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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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Filed under Awake & Sing Productions, From Eden, Theatre Upstairs

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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The Gumption Theatre Company

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Hallowe’en is fast approaching and Theatre Upstairs has a real treat for you this year. “Tales from the Woods” is a play compound of three original pieces written by Kate Gilmore, Gary Duggan and Theatre Upstairs’ very own Artistic Director Karl Shiels.

The short plays will be brought to life by the amazing members of the fast rising and highly acclaimed The Gumption Theatre Company, that lives up to its name.

I had a chance to chat to the lovely founding members of the company: Marnie McCleane-Fay, Eilís Carey, India Mullen, Shane O’Regan and Dave Rowe. We met in Theatre Upstairs, where The Gumptions are deep gone into the woods rehearsing for the show, which is opening on Tuesday, October 27th.

The Gumption Theatre Company was founded by The Gaiety School of Acting’s graduating class of 2014. Today the company counts with a total number of 7 core members. I was lucky enough not only to see their graduation play Dirty Laundry (written and directed by Chris Edmund), but I also witnessed their performance in The Critic (DTF2013) and Bee-Loud Glade Cabaret concert.

Shane O'Regan

Shane O’Regan

My first question, naturally, is about what made them choose the acting path. Marnie says that she comes from an artistic family and theatre has always been a part of her life. In Eilís’ case, before auditioning for The Gaiety she had already gotten a degree in Irish and History and a Master’s in Military History; but seeing her dad and grandmother taking part in an amateur theatre group inspired her to give it a try herself. Dave remembers himself watching TV when he was still a small boy; the characters, the story lines, everything inspired him to come up with his own scenarios; he even built hand-made sets inside shoe-boxes. India was involved in acting and dancing since a very young age; in addition to that, her mother was a big theatre lover and enthusiast, who used to bring India and her sister to see a lot of different (often obscure) plays and shows. For Shane acting started in his mom’s car, when they were waiting for his older sister going to private speech and drama lessons; tired and bored of waiting around, he asked if he could join in as well.

Different lives, different experiences and stories behind each one of them, but the result is life brought them all together to make a little history on the pages of Irish theatre. It’s been just over a year since the young actors graduated from The Gaiety School, with four productions (two mini-plays and two full-length plays) they are already doing quite impressively.

Marnie Mcleane-Fay

Marnie Mccleane-Fay

Seven members might sound like an awful lot of people, but The Gumption members told me that they are getting on really well with each other. And having such a wide range of people in your company can be quite helpful and reassuring sometimes; team-work and having people with diffierent strength and talents can be a real undoubtful benefit.

Upon their graduation and formation of the theatre company, The Gumption was approached by Karl Shiels and Laura Honan, who offered them a chance to compose a play of individually written pieces and put it up in Theatre Upstairs for two weeks. For starting out actors, this was an opportunity not to miss. During that first collaboration with Theatre Upstairs, some of the members of The Gumption took upon themselves the roles of producers and dramaturgists, as well as writers and actors. The result of this collaboration was a devised full-length play “Out of print”.

Marnie says that, as actors, they have some essential qualities in common: they are all strong writers and performers. Eilís says that because they’ve worked so closely with each other, they’ve developed this crucial trusting bond. They can safely display any work-in progress or present a fresh idea to the group and expect honest constructive feedback. More than a theatre company, The Gumption can be described as a collective of young talented artists, who are ready to undertake any creative task to make a production happen. Apart from the Gumption, all members have separate projects they are working on and compound part of other theatre or film companies.

When it comes to making the final decision, there is no straight regulation as in who will have the last word. They all understand and respect each others opinions. Finally it comes down to who created the piece and who is going to be involved in its production. At this stage (with Tales from The Woods being its fifth production), Marnie Maccleane-Fay is the person who has been involved in every single piece; she has also written a piece for this year’s Collaborations festival. While for Shane O’Regan, for example, it’s actually going to be the first time acting with the Gumption.

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India Mullen

Tales from the Woods is a play that consists of three originally written pieces. Imagine your grandmother telling you the scariest stories on the scariest night of the year:

 “The Ballad of Ginny Fogarty” by the fast rising actress and writer Kate Gilmore, who is a graduate of The Gaiety School of Acting herself and a founding member of The Cup Theatre Company. Kate has recently appeared in the hugely successful musical “The Train” by Rough Magic.

“The Ballad of Ginny Fogarty” is a short piece based on a song and will feature the three girls: India, Eilís and Marnie.

The second piece “The Beast in The Woods” is written by Gary Duggan. It will feature India Mullen, who plays The Girl, and the voice of Peter Gaynor, who plays the man lost in the woods. As India puts it “It’s a Little Red Riding Hood -esc play; it’s the most fairy-tale old school Hallowe’en type of play”.

The third piece is “How the Children played Slaughtering” by Karl Shiels. The piece will be re-enacted by Dave, Shane and Marnie. It’s inspired by one of the most obscure fairy-tale by The Grimm brothers that was taken out from the latests editions of the book. Dave, Shane and Marnie are telling me that working with Karl as the director of the piece is very inspiring in itself. He is a very open-minded person, who allows his actors to develop their own characters and is always welcoming of new ideas and suggestions. With the music and sound effects by Derek Conaghy, this is, no doubt, the scariest piece of all.

Theatre Upstairs didn’t stop there and the fun will be well continued even after the performances; each night (and matinee) there will be a special guest reading one of the good auld Hallowe’en stories to the audience.

With each piece being only about ten-minutes long, the Gumptions are revealing to me that it’s really challenging to flesh out your character as much as possible in such a short time. Marnie says that basically it’s “creating a huge personality and shrinking it back” into the amount of time given. Dave says that the shortness is something that he actually enjoys about this project; there is no time for wobbling around; “It’s like the snap shot of the story”, he says “you are going into it and immediately you are ripped back out. You get to the point with no fluff about it.” Eilís says that for her, it’s interesting to be able to give to the audience the whole arch and the experience of meeting her character in such a short amount of time.

Marnie compares the experience of working on this project with their first show “Out of print”, where everyone was given roughly five-six minutes on stage to present their characters and stories.

The Gumption is still in rehearsals, so Marnie points out to me that a huge difference will make the set, the costumes, the light and sound effects. In her case, the costume will change the physicality of her character and it’s something you might not know or take into consideration while rehearsing. Eilís adds that it’s really rewarding to finally start rehearsing with real props and just get the touch and texture of them, which can be real influential on your final performance, as well.

The rehearsals and bringing the whole piece together have been really rewarding and fun so far, as the Gumption tells me. Karl and Laura in Theatre Upstairs are amazing people to work with, who try to take care of as much as possible, so the actors and the creative team can fully concentrate on the play. For actors it’s crucial to be able to play around with their characters, bring it to different extremes and see what might come out of it.

Eilís says that it’s great to see other actors creating their characters. “You can learn a lot from them”, she says “and it’s a great reminder that you are actually surrounded by some amazing talented actors.”

Being all of them graduates of the Gaiety School of Acting, the guys are telling me that John Delaney and Helena Walsh, two tutors at the school, were a huge inspiration for them. Both John and Helena are amazing people to work with and to be taught by. In Helena’s class, I’ll take the liberty to say, you are being more then simply taught, she is sharing her profound wisdom with you. Interestingly enough both teachers encourage you “not to be afraid to fall”. Or “fail beautifully”, as Helena likes to repeat.

“The Cup Theatre Company”, founded by The Gaiety School graduating of class 2013, also had a huge impact on The Gumption. Marnie says that it was truly inspiring to see that they were doing great. “If they can do it, we can do it”, she says. All the companies that came out of The Gaiety are very supporting of each other. “It really isn’t a competition”, says Eilís, “it’s really rewarding to see how everyone supports everyone and gets happy when you do well.”

As for the future productions: Dave Rowe is currently working on an original piece of script for the company. Marnie’s “The Valley of Dolls”, that was originally produced as a short piece (starring India Mullen and directed by Aonghus Og McAnally), will be transformed into a full length play and presented to the audience early next year.

Whether you decide to trick or treat somebody in to the theatre this Hallowe’en, here is the link to get your tickets for Tales from The Woodshttp://www.theatreupstairs.ie/tales-from-the-woods

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Fast Intent Theatre Company

Yesterday I had the amazing honour and enormous pleasure talking to one of Ireland’s youngest but finest, extremely talented and ever so inspiring theatre companies: Fast Intent. Gerard Adlum, Nessa Matthews and Sarah Finlay, the three founding members of FI, talked to me about the past, the future and the present of the company.

We met in an ever-so-welcoming and already feeling-like-home Theatre Upstairs where, being a company in residence 2015, Fast Intent is showcasing their second original play Bob&Judy.

Being a company in residence in Theatre Upstairs means, as Sarah Finlay explains to me, that the company gets a chance to put up three shows within one calendar year. In a modern theatre world, it’s an opportunity that many theatre makers could only dream of. You get to work with the most professional, creative and talented people in the business; the company in residence also doesn’t have to worry about finding a venue or fundings for the productions. The audience gets to know the company and the company gets to know its audience, as well. it’s a very reciprocative experience, which might be absolutely crucial when a young company is trying to establish itself. All what’s needed from the company in residence is creativity, willingness to work hard and ability to produce a decent piece of theatre… which, from my point of view, Fast Intent has been doing brilliantly so far. Their first piece The Man in Two Pieces (written by Gerard Adlum and directed by Sarah Finaly) premiered earlier this year, Bob & Judy is the second one, and later this year the company will be presenting a third original play.

Fast Intent is a Theatre Company that started with the idea of “misfits”. Three people: Nessa Matthews, Gerard Adlum and Sarah Finlay met in the famous UCD DramSoc about nine years ago and have been a company for the last four of them. Fast Intent has been created in a very natural and organic way, as the three members saw an opportunity and took it. Having always wanted to produce high quality work no matter what it is about or who wrote it, Sarah, Nessa and Gerard confess that Fast Intent has never had a manifesto or a subject that they would blindly follow in their work. They’ve always enjoyed working with other talented people and kept open-minded to new opportunities… “A good story is a good story”, Gerard says adding that the three of them have been mostly inspired by such writers as William Shakespeare and Harold Pinter.

Nessa believes that their company has always been quite text-driven. Whenever developing a new piece of theatre, they try to focus as much as possible on exploring the characters.

“Emotional and artistic honesty is really important to us”, says Sarah “No matter how big or small, old or new, famous or not the play is.” Sarah also adds that she personally gets more inspired by creative people around her and Theatre Upstairs is the perfect place for it, just seeing people working hard on what they believe in and getting things done can be very motivating.

So what makes Fast Intent‘s plays so special and so unlike any others? Both The Man in Two Pieces and Bob & Judy are about “how people just need, more than anything else, other people; people look for connections, their family, their place and their home”.

Bob & Judy is a beautiful example of it. I ask the guys to describe the play in three words:

“Connectivity, childhood and wonder”

“Funny metaphysical tragi-comedy”

“Misfits, experience, childhood”

Bob & Judy is a devised work that came out from a series of workshops that the members of Fast Intent carried out to bust their inspiration and creativity. And, even though the initial idea was a bit different from the play as we know it now, it all started with Nessa Matthews drawing a black hole on a blackboard and a simple what happens if… the astronomy just found its natural way as one of the subplots. But, as Gerard Adlum promises and I, as somebody who has seen the play, can confirm “it’s very light astronomy” and the characters will be holding your hand, metaphorically, all the way through the darkness.

Bob & Judy is an romantic apocalyptic type of tragic-comedy. The ending is just another natural thing in the circle of life. Nothing ever really dies, it just becomes something else instead. Gerard quotes Einstein: “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another”. And it’s a beautiful metaphor for life and people just being here and there.  Who are we? What are we? Nothing more than a handful of stardust. But that’s what this life is all about.

Sarah Finlay reveals to me that at the beginning she was against the play ending the way it ends, until later in the process when certain parts were re-worked and the whole play just fell into one piece and made sense. After all, it’s not all about the end, it’s about the moment “in between” and people living and making this “in between” significant by connecting to each other.

Nessa Matthews says that for her the play is more about acceptance than anything else. It’s about the characters being ok with where they are and who they are and finally finding peace. Gerard Adlum jumps in saying that the play reminds him of one of the cinema classics “Being There” by Hal Ashby, where the main character (symbolically called Chance) gets by in life by simply accepting each and every new person who crosses his life path.

Bob is a bit like Chance, “he is his own defence mechanism” says Gerard. He always tries to find the bright side of the moon and stay positive about life. He tries to find the good bit because life with a smile is better than with a tear; he meets Judith, a completely polar to him personage, and tries to accept her and the way she is.

Nessa admits that Judith is “a ball of contradictions; who is a bit stuck at this point of life”. She is still very much the person she used to be when growing up, that little girl who used to look into the sky and stare at the stars; but now an adult, she is confused about life and what she should do next.

All the way through, the play is very heightened and Bob & Judy find the connection to each other. “It might last twenty years or a few seconds”, says Gerard, “but it doesn’t really matter. The last few moments that Bob and Judy share together are just as valuable and important as years of life they might have shared.” And that’s true, time is nothing, just a tool created by people to try and make life easier… but, just as the famous song goes “can love be measured by the hours in the day?” if a moment of true happiness exists, does it matter how long it lasts? Does it make it any less valuable or significant? Nessa Metthews remembers the perfect quotes from William Blake’s “To See a World…” to describe the final moment of the play:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

Bob & Judy runs in Theatre Upstairs till Saturday, 8th. For more info or to book tickets, please visit http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/bob-and-judy

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Happy Birthday, Theatre Upstairs!

Have you ever been to a theatre’s birthday party? Well, I never. Before yesterday. Dublin’s very own, Dublin’s very fair Theatre Upstairs has celebrated its 3rd birthday yesterday!

This is not a review. This is an experience sharing.

I didn’t know what to expect, but when the event was announced I knew I had to be there. My very first time in Theatre Upstairs was about 2 years ago around Christmas time. I went to see “The gift of The Magi”. I liked it so much that I went to see it twice. And the second time I brought a plus one, because an experience like that just had to be shared. “The gift of Magi” (directed by Gemma Doorly) was one of three The Yule Tide Tales staged in Theatre Upstairs that Christmas. The second one was “The Little Match Girl” written and performed by the amazing Katie McCan and the third one being “It’s a wonderful life” by Gary Duggan. All three plays were outstanding.

I quite vividly remember that back then Theatre Upstairs was a bit different from how we know it today. The stage was smaller… I remember entering the house for the first time with a bunch of other people and I still can’t help but remembering one old man’s comment “Oh, it’s so small. Intimate, that’s what they call it.” And Theatre Upstairs is quite an intimate place when you get to know it. It has its own spirit, its atmosphere, its soul…. it’s nothing like the Abbey or The Gate. It doesn’t have those big auditoriums ready to accommodate more than half a thousand people. That’s something I extremely like and value about TUpstairs: every time I go to see a play, I know almost everyone in the audience (which doesn’t necessarily mean that they know me) and no matter whether it’s an opening night with overbooked house or a Wednesday matinee performance where you can easily feel like the only bird on the wire.

Yesterday was a particularly special night because of both the audience and the performers. I guess it’s a problem any theatre goer comes across at least once in a lifetime: will I see this again? We all know that, more or less, any play can be redone over and over and over again… in a different theatre, with different decorations and a different cast… something better something worse… During the three years of its infancy Theatre Upstairs has premiered a countless number of brand new shows enabling some of Ireland’s most talented and creative emerging actors, directors and theatre companies to showcase their original work. Every show runs for no more than 15 performances; 15 Performances it’s 15 chances to see something before it might be gone forever… It’s not a Broadway show where a play can be on for years. Theatre Upstairs’ plays are like pieces of cake that will be quickly gone if you don’t catch one. I would also advise anybody booking to book a ticket quite early in the run, the chances that you will want to go and see it again are very high.

That’s one of the reasons why yesterday was so special. It gave us one more opportunity to glance at those shows that are already gone. The evening was full of surprises, the company in residence did truly an amazing job to host the whole evening… talented in something, talented in everything: the extracts from plays, the spoken word, the fairy tales, the songs… Moments can’t be counted, memories can’t be counted… they can only be lived and remembered and nurtured in one’s heart. Yesterday was definitely an evening amongst friends. An evening that one will always remember when one will step into Theatre Upstairs (which shall be soon).

By the by: Happy Birthday, Theatre Upstairs. Here is to another countless years of joyful drama!

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