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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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The Complex: Horae

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Here’s a saucy one: a play about whores!

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about Horae – a unique theatre piece about the ancient craft of prostitution. From virgins to whores: in this roughly 40 minute performance Susie Lamb (the creator and performer) dances the audience through her darkishly enlightening tale.

Presented through the eyes of a single character, Lamb deepens us into the ancient world of sacred temples, where the street girls weren’t from the streets at all, they were regarded as almost holy creatures capable of providing the best cure, care and comfort. The goddesses of high places they were. And how quickly everything changed. Horae brings us back in time to learn how drastically the history can turn sometimes. In her mix of movement and spoken word, Lamb narrates the story of how once a sacred profession, a trade of respect and honour, fell so low it became a shame, an unspoken taboo.

Brought to us by NEST theatre company, Horae is an amazing example of theatre created by women and about women that could be easily enjoyed by everyone. Horae is a very strong, very unlike anything else piece of raw daring theatre at its best. It uses powerful elements to carry the already quite substantial and important subject forward and present it to the audience in a unique shape.

In Horae it quickly becomes obvious that Lamb knows her trade inside out. A professional actress and dancer, she is comfortable enough in her natural habitat to present the story to the others while keeping it fresh and engaging at all times.

Horae is a combined piece of many big and small elements. It’s a rich performance when it comes to interpretation but quite appropriately modest regarding the set design and costumes. Nevertheless, the one thing that does stand out is the lighting design (by Adrian Mullan). Visually striking beginning – the red light dot traveling through the body of the actress – was the perfect opening for such a performance.

A thoroughly researched and even more masterfully performed piece that shouldn’t be missed, Horae runs in the The Complex till February 26th. For more info or to book the tickets, do not hesitate a second and contact: http://thecomplex.ie/cinema/horae/

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Filed under Horae, Scene and Heard Festival, Susie Lamb, The Complex, The Complex Live Arts Space, Uncategorized

The Gate Theatre: The Heiress

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

–  Henry James, The Heiress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Henry James, Ruth and Augustus Goetz, The Gate Theatre, The Heiress, Uncategorized, Washington Square

Theatre Upstairs: Murder of Crows

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“The only way to get what you want is to make them more afraid of you than they are of each other.”

– The Crimson Crow

Christmas could be very different. And sure it’s unlike anything else in Theatre Upstairs, where unravels a dark tale of friendship, foulness and fighting for the ones you love.

Bitter Like a Lemon in association with Theatre Upstairs presents its latest play Murder of Crows, a story about a school trip to hell. The three best friends Sam (played by Katie Honan), Dee (played by Amilia Stewart) and Jess (played by Aisling O’Mara) aren’t even meant to go in the first place but end up on the bus to the Garden of Ireland anyway. Just before the trip begins the girlfriends hear a prophecy that warns them of the black crows and begs them not to go anywhere near them. Not taking it too seriously, the girls set off on a journey that is going to change their lives forever. In Wicklow, they are scheduled to do some obligatory scholar activities that nobody is particularly excited about but the real fun starts after. The girls of St Brigit’s are being joined by students – mainly boys – from other schools. They start drinking, intermingling and do things that teenagers normally do. But the fateful hour has already been set. And maybe some people should be more careful with what they say and do, maybe they shouldn’t bully and make fun of others – weaker – ones… Maybe deep inside each one of us lives a little devil that is only waiting to be set free. The consequences of which sometimes can be harmful, even mortal or soul destroying.

Lee Coffey’s Murder of Crows is a heartbreaking piece with an unbelievable twist at the end. It’s almost impossible to digest how much raw meaty parts there is in this slightly under one hour play. Under the superb direction of Karl Shiels, the gradation of the piece is perfectly timed: it starts off nicely and slowly with no preparation of what is yet to come. You think it might be just one of those hight school plays where students talk about their problems. But you couldn’t be further from being wrong. Lee Coffey wouldn’t be Lee Coffey if he hadn’t written a play that actually aims to touch on some of the most tabooed and controversial subjects that teenagers encounter in everyday life but are afraid to talk about.

The script is being strongly supported by the outstanding cast of three actresses, who absolute nail their parts. The characterization and physicality is incredibly strong and it goes to both the main parts that the girls are playing and the secondary characters. I don’t think I’ll be wrong if I say that the way Aisling O’Mara delivered the prophecy sent chills to everyone in the audience. An absolutely out-of-this-world experience that petrified and mesmerized at the same time.

In a play like Murder of Crows, visual aspects can be very important and influential. The two things that caught my eye straight away were, of course, the set (by Naomi Faughnan) and the lighting (by Laura Honan) designs. Quite simple but visually very strong mood setters that made the piece even more atmospheric.

So, if you are in a mood for something completely different this season, don’t be a Grinch and steal Christmas. Go to see Murder or Crows and get your dose of darkness and brutal reality! Runs in Theatre Upstairs until December 17th, for more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/murder-of-crows

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Filed under Bitter Like a Lemon, lee coffey, Murder of Crows, Theatre Upstairs, Uncategorized

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

Teachers’ Club: The Boy with the Halogyn Hair

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“Love plus drugs equals heaven.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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