Tag Archives: tragedy

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

The Abbey Theatre: Anna Karenina

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“Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. ”

– Anna Karenina

2016 has been a huge year for the arts. 2016 was anything but a challenging year for the Abbey Theatre in particular, a year filled with the most unexpected, brave decisions and thought-provoking plays. In addition to seeing one year round up of #WakingTheFeminists meeting; Ireland’s National Theatre has also had a change of directors welcoming Neil Murray and Graham McLaren to the steering wheel.

The last play of the departing year is none the less but Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, adapted for the stage by Ireland’s very own literature giant Marina Carr.

No doubt, Tolsoty’s masterpiece is a poignant, heavy piece in all senses possible. Starting with the fact that the play lasts approximately three and a half hours (which then pass by quicker than a fly). But above all, it’s a Russian tragedy where, unfortunately, there is no place for a happy ending.

Anna Karenina (played by Lisa Dwan) is a wife, a mother and a woman, who one day falls in love with Vronsky (played by Rory Fleck Byrne), a well-built handsome young man. Tolstoy has never created a weak woman in his work and Karenina isn’t an exception, either. But just as any human being isn’t safe of making mistakes, she gives in to temptation and finally decides to leave not only her husband but also her son Seryoza and the respected position she occupies among the Russian intelligentsia. She looses everything for a chance to live maybe not a happy but an emotionally fulfilled life. Nevertheless, happiness does come but only for a short time before Anna realises that some things can never be replaced or substituted in life; that people remember it when you did them wrong; that people betray, lie and simply get tired of what once excited them; that some of the most tender souls hide behind the thickest walls; that no heart is made out of stone and every heart breaks in its own way.

This absolutely stunning interpretation of a Russian classic is a truly jaw-dropping piece to watch. It should definitely be placed among the strongest pieces produced by the Abbey last year. Unsurprisingly brilliantly directed  by Wayne Jordan, the play transports us to pre-revolutionary Russia where the  freshly spilled blood is an ever constant contrast to the peacefully falling snow. In a very simple but wonderfully decorated set (by Sarah Bacon) we witness the lives, loves and tragedies of a grand total of 42 characters. Dressed in some of the most eye-catching ribbons and bows (by Sarah Beacon),the piece presents to our display a whole range of mothers, daughters and wives and their everyday struggle. From Dolly (played by Ruth McGill), who perhaps doesn’t even remember what it feels like not to be pregnant and who also is living a tragedy as she has a cheating husband, to Kitty (played by Julie Maguire) a young girl who is only preparing to enter wifehood.

In one single play, we are given the incredible opportunity to see the same problems being dealt with by different people and from alternative angles. With beautifully stylised musical accompaniment (by David Coonan), the cruel Russian reality ideally translates to the Irish stage. Anna Karenina has it all: tragedy with elements of comedy, very nice pace for a long piece, stunning decorations and costumes and some absolutely superb acting. The cast, the majority of whom double and triple, truly gives a performance of a lifetime with each single one of the ensemble being exceptional.

Anna Karenina is a beautiful experience that won’t leave a dry eye. The play runs in The Abbey Theatre until January 28th. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/anna-karenina/

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Filed under Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, The Abbey Theatre, The Abbey Theatre:, Uncategorized, wayne jordan

Theatre Upstairs: Panned

We Get High On This Theatre Collective presents one-man play “Panned“.

Panned is a play about Séan (played by Ste Murray). Séan is wearing a costume of Peter Pan for a costume party. It´s not that he likes the costume or the fairy tale; it’s just his girlfriend wanted to be Tinker Bell.

Séan suffers from sever depression. He is trying to get better, he is trying to put his life back on the right path but.. “We regret to inform you that your application”… Séan is lost. He is lost in himself, in life; he wants to do the right thing but something always prevents him from doing so. He is just at that stage of life when, by the look of the things, the best solution would be to jump off the bridge.

Séan doesn’t jump off the bridge, though. He puts  a costume of Peter Pan on instead and goes to a good-bye party with his girlfriend.

At the party Séan meets people. And everything would have been fine, but people irritate Séan nowadays. They keep asking him all those stupid question people ask you when they haven´t seen you in a while. Seán doesn´t really want to be rude, but people… Take Paul, for example. Paul is a good friend of Séan´s. Or, at least, he used to be. And it’s quite clear that he cares about him, he sends dozens of messages to Séan every day. Well, he could have mentioned in one of those texts that it wasn’t a stupid costume but a mask party, couldn’t he? Séan is annoyed. Everyone is laughing at him. Then comes Alan. Alan is the typical dickhead, who never knows anything about anything but always wants to be the smartypants; so he keeps making those sarcastic degrading little jokes to humiliate Séan in front of everyone. And then there is Sarah. Sarah is Séan´s girlfriend. And even though Séan does care about her, he wouldn’t admit to her that he is depressed. He keeps looking for all the wrong excuses why they are constantly fighting.

The whole play counts with the total of 18 characters (plus “the voice in Séan’s head). All of them played by the amazing and extremely talented Ste Murray. Panned is a wonderful piece of tragedy-comedy where the main character allows the audience to get into his head to see his sufferings for themselves. We, as the audience, can see the cause and the result of it. We don’t pity Séan, we understand him. He is a lost boy, who is trying to find a way out. Who hasn’t been there at least once?

Panned is full of beautiful and very clear characterisations of which Ste Murray makes some really great impressions. In a play like that it’s essential to get all the characters very clear, otherwise the audience might simply get confused with who is who. Ste makes every character as clear as day. By the end of the play, only by the physicality the audience already knows who is going to take over now.

It´s also Ste´s way of delivering lines that makes all the difference. Imagine Séan talking about killing himself. He is looking straight into you and you feel like he´s talking right to you and to nobody else (there definitely goes the fourth wall anyway!). Just like an old friend to an old friend, and you really want to help him or to say something. You can´t help but to be deeply influenced by it.

Somewhere through the play I noticed the beautiful set. The whole stage was filled with water and a wooden raft was placed in the middle. Here is another little touch. A little boy drifting away both mentally and physically.

Panned is one of those productions that should be seen by everyone without any exception. A deeply touching, funny and sad at the same time, astonishing piece of theatre. So, get those bums on the seats. For more info, as per usual: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/panned

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Filed under Panned, Ste Murray, Theatre Upstairs, We Get High On This Theatre Collective

WeGetHighOnThis Theatre Collective

We Get High On This Theatre Collective is an extremely talented group of three people who united together to make theatre happen. Quite human, beautiful and challenging theatre, I must say.

Even from its very name We get high on this, the collective already makes a bold statement: whatever your drug is, ours is the theatre. This is what we love, this is what we want to do.

Caitríona Daly, Caitríona Ennis and Eoghan Carrick are indeed a collective, who immediately clicked together when they first met during their years in the famous UCD DramSoc. Three amazingly talented people, three creative souls, came together to write about people… real people, real human beings that live, and breathe, and laugh, and cry, and suffer, and make mistakes. Because, who doesn’t?

So why a theatre collective and not a company? You might ask and so did I. The answer is quite simply: it’s not a company, because nobody is in charge, nobody is the artistic director and the associate director or… they are all equal, they all have  equal rights and those who are writing today might be directing or acting, or even designing, tomorrow. Even though there are three official members of the collective, there is a good number of people who the they frequently collaborate with. Ste Murray, recently appearing in their new play Panned in Theatre Upstairs, being just one of them.

Since the birth of WeGetHighOnThis, the meaning of “collective” has slightly changed for its members. With each new production the three of them try to focus more and more on what they are really interested in and what they really want to show to the big audience; what sort of current (or not so current) issues they want to be talked about.

Whenever it comes to writing a new play, it mainly is about producing something fresh, something new. “Psychosis”, says Caitríona Daly. “People, it has always been about people. Honesty about real emotions and what they can do to people”, adds Eoghan.

Gender doesn’t make any difference in their plays. They write about people in its very human nature, be it a boy or a girl. Anybody can play anybody. Characters are not being fit under anybody’s standards or expectations. They are all human beings telling their stories to the world. Those stories are primarily about human experience that one might have with somebody else, or even with one self, especially with oneself.

We Get High On This is currently working on their new play “Panned”, written by Caitríona Daly, directed by Eoghan Carrick and starring Ste Murray. “Panned” had its first sold out preview last night and it’s opening on Thursday, July 16th.

For more info or to book tickets (if you haven´t done so yet!), please, visit http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/panned

Keep a close eye on this space as I am currently in the process of lifting the curtain on Panned. I had an amazing opportunity to talk to Caitríona Daly, Eoghan Carrick and Ste Murray about the play. So, those loyal readers of mine will be in for a surprise. The play sounds absolutely amazing and very original. Take into account only the fact that Ste Murray plays not 1 or 2 or even 5 but… 18 characters! I shall say no more until the next article.

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Filed under Panned, Theatre Upstairs, We Get High On This Theatre Collective

The Abbey Theatre: Hedda Gabler

“It’s a liberation to know that an act of spontaneous courage is yet possible in this world. An act that has something of unconditional beauty.”

Hedda Gabler, H. Ibsen

Last night it was finally my turn to see Hedda Gabler in The Abbey Theatre, Dublin. All my theatre-friends had already seen the play and were spoilering me with all sorts of comments (welcomed or not).

To be completely honest, I didn’t expect anything particular. Well, I did but I’ll talk about it later. I have never seen a production of Hedda Gabler before (neither TV nor theatre versions), I hadn’t read the book, either (to my shame!). Ibsen is one of my all times most favourite writers (mostly because in his plays female characters are big and significant and properly developed). I am also quite a big fan of Annabelle Comyn’s directing (previously for the Abbey she had directed such plays as “Pygmalion”, “Major Barbara” and “The House”). I also happen to be quite an admirer of Mark O’Rowe, who adapted Ibsen’s script for The Abbey. So I was indeed looking forward to seeing the play.

Hedda Gabler was an unexpectedly difficult play (emotionally). You can almost see the unease of the situation that is occurring on stage. Young Hedda Gabler (played by Catherine Walker) is married to a good kind man, Jorge Tesman (played by Peter Gaynor). The trouble is that she doesn’t love him. Or his family. Or the house they live in. Or the life that they live…. She doesn’t like it to the extent that it annoys her. Immensely. Almost psychotic and extremely egoistic, Hedda Gabler is not a nice character. We are not supposed to like her or sympathise with her. But there is something human about her, something every single one of us can relate to. And Catherine Walker beautifully transmits that feeling to the audience.

Hedda Gabler (and Catherine Walker) completely steals the show. All the male characters just disappear into thin air when she is on stage. And so does Lovburg, for example, played by Keith McErlean. He is (He has to be!) a big character. But his presence is so small and insignificant that you don’t really miss him when he is gone. Here comes the beauty of Ibsen’s plays. Hedda Gabler is such a strong character, she could have never settled for somebody like Lovburg. Even though she did like him. There was no future for them therefore there was no need for him in the future. It’s a very logical thing.

Another interesting character is Judge Brack (played by Declan Conlon). That was a character I truly loved. He was everything a judge needs to be. He was dirty. He was manipulative. He was careless. And it’s interesting that it’s him who pushes, even tricks, Hedda to take the final fatal step.

Hedda: I’d sooner die!
Brack: People say such things. But they don’t do them.

To be honest, all the cast was brilliant. The simplicity with which Jane Brennan played Aunt Julie! It’s like that part was written for her. ‘Tis a pity she wasn’t in more scenes. The same goes to Kate Stanley Brennan who plays Thea. Such a contrast to Hedda Gabler, she is everything the other one isn’t. Thea has become a muse and a friend (and possibly more) to both Lovburg and Tesman. She is courageous, she did leave the life she didn’t like. Hedda Gabler doesn’t like her, obviously, because secretly she is jealous of her. And we see it very clearly when Hedda burns the manuscript. She hates the fact that it wasn’t her who helped Lovburg to write it.

I do have mixed feelings about this production. But I think it’s a good thing. The play really does challenge. It’s a really fine piece of literature. It teaches you that not all characters have to be good characters. It shows that not every ending has to be a happy ending.

As for the set: the design was really smart. I think I had never seen the Abbey to use the whole back curtain as a screen. It does add to the whole feeling of being inside a big wealthy house. The set (just like the characters) has to be three-dimensional, I think. There is a strong need for a feeling that the magic doesn’t disappear behind the closed doors; that there is a garden and another room and the hall… And you can see people come and go. It’s all very natural and adds to the play.

Hedda Gabler runs in The Abbey Theatre until May 16th. For more information or to book tickets, please visit: http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/hedda-gabler/

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Filed under Go and See, Hedda Gabler, Irish Stage, Performing arts, The Abbey Theatre