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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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The Gate Theatre: The Heiress

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“You are good for nothing unless you are clever.” 

–  Henry James, The Heiress

Ruth and Augustus Goetz’ adaptation of Henry James’s novel Washington Square, The Heiress is probably one of the most perfectly unimpressive plays. It’s a typical story of the late 19th century life of  the other half. The constant battle of money, affection and betrayal. It’s also a story where one of the main characters is none the less but a house,  beautiful but soulless space that becomes a prison for some and the entrance into the garden of Eden for the others. New York’s Washington Square charms, it attracts and mesmerizes people who have once seen its rich beauty and now are unable to let it go.They want it for themselves no matter what.

Slightly over two hours long The Heiress is a flaying piece with only a handful of characters. Centered mainly on the life of Catherine Sloper (played by Karen McCarthy), the only daughter of Dr. Sloper (played by Denis Conway) and his late but still very much beloved wife. A simple, bubbly, home life appreciative Cathy perhaps isn’t the best match for the gentlemen of the New York nobility but a spark of hope lights when she meets Morris Townsend (played by Donal Gallery). Against her father’s will and with the help of her spinster auntie Lavinia (played by Marion O’Dwyer), who is a great character herself, a secret marriage has been arranged. For Catherine the decision has already been made but what about the young fiancé who is a bit unimpressed to find out that in the case of this marriage taking place his young wife most definitely will be disinherited?

A cruel story of false promises of love, sour betrayal and cold-hearted but sweet revenge shows us one of the best examples of a strong female characterization in a dramatic play. Catherine is indeed a very enjoyable character whose personal growth is nothing but fascinating to witness.

Even though the play does have some very nice lines to feed one's mind and the acting is as superb as always, there was something missing in the piece to make it stand out. Too sweet and perfect to challenge the audience.

On a slightly more positive note, Jonathan Fenson’s stunning stage and dress designs made it an absolute pleasure for the eye to watch the play. I really enjoyed the captivating depth of the stage and how well it symbolically represented the story.

Directed by David Grindley, The Heiress runs in Dublin’s Gate Theatre until January 21st. Only a few chances left to catch it. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.gatetheatre.ie/production/TheHeiress2016

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Teachers’ Club: The Boy with the Halogyn Hair

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“Love plus drugs equals heaven.”

One. Two. Three. The lights go down. And we are back to the universe of Franner and Joey. Remember the two crack heads pumping themselves up on a rooftop with a view of Dublin North inner city?

Now we might as well place our feet down onto the solid ground and visit one of the inhabitants of that infamous building. Paula (played by Ericka Roe) used to be a good girl, who did well in school and loved and respected her parents. But shortly after turning eighteen she met a boy, a boy with the halogyn hair who turned her world upside down. But Duggo, an irresistibly attractive crack head with what seemed like years of experience in drug abuse, wasn’t only a bad influence on her. Apart from introducing her to drugs (starting with no more no less but heroin) and almost getting her involved in prostitution, the boy also physically abused Paula and from time to time would lock her in the apartment. But now, two years after, would Paula be able to break free from her addictive unhealthy obsession? Is the will strong enough?

The Boy with the Halogyn Hair is written by Eddie Naughton and directed by Kieran McDonnell, two men who must know inside out the dark world that they once created. Comparing this piece to Franner and Joey, both works have a very similar setting and even the general feeling to it but differ on a somewhat deeper subliminal level. Both plays excel at creating a sense of a freshly fleshed out worlds with real and vivid characters inhabiting it.

Being an almost seventy minute monologue, the play has a bit of a twist at the end, which shakes things up quite nicely and adds some action to an otherwise calm narration filled mainly with memories, emotions and heroin’s self-persuasion of doing the right thing.

The lighting and the set design showed an interesting gradual degradation of the main character (who is bit by bit picking up her life from the floor) throughout the play with the very last scene being the strongest one of all both visually and plot-wise. The purely stylistic effect that bright red light produces in the total darkness is a very powerful tool. It creates a sense of character being bit by bit swollen up by the demons of hell when a drug hits the vein.

An image of Dublin as many might know and have even experienced it. A female view to the mostly manly world. Paula’s story of making all the wrong decisions and having to face the consequences. The Boy with The Halogyn Hair, a poisonous story of a drug abuse reality, is a product by Little Shadow Theatre Company. For more info: https://www.facebook.com/events/146993262438490/

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The International Bar: Triangles

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If you are in a bad need of a post-fringe detox (as one might easily be since there is such little time to get over one event just before another one is about to hit), then I’ve got just the right play for you. Sad Strippers Theatre presents Triangles.

Written by the company’s very own Ciara Smyth and performed by the other two company members, the play is an indescribable kaleidoscope of games that the characters play on stage and that entangles into one whole piece. Chair (played by Laura Brady), Muesli (played by Meg Healy) and Bread (played by Ciara Smyth) entertain themselves by re-enacting different scenes that they might have witnessed.  After the end of  each scene they repeat it again and again each time adding something new or switching characters. The result is always the same though usually unpredictable.

In this crispy fast-paced thirty minute piece, the three actors give a performance filled with an incredible amount of energy, joy and laughter. With the bare minimum that the performing space in the International bar can offer, the three actors did an amazing job to create the atmosphere. Not relying particularly on lights, set or props (as the majority of other productions usually do), the show was completely stolen by the beautiful and very skillful acting. The characterisation was remarkably strong. I was reminded of cartoons where each personality, even though blown up immensely, still remains believable, carefully crafted and quite unique.

Triangles is a great example of a story where the third isn’t necessarily the odd one out, but the wheel that keeps the show (and the laughter) rolling. So, if you find yourself stranded and lost on the path in between the two biggest theatre festivals, allow yourself a break and pop into the International Bar for a bun and a blast. Triangles is closing on September 30th. For more info or to book the tickets: https://www.facebook.com/events/1665535230426742/

 

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Filed under Ciara Smyth, Sad Strippers Theatre, The International Bar, Triangles, Uncategorized

Theatre Upstairs: Bob & Judy

“…And it is here that we are, in some pain and with no guarantees, working out our destiny.”

– Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Theatre Upstairs and Fast Intent present the world´s premier of Bob and Judy, a devised play written by Gerard Adlum and directed by Sarah Finlay.

Somewhere on the very edge this universe there is Judy (played by Nessa Mathews). Judy is a misfit. She lives alone in an old house with an abandoned garden. She doesn’t have any friends. When she was a small girl, Judy loved to look at the stars… she knew everything about them. Well, maybe not everything but definitely more than a normal kid would.

Today is Judy’s birthday. Nobody knows about it. But that’s ok, Judy doesn’t really want anybody to know. In addition to all, she does not like surprises.

Bob (played by Gerard Adlum) is a delivery man at Science World. He is a good man, a kind man,.. Bob is also a misfit. He goes on about his work. Every day Bob does his best to deliver all sorts of gifts and purchases that people have ordered. And it might seem as an easy and quite meaningless job, but not to Bob. That’s all he has.

Today the last purchase that Bob has to deliver is a very special gift for Judy.

And everything could have played out just fine for both Bob and Judy if it wasn’t for the comet fast approaching this little green planet of ours.

This is the second play by Fast Intent that I was going to see. After A Man in Two Pieces, which absolutely blew me away, my expectations were very high!

Bob and Judy opens very beautifully with Judy meditating on stage and suddenly springing into dancing. There is also an old radio which quite organically turns on and off by itself to highlight certain moments of the play. One of the loveliest touches happens when a romantic song starts playing pushing Bob and Judy into a dance. The constant interference noises just add to the whole atmosphere of the unknown and mysterious.

Just like in the previous play, the characterisation is particularly strong in this piece. Both Bob and Judy come off stage as real people who struggle to connect with other people, to build relationships, to move on from the tragic past. Their every day effort to fit into this world brings out the very human beings that they are. The effort is different for each one of them, though. Bob is a joyful person, who always tries to find the positive side of things. On the opposite hand, Judy is a very private person, who keeps to herself and prefers a solitary and closed life style to anything else.

The absolutely beautiful way in which both actors portray their character makes the audience sympathize with Bob and Judy and associate with their struggle. The ending of the play might come as a certain relief. Just before the comet hits the Earth, we see that Bob and Judy are finally happy and at peace (as much as it’s possible in this situation, of course). Dying in loneliness would be such an awful and unfair way to die, at least they have each other.

Along with the radio transmissions and music another very important moment of the play is the lighting effects. Thanks to some very smart decisions about lighting and brilliantly written dialogue, there are moments when you really do feel like there is a naked sky above your head. And you can’t help but look up from time to time to see if the stars are really there…

This highly enjoyable and inspiring production is an absolute must-see. Some plays attract because they have some really fringy characters or touch risky subjects; Bob and Judy is a play about two human beings looking into the sky and wondering about the meaning of life. It’s as simple and as complicated as this.

I am absolutely delighted and looking forward to chat to Fast Intent early next week about their theatre company and the play Bod and Judy. So, keep an eye on this space! In the meantime, go and book your ticket for what promises to be an unforgettable evening in the theatre. Bob and Judy runs until August 8th, for more info or to book tickets, as always: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/bob-and-judy

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The Gate Theatre: A Month in The Country.

The Gate Theatre presents Brian Friel’s adaptation of one of Turgenev’s most famous plays “A Month in The Country”.

The plot of the story is, once again, as old as the world: somewhere in the deep Russian countryside there is a big house owned by a rich family with an oldish matriarch (played by Barbara Brennan) ruling over it. Upstairs, Downstairs. Both the rich and the poor are bored with themselves and the lack of absolutely anything happening around. So they have to make the life bearable by their own means. Natalia Petrovna (played by Aislín McGuckin) is the young lady of the house. Once married, she isn’t attracted to her rich husband (played by Nick Dunning) anymore. She doesn’t share his passions or interests… as a matter of fact, she is more interested in the family’s best friend Rakitin (played by Simon O’Gorman). Rakitin is a very educated, noble, rich and not that bad a looking man. He truly loves Natalia, but out of respects to her husband (his best friend), he doesn’t dare to do anything. Everything changes, when a new teacher has been hired for Islayev’s youngest son. Belyaev (played by Dominic Thorburn) is a 21 year old man from a very middle class family, who has earned his education and now works as a teacher. For him living with the Islayevs is fascinating. He had never been allowed before to a world of rich, elegant and sophisticated people. He immediately becomes attracted to Natalia for she is unlike any other woman he had seen before. She is also attracted to him, but more out of boredom. He is like a breath of fresh air in the routine of the everyday life, a new toy to play with, a different creature to study.

A Month in The Country is a very interesting piece of theatre because it strips downs the very human nature and shows it as it is. Rakitin leaving Natalia and the house, so he will not be “interrupting” his beloved’s happiness any more. Natalia, who for her own happiness, is ready to destroy another person’s life. She barely thinks twice when offered to marry out the little Vera (played by Caoimhe O’Malley) to a “fat, old and very stupid man” (played by Pat McGrath). Vera has fallen in love with Belyaev and therefore is considered to be blocking Natalia’s way to her own happiness.

The cheeky doctor (played by Mark O’Regan) comes and goes. He is that person who got stuck “in between” the classes. Being a worker, he will always remain a middle class man for the rich, but by constantly visiting and trying to get them to like him, he thinks that one day he might be able to join the club. A person of a good nature, he also doesn’t think twice when offered to play a part in the marrying out the “old, fat and stupid man” to Vera, as long as it profits him.

Then there is Herr Shaaf (played by Peter Gaynor), a German gentlemen, a friend of the family. Shaaf is hilarious. Due to his bad English, he doesn’t really know what’s going on. He likes Katya, the young maid (played by Clare Monnelly) and it’s quite clear that Katya is happy about that. Everyone is looking for their own benefits: the old German is attracted by the young blood, while Katya herself hopes to get out of the life of a poor maid. But, yet again, the two worlds can’t quite come together. The class gap is way too big. The only consolation to Katya is Matvey (played by Dermot Magennis), a forty year old man servant.

The story line is much more complicated than I have described it. Every single characters has a drama or an addiction of his or her own. By the way, talking about the characters… After having seen this particular production of A Month in The Country, I can honestly say that there are no small characters but only small actors.

A Month in The Country is a play full of characters whose storylines aren’t particularly huge and important, but! And here comes a very big But! All the actors made their small characters look so outstanding and full that I was simply wowed. Take, for example Lesaveta Bogdanovna (played by Ingrid Craigie). The woman didn’t play the part, she lived it. Every movement, every line, every gesture… for somebody who studies acting, that was an eye-opening performance. There are actors who act beautifully and doubtlessly are very talented, but Ingrid Craigie just was there and that was enough.  During the interval I heard some whispers from the audience and was indeed very happy to realise that they all agreed with me.

The same goes to Nick Dunning. The only difference is that I had already been familiar with Mr. Dunning’s way of acting but, nevertheless, his astonishingly perfectioned skills never seize to amaze me. No movement is a small movement, no word is an insignificant word… It’s incredible to see real people on stage not just good actors.

And that’s what The Gate Theatre is all about: comfortable plays, beautiful sets, amazing dresses and very skilled actors. The play doesn’t really challenge or raise any serious modern issues. It’s just one of those cosy little plays that one can’t help but enjoy on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

A Month in The Country runs until August 22nd in The Gate Theatre, Dublin. For more info or to book tickets, please visit: http://www.gatetheatre.ie/production/AMonthInTheCountry2015 

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Theatre Upstairs: Panned (interview with the creative team)

“If not for something, then for somebody.”

– Panned

I am in the beautiful Theatre Upstairs. Caitríona Daly, Eoghan Carrick and Ste Murray have kindly joined me to talk about their new play “Panned“.

Written by Caitríona Daly and directed by Eoghan Carrick, Panned is the third collaboration between Ste Murray and We Get High On This Theatre Collective.

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Pictured: Ste Murray Photographer: Jeda De Brí

According to the Oxford Dictionary Panned means “to be severely criticised”. The title of the play  works on a slightly different level as well. Sean (the main character) is telling us his story wearing a costume of Peter Pan. The writer, Caitríona, acknowledges that there are slight references to J M Barrie´s most famous story all through the play, but that is not what the play is really about. The main (and quite important) similarity between Peter Pan and Panned Sean is that they both are lost boys and both their lives are full of criticism and self-loathing.

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Pictured: Ste Murray Photographer: Jeda De Brí

Caitríona tells me that after a couple of months off from writing, she was so eager and desperate to go back to pen and paper that the first draft of Panned was ready in five days. It has been edited and reworked: the structure has changed and so did some of the characters. But the story has always remained the same.

Interestingly enough this is far from the first time when Caitríona writes a story about a lost boy. “I think it has subconsciously been on my mind for at least four or five years”, she adds. Panned might not be her most favourite play amongst those she has written, but it’s definitely a play that she has learnt a lot from.

Eoghan, in his turn, admits that directing Panned was very exciting but also quite challenging. One of the main issues was staging it: placing all 18 characters on stage and making them sound authentic and different from each other. Reactions and movements of each single character were essential to get right.

Before coming to Theatre Upstairs, Panned was tried out (as a work-in-progress) during Collaborations. You can barely call it the first staging, “it was basically Ste in the costume standing in front of an audience and reciting the text”, says Eoghan. The response was great, the audience absolutely loved it. And that was the little kick that We Get High On  needed to go ahead to fully and professionally stage the play.

Ste, who has previously collaborated with the collective, admits that he is still trying to find his Sean. Every time he reads the script, every time he performs it, something new, something yet undiscovered pops up.  And this is what acting is all about. You don’t have all the answers, every time is like the first time, you are constantly discovering things, opening yourself as much as possible to new solutions and experiences.

Ste tells me that he came on board only during the third draft of the play. He remembers his audition: he spent two days trying to learn three pages of the tricky dialogues. Nevertheless, it wasn’t difficult at all to connect to the characters. All of them are easily recognisable; they are the people we interact with throughout our lifetime on a daily basis. The very human nature of each one of the 18 characters helps both the actor and the audience connect: “I´ve been there, I know that”. We have all been lost and confused.

I naturally ask Ste if, out of 18 characters, he has a favourite one. “Sean”, he says. And the least favourite one or the most challenging to play? There are really no characters that he dislikes, he says; but it was definitely challenging to play some of Sean´s reactions towards other inhabitants of the play.

Having studied architecture, for Ste acting has always been his real passion. In mind, he goes back to his academic roots by constantly sketching something on the scripts. The design and the stage setting is also very important to him. But not pitching the perfect picture of his character, Sean is there to be explored and re-explored, not to be framed.

Ste admits that one of the skills that might have come in handy doing Panned is his amazing ability to do impressions.

Pictured: Ste Murray  Photographer: Jeda De Brí

Pictured: Ste Murray
Photographer: Jeda De Brí

I ask each Ste, Caitríona and Eoghan to describe Panned pointing out one thing that makes it so special. “Brutally fucking honest”, says Eoghan. “Funny and difficult”, says Caitríona. They all agree that Honest is the word to describe Panned.  It´s tragedy-comedy which will make you laugh and will make you cry because each one of us has been a lost boy at least once in this life.

Panned by We Get High On This runs in Theatre Upstairs until July 25th, catch it before it ends: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/panned

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