Tag Archives: Darragh Kelly

Project Arts Center: Northern Star

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It was on a Belfast mountain I heard a maid complain
And she vexed the sweet June evening with her heartbroken strain,
Saying, "Woe is me, life's anguish is more than I can dream,
Since Henry Joy McCracken died on the gallows tree.
- Irish Folk Song

We need to talk about The Rebellion. The 1798 Rebellion.

Being completely overshadowed by The Troubles and the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish Rebellion of 1798 has been almost completely forgotten in the twenty first century. To the Republican ears of 2016 such names as Henry Joy McCracken or James Hope are nothing but estranged ghosts of the past. Rough Magic‘s strategically brilliant decision to bring a piece like Northern Star onto the Irish stage on the centenary of the Easter Rising is  quite admirable.

Having directed Northern Star a number of times before, this might be the year that Lynne Parker (who also happens to be a niece of the playwright’s) has finally “cracked” one of the most famous and much loved of  Stewart Parker’s plays.

Lynne Parker didn’t only create a very strong production, she has also pushed the boundaries to such an extent that any theatre maker can use the example of Northern Star as a play where gender has very little or absolutely no relevance. Having both Eleanor Methven and Ali White play male roles put this production onto a completely new level and linked the 1984 script with the Irish reality of 2016.

Northern Star is undoubtedly nothing less but a theatrical masterpiece. Telling the story of one very shaky night in the life of Henry Joy McCracken, a founding member of the Society of the United Irishman and what looks like a chronic insomniac, who is going through seven (st)ages of a man’s life. While the young and beautiful Mary Bodell is trying to catch some sleep upstairs in the loft with McCracken’s illegitimate baby daughter by her side, the young Irishman meets the ghosts of  past and present. He talks to them, he converses with them, sometimes he just sits there and listens to their stories… sometimes the visions are interrupted by the reality: McCracken is visited by his sister Mary Ann, who helps him to get new  identification documents just before the British officer comes to inspect the Irishman’s shed.

Northern Star is a juicy bone; it has a lot of substance in it, a lot to take it, a plot worth sticking your teeth into. For two solid hours the intriguing storyline and the mesmerizing acting grabs your full attention and doesn’t let it go even for a blink of an eye. Divided into seven (st)ages in total, we first witness McCracken during his Sheridan innocence, slowly but firmly progressing into Boucicault old-fashioned melodrama (which slightly resembles the pompous and over the top Commedia dell’arte), then going through somewhat witty and highly amusing Wilde-ness straight into Shaw’s realism, O’Casey’s heroism and Irishness, and rounding up with a very Beckettian chilling to the core ending. All the way from laughter to tears, this piece will leave you in beats.

Even for those who are not that much into theatre, all the styles used in this play will be easily identifiable and much enjoyed. Not to give any spoilers I can only add that one or two scenes will make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle, be it from the horror of the realism of the terror and spookiness of the supernatural. Every viewer will find something to enjoy and to identify with, that one I can guarantee.

It’s not just the brilliantly written and structured story that will amuse and completely conquer the audience, it’s the wonderful ensemble of actors (Rory Nolan, Eleanor Methevn, Ali White, Darragh Kelly, Charlotte McCurry, Robbie O’Connor, Paul Mallon and Richard Clements) and crew that has visibly put an enormous amount of time and thought into this production.

If all that hasn’t been enough to make you want to go and see Northern Star, then wait until I mention the technical aspects of the play. I have never doubted the amazing Zia Holly in her craft but in this production her work is simply stunning. With a very sharp and precise direction on Lynne Parker’s side and Holly’s designs of set and lighting, the play immediately transports you into the agonising night of McCracken’s tired mind. Conveniently, it has a strong resemblance to a theatre’s wings. “All the world’s a stage,  and all the men and women merely players…” says McCracken quoting Shakespeare.

Joan O’Cleary is the one who is responsible for the costume designs. With a total cast of eight actors, almost all of them are doubling and tripling, the costume changes happen so quickly that one can’t help but question oneself if it’s the same person standing on the stage. “But that’s what Stewart Parker wanted”, says Lynne Parker “the actors can switch roles by simply taking off or putting on a hat”. Nevertheless, the idea of having McCracken always wearing the same jacket that would easily identify him (the character is played by different actors male and female) during different (st)ages of his life is simple but ingenious, at the same time.

All the music and sound effects are done live by the actors on stage. Some of the sounds are really basic and created by simply tapping on a tambourine, but it’s the perfect timing and the effect it makes on the scene that makes all the difference. Charlotte McCurry’s a’capella singing is simply stunning.

Northern Star runs in The Project Arts Center until May 7th, after which the play is going go on a short tour to The Lyric Theatre Belfast and The Tron Theatre Glasgow. Perfect for its time, this production is a true masterpiece of Northern Irish Theatre. For more info or to book tickets: http://projectartscentre.ie/event/northern-star/

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Filed under Irish plays, Irish Stage, Lyric Theatre, Northern Star, Project Arts Center, Rough Magic Theatre Company, The Lyric Theatre

Project Arts Center: The Train

Ireland is a small country and whenever a play is a real success, the word is being spread around quite quickly.

Rough Magic presents the hit musical that I can see turning the lights on on Broadway one day. We are boarding The Train.

With an amazing cast, a live band, and a hell of a story behind it, after it premiered in the Lime Tree Theatre (Limerick) The Train has finally arrived in Dublin. Originally the play was part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2015, but due to [crazy] popular demand, extra days have been added. And The Train just kept on running.

From my own experience, I can safely say that one of the essential ingredients of making a rememberable play is by discussing an uneasy and deeply tabooed matter. The deeper you dig into the roots, the better it will be. That’s why such plays as The Field, Riders to the Sea, The Plough and the Stars will always be popular with the public. People love reminiscing, people love dwelling on good olden days. But even more, people love realising how long a road they have walked; how much they have changed; how much the country they call home has changed.

A play is always a very healthy way of reacting to a problem. It’s also a very desperate one! It’s the public’s scream of help and acknowledgment. Forty years have passed. We need to talk about The Train.

Think that only some thirty-forty-fifty years ago Ireland was a totally different place. Divorce was illegal, abortion was (and still is!) illegal, the use of contraceptions was illegal… a woman, if married, needed  permission from her husband if she wanted to travel to a different town or city! I am not even mentioning the fact that women were made redundant the day they got married. And even though matriarchy and women power was not a myth and existed, it was strictly restricted to stay within the walls of one’s own house. And it’s not that Irish women needed liberation (of course, they did!), even more they needed a life and to be in control of it!

Set in 1971 in Dublin, The Train tells us the story of five women who (along with another 42) boarded a train at Connolly station to go to Belfast. Five passionate activists from Irish Women’s Liberation Movement boarded that train to bring the contraception pill from the North (where it was legally, with a prescription, sold in chemists’) to the Republic. By law and by the catholic church, Irish women were not allowed to use any sort of contraception. No exception was made for no one. Family planing? Who needs it, when God has already planned it all!

By the reactions in the audience, it’s evident that for some women The Train touched on a very personal ground. I myself did not know anything about it before seeing the play, and even I was touched by some tunes and scenes. Oh, did I want to stand up to chant with the rest of the voices “Let them through!” when the girls have crossed the border and the train stopped in Dundalk!

I absolutely loved the way the story was delivered to us. If you think about it, such a difficult matter… was made into a musical. With nice and melodic tunes that carried the action forward, outstanding acting and the energy coming from both the cast and the audience, I can say without any doubt that The Train is to become one of Ireland’s symbolic plays.

Darragh Kelly gave an especially memorable performance! Watching him in a play is a pleasure itself, but his out-of-Father-Ted-ish priest was absolutely brilliant. The wit, the mimics, the mannerisms… it was all worth every last drop of sweat he produced!

The five “train” girls: Danielle Galligan, Kate Gilmore, Liza Lambe, Karen MacCartney and Sophie Jo Wassen were also outstanding. It was truly eye-captivating how they created totally different and unique characters.

The play would not be complete without Clare Barrett and Emmet Kirwan hilariously but absolutely beautifully portraying a “typical Irish couple”. I saw Clare in a couple of plays previously and she always wins me over with the ways she can naturally create an interesting and human character.

The set is another gem. Representing two railway tracks, it’s not only symbolic but also works very well establishing the hierarchy. Notice how some characters always stand on the tracks when they are speaking…

I don’t think that The Train needs any more words to be said… it’s an amazing play about our past and the journey we’ve all taken. The Train that departed on May 22nd 1971 has arrived back. Forty seven brave women made the journey that changed the life of all Irish women forever. And I’m not talking about condoms and the “jelly”. There are still women against contraception. At least, now they’ve got a choice.

The tickets are very hard to get due to the play’s success, but it’s always worth trying your luck. To get your ticket for The Train, as per usual… http://projectartscentre.ie/event/train/

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Filed under Project Arts Center, Rough Magic Theatre Company, The Train