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The Abbey Theatre: Anna Karenina


“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: Town is Dead


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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Verdant Productions: Signatories


“So many people have died for Ireland; one or two should’ve opted to live for it.”

– Joseph O’Connor

It’s April 2016 and there has already been a numerous amount of Easter Rising related productions and events all over Ireland. It’s also quite early in the year to make any statements but if you are going to see only one play on the matter of the famous history-changing actions that took place in Dublin exactly a centenary ago, then make it Signatories by Verdant Productions.

I had a unique chance and a huge privilege to attend the dress rehearsal of Signatories last night. For three nights only it will be presented to the public in none the less, but Kilmainham Gaol itself! If you have never been to the gaol before, then take it as a double treat!

Signatories opens tonight and will run in Kilmainham Gaol until April 24th before it sets on a short tour, visiting The Pavilion Theatre Dún Laoghaire, The Civic Theatre Tallaght and finally closing on May 5th in the Dublin’s National Concert Hall.

Eight original monologues specifically written for this occasion by some of Ireland’s most acclaimed writers: Emma Donoghue wrote a piece on Elizabeth O’Farrell’s (performed by Barbara Brennan) eventful day on April 29th 1916, who was an Irish nurse sent, white flag in hand and red cross on her shoulder, to deliver the unconditional surrender to the British military; Marina Carr wrote a monologue for Thomas McDonagh (performed by Stephen Jones) who was naively romanticizing the fact of dying for his country before a target was put on his military jacket in the small hours on May 3rd 1916; Frank McGuinness wrote the experience of Éamonn Ceannt (performed by Ronan Leahy) playing heads and tails in his cell, when the result didn’t even matter anymore, his fate, just as the fate of his country, had already been predetermined; Thomas Kilroy showed us the last hours of Padraig Pearse (performed by Peter Gaynor) life, whose watch was taken away from him, so all he was left to do was pray and face something that is even scarier than death: his own company; Hugo Hamilton took a very unusual insight on James Connolly’s life and told his story through the eyes of a girl (performed by Lisa Dwyer Hogg) who has never even met the man himself; Joseph O’Connor lifted the curtain on the fact that being scared doesn’t make a coward out of man, before receiving the bullet himself Joseph Mary Plunkett (performed by Shane O’Reilly) heard his three friends being executed beside him; Rachel Fehily took upon herself the uneasy task of shadowing the light on the last hours of Thomas Clarke’s (performed by Joe Taylor) life, the person who is claimed to be “responsible for the Easter Rising”; Éilis Ní Dhuibhne also decided to show us the other side of history, and told the story of the last hours of Seán McDermott’s life through the eyes of his young, giggly and full of life fiancé Min Ryan (performed by Roseanna Purcell).

Eight brilliant pieces presented by eight wonderful actors, the experience of Signatories is once in a life time. I don’t know what takes your breath away more: the absolutely flawless and deeply touching performances by an amazing group of actors or the fact that all those characters were real, and they actually did live and some of them spent their last hours within the same walls where you are standing right now. As the sun sets over the horizon and there is no natural light coming through, you start feeling the coldness of the Gaol’s walls. All actors are using microphones which only adds to the already quite eerie atmosphere of the space. In the inky darkness and impeccable silence the voices of the actors are almost out of this world-ish.

Each and every single one of the eight pieces is different, it has it’s own rhythm, energy and mood. Within the space of two hours the walls of Kilmainham witness songs, reciting of poems, words of passion, love and desperation directed towards one’s own wife, family or motherland.

And standing right there and right then, I couldn’t help but remember O’Casey’s famous words:

“Ireland is greater than a wife; Ireland is greater than a mother”.  

Signatories, directed by Patrick Mason, is not a play, it’s an experience. And no amount of amazing set designs, beautiful decorations or the comfort of a traditional theatre auditoriums can offer you what Signatories in Kilmainham does.

And just before I round this up (because, yet again no amount of words can express what simply has to be seen), I want to give you a little piece of a somewhat practical advice:

If you are attending this performance in the Kilmainham Gaol, I would highly recommend wearing a pair of comfortable shoes and a warm jacket. The performance ends well after ten, when the sun has already set. And, no matter how much one does not believe in ghosts, it’s an old jail after all and the stone is a very cold substance that has a long memory. But, be it the energy from the touching performances or the spirits of the long deceased, it will chill you to the bones. So, dress well and bring a bottle of water!

For more info or to book the tickets: http://centenaries.ucd.ie/events/signatories/ 

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The Gate Theatre: A Month in The Country.

The Gate Theatre presents Brian Friel’s adaptation of one of Turgenev’s most famous plays “A Month in The Country”.

The plot of the story is, once again, as old as the world: somewhere in the deep Russian countryside there is a big house owned by a rich family with an oldish matriarch (played by Barbara Brennan) ruling over it. Upstairs, Downstairs. Both the rich and the poor are bored with themselves and the lack of absolutely anything happening around. So they have to make the life bearable by their own means. Natalia Petrovna (played by Aislín McGuckin) is the young lady of the house. Once married, she isn’t attracted to her rich husband (played by Nick Dunning) anymore. She doesn’t share his passions or interests… as a matter of fact, she is more interested in the family’s best friend Rakitin (played by Simon O’Gorman). Rakitin is a very educated, noble, rich and not that bad a looking man. He truly loves Natalia, but out of respects to her husband (his best friend), he doesn’t dare to do anything. Everything changes, when a new teacher has been hired for Islayev’s youngest son. Belyaev (played by Dominic Thorburn) is a 21 year old man from a very middle class family, who has earned his education and now works as a teacher. For him living with the Islayevs is fascinating. He had never been allowed before to a world of rich, elegant and sophisticated people. He immediately becomes attracted to Natalia for she is unlike any other woman he had seen before. She is also attracted to him, but more out of boredom. He is like a breath of fresh air in the routine of the everyday life, a new toy to play with, a different creature to study.

A Month in The Country is a very interesting piece of theatre because it strips downs the very human nature and shows it as it is. Rakitin leaving Natalia and the house, so he will not be “interrupting” his beloved’s happiness any more. Natalia, who for her own happiness, is ready to destroy another person’s life. She barely thinks twice when offered to marry out the little Vera (played by Caoimhe O’Malley) to a “fat, old and very stupid man” (played by Pat McGrath). Vera has fallen in love with Belyaev and therefore is considered to be blocking Natalia’s way to her own happiness.

The cheeky doctor (played by Mark O’Regan) comes and goes. He is that person who got stuck “in between” the classes. Being a worker, he will always remain a middle class man for the rich, but by constantly visiting and trying to get them to like him, he thinks that one day he might be able to join the club. A person of a good nature, he also doesn’t think twice when offered to play a part in the marrying out the “old, fat and stupid man” to Vera, as long as it profits him.

Then there is Herr Shaaf (played by Peter Gaynor), a German gentlemen, a friend of the family. Shaaf is hilarious. Due to his bad English, he doesn’t really know what’s going on. He likes Katya, the young maid (played by Clare Monnelly) and it’s quite clear that Katya is happy about that. Everyone is looking for their own benefits: the old German is attracted by the young blood, while Katya herself hopes to get out of the life of a poor maid. But, yet again, the two worlds can’t quite come together. The class gap is way too big. The only consolation to Katya is Matvey (played by Dermot Magennis), a forty year old man servant.

The story line is much more complicated than I have described it. Every single characters has a drama or an addiction of his or her own. By the way, talking about the characters… After having seen this particular production of A Month in The Country, I can honestly say that there are no small characters but only small actors.

A Month in The Country is a play full of characters whose storylines aren’t particularly huge and important, but! And here comes a very big But! All the actors made their small characters look so outstanding and full that I was simply wowed. Take, for example Lesaveta Bogdanovna (played by Ingrid Craigie). The woman didn’t play the part, she lived it. Every movement, every line, every gesture… for somebody who studies acting, that was an eye-opening performance. There are actors who act beautifully and doubtlessly are very talented, but Ingrid Craigie just was there and that was enough.  During the interval I heard some whispers from the audience and was indeed very happy to realise that they all agreed with me.

The same goes to Nick Dunning. The only difference is that I had already been familiar with Mr. Dunning’s way of acting but, nevertheless, his astonishingly perfectioned skills never seize to amaze me. No movement is a small movement, no word is an insignificant word… It’s incredible to see real people on stage not just good actors.

And that’s what The Gate Theatre is all about: comfortable plays, beautiful sets, amazing dresses and very skilled actors. The play doesn’t really challenge or raise any serious modern issues. It’s just one of those cosy little plays that one can’t help but enjoy on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

A Month in The Country runs until August 22nd in The Gate Theatre, Dublin. For more info or to book tickets, please visit: http://www.gatetheatre.ie/production/AMonthInTheCountry2015 

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Theatre Upstairs: Rehearsed Readings

Yesterday the curtains fell on a series of rehearsed readings in Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs. Four brand new plays, eight talented playwrights, three different directors and a total cast of sixteen actors and actresses. I must say that I am not a big fan of rehearsed readings (some of them can be really dull) but as soon as I saw the names of the playwrights, there was no chance that I would miss it. Not every week you are given an opportunity for just a tenner to go and witness creative work of a bunch of Irish best playwrights. And I really mean it. From the good ol’ ones to the rising newbies.

The first play “Quartet” was written by one of Irish most famous and loved playwrights Marina Carr. The rehearsed reading of  the play was directed by the Theatre Upstairs’ very own Karl Shiels. The story revolves around a married diplomat (played by John Kavanagh), his beautiful middle-aged wife (played by Sharon Coade), his elder but wise and intelligent Irish mistress (played by Barbara Brennan) of whom the wife is very much aware!, his young American lover (played by Ciara O’Callaghan) and her teenage son.

I can’t say that I’m very familiar with Marina Carr’s previous work (who doesn’t know “By the Bog of Cats”, obviously) but, for some reason, I expected something totally different from “Quartet”. I can’t say what exactly. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a very light and humorous play. The audience were in stitches how funny some bits of it were.

Another great thing about this play was that all the cast was clearly enjoying the reading just as much as the audience did. It might have happened because it was the very first night and everything was new and unknown… but it definitely added to the whole atmosphere.

The second play was “Ceasefire Soldiers”, written and directed by Jimmy Murphy. This really Irish play tells the story of three IRA volunteers. Two young men: Sean (played by Liam Carney) and Eamonn (played by Frank O’Sullivan) and a girl Marie (played by Neilí Conroy) were living in England when they got recruited by the same man from for an important task on behalf of IRA. The task was to place a bomb in Central London (Soho). They were told that the bomb won’t go off, it was just needed to remind the people about the Irish radicals and that the IRA was still alive. Eamonn, Sean and Marie did as they were told. They followed the instructions. But the bomb did go off. And two people were killed, including an innocent child. Soon after the Irish Three realised that it was all well-planned beforehand, they decide (each other on their own) to run away from London. Go to somewhere like Scotland or Wales to hide for some time before they could safely return to Ireland. They were never caught.They were never convicted. They were never imprisoned. But now, thirty years after, they still carry the burden of their wrong-doing. And as Jimmy Murphy puts it himself “For some people the war is just never really over”.

This play was totally different from the first one. As a matter of fact, they are incomparable. The mood of this play is much heavier and darker. You see the situation from the perspective of view of the IRA members. What they did, how they did it and what happened next. This piece plays with the audience feelings a lot: there they are, people who in their own hands brought the bomb to Soho and left it there. What kind of feeling does it awake in you? What would you do in their place? Is it their fault?

Yet again, the cast for this play was spot on.

The third play was “Fogarty”, written and directed by Karl Shiels. As we were told before the reading, this play was commissioned by The Abbey Theatre. So maybe some time in the near future we will see a fully staged production of this play in The Peacock?

Fogarty is a play about a clown named Fogarty (played by Joe Conlan) and a thirteen year old girl (Megan O’Brien) who he had kidnapped and now keeps in his basement. The story is being told to us by the little girl herself. She has been in the dirty basement for some time now, she is already used to it. She has even kind of grown to like (“accept” might be the word) Fogarty. She is not scared of him anymore. She has even found a way of talking to him and making him do what she wants (sometimes, when he is in a good mood).

This play was probably the darkest one of all. It contained some strong language and explicit descriptions at times to make the piece sound authentic. I absolutely loved Megan O’Brien’s voice. It was like a little bell. She did sound like a little girl. On the opposite side, Joe Conlan created an absolutely appalling and disgusting Fogarty The Clown but put something very human into him too, which is always the main aim in acting. Nobody wants to see a completely evil creature if there wasn’t something human in it, something everyone (on some level) could relate to.

The ending of this piece was interesting, I thought. I can’t really say that it was totally unexpected but the solution of the problem was very smartly pitched.

The fourth reading was a whole collection of mini  plays: “Youth” by Kate Gilmore, “Glutton Free Philosophy” by Keith James Walker, “Presentation” by Jeda De Brí and Finbarr Doyle and “Slice” by Lee Coffey.  All of them directed by Jeda de Brí.

This was quite something. First of all, it was a bit more than a simple reading. More like full scenes played out by actors. All four of them were very different: from an arguing couple (who happened to be a brother and sister) to a guy who steals bikes to another couple who has found not the easiest way to get their first work project to a guy who can’t tolerate glutton and is in love (it’s a difficult story!). Some of the pieces aimed to be funny and some of them really were. Furthermore, all of the pieces were very well done and quite enjoyable.

It was a bit sad to realise that it was the last one, though! There goes hoping and wishing that Theatre Upstairs will organise more readings like these ones some time soon!

For more info about the plays or to keep an eye on forthcoming plays, visit: Theatre Upstairs

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