Tag Archives: Donal Gallery

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 Abbey Theatre: Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme

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The final curtain is falling on the Abbey Theatre’s summer season and with it we must witness the end of Waking the Nation – Ireland 2016 programme. The centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising is a few months short of being over, but The Abbey is already bidding its farewell with Frank McGuinness’ play Observe the Sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme.

A truly unusual choice of a theatrical piece to celebrate an important milestone in Irish history. McGuinness’ play, as the title might suggest, captures immediately before events occurring a short time prior to the battle of the Somme (July 1916), during which the British and the French armies fought against the German Empire. Some might say those events were insignificant and even unimportant on a bigger scale, but they might have made all the difference to the seven young Nordies and one Englishman who have all just signed up to fight in the first world war. Seen from the point of view of the eight volunteers, the play is primarily about the human side of the war. Eight young men: each one of them is very different from the other, each with his own background, beliefs and destiny. But all of them with one solemn reason: to fight for Ulster. The young men are thrown together into one barrack and then into one battlefield, but war smooths all the indifferences and disagreements so they can become brothers – the true sons of Ulster.

Knowing McGuinness from such works as The Hanging Gardens, Someone who will watch over me, Mutabilitie and many many others, it’s quite evident that the Donegal-born playwright has a very particular style of delivering a story. Observe the sons of Ulster isn’t an exception. Looking up to such prodigies as Shakespeare, this play opens with a twenty minute monologue of an old man (played by Sean McGinley) reminiscing, almost in a state of delirium, about his own experience prior and during the battle of Somme.

It’s been thirty one years since The Sons of Ulster Marching towards the Somme premiered in The Abbey Theatre. Now, this Award-winning play might not be the most obvious choice for an Irish centenary, but it’s an interesting choice regarding the diversity of plays staged in Dublin in 2016. McGuinness’ play shows the alternative story of 1916, what was happening in the world (and, by the way, let me just remind you that  WWI was happening) and how that might have affected the future events in both the Republic and the North. By no means, I want to underestimate the Easter Rising and overshadow it by a different piece. On the contrary, Observe the sons of Ulster just draws a broader picture of the horror happing in the world at the beginning of the twentieth century.

This production immediately stood out for me thanks to the ever so creative and hardworking cast and crew. The lighting design (by Paul Keoghan) was simply outstanding. An amazing example it was of a piece that hugely benefited from the light changes. The perfectly captured shades of bloody red or peacefully blue sky made all the difference while setting the mood. I was also quite fond of the idea to elevate upstage (designed by Ciaran Bagnall). It slightly changed the perspective but hugely influenced the perception of the space, which made the first couple of rows be really grateful for.

I have to mention that the acting and directing (by Jeremy Herrin) was quite on a top level; nevertheless, it made me wonder if a female perspective would have revealed something interesting and unexpected in this purely male piece?

The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme runs in The Abbey Theatre until September 24th. The last piece in Waking The Nation – Ireland 2016 programme. For more info or to book the tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/observe-the-sons-of-ulster-marching-towards-the-somme/

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Filed under 2016 The Abbey Programme, frank mcguinness, observe the sons of ulster marching towards the somme, The Abbey Theatre, Uncategorized, Waking the Nation