Tag Archives: irish plays

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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The Bewley’s Theatre: The Wickedness of Oz

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“I think you are wrong to want a heart. It makes most people unhappy. If you only knew it, you are in luck not to have a heart.”

– The Wizard of Oz

Sooner or later all good comes to an end. Tiger Fringe Festival isn’t an exception. Two weeks of creativity and arts are ready for its final applause. Tonight the final curtain will fall on one of the undoubtable highlights of the festival – Kate Gilmore’s The Wickedness of Oz.

Presented as show in a bag, Gilmore’s 60 min play is a superb mixture of music, theatre and storytelling. The Wickedness of Oz isn’t all about the strength of the story (even though the script is amazingly entertaining and amusing to follow) but rather the stunning performance given by Gilmore, who is also the writer of the piece.

With the familiar tunes from the beloved musicals (slightly new wording though!), we follow Debbie, a young Dublin girl who holds a degree in hospitality and works in a travel agency. Debbie is twenty one, in love with her boyfriend and slightly irritated slash bored with her life trapped in the same old routine. She checks her phone only to see photos of other people, who seem to enjoy life much more than she does. And a light of hope sparks for Debbie when her boyfriend gets a visa for New Zealand and invites her to come with him. Will she go with him? Can she go with him? Can she be so selfish to leave her mother and father, who already lost two of their children? The middle one, Debbie is stuck. The yellow-bricked road seems to lead nowhere and sometimes there’s truly no place like home. No matter how grey the reality there might be.

Kate Gilmore brings her  play off the stage right into the midst of the happily roaring audience. Easily transforming from a dancer into a cabaret singer, and back into an office assistant, she blows her viewers away with her talents (that seem countless) and the ability to capture different characters and their traits.

The Wickedness of Oz is one of those plays that is so vocally strong that you start perceiving it from a different angle. Everything ceases to be only and simply visual; the different voices, the songs, the sounds, the pronunciations of the words start playing a huge role in the creation of the bigger story. Close your eyes and the picture will be just as vivid and colourful. It shows Gilmore’s incredible gift for transmitting the meaning through her voice.

I don’t want to underestimate other things, like the performance itself or the choreography (by Kitty Randle), which were all impossibly flawless. I just want to point out what made this performance in particular stand out from the bunch of other shows on offer. Kudos to Gilmore’s vocal coach Shelley Bukspan and the direct of the piece Clare Maguire, who made the Kate’s inner sunshine spread to the last rows of the packed theatre that the Bewley’s was on the night I visited it.

If you are choosing to step on a yellow path, let it bring you to The Wickedness of Oz, there might be no great wizard there but a very talented artist instead, who pulls down all the curtains to tell her story. The Wickedness of Oz, directed by Clare Maguire, closes on September 23rd. For more information: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/the-wickedness-of-oz

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Project Arts Center: Coast

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From The Beach I slowly migrated last week to the Coast.

Presented by the award-winning Red Bear Productions, Coast is a drama about four lost souls anchoring on the edge of  darkness and reality. Each one of them finds him- or herself in a very difficult, unstable, place in life. A coast is a beautiful metaphor to the state of mind for the characters in the piece. Neither water nor ground, they are in such a state when there is no possible connection could be made with either the deepest darkness of the blue or the solid steady soil. Inbetweeners on the edge of eternity.

Carol (played by Camille Lucy Ross) is caring for her elderly mother, who has dementia and struggles immensely with the simplest of everyday tasks. The situation only worsens when the mother wonders off and Carol can’t find her anywhere.

Ann Marie (played by Aoibhéanne McCann) is a young mother of two suffering from severe depression, who wants to run away. But is it her children or herself she is running from?

Karl (played by Gordon Quigley) is a young gay guy, who lives with his sister and spends all of his free time watching porn. But even he isn’t happy with his life. Lonely, he also finds himself stranded along the coast, where he encounters Gerry (played by Donncha O’Dea), a man about a dog. Quite literally. He is walking his dog along the shore on the night. We find out quite little about Gerry’s past, but from the monologues it’s evident – it wasn’t the happiest one. He also has some dark secrets hidden deep inside and bothering his mind.

Written by Tracy Martin, in this magnolia type of play all the characters will come to cross each other’s paths at one or another point. The beautifully entangled script will unravel itself in front of the audience but only as much as it needs to. The rest will be left to the wildest of imaginations.

With the simple but spot-on set design by Ciara Murnane, thanks to the cubes turned into seaweed decorated boulders the Project Art’s Cube seems to disappear into the space while we are being transported to the lonely, almost melancholic, seaside. The darkish, cold autumn night mood is being brilliantly conveyed by the wonderful acting. All four actors give quite a touching performance but Donncha O’Dea outshines them all. Whether it’s the tragedy of the character itself of the actor doing masterly his job, Gerry’s story is heartbreaking.

Coast is an 80 min piece of quality theatre that won’t leave anyone indifferent. Catch it before it ends on September 24th. The second week of Tiger Dublin Fringe has a handful of surprises and treats! For more info or to book tickets: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/coast

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Project Arts Center: This Beach

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The first week of Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016 has drawn to its end with some of the shows having their last curtain call just last night. Personally, I closed the first week of this edgy, risky and ever so wonderful theatre experience with This Beach by Brokentalkers.

Not knowing what to expect from the play, I was quite intrigued from the moment I entered the auditorium. Usually wide opened, the Space Upstairs in The Project Arts Center had a drawn shower curtain hiding the stage. What’s behind it? – was saying my inner voice. And with a click of somebody’s finger (the power of the theatre) we were transported from rainy autumny Dublin to a sunny sandy beach in a somewhat more weather-lucky country. The only downfall was that that beach was private therefore no aliens allowed.

You see, the people who own the beach – a typical  caucasian upper middle-class European family, of course –  have had it for generations now. From father to son, this promised land has always remained in the same family. The current heir of the place, Bryan, is to marry the young and beautiful artist Breffni; so they can live and breed happily ever after on this beach. As Breffni is being concerned about the safety of the world outside of the beach, she tricks her mother, Pom, to join them. Resilient at first, Pom quickly realises that in this piece of paradise you are either in or dead. So, the family lives on the beach, where the sun is always shining and the beer is plenty, until one day a complete stranger – an alien – is being washed onto their shore. The obvious question arises: shall we keep him or kill him? The stove hasn’t cooled down yet.

This stunning production by Brokentalkers brilliantly reflects the current world situation through the play. It shows the immense and boundless power that some people have and the utter despair that is left to the rest. This Beach, directed by Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan, doesn’t create unnecessary metaphors or blurred out images of the shadowy reality, it openly shows the absurdity of the current situation concerning refugees. The world is an unfair place. The world where somebody owns a beach and is allowed to kill anyone who washes in on it (either willingly or not) is a dangerous, nightmarish place. A world, where people have forgotten how to dance, emphasize or care is a world that is doomed.

In addition to the brilliant concept of the story, I was taken by surprise when all the actors used their own names all throughout the play. They were not hiding behind a mask that somebody else has cut for them; they were proudly standing with their faces up high and bare in support of what they were doing.

Having seen quite a few shows during the first week of the Fringe Festival, I have to say that This Beach is one of the most, if not the most, powerful production with a huge emotional impact on its audience.

Presented as part of Europoly, the play was devised for Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016. Unfortunately, the play ended on September 18th. But, I strongly believe and hope that it’ll make a come back. A play like that should be seen. A tragic, but beautifully created story of a rotting future, if we don’t do something about it. For more info:  http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/this-beach

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Smock Alley Theatre: The Aeneid

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When the bookings opened to public for the Tiger Fringe Festival 2016, the very first ticket I booked was The Aeneid by the Collapsing Horse Theatre Company. Before even reading the description or the cast list, there was something about this production that hugely attracted me from the very first glance.

Based on Vergil’s epic poem – also called The Aeneid – the play follows a young translator (played by Maeve O’Mahony) who, presumably inspired by the spirit of Aeneis, re-tells the  original story of Aeneid, a Trojan solder, who decides to leave his destroyed and burnt down by the Greeks city of Troy. Hearing the prophecy that he is destined for a bright future, he sets out on a journey through the seas with a handful of survivors and faithful followers. Being deprived from his motherland, Aeneid is to become the founder of one of the greatest cities that ever existed – Rome. On his way to do so, he stops in Carthage, a new place founded by princess Dido (played by Aoife Leonard), who falls in love with Aeneid. The Trojan shares her feelings and is ready to stay with his new beloved but he is being promptly reminded of his duty. Is the man’s fate in his own hands? Can he make his own decisions and follow his heart?

The Aeneid by Collapsing Horse is a great example of a story in a story. With a quite basic, but very creative set (by Hanna Bowe) and costume (by Katie Davenport) design the play comes across as a pretty grand-scale solid production. I can easily see it being staged somewhere in a warehouse in London or New York, because that’s where all the cool stuff happens nowadays. It’s very fringy but it has enormous potential and a great idea behind it.

In the programme it says that improvisation played a big part in bringing up this production. And, from my experience, some of the best and most fun shows come from the improv and the exploration of the unknown. The creative freedom gives to the actors  the opportunity to bring to life and existence the best moments. In The Aeneid there is a very simple beauty in the momentum: when the actors communicate between each other, when they step out of characters and create those links in between the scenes.

With the total cast of 5, I must say that it was quite an interesting – and wise – decision to cast an actress to play the part of Aeneid. O’Mahony did an amazing job as the main character and certainly added a glow to the piece. The whole ensemble seemed to work in unison and created a beautiful production, but I couldn’t help mentioning John Doran and his immensely enjoyable and fun to watch Tedd. There might have been one too many moments when he absolutely stole the show.

I must add that before coming to see The Aeneid, I’d heard about the Trojan war and was familiar with little bits of it (such as the Trojan horse, for example) but I had no idea what the story was about. After leaving the auditorium, I realised that the greek tragedies might not be exactly my cup of tea, but I enjoyed what I saw (the reimagined version), I was quite entertained and hugely amused by the acting. And from the audience’s reaction, so were they and that’s the best proof of a success.

The Aeneid, directed  by Dan Colley, runs in The Smock Alley’s Main Space as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016 till September 24th. Get your Greek mythology refreshed. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/the-aeneid 

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Smock Alley Theatre: Animalia

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Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016 is in its prime with the first week shows in full swing. With the three shows under my belt, this review will be about Ian Toner’s new play Animalia.

Developed at Fringe Lab with the support of Tiger Dublin Fringe and Theatre Lovett, this fifty min piece follows the story of two girls who could’ve been best friends: Danielle (played by Louise O’Meara) and Sarah (played by Ashleigh Dorrell) – two eleven year olds, who are going through fifth grade crisis of identity, popularity, friendship and first love and loss. What could be more existential than two children being faced with every day – every life issues known to anyone who has ever been a child.

So, why go and see this play out of all others on offer during the fringe? The answer might be somewhat more obvious that many would expect. Because we’ve all been eleven years old, we’ve all experienced what Sarah and Danielle (and Brigid and other girls and boys in the play) are going through. And now, when we are in our twenties and thirties or further down the road, now we can finally look back and not only smile at our young selves, now we can see how smart we were and how big some of those issues were and how wise we managed them despite our age and inexperience. Animalistic instinct – first rule of survival.

To bring this onto a different level, one of the main characters – Sarah – is given a trivial, at first look, but crucial to the story hobby: she loves reading about animals and natural life. So, the characters are not only being compared to the inhabitants of the somewhat wilder nature, but their actions, decisions and personalities are all animalistic to the very core. Simply because inside of each one of us there is an animal.  That helps to understand the play on a more instinct-driven level. We’ve all had a friend who was as hissy as a snake, as cute and adorable as a panda or as timid as mouse. When we talk about animals, we don’t consider only the outside but rather the inside, the very nature of a being.

Animalia, with its absolutely superb acting, is the perfect example of how tragedy is shown through comedy. Both O’Meara and Dorrell portray a whole range of characters (varying quite masterly both gender and age). Even though it does take some time to get used to the idea that one actor can be playing two different characters in the same scene, once you’ve got your head around it, the characters come across quite vividly and crystal clear.

With a quite minimalistic set (by Katie Foley), Animalia is one hundred percent acting driven. But then, who needs layers and layers of decor and elaborated design (as fancy as it might sometimes be), when the almost magical space that The Boys’ School is can be filled with wonderful voices, movements and real human emotions.

If you are on a lookout for a time travel machine into the past (with the benefit of not having to travel too far), then I couldn’t recommend anything more than Animalia, written by the talented Ian Toner and directed by the wonderful Sarah Finlay. Runs in the Smock Alley Theatre until September 18th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/animalia 

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Project Arts Center: George Bush and Children

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In the best traditions of Pan Pan Theatre Company, Dick Walsh co-presents his new play – George Bush and Children – as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016. Extraordinary spot-on and inconspicuously engaging, this play is a bucket of fresh water being dropped on top of you. Just as bizarre as its title, Dick Walsh’s play is actually surprisingly realistic .

With the script composed mainly from random pieces of dialogues from a number of topical internet talkshows, this pacy 60 min piece touches on such subjects as sex, politics, abortion, people with disabilities, torture and other.  With four actors (Oddie Braddell, Shane Connolly, Fionnuala Flahert and Grainne Hallahan) playing basically themselves and using their actual names, the four characters come across quite vividly and naturalistically. Following the natural flow of a real life conversation, we have the four actors express different opinions on hot and rather controversial subjects. They don’t always agree with each other, they don’t always feel comfortable sharing their experiences and opinions on the topic; sometimes, it gets too personal, even, perhaps private; sometimes there’s an awkward pause, a silence a second too long, a plea to change the topic… sometimes, it becomes clear that a  lack of an answer is an answer just as much. The beauty of it all is that every argument is presented with a counter-argument and a clash of opinions, experiences and points of view.

The main difference between this and real life is that George Bush and Children is also beautiful choreographed. Having experienced a production by Pan Pan Theatre in the past, I must add here that regarding movement their plays are quite a bit of work by themselves. Almost none of the actors simply stands still while delivering their lines. Like in a tribal dance, they move around each other, they bend over, they jump up and down, they mime or walk against the wind… they create the environment and the mood with their own bodies.

Where there is movement, there is voice. And voice is a huge part of this piece. The whole play is directed either to the audience (and believe me when I say that actors really mean what they say to the viewers) or to a fellow actor on stage. Have you ever experienced this feeling when somebody is talking to you, to you and to nobody else? When they look not through you but rather into you?

Another important part of George Bush and Children is the set (by Tom O’Brien). As it often happens nowadays, the stage is stripped down apart from a couple of huge reflecting glasses hanging from the ceiling. And what can be more truthful or speak for itself than one’s own reflection in a distorting mirror?

George Bush and Children runs in the Project Arts Center, as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016, until September 17th. Don’t miss this out-of-this-worldish realism. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/george-bush-and-children

 

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The New Theatre: The Belly Button Girl

The Belly Button Girl, written and performed by Tom Moran, is a story about a twenty-something guy who falls in love with the cute barеутвук at his cousin Sharon’s 21st birthday party.

The story is simple and quite straight forward. Except, that it’s not. Set in, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful corners of the Emerald Isle – Dingle Peninsula, this piece tells us a story of a guy who fell in love and wasn’t afraid to admit it to himself and to the others. In an age of masculinity and in a country when showing your feelings is still a dangerous and, mostly by choice and ever so pressuring society, unexplored territory (especially by men), this is a huge deal.

All throughout the 60 min piece not for second is The Guy scared to say what is really on his mind. The story is easy to follow and understand because it doesn’t come out as a pretentious overwritten piece but rather like somebody’s natural train of thought. Yes, it’s ridiculous at times, but it’s very truthful. Thanks to this, we forgive and even laugh with Moran’s character when he mentions some of the most unspeakable and unmentionable details of his dating the Belly Button Girl. Why would you say something like that? the audience might think. But then you remember, that’s something we all think about and there is nothing bad in saying the truth. It’s like Moran removed the filter that was holding the society’s daily courtesy talk routine and just poured it all out.

Another element that immediately attracted me to this play was the amazingly believable characterization. Every single one of them: from the main characters – The Belly Button Girl – to the smallest ones – The Massive Lad or The Sambuca Lady. It’s a very interesting tool that not many playwrights use: to identify characters by who they really are. Without too much description or an overload of names, I could easily picture all the characters in the play and know what kind of people they were.

Now to the setting. Dingle is a very attractive place to set a story. The furthest corner of the Irish land; anything can happen there. But Moran, once again hits the jackpot, with some very modest but easily recognisable imagery. If you’ve ever been to Dingle Peninsula, of course you would have heard about its main attraction: Fungie, the dolphin, who doesn’t show himself to everyone. And, even though being one of the most gorgeous places of nature and typical Irish landscape, there is very little to do on the peninsula.

I was also quite fond of the structure of this sixty minute piece. It finishes very much the way it had started. The circle has been complete. With the only difference that our main character – The Guy – isn’t the same anymore; he has grown up emotionally. And that’s what all the good stories are about: the characters journey on a self-exploration and self-development.

A tearing comedy with a somewhat unusual ending, The Belly Button Girl, directed by Romana Testasecca, is a beautiful piece of very touching and truthful theatre. Tom doesn’t use any props and there is barely any sound effects, the play is one hundred percent about  stripping down one’s own soul and sharing the experience with the audience.

The Belly Button Girlbrought to us by Squad Theatre Company and Intensive Purposes Productions, runs in The New Theatre, Temple Bar until August 27th. It’s the kind of play that has all the potential to woe the Fringe (be it Dublin or Edinburgh) audience. A very refreshing piece of truthful theatre. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=268&gi_sn=57bd6f62e9ebe%7C0 

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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

Interview with Romana Testasecca and Tom Moran

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It’s less than a week before The Belly Button Girl opens in The New Theatre. I had an amazing opportunity to talk to the play’s writer and performer Tom Moran and Romana Testasecca, who is directing the piece.

Just before we dive into the interview, I want to make a special mention. I meet a lot of creative artists and theatre makers, who are, of course, very proud of their creations. But Tom and Romana were so passionate and enthusiastic about their upcoming play that the fire in their eyes were so contagious I couldn’t bare the thought of keeping it all to myself. Unfortunately, not always such an amount of belief and passion about your own work can be transmitted through the screen; so, I decided to simply say it.

Now to the interview.

I sat down with Romana and Tom primarily to talk about Squad Theatre company and The Belly Button Girl. It’s interesting to note that The Belly Button Girl is being brought to the audience not by one but two theatre companies. Walking almost hand in hand, Squad Theatre Company and Intensive Purposes are as close as sisters. Being formed around the same time (and as recently as 2015) by a group of DIT Drama graduates, both companies have quite an extensive experience behind their belts, including participation in Scene and Heard festival. Always trying to work side by side but allowing each other enough creative freedom at the same time, the two companies focus on creating their own content. The Squad is a company with 5 core members (and more than ten in total), while Intensive Purposes is pretty much a one-man project. It was Tom’s decision to be separated from the rest as he wanted to have the freedom to work on his own writings. At the same time, Tom and Romana gave me a feeling of a close unity between the two companies, they are always there to help each other to produce and present.

Having already some experience in writing and performing, creating The Belly Button Girl took more than a year to be fully developed.  Starting as a completely different story, with a different plot and a different title, Tom’s inspiration for the play came while practicing yoga. To be more precise, in a downward-facing dog pose. Acknowledging that he might have not been the best yogi and always being pushed to the back of the class, Tom felt like he was not getting enough attention from the teacher. Thus the idea of a guy who falls in love with his yoga instructor was born. “But then I realised that the play wasn’t about yoga at all, it was about the relationship”, says Tom. And that’s exactly what was left in the second draft: the relationship between two human beings.

“It’s very unfiltered”, says Tom about the nature of the play. “He – the protagonist – is not ashamed. There is a lovely kind of confidence in just being himself. He just says everything the way it is”, adds Romana.

Always trying to mix things up, Tom admits that he likes his “comedies to be dramatic and his dramas to be comedic”. “Otherwise it doesn’t feel real”, says he.

But it’s never easy to be the writer who performs in his or her own piece. Tom says that he always knew he was going to be the one telling the story not only from the page but also from the stage. When asked which of the two crafts he enjoys more, he honestly answers “I have this bone in my body that if I wasn’t performing I would probably go a little bit crazy”. He also notes that writing has become a huge part of his daily life and he couldn’t imagine himself not doing it anymore.

Tom admits that music is a very important component of his writing routine. It doesn’t only influence and inspire him and his mood, but it also helps him to find the rhythm of the piece. Evidently having a very well trained musical ear, he counts the bits in every word and every phrase to make it sound right.

Just like in any creative task, being the writer of the piece you are performing apart from the evident benefits also inputs some challenges. One of such might be that the actor starts taking liberties and creative freedom with his own (well-penned and already brought to perfection) script. It’s easy to change a word or a whole line while it’s your own creation. That’s why you have a director who is there to help you master the performance.

Romana came on board only a few months ago. While Tom knew from the beginning that he was writing a play for himself, he didn’t have yet a person in mind to direct it. “She gave me the best notes on the play”, says Tom who enjoys working with Roman and admits that he gets really excited when the two creative opinions collide in the rehearsal room and they have to find a way to make the scene work for both of them. Also coming from an acting background, Romana says that she always respects the actor’s point of view and ideas about how a scene should be acted out. But it’s always a mutual decision and the director has the benefit of seeing the performance from the outside. It’s definitely a challenge to find the balance in between imposing yourself as the director and listening to what your actor is trying to communicate to you.

The Belly Button Girl isn’t biographical”, says Tom “there is a lot of me in it, but none of it actually happened to me.” Inviting people to have a look at his own experience, Tom quotes Mark Birbiglia: “If you are not telling your secrets, you are not doing it right”.  And that’s exactly how Tom wants to engage his audience. “That’s what good art is”, he says, “telling your secrets. And this is what this play  – The Belly Button Girl – is. It’s the most unfiltered thing. He – the main character – is so free and lovely, and so disgusting. This play tries to show every part of a person and every part of a relationship.”

Not hugely relaying on the set design or props, the play is as stripped down as the protagonist’s soul in front of an audience. “He is there and he is telling you his story”, says Romana. “There is nothing else. It’s this guy on stage telling his story”.

Both Romana and Tom want the audience to have a real truthful understanding of a human experience. In his play, Tom aims to show people that it’s ok to go through different emotions internally but it’s even more ok to release them to the outside world. There is nothing to be worried or scared about. Even if you are a man. Especially if you are a man. Because before being a man, you are a human being. “Comfortable vulnerability” is the beautiful term that Tom uses for it, “to be comfortable with your own emotions and showing them.”

Tom and Romana have big plans for The Belly Button Girl. It’s less than a week before the play opens in one of Dublin’s city center venues, but the talk has it that the play will be well up for the Edinburgh Fringe in the next couple of years. Described as an “Unflinching, romantic and personal” play, The Belly Button Girl promises to be truly epic! So start booking the tickets before they are gone. For one week only with one day (Monday) preview at the price of 12.50 EUR only: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=268&gi_sn=57b34ad04e5ef%7C0 

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Filed under Intensive Purposes, Interview with, romana testasecca, Squad Theatre Company, The Belly Button Girl, Tom Moran, Uncategorized