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Player’s Theatre: Montparnasse (IDGTF)

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Just as the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2017 is about to re-open its doors to the second week of the gay awareness feria, there is just one more play from the first week that deserves to be highlighted.

All the way from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Emerald Island, Theatre Outré brought to us Montparnasse, a 75 min extravaganza about two girlfriends living and experiencing the Années Folles – The Crazy Years. In the aftermath of the Belle Epoque a whole new era of art, culture and ideas has emerged. And the two Canadian ex-patriots, as well as best friends, found themselves in the midst of what was promising to be one of the most exciting eras to be alive.

We are in the city by the Seine. The aroma of vine, croissants and mixed paints is in the air. And Margaret (played by Katharine Zaborsky) is loving it. She has re-defined herself as a muse to some and a party friend to the others, but always being in the center of the elite Parisienne société: Miller, Modigliani, Hemingway, Chagall… Stripping off her clothes in front of them day after day, Margaret believed that she was doing something more, something bigger: she was inspiring the artists to create and to produce.

While her friend Amelia (played by Carolyn Ruether) didn’t find it all that amusing. A painter herself, she was more interested in the game of light and shadows, in the angles, in the positioning of the body… It seemed she had all the tools to do the job but the only missing piece seemed to be the vital one: the inspiration. Nevertheless, a new and unexpected, even a bit scary at the beginning, experience has been presented to Amelia. But is she ready to lay bare her body in order to learn from the best?

Montparnasse is an unexpectedly eccentric piece. It lets you witness not only the denuding of the body but also the stripping down of the very soul hiding behind it. The confidence and the security with which the actors present their work is both mesmerising and captivating. The Company has brought to the Dublin audience an absolutely beautiful recreation of Paris during the roaring twenties and the true portrayal of the spirit of the era.

Montparnasse is a brave piece of theatre that is not afraid to expose the human body in all its glowing beauty; it mixes well the picture with the entertaining story and some dreamy French tunes. With a small amount of props on stage our attention is completely overtaken by the plot and its masterful narration by the three actors.

When a play is worth bringing all the way from the other side of the ocean, it’s worth bringing! Montparnasse is easily one of the highlights of the first week of the festival. Prepare yourself for a play unlike anything else you’ve seen before!

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Pearse Centre: Both Sides Now (IDGTF)

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The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2017 has opened its wide and ever welcoming doors to another year of theatre, art, music and creative performances. Filled with pieces on gay awareness, the two weeks of the festival have on offer something very special for each and everyone.

Both Sides Now, written and performed by Nicole O’Connor, is just one of the rich variety of plays that is presented by its creators to be truly enjoyed and experienced. Being part of a double bill deal (see two plays for the price of one; who would say no to that?) along with Leah Moore’s Wasting Paper, Both Sides Now tells us the story of Lydia – a young bisexual girl who is on a long road of discovering herself and her sexuality. Lydia is doing her first steps into the world of the unknown where she meets Carrie, her first love. After making plans of travelling the world together, the young couple doesn’t even survive the summer. Not being able to get completely over Carrie, Lydia looks for her cure – a sort of, at least – in Joni Mitchell’s songs.

The way this forty minute piece is delivered is both touching and charming. It’s simple and very natural but captivating, at the same time. O’Connor, who plays the title character, just like an old friend brings you through the story. She makes it funny and sad; she even has a cute handmade presentation to explain some things.

Both Sides Now is a beautiful mix of music and storytelling. And if you happen to be an admirer of Joni Mitchell’s, then you are undoubtedly in for a double treat.

Both Sides Now, an original piece of theatre directed by James O’Connor, runs in the Pearse Centre Theatre until May 6th (with a 4PM and a 7.30PM performances on Saturday). For more info or to book tickets: https://gaytheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873572855/events 

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The Complex: Horae

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Here’s a saucy one: a play about whores!

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about Horae – a unique theatre piece about the ancient craft of prostitution. From virgins to whores: in this roughly 40 minute performance Susie Lamb (the creator and performer) dances the audience through her darkishly enlightening tale.

Presented through the eyes of a single character, Lamb deepens us into the ancient world of sacred temples, where the street girls weren’t from the streets at all, they were regarded as almost holy creatures capable of providing the best cure, care and comfort. The goddesses of high places they were. And how quickly everything changed. Horae brings us back in time to learn how drastically the history can turn sometimes. In her mix of movement and spoken word, Lamb narrates the story of how once a sacred profession, a trade of respect and honour, fell so low it became a shame, an unspoken taboo.

Brought to us by NEST theatre company, Horae is an amazing example of theatre created by women and about women that could be easily enjoyed by everyone. Horae is a very strong, very unlike anything else piece of raw daring theatre at its best. It uses powerful elements to carry the already quite substantial and important subject forward and present it to the audience in a unique shape.

In Horae it quickly becomes obvious that Lamb knows her trade inside out. A professional actress and dancer, she is comfortable enough in her natural habitat to present the story to the others while keeping it fresh and engaging at all times.

Horae is a combined piece of many big and small elements. It’s a rich performance when it comes to interpretation but quite appropriately modest regarding the set design and costumes. Nevertheless, the one thing that does stand out is the lighting design (by Adrian Mullan). Visually striking beginning – the red light dot traveling through the body of the actress – was the perfect opening for such a performance.

A thoroughly researched and even more masterfully performed piece that shouldn’t be missed, Horae runs in the The Complex till February 26th. For more info or to book the tickets, do not hesitate a second and contact: http://thecomplex.ie/cinema/horae/

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Scene and Heard Festival: Interview with Romana Testasecca – Syrius

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COLD , HARD , HOPE.

 

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The New Theatre: Happy Birthday Jacob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Abbey Theatre: Anna Karenina

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“Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. ”

– Anna Karenina

2016 has been a huge year for the arts. 2016 was anything but a challenging year for the Abbey Theatre in particular, a year filled with the most unexpected, brave decisions and thought-provoking plays. In addition to seeing one year round up of #WakingTheFeminists meeting; Ireland’s National Theatre has also had a change of directors welcoming Neil Murray and Graham McLaren to the steering wheel.

The last play of the departing year is none the less but Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, adapted for the stage by Ireland’s very own literature giant Marina Carr.

No doubt, Tolsoty’s masterpiece is a poignant, heavy piece in all senses possible. Starting with the fact that the play lasts approximately three and a half hours (which then pass by quicker than a fly). But above all, it’s a Russian tragedy where, unfortunately, there is no place for a happy ending.

Anna Karenina (played by Lisa Dwan) is a wife, a mother and a woman, who one day falls in love with Vronsky (played by Rory Fleck Byrne), a well-built handsome young man. Tolstoy has never created a weak woman in his work and Karenina isn’t an exception, either. But just as any human being isn’t safe of making mistakes, she gives in to temptation and finally decides to leave not only her husband but also her son Seryoza and the respected position she occupies among the Russian intelligentsia. She looses everything for a chance to live maybe not a happy but an emotionally fulfilled life. Nevertheless, happiness does come but only for a short time before Anna realises that some things can never be replaced or substituted in life; that people remember it when you did them wrong; that people betray, lie and simply get tired of what once excited them; that some of the most tender souls hide behind the thickest walls; that no heart is made out of stone and every heart breaks in its own way.

This absolutely stunning interpretation of a Russian classic is a truly jaw-dropping piece to watch. It should definitely be placed among the strongest pieces produced by the Abbey last year. Unsurprisingly brilliantly directed  by Wayne Jordan, the play transports us to pre-revolutionary Russia where the  freshly spilled blood is an ever constant contrast to the peacefully falling snow. In a very simple but wonderfully decorated set (by Sarah Bacon) we witness the lives, loves and tragedies of a grand total of 42 characters. Dressed in some of the most eye-catching ribbons and bows (by Sarah Beacon),the piece presents to our display a whole range of mothers, daughters and wives and their everyday struggle. From Dolly (played by Ruth McGill), who perhaps doesn’t even remember what it feels like not to be pregnant and who also is living a tragedy as she has a cheating husband, to Kitty (played by Julie Maguire) a young girl who is only preparing to enter wifehood.

In one single play, we are given the incredible opportunity to see the same problems being dealt with by different people and from alternative angles. With beautifully stylised musical accompaniment (by David Coonan), the cruel Russian reality ideally translates to the Irish stage. Anna Karenina has it all: tragedy with elements of comedy, very nice pace for a long piece, stunning decorations and costumes and some absolutely superb acting. The cast, the majority of whom double and triple, truly gives a performance of a lifetime with each single one of the ensemble being exceptional.

Anna Karenina is a beautiful experience that won’t leave a dry eye. The play runs in The Abbey Theatre until January 28th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/anna-karenina/

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Smock Alley Theatre: The Snow Queen

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’tis the season, indeed! And what a delight to open it with a play like The Snow Queen.

Based on the original story by H.C. Andersen, Ian Toner’s version, with a modern global warning twist, is slightly different but not a single bit less interesting or entertaining. I won’t be shy here and will say that the play won me over from the moment I sat down and opened the progrmme: what a stage design and what a cast!

In this two hour piece, directed by Sarah Finlay, we meet the canonical characters: Kay (played by John Doran) and Gerda (played by Clodagh Mooney Duggan), who live in a place very much resembling Venice, except that Venice doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the first of December and it’s warm. It’s always warm there now. In Kay and Gerda’s dystopian hometown, The Corporation is in charge of everything. Children are not allowed to read books, they’ve never seen snow and Santa Clause is the bad guy who used to come through the chimney to steal your presents. But everything changes the day Kay goes to the library and gets a book. And it’s not just any book, it’s The Snow Queen (played by Nessa Matthews). The book is enchanted by the protagonist and she lures the boy out of town to her frozen kingdom. Having lost her closest soulmate, Gerda and her pet friend Pollyanna (played by Aislinn O’Byrne) sets on a dangerous adventure to save Kay. Along the way they meet pirates, the creatures that live under the water, Santa Clause himself (played by Gerard Adlum) and even Rudolpho, the red-nosed deer (played by John Merriman) who shares with them his tragic story.

The Snow Queen is a play for both the little and the grown ups. It’s filled with beautiful images, touching songs (Rudolpho’s one shall always be my favourite!) and truly Christmas spirit and magic.

Both the costume and the stage design (by Molly O’Cathain) create a very beautiful visual imagery. Starting with the stage floor itself, where the northern star is drawn with the constellations and all the way to the moment when it actually starts snowing on stage. Pure magic! The way both actresses (Mooney Duggan and O’Byrne) convey the state of being cold when reaching The Snow Queen’s kingdom sends a chill to the audience, where some even start shivering.

Another perfectly mastered moment was the creation of The Snow Queen herself. A very nice usage of audio (by Jack Cawley) that created a powerfully fleshed out character who we are yet to see in flesh and blood. Nessa Matthew’s beautiful voice carried it ver nicely.

But kudos have to be given to the whole ensemble without exception! Every single one of the six actors (the absolute majority of whom play more than one character) under the masterful direction of Sarah Finlay creates a strong and vivid character that is enjoyable to watch.

The Snow Queen is a real treat for this Christmas. So, whether you’ve been naughty of nice, don’t deny yourself an opportunity to experience a fairytale. Give yourself or a loved one the gift of true magic – the gift of theatre! Runs until December 28th, fore more info or to book tickets: http://smockalley.com/the-snow-queen/

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Filed under Fast Intent, Fast Intent Theatre Company, Ian Toner, sarah finlay, Smock Alley Theatre, The Snow Queen, Uncategorized