Tag Archives: set design

Theatre Upstairs: Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws

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Tea + Toast Theatre Company in association with Theatre Upstairs presents Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws. And if the title itself hasn’t already intrigued you enough, then maybe you should stick around for a bit longer to find out what it’s all about.

An original piece of theatre, written by Joyce Dignam and directed by Dignam herself and Meabh Hennelly, Fizzy Drinks is a simple story told from a very nontrivial point of view. It tells us about an Irish family on their holidays in Wexford. Maybe not the fanciest of all holiday destinations, one might think and Lara (played by Ali Hardiman) and Rosie (played by Tara Maguire) will definitely agree with you. But it’s not the lack of exoticism or Mediterranean sun on the resort that upsets the little girls; it’s the feeling that something bad is going on in their family and nobody would tell or explain them anything. Mam and Dad seem to be enclosed in a local pub with a family friend, while Lara and Rosie are left to play by themselves in a playground outside. Nevertheless, their minds can’t help but wonder what’s really hiding behind all that grown-up talk that even playing Mommies and Daddies doesn’t help.

In this approximately one hour play, we witness the story from the point of view of two little girls – the eldest being only ten. It’s definitely catchy and refreshing. Both Hardiman and Maguire are excellent at portraying little girls as well as adults. The sense of naiveness and childishness that they transmit to the audience is nothing but adorable and hugely entertaining.

Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws is an easy to watch and enjoy production showcasing some of the raising talents of the Irish theatre. The play was presented as part of this year’s Scene and Heard Festival last month. Apart from decent acting, there is some nice lighting (by Shane Gill) and sound (by Conrad Jones-Brangan) designs. As for the set design, being presented as a playground, it’s quite outstanding with a real slide mounted on the Theatre Upstairs’ cozy stage.

Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws runs in Theatre Upstairs till April 8th. It’s never too late to be a child again and perhaps remind yourself how it all used to feel like. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/fdwts

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Palace Theatre: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Part I).

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Would you call it dedication to sit in front of your computer for twelve straight hours just to book tickets for a play? But what if it’s not just for any play but a ticket to your childhood, to the place where letters were delivered by owls, where the good always won over the bad and where the-true magic existed!

It’s been nine years since the last book about the-boy-who-lived was published. It’s been five years since the last film about the unbreakable trio was released. It’s been a lifetime of a desperate belief that you too are a witch or a wizard, it’s just your letter to Hogwarts got lost on its way.

That’s not dedication, that’t just admiration and fandom. But what J K Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany did in Palace Theatre in order to give those avid Harry Potter followers a little bit of magic is a true dedication to the arts, to the literature and to their audience.

J K Rowling didn’t create one single fairytale. She changed childhoods of a whole generation, who went back from TVs to reading books and believing that “happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”.

When I read Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, I was somewhat disappointed. I did not like the story. I was more than skeptical to see it on stage. I simply did not believe that it would be possible to recreate that feeling of a different world that the books managed to beget. But, as a true fan, I waited those long twelve hours on the day of the ticket release. At twenty five I still desperately needed that kind of magic in my life. And when you finally hold that sacred golden ticket (almost like in Willy Wonka) for the play and queue outside of the Palace Theatre under a huge nest in order to to get in, you realise that you are not alone. Those emotions are shared by hundreds of likeminded people around you. People of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds are there.

I don’t know how to write a review on a play when the whole point is not to give anything away. I have promised to #KeepTheSecrets and I am going to keep this promise. After seeing the play you understand why the production team does not want any details to leak out. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is an incredible experience. It’s more than a play, it’s a theatrical masterpiece. Everything, every single detail to the tiniest ones, is so thoroughly thought through that, at times, you will start questioning your ability to percept the action on stage. Am I really seeing what I am seeing?

The choreography of the piece is a pure paradise for eyes: from simple background activity to change of scenes. Steven Hoggett created such a visually rewarding piece that from an esthetic point of view it’s a movement paragon.

Only a few minutes into the play I realised why I didn’t like the book. It was never meant to be read (not as other Harry Potter books anyway), it’s meant to be seen. John Tiffany, who co-wrote the play and also directed it, knew very well what he was doing. He was creating a theatre piece that would be seen acted out.

And now I shall talk about a different kind of magic on stage. The amazing ensemble of over twenty five performers did all the justice to their corresponded parts. Take into account that it’s a two parter with each part lasting approximately two hours and a half. Also, take into account that the main characters are mainly children/teenagers. And obviously, it’s a live show. You watch the little ones almost with the same admiration as you would have watched Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in their first Harry Potter films.

As for the parenting generation (it is very unusual to see them being grown up!), it’s just breathtakingly scary in a very good way how well some of the actors captured the essence of their characters. A huge amount of pressure is put on them not to deviate too much from the original story that the characters become completely unrecognisable (we did love them all this years for a reason, right?) or cut outs of the already created ones by somebody else but, at the same time, keep it fresh and… more matured, maybe. After all, it’s been 19 years.

It feels a bit unfair to single somebody out but I absolutely loved Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger and Alex Price as Draco Malfoy. Their portrayal of the famous Miss Know-It-All and the grown up Bouncing Ferret played an emotional chord with me when one could truly see the life being breathed back into the beloved characters.

Another important moment that I want to touch on is the stage (by Christine Jones), lighting (by Neil Austin) and sound (by Gareth Fry) designs. Thanks to this incredibly talented bunch, together with the illusionist Jamie Harrison, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child created a magical world on stage. Unfortunately, I can’t give a more precise example but the lost in admiration sighs coming from the audience all throughout the play were the best proof that sometimes even impossible is possible if somebody puts his/her mind to it… with a little but of good old theatre magic, of course.

The first part ends on such a cliffhanger that it’s impossible not to want to see the second part! So, I guess it’s time for another weeks and weeks of fishing on the HarryPotterThePlay website. Tickets do become available there from time to time but you always have to keep your eye on it. And for those of you who haven’t been lucky yet, remember that magic does exist and it’s very real. It just couldn’t be any other way!

For more info: https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/

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Interview with Seanan McDonnell

Revolver, the new play by Sugar Coat Theatre Company, opened in Theatre Upstairs this Tuesday past. The play is in full swing now entertaining the audience and wowing the critics; and I got a great opportunity to interview Seanan McDonnell, who wrote the piece.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your previous writing experience. What kind of writer are
you?  
I’ve been writing fairly consistently since I was a tot and my writerly sensibility probably calcified around age 8 watching The Simpsons and reading X-Men comics. In 3rd class, I remember keeping a notebook of short stories that were a mix of low fantasy children’s adventures and Bible fanfic.
My reading interests are pretty evenly split between genre writing – science fiction, horror, a little crime – and literary fiction and when I’m writing, I’m a magpie of my own interests. The best writing builds to ‘moments’, which I realise is a word that’s both plain and vague, but you know the ones I mean: the explanation for how the heist was pulled off, the closing of a causal loop in a time travel story, the memory of a piece of fruit that triggers a character to reflect upon a string of poor decisions. Great genre writing and great literary writing tend to go about creating them in very different ways: the former, usually, through story construction and the latter, usually, through burrowing deeper and deeper into its characters’ minds. But they’re not mutually exclusive, my very favourite writing marries them, and so when I write, I hope to build those ‘moments’ similarly.
Do you sit in the rehearsal room a lot?
I like to be a minimal presence in the rehearsal room. When it come to plays, you’re working in a collaborative medium so really the only functional approach for a writer (who has no interest in directing or acting) is to hand it over to the creative team and hope that the common understanding of the text’s scale and tone is close enough to your own that you don’t end up interrupting performances with “That’s not how you’re meant to say that line!”
How was the idea of Revolver born? 
I can’t really remember; I began the play five years ago. I wrote the female part for Charlene Craig, whom I’ve known since college, and whom I’m lucky enough to have play the part in the production. She swears that it was born from a suggestion I made in my old flat in London that we should do a play together but I have no recollection of that conversation. Her memory is better than mine though and it does make for a better story.
I do remember returning to the premise in my head because it offered a sustainable way to dramatise a pretty-difficult-to-dramatise aspect of human behaviour: the way the content of our opinions are overwhelmingly contingent not on the truth but on the perceived benefit it’ll bring us in whatever social set-up we assign most value. If you want to write a play about envy, you can write envious characters; if you want to write a play about malice, you can write a play about people who post Game of Thrones spoilers on Facebook; but if you want to write a play about people whose sense of self is ever-shifting, it’s hard to write credibly. People don’t speak about that and people aren’t conscious of it. But if characters can reset their encounters, you can have them passionately assume a position on a topic in one scene and then passionately assume the opposite position in the next. So, it’s a neat way of minimising the friction between the play’s character work and the play’s dramatic momentum and a neat way of having you question the reliability of the accounts the characters offer of themselves.
What was the biggest challenge while writing Revolver? 
The biggest challenge was creating dramatic tension when the characters are resetting the plot every five minutes. The temptation to have the play be a shapeless, discontinuous mass was high. But after a while, you spot ways to construct the story so you’re taking advantage of the structure. There were opportunities to create intrigue around the premise, to play with the differing levels of knowledge between the characters and the audience, to give the action urgency because it could be undone at any moment, and the writing was about finding those.
The editing was a nightmare though. The first version was significantly way too long and any time you wanted to make a cut, it meant looking at the entirety of the play: you’d remove some insignificant moment from scene 2 and then remember it was necessary for setting up a big moment in scene 8. That happened a lot.
What makes Revolver different from other plays? 
It’s science fiction. There are plays with science fiction premises but they’re usually called ‘absurdist’ or ‘playful’; this is unambiguously a piece of ‘science fiction’ about a technological advance and its consequences. It’s also a romantic comedy. Like everybody, I’m a big fan of the ‘Before Sunset’ movies: they’re wistful and charming but most importantly, I think, they follow the humps and hollows of real conversations. They strike this cadence that you’re at ease with at once and that was something I wanted to recreate, in parts, here. So, it’s a sci-fi rom-com and I don’t know any other plays, really, that are that.
What would you identify as the main message of the play? What do you want people to be thinking/feeling when they leave the theatre? 
The main message is “Our sense of self is a shaky thing and we’ll turn to anything, including kamikaze romantic relationships, to stave that notion off” but I hope that emerges from the drama rather than sits atop it. I really don’t like didactic drama. I’d hope, as hopelessly bourgeois as it is to say it, that people have a good time. It’s a comedy so I hope they laugh. It’s got revelations so I hope they gasp. And for all their flaws, the play’s two characters are motivated by desperation more than anything so I hope there’s sympathy for them. Mostly, I want people to come out feeling like it was 65 minutes of their life well spent.
Revolver, written by Seanan McDonnell and directed by Matthew Ralli, runs in Theatre Upstairs until June 4th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/revolver

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Broadhurst Theatre: Misery

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When you are in love with theatre, it’s impossible to go to New York and not see a show. Any show. The lights and the buzz around Broadway are all too tempting not to be lured in. Such big names as The Lion King, Phantom of The Opera, Matilda The Musical, etc etc are flashing on the big screens of  Times Square inviting you to come in and see for yourself some of the highlights on some of the world’s best stages.

I’m somewhat more of a play person rather than musicals. So, when going to the tickets office on Times Square, I just wanted to see a play. Any play. Somewhere in my memory there was a recollection of having seen ads for Misery that was showing in The Broadhurst Theatre on 44th Str. The screen outside the office box was announcing that there was a 50% discount for Misery that day.

The tickets were equally expensive for all the plays (it’s Broadway after all), so in for a penny, we thought… it’s not something we will be doing every night, so for the sake of one time let’s go big. And we settled on Misery.

In this version directed by Will Frears, Misery features such big names as Laurie Metcalf (playing Annie) and Bruce Willis (playing Paul Sheldon). This play, based on the same-name novel by Stephen King, tells the story of a famous chick-lit writer Paul Sheldon, who was rescued from an almost lethal car crash by Annie. Coincidentally, Annie isn’t only a good samaritan, she is also Sheldon’s fan number one (and there ain’t number two, according to her). Having both legs severely damaged in the accident, Sheldon has no choice but to be subdued to Annie’s 24h care. But it looks like the good old Annie might be after something more than just bringing back onto his feet the famous writer.

This suspense thriller is, without doubt, one of my favourite titles by King. And this production does it justice once and for all. The absolutely wonderful performances given by both actors on stage steals your heart from the very first minute. I must say that Metcalf is absolutely amazing as Annie. She doesn’t only show her mad side, but also reveals her beauty and humanity. Her performance made me feel sympathy towards this poor lady, who is trapped in the world of reality and fiction drama.

Willis himself isn’t bad at all. I’m not a fan and must admit that I had no expectations what so ever. But after finding out that it was his Broadway debut, I was pretty surprised. The first theatre role and such a challenging one. It’s not easy to sustain a 90 min performance being hugely restrained in movement and only able to move around only in a somewhat awkward wheelchair. And Willis did it believably and bravely well.

Another point that I can’t help but share is the set design. I understand that budget is a term pretty much non-existing on Broadway, but what David Korins did with the stage is simply amazing. An almost entire rotating house was built! I’ve never seen anything of that quality in my life. A very impressive decision it was that contributed not only as a set for the stage, but also as a set of mind. In a number of scenes the house was moving together with the actors either standing or moving with it, which created a beautiful feel of time, space and urgency.

Another thing that differs this play from those ones I would normally be used to in Dublin is that Misery had a soundtrack. Some really easily recognizable tunes added to the whole atmosphere of the piece.

Unfortunately, Misery has drawn its last curtain yesterday on February 14th. A performance that introduced me to Broadway shall never be forgotten. For more info about the play: http://www.miserybroadway.com/castcreative/

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Project Arts Center: East of Berlin

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

– Yehuda Bauer

It’s a well known fact that history is written by the victors. We rarely hear “the other side” of the story. Why ask the murderer when you have a survived victim?

East of Berlin is a play written by the Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch. It’s one of those plays that has a very unusual point of view, which makes the difference and presents the plot under a yet unshaded light.

Rudi (played by Colin Campbell) was born in 1945. And as he puts it himself, just as he was being born his “father was losing the war.” Rudi lives in Paraguay now; he speaks Spanish and almost does not bear any memories of his fatherland. And even though his own father has a picture of Hitler on his study desk, years after the defeat, Rudi does not ask many questions about the war. At least not until the day his school friend, another German expat and a war criminal son, Hermann (played by Liam Heslin) tells him what he knows about Rudi’s father’s duties during the war.

Disgusted and overwhelmed with all the new information, Rudi decides to leave Paraguay for Germany. Good for him, Odessa takes care of all the money problems. Odessa takes care of everything, for that matter. After a university graduation and years of living in Berlin, it looks like Rudi, or Otto as he’s now know, has almost settled for the quite, almost boring and measured, European life. He has achieved that stage in life when even he himself started believing in the lies that he was telling his new friends about his childhood, thus, for convenience reasons, he “killed” his parents in a car crash. But everything changes when a Jewish American girl Sarah (played Erin Flanigan) comes into the picture.

East of Berlin, directed by Lee Wilson, is a tense ninety minute almost a monologue (with a number of flashbacks) performance that tells a very usual story with a very unusual insight. Moscovitch achieved to create interesting characters that are very easy to feel for and empathize with. All three actors on stage, in their turn, give a performance to remember.

The story has a very nice organic build-up to its climax, with an unexpected twist at the end, which always is a bonus.

East of Berlin is yet another great example of  a serious matter being presented with a spoon of sugar. You can’t talk holocaust, death and betrayal for almost two hours without sparing the audience a smile every once in a while.

The set was quite basic (almost bare), but the practical and uncommon storage of the props made it the more interesting. The idea of hiding things in the base of the stage and only picking them up when they are needed made a wonderful allegory with the plot. Sometimes, there is more than just a skeleton in the closet.

I also quite liked the lighting design (by Zia Holly). Just like in Anna Bella Eema, Holly has an extraordinary feeling for the space in which she works and  definitely knows how it can be filled with the light for its benefits and the benefits of the actors performing.

East of Berlin runs in the Project Arts Center until January 16th, for more info or to book tickets, please, visit: http://projectartscentre.ie/event/east-berlin/

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Theatre Upstairs: Tales from the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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