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The Complex: The Leaves of Heaven

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From big theaters to small lofts. From traditional spaces to the most unorthodox and challenging ones. Only a true theatre goer knows that the beauty of those unconventional places hides in the fact that every performance there is a technical, artistic and directorial surprise. The little spaces are usually the ones that invest all their heart and soul into staging a small scale but otherwise truly big productions. The Complex is a venue exactly like that. You are always in for a nice treat when you walk through the little side door on Little Green Street.

First going through an exhibition room beautifully decorated with candles and much needed winter warmth, you finally end up in the performing space, which is carefully designed to meet the needs of each performance separately. For The Leaves of Heaven the audience is seated on one side facing the stage. And from the second you walk in, all your attention is immediately and irreversibly drawn to the set (designed by Stephanie Golden and Justyna Marta Nowicka). But the real astonishment hits when you realise that the majority of the decoration and props – doll houses – is done with simple DIY tools like cardboard cut outs and paper. Placed on a side they create a somewhat nostalgic image of a child’s room. While on the other side we have a paper tree and a bench – a very symbolic representation of solitude and loneliness, the feeling of which consistently penetrates the story. To add a slightly edgy and even, perhaps, creepy angle to the piece a number of dummies inhabit the already eerie stage. In a corner is hanging a big full moon.

Balancing on the periphery of this world and the imaginary one, we finally meet Francie Brady (played by Brian Mallon) – the butcher boy. In The Leaves of Heaven Pat McCabe revisits one of his most famous characters but only as a ghost, amongst many others, who is there to document Brady’s story not to interfere with it. Following the horrifically abusive childhood and the murder it lead to, Francie ends up in the place where he was always meant to be: a criminal asylum. As his mental state deteriorates and the mind is being almost completely overtaken by profound delusion, it becomes more and more difficult to say which part of his story is real and which one is entirely a plot created by his ill imagination. The only one thing is constant: the apparition of our Holy Mother Mary (played by Mairead Devlin). She is the only one who never gave up on Francie.

Both Mallon and Devlin give an absolutely jaw-dropping performance. Brian’s impeccable spot-on boyish physicality and the impossibly tragic portrayal of the decay of the butcher boy’s mind allows the audience to see a total different side of Francie. He is frail, he is sad but, most of all, he is human. Both Mallon and Devlin play a whole range of different characters, all vary in age, gender and nationality, but every single one of them comes across as a complete real human being. You look at a dummies’ face and you don’t see a dummy, you see a person – a personality – hiding, at times being completely lost, behind it. The embodyment is so creepily exact sometimes that it’s hard to process the fact that there are only two actors on stage. Devlin’s breathtaking voice is indescribable and unreviewable. Her Ave Maria was pure heaven.

To round up the whole experience, the ultimate atmosphere setters are undoubtedly the lighting (by Conleth White) and the sound designs. Music is so perfect for the mood, it makes you cry. It pinches that other sense – hearing – that allows you to perceive Francie’s state of mind on a more profound level. The Leaves of Heaven is one of those plays where the props (by Stephanie Golden, Justyna Marta Nowicka, Sam Lambert, Derek Hathaway and Lewis McGee) are just as important as the actors. The incredible moon that would turn from peaceful white to ominous red was a whole being of its own adding a powerful eerie touch to the surrealism of it all.

McCabe’s play transfers you from a hopeless Irish small town (that the novel is set in) into an absolutely unique and colourful universe that reins in Francie’s mind. Just like their stories, all the characters’ voices are unique and easily distinguishable. And even though their life paths might be gruesome, at times appalling and even shocking, the beautiful storytelling of McCabe’s play allows the audience to surpass those actions of long ago. We witness the real, though heavily decaying, humanity behind the dummy’s mask.

The Leaves of Heaven is impossible not to connect with. The plot, the performances, the characterisation, the actors’ output and, of course, the directing (by Joe O’Byrne) of this production will leave you in an awe. This 90 min piece holds so much of dramatic tension and human emotion that  can only be experienced in a comfort of a safe intimate space like The Complex. The play runs till November 27th. For more info or to book tickets: https://www.tickets.ie/events.aspx/search?s=leaves or by calling (01) 544 6922

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Theatre Upstairs: Test Dummy

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After the morning with #WakingTheFeminists’s one year recap in the Abbey Theatre came an evening with the feminists just around the corner from Ireland’s National. During the Monday meeting some absolutely shocking statistics were presented on the gender imbalance in the top ten (all government sponsored) theatres and theatre companies around Ireland during the last ten years. But some hope was indeed restored for me on Tuesday night when I sat down to watch Test Dummy, an original Irish play written by a woman, performed by a woman, directed and even produced by a woman.

Theatre Upstairs in association with WeGetHighOnThis Collective presents Caitriona Daly’s new play – Test Dummy, a beautiful but ever so heartbreaking example of modern worldwide female image created by decades and generations of hardcore patriarchy.

Test Dummy might be a very abstract piece in general but it’s in the detail where you find its uniqueness and meaningfulness. In addition to the captivating script, Caitriona Ennis masterfully creates her nameless character of multiple faces and experiences; and it’s in one of those socially disfigured faces that the members of the audience will be able to sadly recognise themselves: be they the victim or the predator.

Test Dummy also managed to challenge the physical space that Theatre Upstairs is. In order to be able to experience the play more profoundly, the audience is being seated on two sides (facing each other), while the stage lies right in between them. The Dummy appears to be trapped in between watching and judging her people.

According to Caitriona Daly’s Author’s Note, she wanted this piece to be “not necessarily understood but felt”. Thanks to the exquisite combination of absolutely haunting sound (by Carl Kennedy ), skillful set (by Laura Honan) and igniting lighting (by Conor Byrne and Shane Gill) designs in addition to Ennis’ breathtaking portrayal of the Dummy, Caitriona Daly’s intention was achieved quite nicely. Louise Lowe’s spot-on directing allows this piece to be both brutally honest and tense, as well as funny and humorous.

This roughly fifty minute piece flies by in an instant. Caitriona Ennis’ human Dummy with strong voice and bright eyes “is happy to oblige” and the audience is happily left satisfied with the piece that they’ve just… no, not seen but rather experienced. So, don’t be a Dummy yourself and get your lovely (male or female regardless) bum to Theatre Upstairs to witness what comes out when three talented theatre makers and a 50/50 gender balanced crew come together to create art. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/what-is-on

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dlr Mill Theatre: Hamlet

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“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

Hamlet, W. Shakespeare

How many Hamlets per year is too many? One of Shakespeare’s classics has returned to Dublin. And those of you, who can’t find a way to escape the Festival madness, maybe should take the green line bound to Dundrum’s Mill Theatre.

It’s no secret that Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been staged an unimaginable amount of times. So when one goes to a play that one would have seen many times before, it’s not the big picture it’s the smallest details that make all the difference and allow one production to differ and stand out. Directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, this somewhat more traditional version of Hamlet is an almost three hour piece filled with action, reaction and emotion that won’t leave a single audience member indifferent.

The story of a murdered king (played by Neil Fleming) and his longing for vengeance son Hamlet (played by Shane O’Regan) unravels in one of the most beautiful decorations I’ve seen (designed by Gerard Bourke). It’s not even the set itself but the way it transforms from scene to scene that fascinates the wildest of imaginations: what starts as a castle ends up as a graveyard.

The creation of The Ghost of Hamlet’s father is always something to look forward to. The idea of casting the same character to play both parts, The Ghost and his villain brother Claudius, is quite fresh and ingenious. Projecting a picture of the character on different sides of the set was a very strong visual choice. It also created a proper otherworldly  atmosphere. The moments of communication between father and son were breathtaking and quite chilling.

A very important part in a play like Hamlet is, no doubt, the game of light and shadow. The characters in the play always balance on the thin line between this and the other world. Kris Mooney’s design is flawless in general and especially when it comes to detail. The scene at the graveyard was impossible to take eyes off.

The mention of the costume designs (by Sinead Roberts) shouldn’t go astray either. It’s satisfying to see that many directors and designers choose to use more modern costumes for their Shakespearean productions nowadays. But a light touch of a somewhat more traditional design has never hurt anyone. This time, I loved the dark colours and the presence of the red in some characters’ attires. Ophelia’s (played by Clara Harte) dress, for example, said so much about her personality and the way it changed, it was eye-opening. It’s fascinating how much the colour balance (or disbalance for that matter) can enhance the perception.

All the above details, as you might have guessed already, create a very powerful visual piece. Now let’s get down to the acting side of it. O’Keeffe collected an undoubtedly strong cast of 12 actors, some playing more than one part. O’Regan’s Hamlet is an amazingly embodied and physical character. His voice, his movement, his engagement with fellow scene partners are pure joy to watch. One of the best things about watching a good production is that you never know whether it was the director or the actor him/herself who came with an interesting decision for a scene. At the end, it doesn’t matter, of course. It’s always a privilege to see the birth of a well-known character but as a different, new human being.

Another actor who unquestionably stood out for me was Brian Molloy, who played the roles of Player Queen (this one is always a winner), Messenger and Gravedigger. Astonishing but true, pardon for the cliché but there is no such thing as a small character. And Molloy is amazing at each and every part that he has portrayed in this play. Believe me, the piece is worth seeing just to watch him play the Gravedigger.

Hamlet at dlr Mill Theatre has shows available three times a day (see the link for more info), so no excuse to miss it! To book the tickets: http://www.milltheatre.ie/events/hamlet/

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The Peacock Theatre: The Remains of Maisie Duggan

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One door closes just for another one to fly open. 18 days of first -class theatre are in full swing with Dublin Theatre Festival.

While The Abbey stage is about to open with Frank McGuinness’s new musical Donegal, the Peacock is enjoying its second week of provincial Irish surrealism. A new play by Carmel Winters – The remains of Maisie Duggan – is probably the perfect link between the grotesque fringe and the modern theatre festivals.

As any proper Irish story, this sharp 90 min piece unravels the string of life and misfortunes of the Duggans, a family from North Cork. No family is a proper family unless there is a boiling mixture of hatred, resentment and well tucked deep down inside love for one another. The Duggans aren’t an exception. Maisie, the mother of the family (played by Bríd Ní Neachtain), has a car accident which makes her believe (or rather wish for) that she is dead. In a terrible confusion in the post office involving an Eastern European newbie Maisie’s long estranged daughter, who is now living with the Salvation Army in London, receives a message on Facebook which simply states that her mother had died and funeral arrangements would follow. Booking a three day trip to her long forgotten homeland, Kathleen (played by Rachel O’Brien) finally steps on the wet Irish soil. The mad mother, the resentful and abusive father (played by John Olohan) and the slightly autistic brother (played by Cillian Ó Gairbhí) might be exactly the reason why Kathleen left in the first place. But she too has demons of her own and unresolved issues that she chooses to run from.

I don’t think it would be an underestimation to say that The Remains of Maisie Duggan is quite a dark play. Unimaginably controversial things happen on stage in plain sight. To mention but a few perfect examples of the thin border between fringeness and social taboo: urination on a new grave and death of an animal (not a real one though, but still!).

The Remains of Maisie Duggan is, it’s safe to say, a play unlike any other. Even though not a very realistic one but it portrays the essence of life in rural Irish community, the mentality of the country folk and the secrets well hidden behind the closed doors. It shows the existence of people for whom death is a better looking option than life. The play bears no buried metaphors, it openly shocks, unnerves and staggers the wildest of imaginations.

With the atmospheric set design (by Fly Davis), the Duggans house represents the border between this and the other life. Half-burned, half-neglected, it’s a portal to the afterworld. And something’s telling us that for people like the Duggans it just might not be heaven. But anything is better than hell on earth.

The lighting design (by Sarah Jane Shiels) reminded me a lot of the one elaborated for The Gate’s current production of The Father. Unfortunately for this play, Rick Fisher’s idea worked quite nicely for the kind of the piece The Father is, while in the case of The Remains of Maisie Duggan, it mostly blinds people who are already in a deep awe from what’s happening on stage.

Otherwise, quite an interesting viewing, The Remains of Maisie Duggan, directed by Ellen McDougall, is a very brave piece of theatre that will challenge the views of some of the audience members. Runs in the Peacock Theatre until October 29th. For more info or to book a chance of peeping through the closed curtains: https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/the-remains-of-maisie-duggan/

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The Teachers’ Club: Franner and Joey

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Somewhere in furtherest corner of Dublin North Side unofficial theatre district, there is a tiny performing space in the basement, where every night for the past week two partners in crime, Franner and Joey, find their shelter from a robbery gone horribly wrong.

Little Shadow Theatre Company presents Franner and Joey, a tragicomedy about two twenty-something best pals and drug addicts. Petite crime hooligans looking for a big fish in a small pond, they attempt to steal a bag from an old lady. She fights back. Joey (played by Sean Sheppard), already half-high on the next fix, doesn’t give a second thought and pushes the woman. She falls on the ground and smashes her head. This wasn’t the plan at all. People start gathering. The two friends have to flee the scene. They end up on the roof of one of the buildings. Waiting for the commotion to settle down and keeping an eye on the updates on the old woman’s health (which can quickly convert them from street junkies into murderers), Franner (played by Adam Tyrell) have the whole night to reminisce about their past, dream about their future and fear the ugly present.

Franner and Joey tells the kind of story that usually never gets heard. Who cares about the junkies? Who wants to hear their side of the story? Do they have any right to have their side? In Eddie Naughton’s intense 60 min piece we are faced with the reverse side of the coin. And it’s tragic. But so real and human. Among other things Franner and Joey touch on such subjects as child abuse (both physical and verbal), broken families, drugs and alcohol overdose, premature death, etc.

Performed in a thick and easily recognisable North Dublin inner city accent, both actors do an amazing job in portraying their characters: the voices, the movement and the physicality are on an admirably high level in this piece. Being hugely convincing all throughout the play, they undoubtedly succeed in bringing across the nastiness and the dislikability that people like Franner and Joey would normally evoke in others. At the same time, Tyrell and Sheppard give their characters a human side, a reason and a tiny sip of hope.

The perfect atmosphere has also been created thanks to the great lighting (by Alan Lynch) and set design (by Alan Lynch and Donna-Marie Mahony). I like to think that theatre is probably the only place where a rooftop can be built in a basement. The team worked out the tiniest details, graffiti on the walls were my personal favourite. As for the lighting, it ideally matched the mood, especially when it came to the most intense scenes.

An uneasy piece of emotionally charged theatre that is presented in a very enjoyable way, Franner and Joey (directed by Kieran McDonnell) runs in The Teachers’ Club until October 8th. For more info or to book tickets: https://www.facebook.com/frannerandjoey/

 

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The Abbey Theatre: You Never Can Tell

A New Year brings a new review. I have finally had the chance to see the highly acclaimed and much talked about production of You Never Can Tell in The Abbey Theater.

You Never Can Tell, as far as I am concerned, is the last one in a cycle of four plays by G B Shaw that The Abbey had started in 2010. Together with Pygmalion, Major Barbara and Heartbreak House, You Never Can Tell is just another example of Shaw’s genius and his ability to write not just funny but extremely witty comedies with great characterization and plots that are widely understood and can easily be related to centuries after.

In this interpretation by Conall Morrison, the play tells us the story of Mrs. Clandon (played by Eleanor Methven) who comes back to England after having spent the last eighteen years living on the island of Madeira. Just like fish being taken out of water, Mrs Clandon’s two youngest children Phil and Dolly (played by James Murphy and Genevieve  Hulme-Beaman) are not used to the rules of the behaviour by which the English society lives; but the eldest daughter, Gloria (played by Caoimhe O’Malley) is a quite different piece of work. Taking well after her mother, she is the perfect example of a modern woman: she has no interest in love or marriage whatsoever. Or, at least that’s what she wants everyone to think. The matters complicate as the young and poor dentist Valentine (played by Paul Reid) falls in love with Gloria. And even further, when the kids start demanding the answer to the question about the identity of their father (played by Eamon Morrissey), who accidentally gets invited to lunch with the Clandons . And it looks like the only person who can remain calm in this absurd situation is the mysterious waiter (played by Niall Buggy), who never forgets his manners and speaks more sanity than the majority of the characters.

This hilarious comedy of errors is everything The Importance of Being Ernest wasn’t for me. Sharply delivered lines with perfect timing and build-up of characters makes this one to remember for a long time.

Shaw wrote You Never Can Tell in 1897 but, interestingly enough, the matters discussed in the play are just as relevant to the world in 2016 as they were back them. Family problems, women in the modern world, these problems with never cease to provoke interest.

Morrison’s staging makes this production very vivid, colourfull and energetic. Combined with the simply amazing costume designs by Joan O’Cleary (Mrs Clandon’s dress in the last two acts was simply stunning) and the set design by Liam Doona, once again The Abbey gives you an opportunity to feel and experience the atmosphere of the play rather than just being simply entertained for two and a half hours.

With the impeccable acting by the the cast of eleven, I must say that at times the show was quite stolen by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman. With her debut on The Abbey’s stage, she owns it from the very moment she walks on the stage.

Perfect for a chilly winter evening, You Never Can Tell will never cease to make one laugh and feed the sparkling energy flowing from the actors right into the hearts of its audience. A play impossible not to fall in love with, but then again… you never can tell, go and decide for yourself.

You Never Can Tell runs in the Abbey Theatre until February 6th. For more info or to book tickets, please, visit: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/you-never-can-tell/

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The Complex: In Light of Salt Rings They Drew

Yesterday The Complex Live Arts Center opened its doors to the public for the very first time. The first play that was going to introduce the new space to the Dublin audience was the award winning play In Light of Salt Rings They Drew by Sadhbh Moriarty and the Strive Theatre.

Interestingly enough, in the writing community you are told not to write plays about actors. Honestly, I do not know when and where this rule came from. But In Light of Salt Rings They Drew is the perfect exception of this rule.

In Light of Salt Rings They Drew is a story about a demented woman. Maisie (played by Nikki Burke), once a promising film and television star, just had a serious car accident. But that is not the scary part, the awful side of the story is that she doesn’t remember how she got into the car or why she ended up where she ended up; she can barely remember how hours after the crush the rescue team was getting her out of the car. She is in a hospital now… but only for a couple of months, or so she is determined, until the IFTA nominations in April, where she will be accompanying her daughter Mari (played by Rachel Feeney), also a young and promising actress.

In the hospital Maisie gets to know other pationes and staff members. There is the excentric and moody Ethel (played by Shannon Smythe), who wanders into Maisie’s room any time she wants to have a chat or if she feels lonely. And just as easily as she walks in, she leaves. Ethel has dementia and doesn’t recognise members of her own family.

Then there is Alistor (played by Cornelius Dwyer), the caretaker who spends his days craving for a real, non-electronic cigarette. Alister is kind of character who sounds and behaves like he has just stepped down from an Oscar Wild’s book. A kind of Algernon but without the superficiality.

Mona (played by Ellen Quirke) is a kind and caring nurse who takes care of both Ethel and Maisie.

In Light of Salt Rings They Drew, directed by Ciarán MacArtain and Sadhbh Moriarty, is a beautifully paced play in two acts. I personally found it very educative and informative, as the piece deals with two different cases of dementia. And it doesn’t just throw the bare facts at you; but through a very elaborated and thought through plot, it sneaks in the clues and drops bits of information here and there for you to pick them up and study. Just like an early stages of Alzheimer or dementia, it allows you to pick up little bits that are quite out of place, and then create the big picture out of them at the end.

I’m happy to say that there is an unexpected twist at the end. Nowadays, it’s truly very challenging to create an original piece of writing that would be truly fresh and new. In Light of Salt Rings They Drew is one of those plays. Apart form bringing attention to such a difficult topic, Moriarty also created four absolutely human, believable and so unlike each other characters. All five actors gave so much to their characters that it was impossible not to feel and empathise with them.

In Light of Salt Rings They Drew closes tonight in The Complex. But the Strive Theatre is currently touring with the play. So, keep an  eye on it! For more info: https://www.facebook.com/StriveTheatreGroup/?fref=ts

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