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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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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 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 Complex: The Leaves of Heaven

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From big theaters to small lofts. From traditional spaces to the most unorthodox and challenging ones. Only a true theatre goer knows that the beauty of those unconventional places hides in the fact that every performance there is a technical, artistic and directorial surprise. The little spaces are usually the ones that invest all their heart and soul into staging a small scale but otherwise truly big productions. The Complex is a venue exactly like that. You are always in for a nice treat when you walk through the little side door on Little Green Street.

First going through an exhibition room beautifully decorated with candles and much needed winter warmth, you finally end up in the performing space, which is carefully designed to meet the needs of each performance separately. For The Leaves of Heaven the audience is seated on one side facing the stage. And from the second you walk in, all your attention is immediately and irreversibly drawn to the set (designed by Stephanie Golden and Justyna Marta Nowicka). But the real astonishment hits when you realise that the majority of the decoration and props – doll houses – is done with simple DIY tools like cardboard cut outs and paper. Placed on a side they create a somewhat nostalgic image of a child’s room. While on the other side we have a paper tree and a bench – a very symbolic representation of solitude and loneliness, the feeling of which consistently penetrates the story. To add a slightly edgy and even, perhaps, creepy angle to the piece a number of dummies inhabit the already eerie stage. In a corner is hanging a big full moon.

Balancing on the periphery of this world and the imaginary one, we finally meet Francie Brady (played by Brian Mallon) – the butcher boy. In The Leaves of Heaven Pat McCabe revisits one of his most famous characters but only as a ghost, amongst many others, who is there to document Brady’s story not to interfere with it. Following the horrifically abusive childhood and the murder it lead to, Francie ends up in the place where he was always meant to be: a criminal asylum. As his mental state deteriorates and the mind is being almost completely overtaken by profound delusion, it becomes more and more difficult to say which part of his story is real and which one is entirely a plot created by his ill imagination. The only one thing is constant: the apparition of our Holy Mother Mary (played by Mairead Devlin). She is the only one who never gave up on Francie.

Both Mallon and Devlin give an absolutely jaw-dropping performance. Brian’s impeccable spot-on boyish physicality and the impossibly tragic portrayal of the decay of the butcher boy’s mind allows the audience to see a total different side of Francie. He is frail, he is sad but, most of all, he is human. Both Mallon and Devlin play a whole range of different characters, all vary in age, gender and nationality, but every single one of them comes across as a complete real human being. You look at a dummies’ face and you don’t see a dummy, you see a person – a personality – hiding, at times being completely lost, behind it. The embodyment is so creepily exact sometimes that it’s hard to process the fact that there are only two actors on stage. Devlin’s breathtaking voice is indescribable and unreviewable. Her Ave Maria was pure heaven.

To round up the whole experience, the ultimate atmosphere setters are undoubtedly the lighting (by Conleth White) and the sound designs. Music is so perfect for the mood, it makes you cry. It pinches that other sense – hearing – that allows you to perceive Francie’s state of mind on a more profound level. The Leaves of Heaven is one of those plays where the props (by Stephanie Golden, Justyna Marta Nowicka, Sam Lambert, Derek Hathaway and Lewis McGee) are just as important as the actors. The incredible moon that would turn from peaceful white to ominous red was a whole being of its own adding a powerful eerie touch to the surrealism of it all.

McCabe’s play transfers you from a hopeless Irish small town (that the novel is set in) into an absolutely unique and colourful universe that reins in Francie’s mind. Just like their stories, all the characters’ voices are unique and easily distinguishable. And even though their life paths might be gruesome, at times appalling and even shocking, the beautiful storytelling of McCabe’s play allows the audience to surpass those actions of long ago. We witness the real, though heavily decaying, humanity behind the dummy’s mask.

The Leaves of Heaven is impossible not to connect with. The plot, the performances, the characterisation, the actors’ output and, of course, the directing (by Joe O’Byrne) of this production will leave you in an awe. This 90 min piece holds so much of dramatic tension and human emotion that  can only be experienced in a comfort of a safe intimate space like The Complex. The play runs till November 27th. For more info or to book tickets: https://www.tickets.ie/events.aspx/search?s=leaves or by calling (01) 544 6922

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Magistorium: Midnight in Nightown

Christmas is just around the corner and if you are on a lookout for a very special seasonal experience, then Dublin has something very unique and very different to offer. Behind the little blue door at N 22 on South Anne Street (just off Grafton Street) there is a venue very few know about. The grand Munnamed-1agistorium, where the ticket master will welcome you from inside a confession box, has opened its doors for the wide audience who is yearning not only for food for the stomach, but also for the thought and the soul. All three will be provided, no doubt of that!

Midnight in Nightown is about three hours experience that starts with a real feast of some of the most delicious foods, all at the accompaniment of the live harp playing on the background. A three course meal where even the bread and butter are so indescribably tasty, they will leave any food critic in want for more. But remember to leave some space for the mains and the desert. I almost wished I was a food critic, who, through the power of good strong wording, could make people taste the tenderness of a lamb or the richness of a bouquet of a matured wine. But, unfortunately, I am not. So, here you will simple have to believe me: the food is tasty and plenty. You shall not be disappointed. They also offer vegetarian options.

Approximately two hours after savouring the delicacies and enjoying the intimate atmosphere of the venue deepened in the soft purple light, it’s finally show time. The actors – stylishly playing Georgian prostitutes, priests and other colourful characters of the past – come out to interact with the audience. Suddenly we are in one of Europe’s most famous Red Light Districts – Dublin’s Monto. And who is here to join us? None the less but W B Yeats (played by Tom Moran) and James Joyce (played by Rex Ryan) themselves. For the next hour our attention will be stolen by the tragic story of Yeats’ extramarital affair with a local prostitute girl Honour Bright (played by Lisa Byrne), with whom he fathered a son. Unlike her last name, Honour’s fate was far from being bright. And she is on stage tonight to tell her own story, as well as those of other Monto’s girls.

But not to worry, your fancy night out won’t end on a tinge of sadness. The company has got a lot in store to keep the audience entertained, singing and dancing. Midnight in Nightown, directed by Lisa Byrne, is unnamedfilled with poetic passages, melodic songs and references back to romantic Ireland. It’s 1922, the Easter Rising has already happened, Ireland has finally become a Free State. We are offered a slightly different sneak peak on the life of those who are normally left unheard, whose stories are usually spared. It’s not Ireland in the midst of a Civil War, this part of the country is fighting its own different battle. Here we will hear everything from The Dubliners to the famous Molly Malone song to extracts from the just published Joyce’s Ulysses as it’s being reenacted on stage at the same time by Leopold Bloom (played by John Doran).

The audience isn’t only welcome but also encouraged to participate in all the singing and dancing. And believe me, many of you will find it difficult not to! A truly Irish experience that could be enjoyed by both the locals and the visitors of the city. Midnight in Nightown is hugely entertaining. It bears the traditional Irish spirit of eating, singing along and telling stories.

Magistosium opens its doors to this very special experience every Friday and Saturday starting from November 11th. Advanced booking is highly recommended as those seats will be filled very quickly. A perfect opportunity for a cultural night out with friends, family or loved ones. For more information or to book tables, contact the venue directly at 01 7079899 or through their website: http://www.magistorium.com/

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Bewley’s Café Theatre: To Hell in a Handbag

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Tiger Dublin Fringe might be just over (all the winners have been announced) but I’m yet to write one more review. And let me say just how delighted I am the festival has ended on such a high note for me.

To Hell in A Handbag, The Secret Lives of Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism, by Helen Norton and Jonathan White is an amusing play about… And that’s exactly how you would expect me to start a review. But, not this time! Do you love fan fiction as much as I do? I can tell you even more, I myself might have penned a line or two re-imagining the lives of my favourite characters and fantasizing about what they might be doing and talking about behind the scenes. And that’s exactly why To Hell in A Handbag was such a dear to my heart production. You’ve been warned now, so proceed with care!

Who hasn’t heard about Oscar Wilde’s The Importance about being Earnest? We have all seen the numerous stagings and re-stagings of cucumber sandwich eating and posh talking snobs in their most beautifully designed English households and countryside manors. Even Lady Bracknell being played by a man isn’t  novice anymore. But what about the little people? Those who usually say little but mean much more. Shall they forever be forgotten in the shadows?

Helen Norton and Jonathan White decided to give the resolution (and a chance for a slightly better future) to some of the most colourfully shaped of Wilde’s characters: Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism. In a wonderfully staged 60 min production, Wilde’s original ending of the story is happening off-stage (“Oh dear, I think I can hear him turning in the grave”, one might be thinking) while the main stage is being overtaken by Chasuble and Prism who happen to have quite a lot to tell each other. Being faithful to the title of the original play, they also show each other the importance of being earnest (and how to get away with it). While they reveal to us their own secrets and events form the past, we are also given the opportunity to witness their personalities and relationship with each other unravel.

Needless to say (but crucial to mention in a review) that the dialogue in this play is a pure masterpiece. Not for a second it sounds as if it hadn’t been written by the master Wilde himself. And those who know Wilde well will appreciate it as his style is quite unique, to say the least. In addition to the language, both Norton and White deliver their lines and reactions with such precision and perfect timing that the outcome exceeds itself: the audience is left in stitches  with amusement.

I would also like to point out the quite masterful lighting design (by Colm Maher) that really helped to bring out some of the moments and enhanced change of locations and moods. The piece also wouldn’t be complete without the absolutely Wilde-esk set design (by Maree Kearns) that once again helped shape the play as one whole piece.

The usage of the audio was quite a nice touch. It added that extra something that would make you believe the characters existed outside of the stage. It was also a great reminder of the story itself and how it fitted and intervened with what was happening on stage.

Definitely one of the major highlights for me during the festival! If Sir Wilde was still present amongst us (even though I am quite convinced he was, in spirit) this day, I am sure he would be in the first row giving a standing ovation. I can only add that Helen Norton and Jonathan White did all the justice to their characters; they did even more: they gave them a second life. For more info on the play: https://2hellinahandbag.com/

 

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Filed under Bewley's Café Theatre, Oscar Wilde, show in a bag, Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, To Hell in a Handbag, Uncategorized

The Bewley’s Theatre: The Wickedness of Oz

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“I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart.”

– The Wizard of Oz

Sooner or later all good comes to an end. Tiger Fringe Festival isn’t an exception. Two weeks of creativity and arts are ready for its final applause. Tonight the final curtain will fall on one of the undoubtable highlights of the festival – Kate Gilmore’s The Wickedness of Oz.

Presented as show in a bag, Gilmore’s 60 min play is a superb mixture of music, theatre and storytelling. The Wickedness of Oz isn’t all about the strength of the story (even though the script is amazingly entertaining and amusing to follow) but rather the stunning performance given by Gilmore, who is also the writer of the piece.

With the familiar tunes from the beloved musicals (slightly new wording though!), we follow Debbie, a young Dublin girl who holds a degree in hospitality and works in a travel agency. Debbie is twenty one, in love with her boyfriend and slightly irritated slash bored with her life trapped in the same old routine. She checks her phone only to see photos of other people, who seem to enjoy life much more than she does. And a light of hope sparks for Debbie when her boyfriend gets a visa for New Zealand and invites her to come with him. Will she go with him? Can she go with him? Can she be so selfish to leave her mother and father, who already lost two of their children? The middle one, Debbie is stuck. The yellow-bricked road seems to lead nowhere and sometimes there’s truly no place like home. No matter how grey the reality there might be.

Kate Gilmore brings her  play off the stage right into the midst of the happily roaring audience. Easily transforming from a dancer into a cabaret singer, and back into an office assistant, she blows her viewers away with her talents (that seem countless) and the ability to capture different characters and their traits.

The Wickedness of Oz is one of those plays that is so vocally strong that you start perceiving it from a different angle. Everything ceases to be only and simply visual; the different voices, the songs, the sounds, the pronunciations of the words start playing a huge role in the creation of the bigger story. Close your eyes and the picture will be just as vivid and colourful. It shows Gilmore’s incredible gift for transmitting the meaning through her voice.

I don’t want to underestimate other things, like the performance itself or the choreography (by Kitty Randle), which were all impossibly flawless. I just want to point out what made this performance in particular stand out from the bunch of other shows on offer. Kudos to Gilmore’s vocal coach Shelley Bukspan and the direct of the piece Clare Maguire, who made the Kate’s inner sunshine spread to the last rows of the packed theatre that the Bewley’s was on the night I visited it.

If you are choosing to step on a yellow path, let it bring you to The Wickedness of Oz, there might be no great wizard there but a very talented artist instead, who pulls down all the curtains to tell her story. The Wickedness of Oz, directed by Clare Maguire, closes on September 23rd. For more information: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/the-wickedness-of-oz

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Filed under Bewley's Cafe Theatre, kate gilmore, Th Wickedness of Oz, Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, Uncategorized