Tag Archives: irish arts

Theatre Upstairs: Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws

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Tea + Toast Theatre Company in association with Theatre Upstairs presents Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws. And if the title itself hasn’t already intrigued you enough, then maybe you should stick around for a bit longer to find out what it’s all about.

An original piece of theatre, written by Joyce Dignam and directed by Dignam herself and Meabh Hennelly, Fizzy Drinks is a simple story told from a very nontrivial point of view. It tells us about an Irish family on their holidays in Wexford. Maybe not the fanciest of all holiday destinations, one might think and Lara (played by Ali Hardiman) and Rosie (played by Tara Maguire) will definitely agree with you. But it’s not the lack of exoticism or Mediterranean sun on the resort that upsets the little girls; it’s the feeling that something bad is going on in their family and nobody would tell or explain them anything. Mam and Dad seem to be enclosed in a local pub with a family friend, while Lara and Rosie are left to play by themselves in a playground outside. Nevertheless, their minds can’t help but wonder what’s really hiding behind all that grown-up talk that even playing Mommies and Daddies doesn’t help.

In this approximately one hour play, we witness the story from the point of view of two little girls – the eldest being only ten. It’s definitely catchy and refreshing. Both Hardiman and Maguire are excellent at portraying little girls as well as adults. The sense of naiveness and childishness that they transmit to the audience is nothing but adorable and hugely entertaining.

Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws is an easy to watch and enjoy production showcasing some of the raising talents of the Irish theatre. The play was presented as part of this year’s Scene and Heard Festival last month. Apart from decent acting, there is some nice lighting (by Shane Gill) and sound (by Conrad Jones-Brangan) designs. As for the set design, being presented as a playground, it’s quite outstanding with a real slide mounted on the Theatre Upstairs’ cozy stage.

Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws runs in Theatre Upstairs till April 8th. It’s never too late to be a child again and perhaps remind yourself how it all used to feel like. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/fdwts

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The Abbey Theatre: Arlington

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The new season, and what looks like a whole new life for The Abbey Theatre, opened 2017 with one of Enda Walsh’s most recent plays – Arlington, a dramatic performance of a new dystopian world that jumps out of page on Ireland’s National Stage in a fascinatingly profound embodiment.

In this ninety minute non-stop piece, Walsh brings us on a multi-dimensional journey into a strangely scary futuristic world of broken people and imprisoned emotions. What roughly could be divided into three parts, Arlington is a powerful combination of spoken words, dance, movement, monologue, sound and visual effects. Almost like something out of a George Orwell novel, in reality Arlington is a beautifully metaphorical closed room drama, speaking both literally and metaphorically.

Isla is a girl (played by Charlie Murphy) who has spent almost an entire life inside this weird empty waiting room just waiting for her number to be called. The only source of communication with the outside world for her has been a mic on the wall. There is a guy – the new guy (played by Hugh O’Connor), as we soon find out – on the other side, nevertheless. In a small cluttered office, like a rat in his preassigned cubicle, he listens to Isla’s wildest dreams and thoughts. It’s only a matter of time now before he himself will take her place inside the locked madness.

And just as quickly as the door opens in front of Isla, it soon closes behind the other girl (played by Oonagh Doherty). Without saying a single world, she offers us her tale entirely through movement and dance. With an absolutely breathtaking game of light and shadow (designed by Adam Silverman), not a single bit of text or explanation is needed to transmit the meaning behind the silent story to the audience. The girl  uses her own body to convey the concept of a locked space: be it a room or a human body.

Walsh’s play premiered last year at Galway International Arts Festival. An abstract piece with more than defined meaning, Arlington combines in itself a hurricane of human emotions. Three very diverse, very different pieces about human nature , deep grief and yearning for something that they are being stripped off, present very nicely balanced contrast one to another.

The set design (by Jamie Vartan) and its symbolism also plays a huge part in the piece. Like a fish herself, the appropriately named Isla, for example, waits in a bare room with almost nothing but three plastic chairs and a forever empty fish tank.

A trap that you would love to fall into, Arlington runs in The Abbey Theatre until February 25th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/arlington?gclid=CP7IgfaZn9ICFW4B0wodBbcA_Q

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The Back Loft: Stitching

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How long does it take to make a first impression? Some of the recent researchers say that the answer is: as short as seven seconds! What if you are an emerging theatre company who wants to claim its place under the sun? How do you go about deciding which play is the very first one to stage and to win the audience over with?

Here we have a shining brand new theatre company with an intriguing name: BlackLight Productions, created and founded by the recent graduates of The Gaiety School of Acting’s part time acting course: Sancha Mulcahy and Cliodhna McAllister.

For their firstborn production, the company chose an alternative theatrical space known for its relaxed, cozy and welcoming atmosphere: The Back Loft. As for the pioneer play itself, the choice fell on a slightly controversial, even provocative and definitely bold piece by the Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson, who, let me just note it here, is known for exploring primarily sex and violence in his work. And Stiching isn’t an exception. It introduces us to Abby (played by Cliodhna McAllister) and Stu (played by Ciarán McCollum), a young couple who discovers that they are about to have a baby. Being neither prepared, nor particularly excited about the fact, they have no idea what life is just about to throw at them.

The way this play is written has a twist of its own: it shows us a sequence of non-chronological events that leads us to believe that Abby was a call girl before she started dating Stu while the guy himself is not a saint, either, expressing perverted sexual desires. The Abby and Stu we meet come from the past, as well as the future, at the same time living in this very moment. But the story isn’t as simple as it seems. With an intense conflict of a difficult relationship, we are made to wait until the very end to see the real revelation of Abbey and Stu’s story.

In this tragicaly natural and full of dramatic realism production, the actors interact with the audience. They use quite intesively the acting space available to them, which creates a very nice feeling of the world existing outside of the designated performing room. Using silent video shorts was a very creative approach for when it came to fill in the space while the actors were changing or preparing in between the scenes.

It’s safe to say that Stiching is a tense ninety minute piece and it takes a real spine to choose it as the very first play when you are only starting out. The BlackLight Productions and their collaborators did it and they did it well!

Stiching runs in The Back Loft until November 25th, so catch it before it ends! You only get one chance to see something for the first time. For more info about the play and the theatre company: https://www.facebook.com/blacklighttheatrecompany/?fref=ts

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Interview with Siobhán Donnellan (Going Spare)

“Hopeful. Authentic. Moving”

I met Siobhán Donnellan, the writer and performer of Going Spare, to talk about her passion for writing and acting, and the success of her latests play. Going Spare is running at Theatre Upstairs until October 24th, tickets can be booked here.

Siobhán tells me that as long as she can remember herself, she always wanted to act. Amongst the people who hugely inspired her, she names Mikel Murfi and Pan Kinevane. After finishing school, Siobhán decided to study Film and Television. But after six years working in the industry, she realised that the acting bug was still there well planted inside her. So she decided to do a Master’s Degree in Drama and Theatre in NUI Galway.

That year in Galway ended up in Siobhán with two other companions from the same course starting a theatre company – Dragonfly Theatre Company. As the result of this collaboration, a new Irish play immerged “Married to the sea”, in which Siobhán took upon her first lead role. The play proved to be a real success and the company toured with it to Dublin, Edinburgh and New York Fringe Festivals.

Such success also gave Siobhán that extra bit of confidence and determination to do what what she really felt passionate about. More to herself than to anyone else, she proved that she could do it.

In between acting jobs, Siobhán also found the beauty and pleasure in writing. Playwrighting gave her the liberty to be able to write the kind of roles that she could play herself rather than just sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. She started with short one act plays. That’s when the years of experience in production came in handy, as well.

A few years ago, Siobhnán was watching Medea Redux in a theatre in Galway and absolutely loved the way it was directed. The unusual authentic approach to the play and the bold strong choices the director made, made Siobhán realise that this was the kind of a directing she would want for her own plays. The director’s name was Aoife Connolly.

Siobhán was happy to realise that apart from being a very talented director, Aoife was also a person enjoyable and easy to work with. Bit by bit, the creative team for Going Spare started to build up.

Out of interest in the debate itself of whether there is or there is not such a thing as psychics, Going Spare was born. Siobhán reveals to me that she has always been intrigued by the possibility that there is an afterlife. And it doesn’t really matter whether the after-life exists or not, as long as people might be able to find a certain consolidation in it and it will bring them peace.

“It’s small things in life you need to grab on to stay alright”, Siobhán says.

Siobhán also liked playing with the idea that everybody has to face death. “Especially when you are a child and you have to sit down and have this conversation with somebody that we are not immortal; we all are going to die at some point”, she says. But, as children, we normally associate death with old people. In Maisie’s case it was different. She saw somebody of her own age die tragically.

Siobhán also tells me that she has her own approach to writing. She would write paragraphs and little scenes and, only at the end, they will all connect to each other in one or another way. “It’s like a jigsaw”, she says, where you have to find the right space for every single piece.

Going Spare evidently has a very unusual and challenging structure. The plays is set in the present with a couple of scenes that bring us back to Maisie’s past. Apparantly, these flashbacks weren’t in the play from the very beginning. And it was quite difficult for Siobhán herself to figure out how to compose the narrative so it’ll help the structure of the story instead of completely confusing it.

Siobhán also adds that the structure of Going Spare is a bit like human memory. We do tend to remember bits and pieces of what had happened. Each memory is highlighted by an emotion.

Aisling Quinn was the third woman who came on board of Going Spare. She composed all the music used in the production by herself. According to Shiobhán, “Aisling is the kind of person for whom less is more; she is about subtleness”, which works brilliantly for the play.

Sharon Bagnall, who is responsible for lighting and Katie Devonport, who designed the set, closed up the circle of 5 women making Going Spare the play we all can deeply enjoy.

Not being a very visual person herself, Siobhán was glad indeed when Katie came up with the simple but smart idea of the set design. The feather cloud floating above the stage (which, honestly, was the first thing that caught my attention as I walked into the auditorium) beautifully represented the eagle and Declan. In addition to the symbolism, it was a great help for Sharon, when it came to lighting. The material the cloud was made of could easily let the light shine through. Siobhán also revealed to me that for her, personally, the cloud is almost personified. Having it there always makes her feel that she is not alone.

I couldn’t help asking Siobhán if the fact that the production was brought by a team of five women was done on purpose. Interestingly enough, it was accidental. They had either worked with each other before on different productions or were recommended by somebody else. And “it couldn’t have worked out better”, says Siobhán with a smile. And I couldn’t agree more.

I ask Siobhán about the energy she brought in Maisie and what helped her develop such an interesting character. And her answer absolutely opens my eyes on a fascinating approach to acting she has: Siobhán works against the text. If the text is sad or angry she would try to read it with a completely different emotion and see what will it do to it. There is always more than one way of saying things. And, in real life, that’s often what gives away our true feelings. And I understand that that’s exactly what made Maisie such an amazing colourful character.

For somebody who had never done a one woman show before, Siobhán says that indeed it was very challenging for her to play all the characters. Not necessarily in a professional way, but also because being in a room with other actors can be very rewarding. You can feed from their energy; you can compensate for each other. Siobhán also didn’t want to fall into the trap of stereotyping her characters, that’s where the research and directing helped enormously.

As for the most enjoyable thing about the play, it was seeing the show finally coming together. Siobhán says that she had a sense of achievement. The audience’s reaction was quite rewarding, as well.

Going Spare is, certainly, a deeply moving, full of hope play. Siobhán says that to her Maisie is very real. She exists and she is still somewhere out there walking under the sky where an eagle flies, and he watches over Maisie in his own little way.

Don’t go spare, go and see Going Spare in Theatre Upstairs! For there is a Maisie living in all of us.

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