Tag Archives: Denis Conway

The Gate Theatre: The Heiress

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“You are good for nothing unless you are clever.” 

–  Henry James, The Heiress

Ruth and Augustus Goetz’ adaptation of Henry James’s novel Washington Square, The Heiress is probably one of the most perfectly unimpressive plays. It’s a typical story of the late 19th century life of  the other half. The constant battle of money, affection and betrayal. It’s also a story where one of the main characters is none the less but a house,  beautiful but soulless space that becomes a prison for some and the entrance into the garden of Eden for the others. New York’s Washington Square charms, it attracts and mesmerizes people who have once seen its rich beauty and now are unable to let it go.They want it for themselves no matter what.

Slightly over two hours long The Heiress is a flaying piece with only a handful of characters. Centered mainly on the life of Catherine Sloper (played by Karen McCarthy), the only daughter of Dr. Sloper (played by Denis Conway) and his late but still very much beloved wife. A simple, bubbly, home life appreciative Cathy perhaps isn’t the best match for the gentlemen of the New York nobility but a spark of hope lights when she meets Morris Townsend (played by Donal Gallery). Against her father’s will and with the help of her spinster auntie Lavinia (played by Marion O’Dwyer), who is a great character herself, a secret marriage has been arranged. For Catherine the decision has already been made but what about the young fiancé who is a bit unimpressed to find out that in the case of this marriage taking place his young wife most definitely will be disinherited?

A cruel story of false promises of love, sour betrayal and cold-hearted but sweet revenge shows us one of the best examples of a strong female characterization in a dramatic play. Catherine is indeed a very enjoyable character whose personal growth is nothing but fascinating to witness.

Even though the play does have some very nice lines to feed one's mind and the acting is as superb as always, there was something missing in the piece to make it stand out. Too sweet and perfect to challenge the audience.

On a slightly more positive note, Jonathan Fenson’s stunning stage and dress designs made it an absolute pleasure for the eye to watch the play. I really enjoyed the captivating depth of the stage and how well it symbolically represented the story.

Directed by David Grindley, The Heiress runs in Dublin’s Gate Theatre until January 21st. Only a few chances left to catch it. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.gatetheatre.ie/production/TheHeiress2016

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Filed under Henry James, Ruth and Augustus Goetz, The Gate Theatre, The Heiress, Uncategorized, Washington Square

The Gate Theatre: Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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“When that big wolf came around only bricks and stone are wolf-proof”

– English Fable.

George (played by Denis Conway) and Martha (played by Fiona Bell) might be living in a house made of brick and stone but it doesn’t mean that they are safe from the big bad wolf. The dark creature has taken a different form and has already penetrated not only the house but also the minds of its inhabitants.

A dark, perhaps moon-less, night somewhere in New England. The  middle-aged disappointing underachiever George and his older with some clear daddy-issues wife Martha are clearly not on their first drink of the night. Soon the couple is joined by another – somewhat younger and much less bitter – couple of newcomers to the town: Honey (played by Sophie Robinson) and Nick (played by Mark Huberman), who is to work in the biology department of a small Ivy League university that Martha’s father is the president of and where George has been teaching history since before the war.

Edward Albee’s 1962 play is a fierce three hour piece almost completely consisting of  meaty raw dialogues and conversations. The lines are so masterfully written that they are like a game of ball which the characters are constantly throwing at each other. The point, of course, is not to drop the ball. Talking about games: the play is divided into three clear acts; each one of them could be represented by a fictional game that the characters play. Ironically the games consist of one of the characters mocking the insecurities and poorly-made life decisions of the another in a very cruel, selfish and disturbing way.

But the liquor cabinet is unfathomable in George and Martha’ house therefore the night of verbal abuse and human degradation continues. Who’s line is it anyway? What is it going to be: a smack or a smooch? Albee creates a locked room situation where instead of a house, each character is a prisoner of his or her own mind and past. Each one of them is trying to protect their own “roof” while provoking the beast all at the same time. So inevitably comes the moment when the big bad wolf comes along and starts blowing that roof off. But, given the chance, those piggies gladly become the wolf themselves.

Staged in the absolutely stunning decorations (by Jonathan Fensom) of a very realistic upper middle-class intelligentsia living room, the play is one hundred percent a success thanks to the snappy sharp acting and punch-perfect delivery of the lines. It’s not easy to bring up such an overloaded (in all senses) play and make it “can’t take my eyes off” type of watch but Bell and Conway are simply outstanding in this production. They create the kind of love-hate relationship situation that is fresh and magnetic. The highly skillful ensemble of four masterfully holds the tension and the drama for the whole three hours of the piece. The play does bear its moments of dramatic action and sudden comic relief in some of the most unexpected places.

So, if you think you are not afraid of the big bad wolf, then may The Gate Theatre be your house for the evening. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?,directed by David Grindley, is back in The Gate Theatre by popular demand. This time around it has a very limited run of only nineteen performances with the closing date as soon as November 12th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.gatetheatre.ie/production/WhosAfraidofVirginiaWoolf2016

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Filed under David Grindley, The Gate Theatre, Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The Abbey Theatre: The 24 Hour Plays.

For five years now the last Sunday of January is celebrated in the Irish theatre community by going to The 24 Hour plays (that, in the last couple of years, has been hosted by The Abbey Theatre).

For a good cause, in aid of Dublin Youth Theatre, this almost charity event opens for one night only to show its audience that a real talent and passion for acting (and all theatre making related) is truly limitless and often self-sacrificing.

Originally from the other side of the Pond, The 24 Hour Plays was meant to be a one off charity event, but the people liked it and wanted more; so now, more than twenty years after, it has been welcomed by the theaters of all across the globe: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Dublin, Athens and others.

The concept is pretty basic: in a time frame of 24 hours a number of writers, directors and actors come together in order to create six brand new short plays. In order to inspire imagination everyone brings in a prop and a costume, the actors are asked about a special skill that they might use during their performance and also what they have never done on stage but always wanted to. This last part is my favourite. Apart from finding out some rather interesting and peculiar skills that one might have, it’s great to see them being employed in the performances in the most obvious but unusual way.

The groups are quickly formed; the writers and directors chose which actors they are going to work with.

After less than a day of rehearsals, and a 20 min of technical rehearsal (those involved in theatre will understand the complete ridiculousness of this last bit) and I don’t know how much time (but it’s definitely not a lot) of learning the lines, working on the character and developing the back story, the audience is finally invited in.

This year the list of writers had such fast rising names as Emmet Kirwan, Rosaleen McDonagh, Jacinta Sheerin and Tracy Martin, Lee Coffey, Derek O’Connor and Tara Flynn.

The directors are all industry professionals: Selina Cartmell, David Horan, Aoife Spillane-Hinks, Madeline Boughton, Conor Hanratty, Donnacadh O’Brien.

With a total number of 28 devoted actors, including such names as Lorna Quinn (who is currently appearing in The Importance of Being Earnest at The Gate Theatre), Denis Conway (You Never can Tell, showing at the moment in The Abbey Theatre), the beautiful storyteller, broadcaster and actress Nuala Hayes, Camille Lucy Ross (Big Bobby, Little Bobby that has recently been part of First Fortnight in Dublin), Kate Stanley- Brennan (who has just gone into rehearsals for new Abbey’s production of The Plough and The Stars that will premier in March of this year as part of Waking The Nation programme).

This year’s 24 Hour Plays was my third and I must say that every year it never ceases to amaze me how much talent and creativity there is in Irish artists. They are not only able to pull off a sketch (completed and fully developed from scratch literally in the last 24 hours), but also engage its audience in a way that not every traditional play (with the appropriate amount of rehearsing and writing time) can.

I’m going to be honest, not every sketch is a masterpiece, but there is something in absolutely every piece that makes you want to watch it and find out more about its characters. Be it a sci-fi based story set in a dystopian future or a ridiculously funny piece from somewhere closer to home and the heart, there is always something that one can relate to and find interest in.

Another amazing and wonderful at the same time thing about this type of event is that each group of artists works so organically and complementary together that where the writing might not be the strongest side, the directing or the acting will be. It’s very much a team work. And being able to work in a team is already a huge step towards success in theatre making.

This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the beautiful and absolutely charming The Evertides, the Irish group that totally rocked The Abbey yesterday. With their meaningful and gentle songs, the evening was complete. And the girls took the 24 Hour challange upon themselves too, and wrote a completely new song from scratch.

Unfortunately, The 24 Hour Plays is a yearly event for one night only. For more information, please check it’s official web page: http://www.24hourplays.com/

 

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Filed under Dublin Youth Theatre, The 24 Hour Plays, The Abbey Theatre