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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

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

Shakespeare’s Globe: The Taming of The Shrew

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2016 is a very important year for Ireland, therefore the overwhelming amount of productions celebrating and commemorating the Easter Rising 1916. But Ireland isn’t the only country that remembers 1916.

I took a trip across the Irish sea specifically to see undoubtedly one of the most important productions of 1916 commemoration: Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew, directed by Caroline Byrne for London’s Globe Theatre. With an all Irish cast that didn’t only use their original accents, but also spoke as Gaeilge from the Shakespeare’s original stage, was a truly powerful celebration of Ireland and Irishness. Even the band (adding to the whole Shakespeare-esk style of theatre performing) that entertained the audience before the play and during the interval was pitching nothing but Celtic tunes.

Something is also telling me that the choice of staging this particular play wasn’t random at all. Byrne must have wanted to show Ireland and the Irish struggle through the eyes of Katherine, the Shrew. The comparison couldn’t have been clearer… Anything but sublime is the message that Byrne is sending to the audience through the piece: even the toughest of souls can be tamed after times and times of abuse, humiliation and deprivation. And even though Shakespeare’s ending is a happy one, the play is a great example of what happens to those who are different and unlike everyone else. Katherine finds her own way of loving and living with her husband, but she herself will never be the same.

The strength of the performing ensemble doesn’t pass by unnoticed. From the very first second, all the attention is being captivated by the action and people on stage. This production also hugely benefits from some un-orthodox casting decisions. Thus, the parts of Tranio, Biondello and Grumio are all played by female actors. Byrne’s Taming of The Shrew is a great example of a long needed and yarned for gender equality: out of 14 characters 7 are played by men and 7 by women.

As in many of the bard’s plays, The Taming of The Shrew also plays with gender and role-switching. The masters become the servants and the servants become the masters.

Padua has been blessed with its new inhabitants and their ability to act with skill and gracefulness. No matter how small or big their role was, every single actor simply shined on stage. I particularly admired Imogen Doel’s (Tranio) cockiness and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s (Bianca) femininity that played stunningly in contrast to Aiofe Duffin’s stubborn but painfully humane Katherine; while Gary Lilburn performance has a somewhat unexpected surprise that won’t leave anyone indifferent.

Byrne’s directing is impeccable. Everything from the bigger picture to the smallest detail in movement or spoken word has been brought to absolute perfection. The characters are so beautifully fleshed out that the plot almost carries itself all throughout the two and a half hour piece. Even for people who might have troubles understanding Shakespeare, this production will be much more than enjoyable and understandable. All the actors are very clear; their strong voices resonate across the dome-shaped theatre and bounce back off its walls. Not a single word is missed, not a single word gets lost in the space.

The set design (by Chiara Stephenson) might also be somewhat unpredictable. At first glance almost bare stage easily converts from Padua into Baptista’s mansion and later into Petruchio’s slam house. Multi-leveled stage enforces the meaning of power and status of the characters. The space itself is very much a part of the play. With this particular production it’s easy to see how less sometimes is so much more. The attention from the acting isn’t being taken away from from the fancy sets or changes; the same goes to the costume designs (by Chiara Stephenson), it can almost be said that the play is performed in black and white shadows. Nevertheless, everything is so organic that the set just like the costumes, the actors and the musician become the play.

The Taming of The Shrew, directed by Caroline Byrne, runs in Shakespeare’s Globe till August 6th. In this fantastic performance 1734 Italian Padua magically converts into little town Ireland. Not to be missed under any circumstances. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/globe-theatre/the-taming-of-the-shrew-2016 

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Filed under Shakespeare's Globe, The Globe Theatre, The Taming of The Shrew, Uncategorized, Wonder Women