the gradation of the piece is perfectly timed: it starts off nicely and slowly with no preparation of what is yet to come. You think it might be just one of those hight school plays where students talk about their problems. But you couldn’t be further from being wrong. Lee Coffey wouldn’t be Lee Coffey if he hadn’t written a play that actually aims to touch on some of the most tabooed and controversial subjects that teenagers encounter in everyday life but are afraid to talk about.

The script is being strongly supported by the outstanding cast of three actresses, who absolute nail their parts. The characterization and physicality is incredibly strong and it goes to both the main parts that the girls are playing and the secondary characters. I don’t think I’ll be wrong if I say that the way Aisling O’Mara delivered the prophecy sent chills to everyone in the audience. An absolutely out-of-this-world experience that petrified and mesmerized at the same time.

In a play like Murder of Crows, visual aspects can be very important and influential. The two things that caught my eye straight away were, of course, the set (by Naomi Faughnan) and the lighting (by Laura Honan) designs. Quite simple but visually very strong mood setters that made the piece even more atmospheric.

So, if you are in a mood for something completely different this season, don’t be a Grinch and steal Christmas. Go to see Murder or Crows and get your dose of darkness and brutal reality! Runs in Theatre Upstairs until December 17th, for more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/murder-of-crows

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Theatre Upstairs: Test Dummy

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After the morning with #WakingTheFeminists’s one year recap in the Abbey Theatre came an evening with the feminists just around the corner from Ireland’s National. During the Monday meeting some absolutely shocking statistics were presented on the gender imbalance in the top ten (all government sponsored) theatres and theatre companies around Ireland during the last ten years. But some hope was indeed restored for me on Tuesday night when I sat down to watch Test Dummy, an original Irish play written by a woman, performed by a woman, directed and even produced by a woman.

Theatre Upstairs in association with WeGetHighOnThis Collective presents Caitriona Daly’s new play – Test Dummy, a beautiful but ever so heartbreaking example of modern worldwide female image created by decades and generations of hardcore patriarchy.

Test Dummy might be a very abstract piece in general but it’s in the detail where you find its uniqueness and meaningfulness. In addition to the captivating script, Caitriona Ennis masterfully creates her nameless character of multiple faces and experiences; and it’s in one of those socially disfigured faces that the members of the audience will be able to sadly recognise themselves: be they the victim or the predator.

Test Dummy also managed to challenge the physical space that Theatre Upstairs is. In order to be able to experience the play more profoundly, the audience is being seated on two sides (facing each other), while the stage lies right in between them. The Dummy appears to be trapped in between watching and judging her people.

According to Caitriona Daly’s Author’s Note, she wanted this piece to be “not necessarily understood but felt”. Thanks to the exquisite combination of absolutely haunting sound (by Carl Kennedy ), skillful set (by Laura Honan) and igniting lighting (by Conor Byrne and Shane Gill) designs in addition to Ennis’ breathtaking portrayal of the Dummy, Caitriona Daly’s intention was achieved quite nicely. Louise Lowe’s spot-on directing allows this piece to be both brutally honest and tense, as well as funny and humorous.

This roughly fifty minute piece flies by in an instant. Caitriona Ennis’ human Dummy with strong voice and bright eyes “is happy to oblige” and the audience is happily left satisfied with the piece that they’ve just… no, not seen but rather experienced. So, don’t be a Dummy yourself and get your lovely (male or female regardless) bum to Theatre Upstairs to witness what comes out when three talented theatre makers and a 50/50 gender balanced crew come together to create art. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/what-is-on

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Theatre Upstairs: Venom So Sweet

It`s Halloween! It`s Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall see what can`t be seen
on any other night!

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Wonderful news in store for those who appreciate high-quality theatre and are looking for something fun and quite unique to do on this Hallow’s Eve: Theatre Upstairs has reopened its doors. Being undoubtedly one of Dublin’s most atmospheric theaters, TUpstairs together with Little Shadow Theatre Co has entered the season of ghosts and ghouls with a venomously delicious treat – Venom So Sweet, written by Roger Gregg and directed by James O’Connor.

For those of you who are familiar with Roger’s previous work, this play will come as a bonus to his magnifficent styleized cabaret performances and saxophone playing delights. Venom So Sweet follows the story of a somewhat cowardish and not the best kind of human beings – Legion (portrayed by Gregg himself) – who in a deep western accent tells you his poisonus story of being a con-man empowered by the devilsnake inhabiting his soul from within rather than without. Roughly based on the life of Saopy Smith (a 19th century con-man from Georgia) and the horrible fate that so unfairly grasped the poor souls of Sand Creek indigens in 1864, Gregg took a few liberties with the history and added some colour and pitch to it.

In this one hour piece, Legion is joined by three beautiful companions: Jezebel Demon (played by Juliette Crosbie), Serpent Demon (played by Alicky Hess) and Sorceress Demon (played by Madi O’Carroll). They might be characters of few words but their presence is ominous on stage. Once too often I caught myself just watching them interact with each other and move about the stage.

Venom So Sweet is a show in its best composition. It has an absolutely magical ensemble of theatre professionals that takes care of not only carrying the story forward but also creates an incredible atmosphere of being in a different time and place all together. All four actors engage in the musical part of the play and create the sounds live on stage with the help of both props and a whole variety of musical instruments. The lighting design also is a huge impact on the overall mood. Be it the director’s or the lighting designer’s decision but some scenes are so perfectly framed that watching them gives an aesthetic pleasure. In the best traditions of a cabaret show, the actors are very interactive with the audience and make it feel like you are part of the plot; one more in a crowd of citizens imagined by Roger Gregg and his team.

I can’t think of a better choice to start your Hallowe’en adventure this year. Venom So Sweet is a real treat for all of you li’l trickers out there. Runs until  November 5th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/venom-so-sweet

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Filed under Little Shadow Theatre Company, Roger Gregg, Theatre Upstairs, Uncategorized, Venom So Sweet

Interview with Seanan McDonnell

Revolver, the new play by Sugar Coat Theatre Company, opened in Theatre Upstairs this Tuesday past. The play is in full swing now entertaining the audience and wowing the critics; and I got a great opportunity to interview Seanan McDonnell, who wrote the piece.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your previous writing experience. What kind of writer are
you?  
I’ve been writing fairly consistently since I was a tot and my writerly sensibility probably calcified around age 8 watching The Simpsons and reading X-Men comics. In 3rd class, I remember keeping a notebook of short stories that were a mix of low fantasy children’s adventures and Bible fanfic.
My reading interests are pretty evenly split between genre writing – science fiction, horror, a little crime – and literary fiction and when I’m writing, I’m a magpie of my own interests. The best writing builds to ‘moments’, which I realise is a word that’s both plain and vague, but you know the ones I mean: the explanation for how the heist was pulled off, the closing of a causal loop in a time travel story, the memory of a piece of fruit that triggers a character to reflect upon a string of poor decisions. Great genre writing and great literary writing tend to go about creating them in very different ways: the former, usually, through story construction and the latter, usually, through burrowing deeper and deeper into its characters’ minds. But they’re not mutually exclusive, my very favourite writing marries them, and so when I write, I hope to build those ‘moments’ similarly.
Do you sit in the rehearsal room a lot?
I like to be a minimal presence in the rehearsal room. When it come to plays, you’re working in a collaborative medium so really the only functional approach for a writer (who has no interest in directing or acting) is to hand it over to the creative team and hope that the common understanding of the text’s scale and tone is close enough to your own that you don’t end up interrupting performances with “That’s not how you’re meant to say that line!”
How was the idea of Revolver born? 
I can’t really remember; I began the play five years ago. I wrote the female part for Charlene Craig, whom I’ve known since college, and whom I’m lucky enough to have play the part in the production. She swears that it was born from a suggestion I made in my old flat in London that we should do a play together but I have no recollection of that conversation. Her memory is better than mine though and it does make for a better story.
I do remember returning to the premise in my head because it offered a sustainable way to dramatise a pretty-difficult-to-dramatise aspect of human behaviour: the way the content of our opinions are overwhelmingly contingent not on the truth but on the perceived benefit it’ll bring us in whatever social set-up we assign most value. If you want to write a play about envy, you can write envious characters; if you want to write a play about malice, you can write a play about people who post Game of Thrones spoilers on Facebook; but if you want to write a play about people whose sense of self is ever-shifting, it’s hard to write credibly. People don’t speak about that and people aren’t conscious of it. But if characters can reset their encounters, you can have them passionately assume a position on a topic in one scene and then passionately assume the opposite position in the next. So, it’s a neat way of minimising the friction between the play’s character work and the play’s dramatic momentum and a neat way of having you question the reliability of the accounts the characters offer of themselves.
What was the biggest challenge while writing Revolver? 
The biggest challenge was creating dramatic tension when the characters are resetting the plot every five minutes. The temptation to have the play be a shapeless, discontinuous mass was high. But after a while, you spot ways to construct the story so you’re taking advantage of the structure. There were opportunities to create intrigue around the premise, to play with the differing levels of knowledge between the characters and the audience, to give the action urgency because it could be undone at any moment, and the writing was about finding those.
The editing was a nightmare though. The first version was significantly way too long and any time you wanted to make a cut, it meant looking at the entirety of the play: you’d remove some insignificant moment from scene 2 and then remember it was necessary for setting up a big moment in scene 8. That happened a lot.
What makes Revolver different from other plays? 
It’s science fiction. There are plays with science fiction premises but they’re usually called ‘absurdist’ or ‘playful’; this is unambiguously a piece of ‘science fiction’ about a technological advance and its consequences. It’s also a romantic comedy. Like everybody, I’m a big fan of the ‘Before Sunset’ movies: they’re wistful and charming but most importantly, I think, they follow the humps and hollows of real conversations. They strike this cadence that you’re at ease with at once and that was something I wanted to recreate, in parts, here. So, it’s a sci-fi rom-com and I don’t know any other plays, really, that are that.
What would you identify as the main message of the play? What do you want people to be thinking/feeling when they leave the theatre? 
The main message is “Our sense of self is a shaky thing and we’ll turn to anything, including kamikaze romantic relationships, to stave that notion off” but I hope that emerges from the drama rather than sits atop it. I really don’t like didactic drama. I’d hope, as hopelessly bourgeois as it is to say it, that people have a good time. It’s a comedy so I hope they laugh. It’s got revelations so I hope they gasp. And for all their flaws, the play’s two characters are motivated by desperation more than anything so I hope there’s sympathy for them. Mostly, I want people to come out feeling like it was 65 minutes of their life well spent.
Revolver, written by Seanan McDonnell and directed by Matthew Ralli, runs in Theatre Upstairs until June 4th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/revolver

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