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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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Theatre Upstairs: Hero

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A new season in Theatre Upstairs has started with what can only be described as one of the most touching love stories told by a man. Ken Rogan’s new play Hero is an absolutely breath-taking one hour piece about a love, loss and life as it happens sometimes.

Smithy (played by Daithi Mac Suibhne) is a good-looking single guy who enjoys just as much the big sport as the company of his best mates. And everything is going well for The Captain Smithy until one night the football pitch converts into a dance floor and he meets her, the girl who is to steal his heart forever. But he doesn’t know it yet. All that matters for the moment is that he, the man, gets her, the woman. Marissa studied law and bends her head the way that makes Smithy forget about everyone else. A couple of unoriginal cheeky chat up lines later, a kiss lands on her cheek that is to change everything… for Smithy. For Marissa life continues the way it used to be: occasional night out with a friend, facebook status updates, texting him when she’s had one too many. All this time, Smithy seems to be happy to fool around and to be fooled. But everything changes when he realises: she is the one, the true love he was looking for. And for the first time, he wants to tell her this using the actual words. But she doesn’t seem to understand. She just wants to have another round. The game has changed for Smithy. The stakes are as high as they have never been. But is he to win or lose this one?

A wonderfully structured piece that goes right through your heart doesn’t only benefit from Rogan’s masterful writing. The outstandingly passionate solo performance given by Daithi Mac Suibhne makes all the justice to the carefully crafted script. It’s all in the little, almost subtle, details that Mac Suibhne brought so skillfully to life with the help of Amilia Stewart, for whom Hero is none the less but a directing debut. Stewart added a very nice gentle female touch to a play both written and performed by a man. It made Hero not only better or different, but very diverse and with a certain grain of profundity .

The magic of the space that Theatre Upstairs is has been hugely enhanced by the absolutely smashing set (by Naomi Faughnan) and lighting (by Eoin Byrne) design. Such a beautiful game of light against the sparkling glass all throughout the piece is indescribable; the perfect example of something that no amount of words can paint and it simply has to be seen.

Once again Theatre Upstairs has exceeded all the expectations and brought to life a truly beautiful and tremendously touching production that has both elements of comedy and tragedy. A play that demonstrates clearly: a true love is always worth fighting for. In association with Lakedaemon, Hero runs till January 28th. For more info or to book a seat: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/what-is-on

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Theatre Upstairs: Murder of Crows

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“The only way to get what you want is to make them more afraid of you than they are of each other.”

– The Crimson Crow

Christmas could be very different. And sure it’s unlike anything else in Theatre Upstairs, where unravels a dark tale of friendship, foulness and fighting for the ones you love.

Bitter Like a Lemon in association with Theatre Upstairs presents its latest play Murder of Crows, a story about a school trip to hell. The three best friends Sam (played by Katie Honan), Dee (played by Amilia Stewart) and Jess (played by Aisling O’Mara) aren’t even meant to go in the first place but end up on the bus to the Garden of Ireland anyway. Just before the trip begins the girlfriends hear a prophecy that warns them of the black crows and begs them not to go anywhere near them. Not taking it too seriously, the girls set off on a journey that is going to change their lives forever. In Wicklow, they are scheduled to do some obligatory scholar activities that nobody is particularly excited about but the real fun starts after. The girls of St Brigit’s are being joined by students – mainly boys – from other schools. They start drinking, intermingling and do things that teenagers normally do. But the fateful hour has already been set. And maybe some people should be more careful with what they say and do, maybe they shouldn’t bully and make fun of others – weaker – ones… Maybe deep inside each one of us lives a little devil that is only waiting to be set free. The consequences of which sometimes can be harmful, even mortal or soul destroying.

Lee Coffey’s Murder of Crows is a heartbreaking piece with an unbelievable twist at the end. It’s almost impossible to digest how much raw meaty parts there is in this slightly under one hour play. Under the superb direction of Karl Shiels, the gradation of the piece is perfectly timed: it starts off nicely and slowly with no preparation of what is yet to come. You think it might be just one of those hight school plays where students talk about their problems. But you couldn’t be further from being wrong. Lee Coffey wouldn’t be Lee Coffey if he hadn’t written a play that actually aims to touch on some of the most tabooed and controversial subjects that teenagers encounter in everyday life but are afraid to talk about.

The script is being strongly supported by the outstanding cast of three actresses, who absolute nail their parts. The characterization and physicality is incredibly strong and it goes to both the main parts that the girls are playing and the secondary characters. I don’t think I’ll be wrong if I say that the way Aisling O’Mara delivered the prophecy sent chills to everyone in the audience. An absolutely out-of-this-world experience that petrified and mesmerized at the same time.

In a play like Murder of Crows, visual aspects can be very important and influential. The two things that caught my eye straight away were, of course, the set (by Naomi Faughnan) and the lighting (by Laura Honan) designs. Quite simple but visually very strong mood setters that made the piece even more atmospheric.

So, if you are in a mood for something completely different this season, don’t be a Grinch and steal Christmas. Go to see Murder or Crows and get your dose of darkness and brutal reality! Runs in Theatre Upstairs until December 17th, for more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/murder-of-crows

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Theatre Upstairs: Venom So Sweet

It`s Halloween! It`s Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall see what can`t be seen
on any other night!

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Wonderful news in store for those who appreciate high-quality theatre and are looking for something fun and quite unique to do on this Hallow’s Eve: Theatre Upstairs has reopened its doors. Being undoubtedly one of Dublin’s most atmospheric theaters, TUpstairs together with Little Shadow Theatre Co has entered the season of ghosts and ghouls with a venomously delicious treat – Venom So Sweet, written by Roger Gregg and directed by James O’Connor.

For those of you who are familiar with Roger’s previous work, this play will come as a bonus to his magnifficent styleized cabaret performances and saxophone playing delights. Venom So Sweet follows the story of a somewhat cowardish and not the best kind of human beings – Legion (portrayed by Gregg himself) – who in a deep western accent tells you his poisonus story of being a con-man empowered by the devilsnake inhabiting his soul from within rather than without. Roughly based on the life of Saopy Smith (a 19th century con-man from Georgia) and the horrible fate that so unfairly grasped the poor souls of Sand Creek indigens in 1864, Gregg took a few liberties with the history and added some colour and pitch to it.

In this one hour piece, Legion is joined by three beautiful companions: Jezebel Demon (played by Juliette Crosbie), Serpent Demon (played by Alicky Hess) and Sorceress Demon (played by Madi O’Carroll). They might be characters of few words but their presence is ominous on stage. Once too often I caught myself just watching them interact with each other and move about the stage.

Venom So Sweet is a show in its best composition. It has an absolutely magical ensemble of theatre professionals that takes care of not only carrying the story forward but also creates an incredible atmosphere of being in a different time and place all together. All four actors engage in the musical part of the play and create the sounds live on stage with the help of both props and a whole variety of musical instruments. The lighting design also is a huge impact on the overall mood. Be it the director’s or the lighting designer’s decision but some scenes are so perfectly framed that watching them gives an aesthetic pleasure. In the best traditions of a cabaret show, the actors are very interactive with the audience and make it feel like you are part of the plot; one more in a crowd of citizens imagined by Roger Gregg and his team.

I can’t think of a better choice to start your Hallowe’en adventure this year. Venom So Sweet is a real treat for all of you li’l trickers out there. Runs until  November 5th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/venom-so-sweet

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Filed under Little Shadow Theatre Company, Roger Gregg, Theatre Upstairs, Uncategorized, Venom So Sweet

Interview with Stephen Jones and Seána Kerslake

“But you’re not on your own so don’t be sad. Cos if you feel real bad then you’re not on your own tonight.”

– Daniel Dempsey 

Truthful. Naturalistic. Raw. Funny. 

After seeing their new and an absolutely smasher of a show From Eden (runs until December 5th in Theatre Upstairs), I had a great opportunity to sit down for a chat with Stephen Jones and Seána Kerslake.

From Eden is a story of Alan and Eva, who meet each other in a bathroom on a New Year’s Eve party. Both of them have secrets to hide, both of them need each other; somebody to listen, to understand.

Stephen Jones doesn’t only play the part of Alan, he also wrote the play. So, naturally my first question is about what inspired him to write a story like From Eden.

Stephen tells me that it had been a while since he had created his own piece of theatre and the longing for a written word was brewing inside. He also wanted to work with Seána, as they had never worked on a creative project together before.

The original proposal to write a play came from Karl Shiels himself. Knowing Karl and what kind of a space Theatre Upstairs is, Stephen  sat down to create a piece that would suite the atmosphere of the homey intimate auditorium.

Being quite limited in both space and time, Jones thad to think of a story that could unravel in the time frame of one hour and would require only two actors. The final hour just before the clock ticked twelve on a New Year’s Eve sounded like an idea worth exploring.

Seána was part of the project from the very start. Even though she didn’t take part in writing the lines as such, she still used her critic eye when it came to discussing ideas and trying out different scenes and dialogues. “Hearing Seána’s voice just saying some of the lines was very helpful”, says Stephen. It’s one thing seeing your work written down and playing it silently in your head, a completely different one when you actually  hear the words being pronounced out loud.

Having worked on a number of commercial projects in the last couple of years, Stephen just wanted to create characters who would be close to ordinary people. Somebody the audience can easily relate to and maybe even recognise themselves in.

Both Seána and Stephen are big fans of John Cassavetes films. And just like him, they wanted to create characters who would help the plot to unravel as opposed to the plot unraveling the characters.

Music in general is crucial to Stephen Jones when he writes. So another source of inspiration was found in the namesake song by Hozier. It’s not so much the lyrics of Holzier’s Eden that Stephen wanted to go for but the mood it created.

No idea is a completely new idea, we are constantly taking and borrowing from other artists who we admire and who inspire us. From Eden is filled with references to different songs, films and books. No piece stands lonesomely by itself, it’s just another fish in a huge pond of art.

Those of you, who had already seen the play, might be wondering about the songs playing in the background during the performance. I personally thought that the idea was perfect. The music made the world Alan and Eva were talking about real. There was no doubt the songs were coming from a party downstairs. It also somehow added intimacy to the situation in which our two characters found themselves.

And the music was far from being random. It well suited what was happening on stage at different moments. It started form a very heavy and dark mood and slowly transferred into more cheering and light tunes; while the action on stage presented quite a contrasting picture. The music helped to balance the story and the characters emotional state in a very subconscious way.

Another thing to look forward to in this play is the set. Stephen based the original idea of the stage design on a bathroom that he had seen before but Katie Davenport (the set designer) brought it on a different level. The bathroom in refurbishment beautifully represents the inner state of both characters.

The mirror on the wall also plays a very important part (and not only visually!). It’s symbolic. As Stephen puts it himself “Sometimes we need another person to be our mirror.” So we can see ourselves and understand that we are not alone on this planet, our problems are not unique and there is always somebody out there who will understand and support us.

Building interesting and multi-dimensional characters is what Stephen was trying to achieve while writing the play. No big plots, no mad scenarios filled with surreal twists; just two human beings with their human stories. During the first readings both Stephen and Seána decided that in order for the play to work they had to raise the stakes for their characters so high that the story wouldn’t only be believable, but also logical. It’s easy to make a character leave the stage, but it’s a much more difficult job to make her/him want to stay.

Being a couple in real life, I suppose it’s not that easy to play your first encounter on stage. At the end of the day, of course, it comes down to how convincing of an actor you are.”You don’t see your partner on stage, you just see another actor”, Stephen says. But he also points out that the biggest difference between Alan and Eva and themselves is that the two fictional characters aren’t involved romantically and it’s not a story about love.

One of Stephen’s personal main desires about this project was to be exclusively an actor once they went into rehearsals, and Karl (an actor, writer and director himself) took good care of it. It’s indeed very challenging not to look at your own writing from a writer’s perspective. A play is like a baby. It’s you own creature and feel responsible for it. It takes patience, skills and experience to let somebody else take over and make the decisions. And from Seána’s point of view, Stephen did a great job.

Seána also revealed to me that for her at the very beginning it was very challenging to flesh out her character – Eva, who is a very complicated human being with loads of going on in her life. It’s challenging, indeed, but also very exciting to create such big and deep character. No doubt, anybody who is going to see the play will agree with me that Seána’s has succeeded.

Just like any good script, From Eden is filled with very elaborate dialogue where every word is said for a reason. Apart from carrying the story forward, it’s also an enormous help for the actors. The arch of the story exists because of something that had been said at the beginning as a joke, later comes back as painful revelation. And only great characterisation can deal with such a rollercoaster.

When you are bringing a production; when you are working hard on making one play happen, nothing is more rewarding than welcoming the audience in and see how they react to your work.  And especially when their reaction is the one that you hoped for.

From Seána’s point of view, one of the most enjoyable things in bringing this production was getting the tone of the story right and just seeing the whole thing come in together piece by piece. For any actor dedicated to their craft it’s a true gift to be able to embody a certain character and give him/her a strong distinctive voice.

Coming from films and TV, Seána loved the chance of having one of her first plays being produced in such a small and intimate theatre that has an ambiance and an atmosphere of its own.

I can’t help but ask: what happens to Alan and Eva when the lights go down? What is waiting for them out there in the real world? Not every play gives you all the answers, neither should it. It’s a great tactic to leave the audience wondering and wanting to know more.

It’s good to remind ourselves that From Eden is not so much about the fascinating plot but about the characters and their inner stories. Some of the things they said to each other that night, they said them for the first time. And that is what’s important. It’s a story about a chance and perhaps the importance of being in the right place in the right time. No matter how wrong you think it might be.

As for the future projects, Seána Kerslake has been recently in a film called “A date for mad Mary“, directed by Darren Thoronton, that is due to come out next year. With a predominantly female cast, the film is based on a play written by Yasmine Akram.

Stephen is doing a radio play adaptation of Synge’s masterpiece The Playboy of the Western World, where he will take the role of none the less but Christy Mahon himself.

In the meantime, From Eden runs in Theatre Upstairs until December 5th. Do not miss your chance to see this extraordinary performance created and brought to life by some of  Ireland’s most talented young actors and writers. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/from-eden

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Theatre Upstairs: Tales from the Woods

After two interviews, pictures of guest speakers and comments by people who had already seen Tales from the Woods, the Hallowe’eny play brought by Theatre Upstairs and The Gumption Theatre Company, I thought I knew the performance inside out. How wrong was I!

I was nicely surprised from the moment I walked into the auditorium of Theatre Upstairs. Absolutely gorgeous set, designed by Theatre Upstairs very own Laura Honan, puts you into the right mood straight away. The ginger leaves covering the floor, a self-rocking chair, a spooky doll, an old-tape player… there is no place for a mistake: you are not in the middle of rainy Dublin anymore. This is the dark, mysterious, dangerous for some, liberating for others Woods. The light and the sound effects howling somewhere in the background just add to the intimate atmosphere of stepping on the unknown path, where there is not a single light at the end.

The play starts with a very soothing and comforting voice of a grandmother (spoken by Irene Shiels) who is telling bedtime stories to her little granddaughter:

Chapter I: “The ballad of Ginny Fogarty”, written by Kate Gilmore and directed by Karl Shiels. This piece is based on the song “The River Saile”, which is a very obscure tune, telling not such a happy story of a woman who killed her baby. The mini-play features three girls: Eilís Carey, Marnie Mccleane-Fay and India Mullen, who are playing truth or dare. And, as it happens, in the best traditions of an old haunted house horror films, one of the girls is being dared to knock on the door of an abandoned house where Ginny Fogarty once used to live. No need to say that nothing good comes out of this idea.

The piece features an absolutely beautiful and tragically touching interpretation of the song performed by Kate Gilmore.

Chapter II: “The beast in the woods”, written by Gary Duggan and directed by Karl Shiels. This “Little Red Riding-Hood” type of story that marries the modern world with the old prejudice. Are things always what they seem? The woods is indeed a very dark place… it’s probably the only place, where you’d rather meet a lonely male stranger than a small little girl.

This full of symbolism mini-play features India Mullen, who gives an extraordinary performance as The Girl, and the voice of Gary Duggan.

Chapter III: “The children played at slaughtering” is a mini-play developed by Karl Shiels and The Gumption Theatre Company.

The third and last piece is the darkest one. Rayne (played by Shane O’Regan) and Root (played by Dave Rowe) are two brothers from a small village, who decide to play at slaughtering one day. Naive (or maybe not so much?) one of them takes the role of the butcher upon himself, the second one plays his assistant, the third, a younger boy, is playing the pig. When the two brothers finally reach the pig, they kill him. But shall the young brothers be punished?

This grim story of lost innocence and justice also features Marnie Mccleane-Fay, who brilliantly plays the silent Plague Doctor.

This spooky and very atmospheric production is a perfect proof of how many levels a theatre can work on. Such a beautiful and strong interpretation of every single character by The Gumption Theatre Company brought up the creepiest in each one of the three mini-plays and made you feel your hair standing up on the back of your neck. The effect is even bigger when you realise that you are part of the show and in front of you are real people.

Theatre Upstairs is a kind of house you would want to knock on the door of on Hallowe’en for they have a whole hand full of  treats for you!

Tales from the Woods runs until November 7th with two performances on the last day! Would you want to wait another year to see something that great and that scary? Of course, not! Book your tickets here: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/tales-from-the-woods

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Filed under Tales from the woods, The Gumption Theatre Company, Theatre Upstairs

The writers of “Tales from The Woods” talk about their plays.

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October 31st might have passed but Hallowe’en isn’t quite over yet! For those of you, my faithful witches and wizards and other magical creatures, Theatre Upstairs has a very special gift! Tales from The Woods has entered in its second week and the reviews are absolutely raving! If you haven’t seen the play yet then I don’t know what you are waiting for! It’s an opportunity not to miss… Some of finest Irish writers and actors have come together to make this piece happen.

I, in my turn, had an amazing chance to ask the writers of Tales from the Woods a few questions about their mini-plays. And here is the result. Karl Shiels, Kate Gilmore and Gary Duggan explain what they wrote this particular piece, who inspired them, what was the most enjoyable/challenging and much much more.

Can you tell me what your own piece is about? 

Karl: My play is about two brothers standing trial in front of the creatures of the forest for the murder of a boy.

Kate: “The Ballad of Ginny Fogarty” is about three young women playing truth or dare around halloween and find themselves in Ginny Fogarty’s cottage in the woods. Alone.

Gary: A man’s car breaks down on the edge of the woods and he meets a little girl who says she’ll lead him to a phone. They walk through the woods together and we gradually realise that they both have secrets.

What/Who inspired you to write this piece?

Karl: The play is based on a very early Grimm Brothers tale called How Some Children Played at Slaughtering, it appeared in their very first publication of Grimm Tales but was never printed again. Some say it’s because their other “popular” tales grew longer, some say the subject matter was too harsh.

Kate: I was inspired by the old Irish song ‘The River Saile’ which I heard at various family parties throughout the years and now find very unnerving. It was the first thing that came to mind when I received the phone call from Karl.

Gary: Well Karl Shiels inspired me to write it, saying it only had to be ten minutes long and creepy. That was hard to turn down! Beyond that, I instantly thought of the Little Red Riding-Hood story and some way to put a modern twist on it.

What was the most challenging moment of writing this piece? 

Karl: I think the biggest challenge with writing the piece was how to truthfully portray/play pure fear on the stage. I think the company excelled at this…

Kate: I was performing and rehearsing for ‘The Train’ while writing this piece and found it difficult not to be influenced by that. Obviously in some ways, it’s good to take from your own experiences and I think I found a balance in the end. For example, the female empowerment I felt during rehearsals made it impossible for me to write for anyone other than the three female actors from Gumption.

Gary: It came out quite easily, as I sometimes find with short pieces with a specific purpose.

What was most enjoyable about writing this piece? 

Karl: The most enjoyable thing about writing this tale was getting to work with such talented and dedicated actors. Pure joy.

Kate: I always find limitations quite freeing so the fact that the piece could be no longer than 12 minutes made it really exciting. I had to achieve what I wanted to in that space of time.

Gary: Being able to play around with language and the theatricality of how it would appear on stage, after writing a lot of stuff recently that was rooted in realistic naturalism.

What lesson (if any) can we learn from your tale? 

Karl: The lesson to take from our tale would be…Be careful what you choose in life as it may have deadly consequences.

Kate: Curiosity really does kill the cat.

Gary: Don’t do bad things. And don’t go into the woods when the sun is starting to set.

Can you describe your play in three words? 

Karl: Scary As Fuck.

Kate: Mother Earth’s Revenge.

Gary: Twisted modern fairytale.

Tales from The Woods run in Theatre Upstairs until November, 7th. Make your Hallowe’en a tiny bit more special! Now that all the tricking is finally done, you can treat yourself to a night in a theatre. For more info and to book tickets, you know what to do: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/tales-from-the-woods

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