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Theatre Upstairs: The words are there

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If a picture tells a thousand words, then what about a movement, a gesture, a pose, a step? How much of a story can be told by the way we move, turn, look or keep completely still and silent?…

Silence… Ronan Dempsey’s new piece is anything but silent. As a matter of fact, it’s screaming louder than any amount of words. A story about a man, whose whole life is as turned and broken inside as it is outside: a table balancing on three legs, a puddle of spilled wine so similar to a quickly growing pool of blood, a festive sign “Welcome Home” written to someone special, who was never meant to see it in the first place.

The Words Are There is the kind of tragedy that usually happens behind the closed doors. It’s not talked about. But it doesn’t make the screams of the abused one being any less louder. It’s just not everyone wants to hear them. The walls people build conceal everything.

He – The Man (played by Ronan Dempsey) is a person who has seen abuse from an early age. When he meets her – The Woman (voiced by Jessica Leen) – a little hope of a possible happiness is being born in his heart. They will live in Bettystown, by the sea. And everything is going to be fine because he has her and she has him. But not unlike him, she has demons of her own who are tearing her broken soul apart.

In his fifty minute piece and one single, almost spilled out, line, Ronan Dempsey presents a story deeper than those books worth a thousand pages. When actions speak louder than any words, the tale tells itself.

The Words Are There balances on the border between reality and fantasy created by The Man. Trained in physical theatre and mime by the very masters of their art, Dempsey builds a whole world on stage; only a true genius can make a mop not only come alive but also represent something beautiful and lovable.

A performance that speaks for itself. The Words Are There is an unforgettable piece of theatre that won’t leave anyone unmoved. The play is written and directed by Ronan Dempsey and presented by The Nth Degree Productions in collaboration with Theatre Upstairs, where it runs till May 20th. Fore more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/thewordsarethere 

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Pearse Centre Theatre: Wasting Paper (IDGTF)

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If you are looking for something to have a good old laugh, then look no further!

Presented as a special double bill deal (together with Nicole O’Connor’s Both Sides Now), Wasting Paper by Leah Moore is a real cracker like no other!

The play follows the story of Casey (played by Leah Moore), an eighteen year old gay teenager who is weeks away from doing her Leaving Cert exam. It looks like life is good for Casey. She is even some sort of a local celebrity, a modern day Shakespeare – Casey is a poem writer (the kind that gets invited to all the cool events and places like Electric Picnic and The Mansion House).

After a summer of success and adventure, Casey faces the last year of school before diving into the world of grown-up life. And there is one particular class she is more than eager to go back to – English language and literature, of course. But what a surprise to find out that her old teacher has been replaced by a younger version. The moment the 23 year old Tess walks into her first experience as a secondary school teacher, Casey immediately puts her eye on the forbidden fruit. And not that long passes before it becomes evident that Tess isn’t that uninterested in the tabu relationship herself.

This thirty minute piece wins its audience over not only with funny lines but also with some quite superb acting by both performers: Leah Moore and Ciara Smyth. Crispy delivery of the sharpened script, wonderfully fleshed out characters and loads of enthusiasm and energy make Wasting Paper truly stand out.

Wasting Paper really flies by before one can think twice, so cherish every minute of this female-driven experience. It’s really refreshing to see plays about both gay men and women as such an important issue touches both genders equally.

Wasting Paper, directed by Craig Connolly, runs in Pearse Center Theatre till May, 6th (with a 4PM and a 7.30PM performances on the final night). Fore more info or to book tickets: https://gaytheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873572855/events

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Theatre Upstairs: Monster?

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A new collaboration between Theatre Upstairs and EGM Productions has brought a real gem to its audience. Emily Gillmor Murphy’s new play Monster? is an original poignant story that won’t leave anyone feeling indifferent.

Let’s have one more conversation about women’s reproductive rights. Let’s look at the situation from a different point this time: what if she just doesn’t want to be a mother? Does it make a monster out of her? After all, all that a woman wants is to have a choice and not to be judged or frowned upon for how she feels.

Nell (played by Aisling O’Mara) – a mother-to- be – a woman – an individual and a human being just like anyone else – keeps repeating to her unhappened partner Adam (played by Jamie O’Neill) that the body is hers. Not his or the baby’s, but hers. After a drunk one night stand, she quickly discovers her unexpected new condition. Adam, though a nice guy but definitely not yet ready for becoming a father, after a brief freak out offers Nell to move in with him and, maybe, start a family. Isn’t it, after all, what every girl dreams of? Almost an orphan herself, Nell already knows she doesn’t want this baby. Not because she is an evil creature or a witch from a kid’s fairy tale but simple because she doesn’t feel ready to bring a new life into this world. My body – my choice? Or shall Nell just follow the rules of the society and silently consent to what God has created every woman for?

This roughly an hour long play doesn’t only take an unconventional approach to an important (mostly unspoken of) social topic but it also has an absolutely perfect sharp ending for a piece of this kind. With a small cast of three, Monster? is a surprisingly funny play. Michael Glenn Murphy (who plays Ru) provides the ultimate comic relief, while the other two actors wonderfully balance the tragedy and the heaviness of the story. All under the directing hand of the master himself – Karl Shiels.

Lisa Krugel’s simple but quite stunning stage design – a bar – is the first thing that welcomes you into Theatre Upstairs’ cosy auditorium. It provides the perfect setting for the story and the unforgettable beginning.

Monster? is a play that gives you more than mere entertaining and a nice night out. It gives you some real food for thought. It’s a brave, challenging production created by a bunch of undoubtedly talented and creatively inspiring artists.

Monster? by Emily Gillmor-Murphy runs in Theatre Upstairs till April 29th. So, there is no excuse not to go! For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/monster

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Bewley’s Café Theatre: Jericho

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Here’s some substantial and even, perhaps, existential thought for your lunch break: how did we end up in this giant puddle of poo-poo? I mean: us. Yes. Us. And the world. The little blue dot we all happily inhabit.

What do you do when you’ve been asked to make a play about the world? Our world. Where do you start? Where do you start?… The uneasy task was taken upon by one of Dublin’s most progressive and forth-looking theatre companies: Malaprop. The answer they came up with might not be the most obvious one but it sure is a very interesting approach to something so deep and important. Malaprop bravely decided to wrestle the discomforting subject. Both literally and metaphorically. And the result is Jericho.

After a couple of not-quite-so-satisfying attempts, Maeve O’Mahony finally emerges on stage the way she has always imagined it: with the triumphant music playing on the background and hundreds of fans cheering for her victory. But the question remains: what did she win? In the comfortable cosy life of hers, O’Mahony’s character is a young journalism graduate who works for one of those so popular nowadays newspapers that generates traffic on clicks. Our nameless heroine tells us she has to write a new story every 45 minutes and hope that it will be read (or at least clicked on) by as many people as possible. In an office meeting it was proposed to feature an article on Wrestlemania (the one where the current president of one of the most powerful countries on earth bodyshames another billionaire and entertainer by publicly shaving his head) and though she doesn’t know a thing about wrestling and thinks that maybe, perhaps, we should focus on something more important like feminism and women’s rights right now, yet she doesn’t say a thing and just smiles and nods.

Interestingly enough Jericho itself lasts for approximately 45 min. Just long enough for us to focus on one thing before our attention will inevitably be diverted by something completely different and undoubtedly much less important though hugely entertaining, like a video of a cute cat or a baby.

Jericho (“The city. Not the wrestler”… I think) is loaded with visual and audio materials. The smartly designed stage (by Molly O’Cathain) quickly transforms from our heroine’s office into her rented apartment, into a wrestling arena, etc. This production is a nice example of an interactive play where the audience can feel like they are being part of the created on-stage world. O’Mahony speaks with you rather than at you. The amount of flashing and sounding effects (by John Gunning) is overwhelming at times but it does the trick and produces the feeling of being so overpowered by the media that we can’t hear our own thoughts anymore.

O’Mahony does an absolutely fantastic job portraying her typical 21st century girl with a degree and a wish to make the world a better place. But, you know, life just gets onto the way sometimes. I mean: all the time. It happens to all of us and that’s why we, just like her, don’t say anything, don’t do anything and just carry on. Click. Click. Another page. Another story.

Jericho, devised  by Malaprop Theatre Co and directed by Claire O’Reilly, runs in the Bewley’s Café Theatre until March 4th. Food for thought indeed it is. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.bewleyscafetheatre.com/events/jericho

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Scene and Heard Festival: Syrius

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If I had to describe Syrius with one only phrase, it would definitely be: the beauty in simplicity.

A sharp 20 min piece about a Syrian refugee on her unintended journey to Ireland presented by Rosebuds Theatre Company is indeed an awakening production. Through beautifully choreographed dance and movement Romana Testasecca tells us the story of Rasha, a young Syrian woman who is forced to flee her though beloved but self-destroying motherland in search of a more peaceful future.

A play like Syrius shows us perfectly how the almost complete lack of spoken words can sometimes even benefit and enhance a performance. One image equals one hundred words. We all live in the same world; we are all human beings who, when really want, can communicate with each other without the need for words at all. Protest banners, the white wedding veil, the headscarf, the tent, the paper boat… all these things are not only props or attributes that help move the story forward but they are also strong easily recognised international symbols.

Even though the actress does remain silent, towards the end of the piece there is an audio recording involved; the beautiful thing is that we can hear both Arabic and the English translation of it speaking almost simultaneously. It gives Rasha that little extra of being a real fleshed out person, even though she is just a generalised character. But the truth remains the same: there are hundreds of Rashas out there who have lost everything from their family and friends to the sense of belonging.

And if we want to be completely honest: there is a bit of Rasha in all of us.

Directed by Karen Killeen and choreographed by Stephanie Dufresne, Syrius is a play that isn’t afraid of challenges: be it in the structure of the piece or what lies behind the story. Rosebuds TC didn’t only create a touching piece of theatre, they brought the reality of today’s world into the art of performing. And isn’t it what good theatre is supposed to do: reflect the current situation we live in?

Syrius ran as part of Dublin’s Scene and Heard Festival in the Smock Alley Theatre from Feb. 24th to 26th. For more info about the production, you can read my interview with the woman behind it all – Romana Testasecca.

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Scene and Heard Festival: Interview with Romana Testasecca – Syrius

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Another day – another show. The second week of Scene and Heard Festival has already begun and we are talking human interest, international crisis and physical theatre now. All combined in one: SYRIUS, a new movement piece produced and performed by Romana Testasecca in association with Rosebuds Theatre Company.

In the interview below Romana talks about why she chose such a difficult subject as Syrian civil war and its effects on common civil Syrians; Romana also explains why she decided to present her new play as a movement piece rather than anything else.

SYRIUS will run for three nights only from Feb 24th to 26th in the Smock Alley Theatre’s Main Space. To book the tickets: http://entertainment.ie/show-/Smock-Alley-Theatre/Scene-Heard-Syrius/event-2789898.htm

 

Tell me a little bit about the piece. Is it your first solo movement performance?

1. We’re very excited to present this piece on behalf of Rosebuds, Karen Killeen and I (co-
founders) have never worked on anything like this before. The process has been very interesting and a real eye-opener. The piece is centred around the story of a young Syrian woman, Rasha, who is forced to leave her country. The piece starts just before Rasha takes part in a peaceful protest against Bashar al-Assad which leads to Rasha’s imprisonment. In prison she realises that “the Syria she knows has gone” and it’s time for her to leave. This is my first solo piece and I am very grateful that it will be taking place at Smock Alley Theatre main space to meet its first audience this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 6.30 pm. (24th -26th Feb)

What made you decide to create a movement piece? Why this genre in particular?

2. Movement is extremely effective especially when the subject matter is so difficult for us to talk about. In many catastrophic situations, like the Syrian civil war happening right now and the subsequent difficulties thousands of refugees are facing, people find it hard to express their feelings about it. It’s hard to comprehend, we say things like “there are no words”, we find it hard to process and vocalise painful news. When matters are beyond our control and we feel helpless it is hard to express our thoughts. Sometimes a visceral bodily reaction is all we have.

Who and how came up with the story behind the piece? Tell me a little bit about the creation of the piece.

3. The process started from an idea I had about telling a specific story of a refugee and the circumstances that led up to that happening. Conversations between myself and the director Karen Killeen gave a structure and arch to the piece. After a lot of research, we pin-pointed what was going to happen, section by section. We then brought in our wonderful choreographer Stephanie Dufresne. She shaped a lot of the movement for each section. We have never had a written piece. You can’t express movement on paper. There was a lot of filming and watching back and repeating over and over. Myself and Karen rehearsed and devised all in one.

What are the main elements that can be achieved through movement and sound that wouldn’t be as noticeable or as enhanced if done in a more traditional style (i.e. a play or a monologue)?

4. Different feelings bring about movement in the body. Sometimes thoughts are hard to elaborate through words. You can achieve a certain flow when you’re moving and that sequence of movements can mean something to one person and a different thing to someone else. People can interpret movement in different ways and that’s what makes it so interesting and unique. Movement connects a different part of us which is very rarely exposed.

The sound, designed by the talented Garret Hynes, is extremely helpful in conveying the message and feeding the narrative. The tricky part of abstract movement is that when it gets too abstract people don’t know what’s going on. When you are invested in the story and you’re creating it, you know what is going on so you feel it’s obvious. You aim to leave the audience as free as possible but you can’t give them too little either or you’ll lose them. It has to be balanced out and the sound provides a great equilibrium and serves as a guide for the audience. The audience then connects the visual with the audio.

What are the main challenges // advantages for you rehearsing and performing the piece?

5. The process is very free and liberating. There are no boundaries but if anything doesn’t work, we’re not afraid of letting it go or moving sections around so that the pieces fit together. It’s good to peel back and get to the core of what we’re trying to achieve. As a performer, you don’t always get the chance to move freely in the space and follow your physical instincts so that has been incredibly interesting to explore. I found it very useful to record myself and to watch it back with an objective eye. The challenge is assigning the correct weight to each part and moving coherently from section to section. The piece is abstract but it does follow a linear narrative, we have inserted voiceovers and certain moments in the story to give a little more context.

What would you like to achieve through the piece? What would you like the audience to bring home with them after the performance?

6. Ideally, we would love for the audience to connect with this story, no matter how far away it is from their own reality; SYRIUS is a universal story about losing everything you hold close, starting with your country. Geographically we are far from what is happening in Syria but that does not excuse us from being mentally disconnected from it. I’d like for the audience to reflect upon what is happening right now and ask themselves what we can do to help refugees. As a nation but also as individuals. These people need our help and all we have is our voice and our bodies. We have to use ourselves to speak out on behalf of people like Rasha. We have to welcome them in our countries. We have to give them a voice.

If you could describe the piece in three words only what would they be?

COLD , HARD , HOPE.

 

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The New Theatre: Happy Birthday Jacob

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You know a decent play from the very start! Beautifully designed stage (by Ciara Murnane), intriguing beginning and an adorable 10 year old playing one of the main parts! It’s unusual enough for a big production to have child actors (never mind The Abbey’s latest staging of Anna Karenina), let alone a first production of an original play. Challenge must definitely be something Púca Productions aren’t afraid of and ready to embrace.

A poignant tragedy about two brothers: a 17 year old Jacob (played by Sean Basil Crawford) and a 10 year old Lucas (played by Finian Duff Lennon). After both of their parents left them, for eight years Jacob has been looking after his baby brother. Perhaps not an ideal brother himself, with demons of his own as we all are, Jacob was the one who stayed behind and always cared for Lucas. Living in a run-down flat and barely making ends meet, the situation, nevertheless, takes an even worse turn when Lucas suddenly gets into fight at school and parents are being called in. Jacob quickly realises the gravity of the situation; his baby brother, the only person he has in this world, can be soon taken away from him as there is no parent or legal guardian looking after the two underaged boys. The only hope remains that in a couple of days it’s Jacob’s 18th birthday. And then a sudden knock on the door from the past comes…

In Michael Marshall’s roller-coaster script, there is everything a good audience can wish for. Hand in hand with the impeccable and obviously talented cast, the author brings you on a hugely enjoyable though highly emotional journey to Jacob’s life and loss. In Happy Birthday Jacob there is absolutely everything a solid plot needs: there is tragedy, there is comedy, there is singing and dancing (in a very cute and adorable way!), there are carefully crafted characters who make the audience really care about their lives.

Nowadays it’s quite difficult to pull off a twist at the end that is not predictable all throughout the play but Marshall did it and he did it well. Just when you think you know what’s happening, the very last scene comes as a complete jaw-dropping surprise and as the lights go out, you suddenly understand that the blackout isn’t only for the audience.

But no play, no matter how good it is, is ever truly alive without the actors actually performing the scenes and saying the words. The small cast of four in Happy Birthday Jacob beats all the possible expectations. Every single one of them absolutely shines on stage and truly gives a performance of a lifetime that shall never be forgotten. All the characters are very diverse and beautifully shaped out by both the actors and the playwright. The absolute jewel of the crown is the immensely talented Finian Duff Lenon portraying Lucas. But kudos must also be given to Maree Jane Duffy (playing Mary), whose storytelling skills were so moving it made some cry; to Karen Kelly (playing Terry) for bringing us back to the 90s in a way that no travel machine could have done better! And, of course, to Sean Basil Crawford who created a truly beautiful complex human being.

Done to a very high standard was also the technical side of the show. Happy Birthday Jacob wouldn’t be what it is without the outstanding music and sound design (by Bill Woodland).

So, if in doubt, it’s simple: don’t think twice: Happy Birthday Jacob is a play that has to be seen. It’s touching, it’s heart-breaking, it’s probably one of the best written and performed plays that you will see this year! See where I’m going with that?.. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=288&gi_sn=589af5e1ee950%7C0

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