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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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Filed under carmel winters, Dublin Theatre Festival, The Peacock Theatre, The remains of Maisie Duggan, Uncategorized

The Peacock Theatre: Penny Arcade

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As I put my fingers down to the keyboard, I can’t help but think: what was it? This need to classify the unclassifiable, to put into a box something that belongs in a much wider and open space… this need to label things, to put a tag on them, to shut them into a frame of socially acceptable regulations and rules; this is exactly what Longing Lasts Longer is: a tirade about the contamination of the brain for social approval and acceptance.

After the first five minutes into the show, I was met by another question: can I review this? Yes, it is a one woman show and it’s a part of Fringe Festival, but.. do I have any rights to review anyone for expressing their opinions and beliefs? I don’t think so. When I am going to see a traditional play, I am judging your lighting, directing, acting, set design, even your script and the flow of the story, but I am not judging your perception of the world, the ideas you throw into the audience, the things you believe in.

So, this is not a review.

This an attempt – quite a poor one, I may warn you – to try and simply describe what to expect from the show.

Born in a small town America, Penny Arcade, who always dreamt of being the evil godmother rather than the Snow White, is now being labeled (you see, labels again… society oppression) New York’s Queen of the Underground. She ran away from home at the age of 13… and now, at the age of 66 ( yes, 66 and she is proud of it), she is just as rebellious as ever. In her sixty minute piece (and a knee-high red dress), she tells you about the world as she has been and is experiencing it. She talks about the media pollution, the international politics, the privatisation of the human mind by the TV giants, the celebrity  obsession, the slow-walkers, the zombie tourists, the parents with prams, dog poops on the streets and the queen of them all: the power of a cupcake.

As Penny Arcade talks about the decay of New York city, she makes a very interesting point.  “It’s not nostalgia”, she declares, “it’s longing”. She says she doesn’t miss the 60s or the 70s, or even the 80s… she lived through all of those decades and she got the all-inclusive experience of the times of flower-power or Woodstock, the Vietnam war and globalisation of New York’s neighbourhoods, the low rent, the poor kids, the life when you could make your own decisions and 1984 was a really scary piece of fiction rather than an inevitable reality.

It’s quite upsetting to see how a show like Longing Lasts Longer is classified as Fringe. That’s the best proof that the world isn’t yet ready for open-mindness and progressive thinking. The true revolutionary ideas are only being accepted while presented with a bit of sugar, dramatic lighting and pre-composed music in the background. You have to call it theatre to be able to pass it on. That almost ageless  -but undoubtedly brave – lady on stage is still regarded as something.. well… fringy, on the safe boarder of creative art and shadowy reality. While the only message of the show is that everyone should choose their own way of living life instead of being brain-polluted by the people switching the on-and-off button on the national television, neither by the corporation who is creating the new – extra fat, of course, but so sweet – icing for your next cupcake.

To sum it all up, I can only add that the visual effects were also fantastic. Penny Arcade – Longing Lasts Longer runs in the Peacock Theatre till September 16th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/longing-lasts-longer

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Filed under FringeFest 2016, Longing Lasts Longer, Peacock Thetare, Penny Arcade, Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, Uncategorized

The Gate Theatre: The Constant Wife

The summer season at The Gate theatre has been opened with W. Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife. Interestingly enough, this is not The Gate’s first time staging this particular production; the previous revival of one of Somerset Maugham’s most famous plays was staged at the Dublin’s Gate Theatre exactly ten years ago, in 2006.

The Gate definitely does like its classics. Now with a new cast and in new decorations, this funny and, dare I say, feminist play strikes again. The Constant Wife (written in 1926) is a story of an upper-class wife, fatefully named Constance (played by Tara Egan Langley), whos husband is cheating on her with her best friend, the young and cheerful Marie Louise (played by Caoimhe O’Malley). The affair isn’t a big secret to anyone, including Constance, her mother (played by Belinda Lang) and younger sister Martha (Rachel O’Byrne). Each of the three women has her own opinion, hugely influenced by the time and society she was raised in, on what Constance should do about the adultery. Being a smart and progressively thinking woman herself, who can foresee the situation and use it for her own good, Constance makes a very creative though slightly unorthodox decision on how to teach her unfaithful husband a lesson. This decision, anyhow, might have been, in its turn, influenced by the return of an old but long-lasting flame of Constance’s; the man named Bernard (played by Conor Mullen), who had already tried his luck but was  bitterly turned down, has again entered the picture.

The Constant Wife, being a comedy of manners, is an interesting play that through crisp and funny lines raises an important issue. No doubt, this play was way beyond its time and popular ideas when it was written. The beautiful, predominantly female, ensemble of nine characters draws an interesting picture of the epoch. Being a sort of rebel, each one in her own way, the women in The Constant Wife express their opinions on marriage and family  with passion and far from narrow-thinking. They come across as strong, decisive, smart and even a bit of a risqué women of their time; while the men of the play are pictured rather dependent, foolish and somewhat childish.

With the brilliant and, at moments, ludicrously funny plot (especially, the second part of the play), beautiful period costumes (by Peter O’Brien) and the absolutely stunning set design (by Eileen Diss), the two hours simply fly by. The Constant Wife is another great example of a play that is timeless. Written almost a century ago, the issues and the situations that the play presents are easy to understand, enjoy and relate to.

This particular production really stood out for me mainly because of the actors’ ensemble. A very strong casting choice was made by the director of the piece Alan Stanford. Tara Egan Langley as Constance is a beautiful icon of female strength creates a very nice contrast to O’Malley’s bubbly, happy-go-lucky and absolutely careless Marie Louise. Special kudos have to be given to Belinda Lang, who gives a splendid performance as Mrs. Culver, and to Simon O’Gorman, whose character really comes alive in the second part of the play.

The Constant Wife runs in The Gate Theatre until August 13th. It’s a great pick for a fun night out. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.gatetheatre.ie/production/TheConstantWife2016

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Filed under Alan Stanford, The Constant Wife, The Gate Theatre, W. Somerset Maugham

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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Filed under Phillip McMahon, Raymond Scannell, The Abbey Theatre, The Peacock Theatre, town is dead, Waking the Nation

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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Filed under Abbey Theatre Costume Department, The Abbey Theatre, The Abbey Theatre Tour

The Abbey Theatre: Othello

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“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”

– W. Shakespeare, Othello.

In the year when the world is commemorating 400 years since the death of, undoubtedly, one of the most influential writers of the English speaking world, The Abbey Theatre celebrates the occasion by staging one of the bard’s widely known, but sometimes very unjustly underestimated, plays – Othello. Having brought up recently such productions as King Lear, A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Twelfth Night, it’s the first time ever for the Abbey Theatre to stage the play about the jealous Moor.

And, the man who was appointed to direct the piece couldn’t have been chosen any better. Apart from having served as an Artistic Director of The Abbey Theatre, Joe Dowling has a very vast and very profound experience of re-imgaining Shakespearean work for the last couple of decades.

In the best of Shakespearean traditions, Othello is a story filled with flawed human beings and anti-heroes who give in to the worst of their own weaknesses. Othello (played by Peter Macon) is a Moorish General in the Venetian army who secretly marries the local Senator Brabantio’s (played by Peter Gowen) beautiful daughter Desdemona (played by Rebecca O’Mara). Despite her father’s disapproval and unreasonable rage about the newly concealed union, Desdemona and Othello are happily married and deeply in love.

The news about the Turkish attack on Cyprus is soon to arrive, and Othello is quickly summoned to be re-settled on the island as part of the army corps. Othello, as the general of the army, had promoted Cassio (played by Barry John O’Connor) to be the lieutenant to his army. That immensely angers Iago (played by Marty Rea) who, also a soldier, considers himself to be better suited for such a promotion. From this moment on Iago has an axe to grind with Othello. Being a very poisonous and ill-natured person, Iago doesn’t simply want to prove that he is better than Cassio, he wants to take revenge on Othello by such means that only a truly evil person could come up with.

This play can easily be considered one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces in mind games and personality transformations. From a gentle loving husband, Othello quickly becomes a blind jealous puppet trapped in all the lies and stories that he has been fed by Iago. But the audience still pities and feels for Othello no matter what his actions are; for his actions are those of an extremely confused and sick animal who can’t see much beyond his own nose. Iago, in his place, who is the real anti-hero of this story, does not win the audience’s compassion for he’s a rotten person who has no remorse for his ill actions.

In this brilliant and and what is set to be a memorable production, the stage set is very much part of the play. The wonderful Riccardo Hernandez together with the amazing Sinéad McKenna (lighting designer) put us, the audience, from the outside world into the real place of action – Othello’s head. Very simple at first sight, the set design allows us to experience what is happening inside Othello’s mind when he’s being input the ideas of Desdemona’s infidelity.

The beautiful reflections on the warm painted beach, while the characters sit on the cold marble stage benches are a strong representation of two sides of one coin; the play of light and shadow is amazingly symbolic. Nothing creates a more dramatic atmosphere than the lighting and sound affects moving in unison with the action and the energy of the scene.

The beautiful ensemble of sixteen actors is the true force of this production. Each one of them with their own easily-distinguishable resonating voices and perfectly chosen army-style costumes brings Othello from the military Cyprus of the sixteenth century to the modern-day Ireland.

Othello, the tragedy of the Moor of Venice, runs in The Abbey Theatre until June 11th. Unlike any previous productions, the audience of Othello will be able to experience the play from the Abbey stage itself. There is a very limited number of tickets available, so do not miss your opportunity. For more info or to book tickets, please, visit: https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/othello

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Filed under 2016 The Abbey Programme, othello, Shakespeare, The Abbey Theatre, W Shakespeare, Waking the Nation