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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

Interview with Nessa Matthews and Sarah Finlay.

2015 is drawing to its end and in order to close the season Theatre Upstairs together with Fast Intent Theatre Company present Way Beyond The Blue, an original play written and performed by Nessa Matthews.

Way Beyond the Blue is Fast Intent’s final, in a series of three, play as the Company in Residence 2015 that is being staged in the cosy intimate place above The Lanigan’s Pub on Eden Quay.

In the middle of summer, I had already had a chance to sit down with Gerard, Sarah and Nessa to talk about their newly written and freshly staged play Bob&Judy. And now, only few days before Christmas, I am back in Theatre Upstairs; Nessa, Sarah and myself sit down to talk about end of year, being a company in residence, creating and staging three brand new productions and, of course, what was the inspiration and drive behind Way Beyond The Blue.

The idea of writing her own piece came to Nessa when she was still a drama student at LAMDA. An image of a woman listening to The Flamingos (a popular rock – an’ – roll band from the 50s) alone in the room, suddenly a male figure approaching her and engaging in a dance, that was the first image that struck the beginning of a long process that will eventually end up in a piece called Way Beyond The Blue.

Nessa tells me that her creative mind works visually and imagery is of a crucial importance to her. So, after having that very first image, the next step she took was to have a look at the work one of Hollywood all-time classics – Douglas Sirk and his timeless melodramas.

After the first stage of “the sit-down” research, Nessa proceeded to a more hands-on approach. With a dictaphone on, she interviewed Ste Murray, who, being a photographer, could really provide some insight on what happens on the other side of the lens; along with him, Nessa interviewed a number of women, including her own mother and sisters, about their feelings when being captured on camera; thus the main character – a young female photographer – was born. Nessa saw that her yet unwritten play was already turning into a “quest story, where the heroine is looking for an image of either her mother or herself”.

Being the kind of person who rather stands on her feet and “does” the theatre, sitting down to write it was somewhat of a challenge for Nessa. But it didn’t stop her.

Interestingly enough, the idea of making the heroine of the story somebody who is interested in photography was there from the very beginning, but it was not definite. Nessa tells me that she was quite open to other options and suggestions.

“She does want to engage”, says Nessa. She wanted to create a character who is really willing to engage with other people but there is something inside her that would not let her do it. And this metaphorical barrier was shown through a very physical object – a camera. A camera, just like a mask, is there to protect the introvert girl from the outside world.

Sarah Finlay, who has directed the play, says that even though she had seen the script during its different stages, seeing the actual performance for the first time was incredibly rewarding. “From scraps of moment to images, to scenes and to monologues”, Sarah expected the play to be a very abstract piece. “Language is the easiest part”, Sarah says “people are great at writing beautiful language, wonderful monologues and interesting characters. But what’s really difficult is putting it into a context, a plot or a narrative that is really engaging, coherent and makes sense.” So, a lot of work, until the very last days and minutes, went into creating the setting of the story.

“A journey from innocence to experience, from morning to night, from springtime to winter, from flowers to snow and from youth to an old age… Creating arches and clearly defining the character’s journey is what made this play so special and easy to engage with”, says Sarah and I absolutely agree. Beautifully constructed, easy and interesting to follow and hugely enjoyable to watch, Way Beyond the Blue is a real gem.

One of the things that was new to Sarah before starting to work on this production was that she had never directed a one-person show before, which would have been written and performed by that same person. Being a “Nessa’s show”, as Sarah describes it, she agrees that there is a part of her in it, as well. Nessa, in her turn, says that it was very much of a collective work. The play wouldn’t have been the same without every single person who was involved in bringing it on stage. With the creative team, being inspired by the same things that Sarah and Nessa were and working to perfection in unison with their ideas, it was a team-work that made this production the way we, the audience, are lucky to witness it on stage.

Apart from having written and performed in the play, Nessa Matthews has also co-designed the sound for the piece. Being a person who starts creating a character by making a list of songs that she would associate with that character, Nessa wanted the music to be a very important part of Way Beyond The Blue. It starts with quite traditional 50s songs, slowly progressing to broken off jazz and finally to silence. That very beautifully and organically represents what the character on stage is going through inside.

Nessa admits that she is a very physical actress; in this production mime is a just another layer that plays its part. The camera, one of the main objects of the show, never actually makes an appearance. Everything is being very subtely and beautifully mimed. “It was very important to break down the gesture”, explains Sarah. Once the gesture has been done and repeated, the audience doesn’t need to see it again. One of the most memorable moments of the play: when the heroine is looking at the sky and takes a picture of it – the representation of the camera isn’t there anymore. She just says “Click. Roll On.” and we already know what’s happened.

Having produced three full productions that are very dear to the hearts of all members of Fast Intent, it is, of course, very difficult to say goodbye to a such a long and fruitful year in Theatre Upstairs. The absolutely lovely space, the opportunity to work with some of the best theatre makers in Ireland – being a Company in Residence is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

“Theater Upstairs gives you a great opportunity to create new work, show it to the audience and be able to see it for what it is; not see if it works; not see how successful it can be, but see what it is, what the idea is, what the play is, what it means”, says Sarah.

Always with the help and encouragement of Karl Shiels and Laura Honan, as well as the new creative team behind every production, who do not only do their job but also shares Fast Intent’s passion and love for theatre, this year has been tough but also extremely rewarding and enjoyable for the company. Three brand new plays written, performed and directed within the company have been of a very valuable experience for Fast Intent. They could have made it easier for themselves, but it’s the strong belief in what they wanted to do, how they wanted to do it and the eternal love for art that kept driving them forward all this year.

With 8 shows under their belt now, Fast Intent is ready to move on and impress its audience with both new plays and a possible return of the old ones.

Way Beyond the Blue is running in Theatre Upstairs until December 19th. Do not miss this little beauty that is way beyond incredible and fascinating! A real treat for theatre lovers of all genders and ages. For more info and to book tickets, please, visit: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/way-beyond-the-blue

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Theatre Upstairs: Way Beyond The Blue

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

– Ansel Adams

It’s 13 sleeps until Christmas. 2015 is drawing to its end, and Theatre Upstairs has prepared a real gem for its audience to say goodbye to this year. Fast Intent, the company in residence 2015, presents Way beyond The Blue, a debut play by Nessa Matthews.

From cold and rainy Dublin, in an instant we are being transported to the warm and sunny small town America of the 50s; where our nameless heroine (played by Nessa Matthews) lives with her father.

In a town where everyone knows everyone, the only place to hide is behind a camera. And that’s exactly what she does. Everyday, every hour, every minute of her life: click, roll on. Neighbours, people on the streets, strangers, young or old, black and white… it doesn’t matter. She takes a picture of the sky one day. That’s unusual. But she just wants to capture that moment of herself in time and space.  A moment to remind her that she is alive and living.

One can hide from places and people, but never from one’s own memories. The humming… the recollection of photos taken years ago… but not in full, never in full. Just moments and nuances: that’s all she remembers, or allows herself to remember. “Just like her mother”, that’s what people say. That’s what she is. Coping and fighting. She isn’t somebody who doesn’t want to die, she is somebody who desperately wants to live.

This absolutely stunning piece of theatre can’t help but charm. Apart from the story, it’s an incredibly beautiful visual piece. Only last week, I went to a talk with Sinead McKenna who was talking about lighting The Importance of Being Ernest in The Gate. She said that she didn’t want to produce any shadows that might destruct the audience audience. Well, this play is the complete opposite. The shadows and the way the lighting plays with the actress on stage is simply amazing. Credit for which goes to Teresa Nagel.

The sound (composed by Becky Murphy and Nessa Matthews) is way beyond any expectations, too. The good old tunes set the perfect mood from the start. They are like something out of black and white films, where men always wear suits and women high hairdos and heels. It’s that classy old America that we all know from films and television.

This play is also a very good example of some very strong directing choices. The perfectly captured moments and scenes build up the illusion. And, of course, Nessa Matthews once more shows how incredibly talented she is when it comes to creating a whole new world.

The amazing Katie Davenport once again wins the audience with the simple but absolutely gorgeous set. When the stage has only a wall and a chair, your opportunities are literally limitless. A whole world can be created out of air. All you need is a bit of an imagination and skill.

Way Beyond the Blue, I am happy to say, is the second production this year in Theatre Upstairs that has been brought by a team of five incredibly talented, imaginative and skillful women. #WakingTheFeminists is up and cheering.

Way beyond the Blue, directed by Sarah Finlay, runs in Theatre Upstairs until December 19th. Don’t miss this way beyond the beautiful, amazing and heart-touching piece. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/way-beyond-the-blue  

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