Tag Archives: the new theatre

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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Filed under Happy Birthday Jacob, Michael Marshall, puca productions, The New Theatre, Uncategorized

Rehearsed Reading: All Honey

Sometimes even the professionals need to go back to the absolute basics. Nowadays, it’s quite easy to go over the top and wow the audience with the amazing decorations, costumes and special effects. It looks like there is nothing that a company can’t do provided that the budget is not an issue. This year I’ve seen everything from a rotating stage to a slow motion effect used in a Shakesperean play. I’ve seen small local fringe shows and big Broadway productions… without going too far, the most recent production I’ve attended – Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? – absolutely amazed me with the stage design (just like The Father did with its lighting design). But at the end of the day, it all comes down to how well-written the script is and how skillful the actors are who take upon themselves to portray those characters.

Yes, it’s true that if you are a professional actor, the size of the role or the lack of costume/decorations should not be an issue. But, let’s be honest. It helps. A lot. It helps the actor, who wants to properly immerse him/herself into the imaginary world, and it helps the audience to see that newly created world.

All this said, I hope you can imagine how difficult a rehearsed reading could be. Basically, it’s a raw material that the author is willing to present to the public’s fiercest judgement. There is absolutely no safety net to fall back onto in case the play flops. It’s absolutely up to the script and the cast to make the production shine. No pressure, right?

I had the pleasure of attending a rehearsed reading of Ciara Elizabeth Smyth’s new play All Honey (Smyth is the founding member of Sad Strippers Theatre Company and her previous work includes Pour it Out and Triangles) that was presented as part of New Writing Week at The New Theatre, Dublin. The play has an everyday setting: Mae (played by Aoibhéann McCann) suspects that her boyfriend Barry (played by Peter McGann) is cheating on her. She shares this knowledge with her best friend Ruth (played by Hannah Mamalis), who at first doesn’t take it seriously. Later that day during the party that Ru and her boyfriend Luke (played by John Doran) are holding, the girl starts picking up on different clues that Barry indeed might be secretly seeing someone else. Val (played by Ciara Smyth), a completely psycho living on the border of reality and imagination where every man adores her and she’s the diamond sushi on the menu of life, is the best candidate for the role. But the home detective Ru couldn’t even imagine who the real flower of Barry’s secret is.

The full reading, which lasted for approximately forty minutes, can easily be translated into a fast-pace one hour piece. The script is a real cracker with the wittingly written lines and  that the perfectly-matching cast brought to life. It picks up quickly and holds the emotion all the way through to the end. All Honey is an easy relaxing watch to take your mind away from everyday problems. It’s engaging and it’s captivating without being overloaded with information,  redundant details or unnecessary plot lines. It’s straight forward and interesting to follow. My only concern was that it ended way to fast and on a real kicker.

The reading was directed by the amazing Jeda de Brí, who always knows what she is doing and this time wasn’t an exception. Together with Ciara Smyth, they’ve managed to create a very promising piece that undoubtedly will be a success with the audience.

All Honey is a great example of the fact that Ireland does have some very talented, hard-working and challenging female theatre makers. And if you still have your doubts about it then keep an eye on this one. Ciara Smyth and company, at this very moment, are working to launch All Honey into a full production. With a bit of luck, we hopefully will see it in one of Dublin’s theaters sooner rather than later.

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The New Theatre: All Washed Up

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Another day – another show to catch. For those of you who are suffering from the melancholic autumn blues, there is a cure: All Washed Up‘s post-Halloween theatre therapy currently running in The New Theatre.

Developed by the recently formed theatre company Rosebuds, All Washed Up is dramatic comedy about one very unusual relationship. Alice (played by Romana Testasecca), Fionn (played by Jamie Sykes) and Kate (played by Karen Killeen) are three friends living together. Normal modern life situation. But is it? The catch is: apart from sharing the common living space, they also happen to share the only bed in the apartment. Fionn goes to an office job every day, Alice cooks and paints her pictures and Kate… well, Kate is just being Kate – the glue that is keeping them all together. And everything seems fine until one of them decides it’s time to move on to somewhat more ordinary life.

All Washed Up is a beautiful representation of how an abnormal situation can become almost a routine, the kind of life that you just get used to. The original idea of the show belongs to Jamie Sykes but by elaborating it inside the company, the actors managed to create some very different and very real characters. It’s a pleasure to watch three fully developed personas with their naturally human perfections and flaws: be it the corkiness of Kate or the down-to-earthness of Alice.

Being just a one hour piece, the play flies by. The set (by George Reeves) and the lighting (by Patrick Maher) designs are a very nice addition to convey the atmosphere of the life in the house. The chaotic mess in the room is a powerful representation of the mental state our characters find themselves in.

An unusual story about what’s happening behind the closed doors of ordinary people, All Washed Up, directed by Lorna Costello, is running in The New Theatre, Temple Bar till November 5th. Halloween might be over but the fun isn’t. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=282&gi_sn=580baefe09e7a%7C0

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The New Theatre: The Belly Button Girl

The Belly Button Girl, written and performed by Tom Moran, is a story about a twenty-something guy who falls in love with the cute barеутвук at his cousin Sharon’s 21st birthday party.

The story is simple and quite straight forward. Except, that it’s not. Set in, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful corners of the Emerald Isle – Dingle Peninsula, this piece tells us a story of a guy who fell in love and wasn’t afraid to admit it to himself and to the others. In an age of masculinity and in a country when showing your feelings is still a dangerous and, mostly by choice and ever so pressuring society, unexplored territory (especially by men), this is a huge deal.

All throughout the 60 min piece not for second is The Guy scared to say what is really on his mind. The story is easy to follow and understand because it doesn’t come out as a pretentious overwritten piece but rather like somebody’s natural train of thought. Yes, it’s ridiculous at times, but it’s very truthful. Thanks to this, we forgive and even laugh with Moran’s character when he mentions some of the most unspeakable and unmentionable details of his dating the Belly Button Girl. Why would you say something like that? the audience might think. But then you remember, that’s something we all think about and there is nothing bad in saying the truth. It’s like Moran removed the filter that was holding the society’s daily courtesy talk routine and just poured it all out.

Another element that immediately attracted me to this play was the amazingly believable characterization. Every single one of them: from the main characters – The Belly Button Girl – to the smallest ones – The Massive Lad or The Sambuca Lady. It’s a very interesting tool that not many playwrights use: to identify characters by who they really are. Without too much description or an overload of names, I could easily picture all the characters in the play and know what kind of people they were.

Now to the setting. Dingle is a very attractive place to set a story. The furthest corner of the Irish land; anything can happen there. But Moran, once again hits the jackpot, with some very modest but easily recognisable imagery. If you’ve ever been to Dingle Peninsula, of course you would have heard about its main attraction: Fungie, the dolphin, who doesn’t show himself to everyone. And, even though being one of the most gorgeous places of nature and typical Irish landscape, there is very little to do on the peninsula.

I was also quite fond of the structure of this sixty minute piece. It finishes very much the way it had started. The circle has been complete. With the only difference that our main character – The Guy – isn’t the same anymore; he has grown up emotionally. And that’s what all the good stories are about: the characters journey on a self-exploration and self-development.

A tearing comedy with a somewhat unusual ending, The Belly Button Girl, directed by Romana Testasecca, is a beautiful piece of very touching and truthful theatre. Tom doesn’t use any props and there is barely any sound effects, the play is one hundred percent about  stripping down one’s own soul and sharing the experience with the audience.

The Belly Button Girlbrought to us by Squad Theatre Company and Intensive Purposes Productions, runs in The New Theatre, Temple Bar until August 27th. It’s the kind of play that has all the potential to woe the Fringe (be it Dublin or Edinburgh) audience. A very refreshing piece of truthful theatre. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=268&gi_sn=57bd6f62e9ebe%7C0 

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Filed under Intensive Purposes, romana testasecca, Squad Theatre Company, The Belly Button Girl, The New Theatre, Tom Moran, Uncategorized

The New Theatre: Snake Eaters

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Dublin’s The New Theatre must really like plays set in small town America. After seeing the hilarious black comedy Risk Everything, presented by Whirligig Theatre Company earlier this year, now I had a chance to see Snake Eaters, a new play written by Stewart Roche and directed by Caroline FitzGerald.

Set in one of the dullest parts of the States, Nebraska, Snake Eaters tells us the anything but dull story of Hillis (played by Patrick O’Donnell), who has just returned back home from serving for the US Marines in Afghanistan. One doesn’t have to be particularly penetrant to understand how messed-up and shaken such a service can make a person. No human being can remain the same after going through the atrocities of war.

Living in a house with his elder dad (played by Pat Nolan), Hillis just wants to be left in peace. With no ambitions and no real expectations about his  immediate future, he takes up a job at a local gas station. Hillis has a good friend Joey (played by Cillian Roche), who is not a bad person but is a drug-addict who is in serious debt to some really nasty people. On one of the nights out Joey introduces Hillis to Ashley (played by Lesley Conroy), a woman with a baggage of her own, who will change the course of his life.

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This dark comedy is very well supported by the strong cast. Both big and small characters are being really fleshed out by the great acting team; with a specially memorable performance by Pat Nolan and Cillian Roche.

The fairly simple but representative stage design (by Martin Cahil) allows the narrative to take place in four completely different locations without ever confusing the audience. The image of prison bars projected onto the wall at the very end of the play, for example, was all that was needed to establish the scene straight away.

The story itself might not be the most original one, but it does have a very subtle and, most importantly, logical twist at the end. The dialogue is nicely written, easy to engage with and interesting to follow. In addition to all that, there are a good few laugh provoking moments.

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Snake Eaters runs in The New Theatre until December, 19th. For those of you who can’t afford holidaying in America for Christmas, this play won’t completely substitute it for you but it’ll give you a nice taste of small town die hard America with broken promises, bare hands fighting and the finding of true love. For more info or to book tickets, as per usual: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=219&gi_sn=5671e975a2b34%7C0

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The New Theatre: At the Ford (Dublin Theatre Festival)

The Dublin Theatre Festival 2015 has officially opened! The programme this year looks amazing, with some really interesting productions, events and talks.

I started the festival for myself with one of the festival’s definite highlights and already an almost sold out production At The Ford, a new play by Rise Productions and directed by Bryan Burroughs.

This very unusual and absolutely beautifully choreographed play tells us the story of a very traumatic Irish family. Post-Celtic Tiger, a businessman, who has gone bankrupt, swims into the Irish sea to never come back. Did he commit  suicide after not being able to pay the debts or does the family bear a much darker secret? His three children are left with a tough decision to make: try to save the business their father once started or sell it out to pay the debts.

The first part of the play is focused on two brothers (played by Ian Toner and Aonghus Óg McAnally) arguing over the business proposition. The two brothers, just like two little boys, try to find the solution quite literally with bare knuckles. Slap after slap after slap after slap. Blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood on the cloth. Surely the blood must be completely covering their eyes, too, thus they can’t see properly that for the money a brother is going against a brother. For them, that’s the only way to communicate. This physical closeness of a fist against a fist is what actually makes them understand each other. The scene is very beautifully staged. It’s like a dance of two bodies. Even the language, from time to time converting into a poetic verse, synchronizes with the movements.

But it’s the sound that makes the scene so attractive. The sound of a bone hitting a bone, of a nose cracking or a cheek being smashed… it does give you the sensation of watching a real fight.

The second part of the play bears a striking contrast to what had been happening before. Now it’s a brother agains a sister (played by Rachel O’Byrne). No bare knuckle, I am afraid, will do here. The emotional fight takes over. The power of the words, the ability to charm, to attract, to appeal, to play, to confuse… Max is a girl who had desperately wanted to be accepted into her elder brothers’ world. She wanted them to fight with her, too. She wanted to play their games. Now, grown up, they have no choice but to play hers. And there will be only one person driving away with the bugatti into the sunset.

This very unconventional and beautifully staged play is running in The New Theatre until October, 3rd. Get your tickets before they are gone! For more info: https://www.dublintheatrefestival.com/Online/At_The_Ford

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The New Theatre: Language of the Mute

Is binn béal ina thost – Sweet mouth is silent. 

The language is one of the most powerful tools we’ve been given as human beings. Language and the ability to communicate with each other is what makes our species so different and special from the rest. The ability to explain, to discuss, to communicate…  A word can kill, a word can save. A word can start a war, but it can also finish it. And as Patrick Rothfuss beautifully puts it “…Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

So, if we were given this incredible power of communicating through language, how did we manage to turn this skill again us? Imagine, a world where people would rather stay silent than share their thoughts. There is a very interesting theory about languages, which goes like this: it’s believed that if a language lacks a word for a certain action, then the speakers of this language would never commit such an action. Imagine, if the English language had no word for “war”, would it mean that the English speaker would be estranged to the whole concept of “war”?

But we ourselves create a world where some words become taboo. What if we stop using certain words or whole concepts believing that by doing it we might change the reality. is it really easier to stay silent rather than let the words out?…

Language of the Mute is a jaw-dropping play, written by Jack Harte and directed by Liam Halligan.

I have always believed that good theatre should entertain, while great theatre must challenge. Language of the Mute is a play that challenges. It challenges the whole Irish nation. The nation that has been given not one but two mother tongues and yet decided to remain silent for centuries. The Irish nation that relentlessly fought when it was time to fight; the nation that wasn´t estranged to arms and guns and bombs; the nation that was ready to stand strong for its beliefs… but, on the home front, that same nation had chosen for many decades to stay silent rather than to speak up. Literally.

The famous Irish trauma – the silly belief that if we don’t talk about something, it’ll somehow cease to exist, disappear, go away… Years of blood, sweat and tears it took for the whole nation to finally start finding its true voice. The voice of forgotten Irish women, the voice abandoned and assaulted Irish children, the voice of the broken Irish soldiers, the voice of the whole Irish nature and the stories behind them. Every story is a great story and every story is deserved to be told out loud and listened to.

Language of The Mute tells us of only one of many Irish traumas (but it’s one that has been deeply denied and tucked away in the furtherest corner of the Irish mind for way too long).

Katy (played by Aoife Moore) and Dandy (Marc McCabe) come back to school some twenty years after graduation… There is one reason they are there: to punish Donie (played by Michael O´Sullivan), their Irish language teacher. They brought a knife and a gun, but no punishment is a fair punishment without a trial…

Donie is a typical school teacher that many of us might have had. He is the teacher pupils are afraid of, but also secretly inexplicably admire: a tyrant or an inspirer (it depends which side you take). He is also a true Irish man. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t be sure whether in this case the accent would be on Irish or man. In Donie’s class there is no place for the enemy´s language. If you decide to speak, it must be as Gaeilge. And, as he puts it himself: is fearr Gaeilge briste ná Béarla cliste (it’s better to speak broken Irish than clever English). Donie is an ex-IRA soldier who has been hugely inspired by Pádraig Pearse.

As the play unravels, we find out that Donie is also a paedophile, who used to bring the young boy students to Gaeltacht in summer where he would get them drunk and molest them.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of those broken young boys turned out to be school drop outs, drug addicts and alcoholics… None of them was brave enough to speak out, to tell their family and friends what was happening. But would anyone believe them? Would anyone want to listen to them?

The whole generation of those lost boys is represented in the face of Alan Murphy (played by Matthew O´Brien). Having been sexually molested just like other boys in school, probably even more than other boys, Alan went into denial. By not being able to talk about it to anybody, he convinced himself that that was the right way, that Donie wasn’t doing anything bad… As a matter of fact Alan grew to admire his teacher and perceive him as a sort of a father figure.

I’m not going to lie and say that Language of the Mute is a beautiful and comfortable play. It´s not. It´s a straight raw view on a brutal painful reality of a whole generation of people who had suffered and had not been able to reach for help. Unfortunately, paedophiia in rural Ireland was a conversation taboo, a subject frowned upon; something locals simply prefer not to notice, to shut their eyes on and pray it would simply miraculously go away. But it’s good to see that Ireland is changing and such matters are becoming more and more known.

Needless to say that all four actors brilliantly portray their characters but somehow, in this case, it feels so deeply meaningless to talk about acting skills.. the whole subject of the play is just such an eye opener, that I have no other option but to take my hat off and stand up in respect: incredible and very brave job done by the creative team.

Language of the Mute runs in The New Theatre until September, 5th. In contains scenes in Irish which are subtitled. I’m still under a very huge impression, it´s a wow play that is an absolute must-see. To book tickets (if there are still any left), as always… http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=220&gi_sn=55e8cae70ab3b%7C0

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