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Smock Alley Theatre: Bronte

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Illustrated Productions present a bitter tale of feminism, family and fame.

A story within a story, Bronte brings us through the lives of five members of The Bronte family. Growing up near a moor in Yorkshire, the three famous sisters start their story by explaining why their tales have always been inhabited by so many orphans. Though there was a father (played by Ruairí Lenaghan), the mother Bronte has departed from this world way too early; the same cruel fate has not passed by the elder two sisters. But Charlotte (played by Louise O’Meara), Emily (played by Katie McCann) and Anne (played by Ashleigh Dorrell) together with their only brother Branwell (played by Desmond Eastwood) lived long enough to give this world such truly outstanding stories as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Illustrated Productions has created an atmospherical story that brings you back to the nineteenth century England in a blink of an eye. The beautifully structured two hour piece mainly centers on the lives of the three sisters but doesn’t leave out the not-so-famous brother, either. In a very subtle way the play shows us what and, mainly, who inspired the Brontes to write their masterpieces. Here is the overprotective father, the abusive brother, the virgin, the mad wife, the lover… the list goes on and on. The barrier between the real world and the Bronte’s one at times gets so thin that you forget who is a fictional character and who is the real one. The company has used a visually powerful device: when one of the sisters is writing a new passage of her story, another member of the family re-enacts it on stage.

The brilliant casting decisions are more than evident from the very beginning. All five protagonists come across as real truthful human beings. The diversity and particularity of character of the Bronte sisters that McCann, O’Meara and Dorrell so masterfully portray is striking and quite appealing to watch. The way the characters build up the story and develop the relationships between each other is incredibly strong.

Bronte grabs your attention and doesn’t let it go until the very end. The set (designed by Sinead Purcell), the lighting (designed by Brian Nulty), everything is there to transport you to anything but charming Victorian England and show how three poor unknown spinsters became some of the finest female writers of their century and beyond.

Bronte, written by Polly Teale and directed by Clare Maguire, has enjoyed a sold out run in Smock Alley Theatre. For those who didn’t get lucky, there is still a chance to catch this absolutely magnificent production when it transfers to the dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum next week. From 16th to 18th March. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.milltheatre.ie/events/bronte/

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The Abbey Theatre: Arlington

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The new season, and what looks like a whole new life for The Abbey Theatre, opened 2017 with one of Enda Walsh’s most recent plays – Arlington, a dramatic performance of a new dystopian world that jumps out of page on Ireland’s National Stage in a fascinatingly profound embodiment.

In this ninety minute non-stop piece, Walsh brings us on a multi-dimensional journey into a strangely scary futuristic world of broken people and imprisoned emotions. What roughly could be divided into three parts, Arlington is a powerful combination of spoken words, dance, movement, monologue, sound and visual effects. Almost like something out of a George Orwell novel, in reality Arlington is a beautifully metaphorical closed room drama, speaking both literally and metaphorically.

Isla is a girl (played by Charlie Murphy) who has spent almost an entire life inside this weird empty waiting room just waiting for her number to be called. The only source of communication with the outside world for her has been a mic on the wall. There is a guy – the new guy (played by Hugh O’Connor), as we soon find out – on the other side, nevertheless. In a small cluttered office, like a rat in his preassigned cubicle, he listens to Isla’s wildest dreams and thoughts. It’s only a matter of time now before he himself will take her place inside the locked madness.

And just as quickly as the door opens in front of Isla, it soon closes behind the other girl (played by Oonagh Doherty). Without saying a single world, she offers us her tale entirely through movement and dance. With an absolutely breathtaking game of light and shadow (designed by Adam Silverman), not a single bit of text or explanation is needed to transmit the meaning behind the silent story to the audience. The girl  uses her own body to convey the concept of a locked space: be it a room or a human body.

Walsh’s play premiered last year at Galway International Arts Festival. An abstract piece with more than defined meaning, Arlington combines in itself a hurricane of human emotions. Three very diverse, very different pieces about human nature , deep grief and yearning for something that they are being stripped off, present very nicely balanced contrast one to another.

The set design (by Jamie Vartan) and its symbolism also plays a huge part in the piece. Like a fish herself, the appropriately named Isla, for example, waits in a bare room with almost nothing but three plastic chairs and a forever empty fish tank.

A trap that you would love to fall into, Arlington runs in The Abbey Theatre until February 25th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/arlington?gclid=CP7IgfaZn9ICFW4B0wodBbcA_Q

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Smock Alley Theatre: The Snow Queen

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’tis the season, indeed! And what a delight to open it with a play like The Snow Queen.

Based on the original story by H.C. Andersen, Ian Toner’s version, with a modern global warning twist, is slightly different but not a single bit less interesting or entertaining. I won’t be shy here and will say that the play won me over from the moment I sat down and opened the progrmme: what a stage design and what a cast!

In this two hour piece, directed by Sarah Finlay, we meet the canonical characters: Kay (played by John Doran) and Gerda (played by Clodagh Mooney Duggan), who live in a place very much resembling Venice, except that Venice doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the first of December and it’s warm. It’s always warm there now. In Kay and Gerda’s dystopian hometown, The Corporation is in charge of everything. Children are not allowed to read books, they’ve never seen snow and Santa Clause is the bad guy who used to come through the chimney to steal your presents. But everything changes the day Kay goes to the library and gets a book. And it’s not just any book, it’s The Snow Queen (played by Nessa Matthews). The book is enchanted by the protagonist and she lures the boy out of town to her frozen kingdom. Having lost her closest soulmate, Gerda and her pet friend Pollyanna (played by Aislinn O’Byrne) sets on a dangerous adventure to save Kay. Along the way they meet pirates, the creatures that live under the water, Santa Clause himself (played by Gerard Adlum) and even Rudolpho, the red-nosed deer (played by John Merriman) who shares with them his tragic story.

The Snow Queen is a play for both the little and the grown ups. It’s filled with beautiful images, touching songs (Rudolpho’s one shall always be my favourite!) and truly Christmas spirit and magic.

Both the costume and the stage design (by Molly O’Cathain) create a very beautiful visual imagery. Starting with the stage floor itself, where the northern star is drawn with the constellations and all the way to the moment when it actually starts snowing on stage. Pure magic! The way both actresses (Mooney Duggan and O’Byrne) convey the state of being cold when reaching The Snow Queen’s kingdom sends a chill to the audience, where some even start shivering.

Another perfectly mastered moment was the creation of The Snow Queen herself. A very nice usage of audio (by Jack Cawley) that created a powerfully fleshed out character who we are yet to see in flesh and blood. Nessa Matthew’s beautiful voice carried it ver nicely.

But kudos have to be given to the whole ensemble without exception! Every single one of the six actors (the absolute majority of whom play more than one character) under the masterful direction of Sarah Finlay creates a strong and vivid character that is enjoyable to watch.

The Snow Queen is a real treat for this Christmas. So, whether you’ve been naughty of nice, don’t deny yourself an opportunity to experience a fairytale. Give yourself or a loved one the gift of true magic – the gift of theatre! Runs until December 28th, fore more info or to book tickets: http://smockalley.com/the-snow-queen/

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Filed under Fast Intent, Fast Intent Theatre Company, Ian Toner, sarah finlay, Smock Alley Theatre, The Snow Queen, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Pat McCabe, The Complex, The Complex Live Arts Space, The Leaves of Heaven, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Franner and Joey, Little Shadow Theatre Company, The Teacher's Club, Uncategorized

Diaries of an acting student: Year of The Queen.

“My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

– “Rome and Juliet”

Part I.

Being an acting student myself, I though it might be a good idea to share some of my own in- and out-of-class experience here. Today was the first day of the three year course I am currently attending in Inchicore College. And this year is, probably, the most challenging one of all. We are not first years anymore, so there will be certain expectations from our teachers and above all, this year we are doing a full length Shakespearean play.

And even the thought of it, that in less than four months time we will have to go up on stage and perform one of the most famous and challenging plays ever written by anyone.

Normally the name of the play that will be put on at the end of January is kept in secret until later in the course. This time round things were slightly different. Rumor had it for a good few months now that we will be doing “Romeo and Juliet”. And, honestly, the majority of us wasn’t happy with the decision. But rumors are rumors and we just hoped for the best (and by best I mean “The Midsummer´s Night Dream” or “Macbeth”).

The first day of college and the news was dropped on us as a luftwaffe bomb on the blitzed out London. It is Romeo and Juliet. How we are going to do “Romeo and Juliet” with a cast of eight girls and two guys, at the moment, remains a mystery to me. But if you think about it, finding any play for a cast of 8 girls and 2 guys is a challenge itself. I, personally, am a bit concerned but extremely excited at the same time. I really want it to work and be interesting and challenging (for us as actors) and fresh (for the audience). After having seen all the amazing productions of Shakespeare in the Abbey and the Gate by Wayne Jordan or Pan Pan, I am too scared to see any “traditional” Shakespearean play for it might be boring and way too… conventional, for me now.

Today is just the first day of this journey of four months, which, I am doubtlessly sure, is going to be loaded with ups falls and risings, laughs and tears, self-criticism, self-consciousness, self-awareness, disappointment, and… fun, loads and loads of fun.

PS. I should probably mention, that the name for this part of the blog I “stole” from Antony Sher’s book “Year of the King” about his experience working on the play “Richard III” for the RSC in the 1980s.

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Filed under Diaries of an acting student, Inchicore College FE, Rome and Juliet, Year of The Queen