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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

Rehearsed Reading: All Honey

Sometimes even the professionals need to go back to the absolute basics. Nowadays, it’s quite easy to go over the top and wow the audience with the amazing decorations, costumes and special effects. It looks like there is nothing that a company can’t do provided that the budget is not an issue. This year I’ve seen everything from a rotating stage to a slow motion effect used in a Shakesperean play. I’ve seen small local fringe shows and big Broadway productions… without going too far, the most recent production I’ve attended – Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? – absolutely amazed me with the stage design (just like The Father did with its lighting design). But at the end of the day, it all comes down to how well-written the script is and how skillful the actors are who take upon themselves to portray those characters.

Yes, it’s true that if you are a professional actor, the size of the role or the lack of costume/decorations should not be an issue. But, let’s be honest. It helps. A lot. It helps the actor, who wants to properly immerse him/herself into the imaginary world, and it helps the audience to see that newly created world.

All this said, I hope you can imagine how difficult a rehearsed reading could be. Basically, it’s a raw material that the author is willing to present to the public’s fiercest judgement. There is absolutely no safety net to fall back onto in case the play flops. It’s absolutely up to the script and the cast to make the production shine. No pressure, right?

I had the pleasure of attending a rehearsed reading of Ciara Elizabeth Smyth’s new play All Honey (Smyth is the founding member of Sad Strippers Theatre Company and her previous work includes Pour it Out and Triangles) that was presented as part of New Writing Week at The New Theatre, Dublin. The play has an everyday setting: Mae (played by Aoibhéann McCann) suspects that her boyfriend Barry (played by Peter McGann) is cheating on her. She shares this knowledge with her best friend Ruth (played by Hannah Mamalis), who at first doesn’t take it seriously. Later that day during the party that Ru and her boyfriend Luke (played by John Doran) are holding, the girl starts picking up on different clues that Barry indeed might be secretly seeing someone else. Val (played by Ciara Smyth), a completely psycho living on the border of reality and imagination where every man adores her and she’s the diamond sushi on the menu of life, is the best candidate for the role. But the home detective Ru couldn’t even imagine who the real flower of Barry’s secret is.

The full reading, which lasted for approximately forty minutes, can easily be translated into a fast-pace one hour piece. The script is a real cracker with the wittingly written lines and  that the perfectly-matching cast brought to life. It picks up quickly and holds the emotion all the way through to the end. All Honey is an easy relaxing watch to take your mind away from everyday problems. It’s engaging and it’s captivating without being overloaded with information,  redundant details or unnecessary plot lines. It’s straight forward and interesting to follow. My only concern was that it ended way to fast and on a real kicker.

The reading was directed by the amazing Jeda de Brí, who always knows what she is doing and this time wasn’t an exception. Together with Ciara Smyth, they’ve managed to create a very promising piece that undoubtedly will be a success with the audience.

All Honey is a great example of the fact that Ireland does have some very talented, hard-working and challenging female theatre makers. And if you still have your doubts about it then keep an eye on this one. Ciara Smyth and company, at this very moment, are working to launch All Honey into a full production. With a bit of luck, we hopefully will see it in one of Dublin’s theaters sooner rather than later.

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Filed under All Honey, Rehearsed Readings, The New Theatre, Uncategorized

Interview with the creators of Slice, The Thief.

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“Slice The Thief.”

“Raw. Emotion. Energy.”

“Quick. Funny. Heart-Breaking.”

It’s a little over a week before Bitter Like a Lemon Theatre Company presents its new play Slice, The Thief, a dark comedy by Lee Coffey, that will open in the atmospheric The Boy’s School, at Smock Alley Theatre on April 4th.

The rehearsals are already in full swing and not even the Easter weekend going to stop the amazing hard-working team from making the text jump off the page. I got a wonderful opportunity to sit down for a chat with Lee Coffey, the writer of the play, Jeda De Bri, the director, and Wesley Doyle, who plays Slice, the thief.

What would you do if standing on one of Dublin’s streets you’d see somebody stealing a bike? Call the guards? Maybe, try to stop them? Well, Lee Coffey found a somewhat more creative way of dealing with the situation: he decided to write a play about it.

On a sunny March afternoon in one of Rough Magic’s offices, Lee, mostly known by his smash hit of a play Leper and Chip, starts the conversation by telling me about how he came up with the idea of writing Slice, The Thief, the third and final play in Coffey’s Dublin Trilogy.

Even though enjoyable, the process of writing this story wasn’t an easy one. Having had a rush of ideas and plots that he wanted to incorporate into the play, Lee didn’t quite have the right ending for the piece. He reveals to me that he was playing a computer game, when he got the idea of creating a whole set of disasters, each one worse than the previous one, that is simply accumulating to an already quite bad situation.

Coffey acknowledges the fact that Slice, The thief is a very male piece of theatre. “Man.Man.Man. It’s written from a male point of view”, says he. And having a female director just gives it a totally different perspective. Apart from directing the play, Jeda de Brí (the founding member of Sickle Moon Productions) has already directed snippets from Slice, the Thief for the Rehearsed Readings at Theatre Upstairs earlier last year and for the Night in Two Halves in the Smock Alley Theatre last August. Jeda reveals to us that she loved the play from the moment she read it for the first time and was very happy to be on board when the time and opportunity came to stage the full production.

Wesley Doyle, who plays the part of Slice, has also been very excited ever since he got the script. Having been engaged mostly in TV productions in the last couple of years, he already started to feel that yearn for the bright lights and dark spaces of rehearsal rooms; having worked with Amilia Stewart on Fair City, who, apart from being a producer on this production, is also a founding member of BLAL, he went to see Leper and Chip when it premiered in Theatre Upstairs. Later, it was Amilia herself who introduced Wesley to Lee and, relying on his fellow company member’s opinion, without audition Wesley was cast as Slice.

Dublin-born, Tallaght native Lee Coffey, has a great passion for his town and its people; and this love has reflected on and greatly influenced every play he has written. The city itself becomes a sort of a character on its own. On the analogy of O’Casey’s works, Coffey has created his own Dublin and therefore a modern day Dublin Trilogy. Lee adds that you don’t have to be from Dublin to understand the plays, but the actors in the plays have to be from Dublin in order to bring the authenticity to the pieces.

Slice, The Thief. Or shall I say, Slice The Thief? Being a dark comedy about a thief of bikes, the play still touches on a number of important and serious, I would even say ground breaking, topics. I’ve already mentioned before that this is a very mannish play; and through this mannish perspective it shows how some matters are being treated with a completely different reaction when they happen to a man as opposed to a woman. In a world where gender equality is being supported and demanded more than ever, there still exist stereotypes and prejudices, where the society still looks at you and judges you and have certain expectations of you purely because you are of a certain gender. A man, in this case.

Written in a style that Coffey calls “skinny list”, the script has almost  no paragraphs or long sentences. It’s almost like a poem or a free-style verse that goes in and out of rhyme from time to time. “A lot of violence, swearing; it’s quite quick, one of the quickest plays”, says Lee.”It’s raw energy on multiple levels”, adds Wesley. Almost animalistic-like, during the heightened moments of the play the words synchronize with Slice and his inner rhythm, his heartbeat.

“It’s easy to write a monologue”, says Lee, who did have mixed feeling about writing a one-person piece due to the amount of such already existing in the market, “everybody has a monologue in them. But people like Mark O’Rowe or Conor McPherson have set the bar so high that writing a really good monologue has become a real challenge”.

Three plays after, it’s quite safe to say that Lee Coffey has a very unique and easily recognizable style of his own. His fast paced plays hold your guts tight for an hour and then let it go without apologising, leaving you just to sit there realising that something great has just happened. It broke your heart, it exhausted your feelings, it played with your mind, but hell… it was great. Tough for the audience, sure it is. But it is even tougher for the actors on stage. Not everyone has the emotional ability and the strength go through such a crazy rollercoaster on a daily basis that Slice, the Thief, Leper and Chip or Peruvian Voodoo require.

When it comes to the most enjoyable thing about working on this production, for Jeda, as the director, it is the ability to be creative within given parameters. Due to the specific nature of the structure of the play, she aims to “find the flare within that stringent rhythmic parameter that she had been given”.

Wesley, for whom this play is going to be his first one-man show, says that rehearsing for Slice, The Thief really pushes him to think outside the box, as well as being open to new ideas and suggestions and simply trying things out.

From the very beginning, for Lee it was crucial to cast an actor with an authentic Dublin accent. And Wesley, being originally from Ballymun, turned out to be the perfect fit. Lee strongly believes in the authenticity, and even though there is a good variety of actors in and out of Ireland who can do a perfect Dublin accent, for such a fast-paced energetic piece like Slice, The Thief, they wanted somebody who could speak not only from the put on accent, but from the heart and the bones of his own body.

Jeda, Lee and Wesley all agree that the play is quite harsh and grim. But, at the same time, they want the story to have an impact on the audience and change them even a little bit. “We want the audience to go through every single emotion possible”, says Jeda, “we want the audience to go through the journey with Slice. I would like to break hearts. I hope I can just make people love and hate him [Slice] at the same time.”

“I want to lull the audience. I want to show people what funny can be.”, says Lee “I want them to laugh and to think, at the same time, I shouldn’t be laughing at this. I like to write dark stuff that puts the audience in a very uncomfortable place. I want to assault the audience. In a very non-threatening, non-physical way. I’m going to paint this picture. You make whatever you want from it. And then you can leave.”

“I want people to know me, to know Slice, on a very person level. I want them to love me and to know what they love about me; I want them to hate me and to know exactly what they hate about me”, says Wesley.

With Katie Davenport designing the set and Dara Hoban doing the lighting, in addition to the wonderful ensemble of Bitter Like A Lemon, Jeda De Bri and Wesley Doyle, this production has brought together some of the most talented and creative professionals in the business. For one week only, running from April 4th till April 9th in The Boy’s School at The Smock Alley Theatre. Come and slice yourself a piece of this cake. Fore more info or to book tickets: http://smockalley.com/slice-thief/ 

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Filed under Bitter Like a Lemon, Interview with, Sickle Moon Productions, Smock Alley Theatre

The Smock Alley Theatre: Cirque des Reves

Yet again The Smock Alley Theatre‘s Boys’ School has been blessed with an incredible performance!

Hallowe’en is just around the corner. But the theatre makers of Dublin are already celebrating and who could blame them? Especially if they invite you to deepen inside what is one of the most Celtic of holidays – Samhain. The season of witches and wizards, vampires, zombies and the likes have officially started. Dare not to join in!

And Sickle Moon Productions together with Illustrated Productions are the first ones to raise the curtain. Katie McCann, Clodagh Mooney Duggan, Finbar Doyle and Kevin C Olohan have got something very special for you this October: Cirque Des Reves, which opened with a sold out preview yesterday.

This very atmospheric performance with moments of the good old story-telling invites us to witness the story of Poppy Parker. Poppy was once a girl just like you and me. But she got tired of her normal, dull life and decided to run away with the circus. Entertaining shows, flashing lights, enchanting music and lucrative illusions, the never ending fun, a new place and new people every day… Her life will never be the same anymore, thought Poppy. Cirque des Reves came to town for three days only and Poppy made sure not to miss a single performance. Wandering around in between the acts, Poppy gets the attention of one of the brothers who owns the circus. Poppy’s dream may come true sooner than she expected… But little does she know that you can join the circus, but you can never leave.

This magic performance straight away steals you from the reality into the world of the Victorian circus. The poetic language, elaborated set, wonderful authentic costumes and beautifully fleshed out characters make Cirque des Reves, so magnificent and enjoyable. No doubt, this play will enchant both the older and the younger.

Katie McCann, the writer of the piece, has an already proven talent not only for playwriting, but also for performing. Watching her and her fellow actors, the three of them are fast rising Irish theatre makers, on stage is such a pleasure to the eye. Another compliment also goes to Jeda de Brí, who directed this production.

Shall you run away with this circus this Hallowe’en? Do it if you dare! For one week only! For more info or to book tickets, as per usual: http://smockalley.com/cirque-des-reves/

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Filed under Cirque de Reves, Illustrated Productions, Sickle Moon Productions, Smock Alley Theatre

Theatre Upstairs: Rehearsed Readings

Yesterday the curtains fell on a series of rehearsed readings in Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs. Four brand new plays, eight talented playwrights, three different directors and a total cast of sixteen actors and actresses. I must say that I am not a big fan of rehearsed readings (some of them can be really dull) but as soon as I saw the names of the playwrights, there was no chance that I would miss it. Not every week you are given an opportunity for just a tenner to go and witness creative work of a bunch of Irish best playwrights. And I really mean it. From the good ol’ ones to the rising newbies.

The first play “Quartet” was written by one of Irish most famous and loved playwrights Marina Carr. The rehearsed reading of  the play was directed by the Theatre Upstairs’ very own Karl Shiels. The story revolves around a married diplomat (played by John Kavanagh), his beautiful middle-aged wife (played by Sharon Coade), his elder but wise and intelligent Irish mistress (played by Barbara Brennan) of whom the wife is very much aware!, his young American lover (played by Ciara O’Callaghan) and her teenage son.

I can’t say that I’m very familiar with Marina Carr’s previous work (who doesn’t know “By the Bog of Cats”, obviously) but, for some reason, I expected something totally different from “Quartet”. I can’t say what exactly. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a very light and humorous play. The audience were in stitches how funny some bits of it were.

Another great thing about this play was that all the cast was clearly enjoying the reading just as much as the audience did. It might have happened because it was the very first night and everything was new and unknown… but it definitely added to the whole atmosphere.

The second play was “Ceasefire Soldiers”, written and directed by Jimmy Murphy. This really Irish play tells the story of three IRA volunteers. Two young men: Sean (played by Liam Carney) and Eamonn (played by Frank O’Sullivan) and a girl Marie (played by Neilí Conroy) were living in England when they got recruited by the same man from for an important task on behalf of IRA. The task was to place a bomb in Central London (Soho). They were told that the bomb won’t go off, it was just needed to remind the people about the Irish radicals and that the IRA was still alive. Eamonn, Sean and Marie did as they were told. They followed the instructions. But the bomb did go off. And two people were killed, including an innocent child. Soon after the Irish Three realised that it was all well-planned beforehand, they decide (each other on their own) to run away from London. Go to somewhere like Scotland or Wales to hide for some time before they could safely return to Ireland. They were never caught.They were never convicted. They were never imprisoned. But now, thirty years after, they still carry the burden of their wrong-doing. And as Jimmy Murphy puts it himself “For some people the war is just never really over”.

This play was totally different from the first one. As a matter of fact, they are incomparable. The mood of this play is much heavier and darker. You see the situation from the perspective of view of the IRA members. What they did, how they did it and what happened next. This piece plays with the audience feelings a lot: there they are, people who in their own hands brought the bomb to Soho and left it there. What kind of feeling does it awake in you? What would you do in their place? Is it their fault?

Yet again, the cast for this play was spot on.

The third play was “Fogarty”, written and directed by Karl Shiels. As we were told before the reading, this play was commissioned by The Abbey Theatre. So maybe some time in the near future we will see a fully staged production of this play in The Peacock?

Fogarty is a play about a clown named Fogarty (played by Joe Conlan) and a thirteen year old girl (Megan O’Brien) who he had kidnapped and now keeps in his basement. The story is being told to us by the little girl herself. She has been in the dirty basement for some time now, she is already used to it. She has even kind of grown to like (“accept” might be the word) Fogarty. She is not scared of him anymore. She has even found a way of talking to him and making him do what she wants (sometimes, when he is in a good mood).

This play was probably the darkest one of all. It contained some strong language and explicit descriptions at times to make the piece sound authentic. I absolutely loved Megan O’Brien’s voice. It was like a little bell. She did sound like a little girl. On the opposite side, Joe Conlan created an absolutely appalling and disgusting Fogarty The Clown but put something very human into him too, which is always the main aim in acting. Nobody wants to see a completely evil creature if there wasn’t something human in it, something everyone (on some level) could relate to.

The ending of this piece was interesting, I thought. I can’t really say that it was totally unexpected but the solution of the problem was very smartly pitched.

The fourth reading was a whole collection of mini  plays: “Youth” by Kate Gilmore, “Glutton Free Philosophy” by Keith James Walker, “Presentation” by Jeda De Brí and Finbarr Doyle and “Slice” by Lee Coffey.  All of them directed by Jeda de Brí.

This was quite something. First of all, it was a bit more than a simple reading. More like full scenes played out by actors. All four of them were very different: from an arguing couple (who happened to be a brother and sister) to a guy who steals bikes to another couple who has found not the easiest way to get their first work project to a guy who can’t tolerate glutton and is in love (it’s a difficult story!). Some of the pieces aimed to be funny and some of them really were. Furthermore, all of the pieces were very well done and quite enjoyable.

It was a bit sad to realise that it was the last one, though! There goes hoping and wishing that Theatre Upstairs will organise more readings like these ones some time soon!

For more info about the plays or to keep an eye on forthcoming plays, visit: Theatre Upstairs

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