Talking Movies

February 19, 2014

The Vortex

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Director Annabelle Comyn forsakes the Abbey and Shaw for the Gate and Coward in this cutting 1920s comedy with an unexpectedly serious and intimate finale.

The Vortex opens with the sensible Helen (Fiona Bell) and acerbic Pawnie (Mark O’Regan), waiting in an opulent drawing room for vain and apparently ageless socialite Florence (Susannah Harker). Coward follows Chekhov’s lead in having a whirl of characters pass thru one location as we meet unsmiling servant Preston (Andrea Kelly), fatuous singer Clara (Rebecca O’Mara), and, after Florence’s belated arrival, her devoted young lover Tom (Ian Toner), her defeated aged husband David (Simon Coury), her histrionic coke-stoked pianist son Nicky (Rory Fleck Byrne), and Nicky’s calculating flapper fiancé Bunty (Katie Kirby)… A Freudian frisson instantly shivers between Florence and Bunty over Nicky’s undivided love, and when it transpires Bunty and Tom knew each other intimately years before the scene is set for emotional carnage when all concerned up sticks to Florence’s country house for a Charleston-and-cocktails fuelled weekend party.

Comyn’s regular designer Paul O’Mahony provides an elegant crescent of mirrors and walls which slide along to reveal a staircase for the second act in the country, which begins with a literal bang as Chahine Yavroyan’s dramatically surging lighting design provides the effect of old flashbulbs for keepsake pictures of the couples dancing. Comyn showed in The House her skill at blocking large chaotic ensembles, and 8 people bounce around the stage to the over-pumped gramophone recording of the Charleston in Philip Connaughton’s choreographed party, during which Nicky’s coke addiction becomes evident to Helen. Byrne is marvellous as the highly-strung Nicky, trying to overcome his terrible upbringing, while his self-absorbed mother makes a fool of herself as Tom and Bunty move closer together. Toner is impressive as the slowly awakening Tom, while Kirby makes Bunty somehow both cold and right.

O’Regan Fassbenders delightfully as Pawnie, aided by hoovering up the play’s best lines. It’s tempting to link Coward to Waugh and say the trick of 1920s dialogue is the casual use of ridiculously hyperbolic words. Bright Young Things only ever dub things, no matter how trivial, as ‘ghastly, gruesome, sick-making, beastly, horrid, deathly’ or ‘heavenly, divine, sublime’. Well-spoken but OTT-phrased bad behaviour became Coward’s trade-in-stock but, while the curtain anticipates Hay Fever’s flight of guests, this is a more serious work. The third act focuses on Nicky’s insistence, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, that Florence abandons her obsession with her continuing youth and instead acknowledges her blame in his failings as a person. But this once controversial scene echoes Hamlet and Gertrude’s bedroom contretemps, and leaves us hungry for an aftermath that is never analysed – to dissatisfying effect.

The Vortex may have been the ‘theatrical shocker of the Jazz Age’, but what shocks now is not its sex and drugs but its cavalier dismissal of its ensemble.

3/5

The Vortex continues its run at the Gate until the 17th of March.

February 4, 2014

A Skull in Connemara

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Director Andrew Flynn brought the second instalment of Martin McDonagh’s celebrated Leenane trilogy to skull-battering life in the Gaiety Theatre.

Mick Dowd (Garret Keogh) is our downtrodden protagonist, forgetful of the months since his wife died at his hands in a drink-driving accident seven years previously. He supplements his farming income with a macabre odd-job, digging up graves after seven years to allow new burials in the plots of the small local cemetery. This leads to a continuous niggling argument with his neighbour and poitin-cadging regular visitor Maryjohnny (Maria McDermottroe) – what has he done with the disinterred bones? Mick insists he can’t say, before quickly saying he buries them in the lake with prayers, after Maryjohnny’s obnoxious teenage grandson Mairtin (Jarlath Tivnan) volubly insists he heard Mick smashed the remains to skitters with a mallet… The local priest has foisted Mairtin on Mick as an assistant, and there’s worse – Mick’s wife is to be exhumed, and her bones disposed of…

Set designer Owen MacCarthaigh pulls off a spectacular scene change as Mick’s decrepit kitchen, which looks like its wall could fall down at any time given the cracks running thru it, actually does fall down, sending a whoosh of air and dust into the front rows, to reveal a cutaway of a graveyard behind it. This set is truly spectacular, slanting down so that graves are visible in the soil on one side, while Mairtin and Mick dig in an excavated pit at the other. Their toil is punctuated by some typical outrageous McDonagh arguments, not least when Mairtin’s older brother, paranoid Garda Thomas (Patrick Ryan) arrives, alternating between inhaler and cigarette, dropping hints that Mick bashed his wife’s head in before driving her into a wall without a seatbelt – leading to a distinction between ‘vague insinuations’ and ‘casting aspersions’.

After the interval and a stunning revelation Flynn goes to spraying-the-front-rows town on Mick and Mairtin’s gleeful approach to exhumation, and there are also some truly choice moments of absurdity as murder accusations, confessions and savagery are punctuated by vicious critiques of Maryjohnny’s conniving bingo habits. As Graham Price and I noted Tivnan’s hyperactive but slightly dim Mairtin is clearly a first cousin of both the indestructible Old Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World and of the equally irksome teenager in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, while Ryan is nicely restrained as his more sober but equally demented brother. But, amidst the comedy, Keogh also offers a genuinely moving depiction of a man burdened by the community’s continually muttered belief that he murdered a beloved wife, who is driven to violent extremes to prove his love for her.

A Skull in Connemara is revived less often than The Beauty Queen of Leenane, possibly because of its greater production requirements and its joyous tastelessness, but this production proves that it’s a fine romp.

4/5

January 20, 2014

Macbeth

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Being one of the Fundit sponsors of this production of the Scottish play at Smock Alley, this is an earnest attempt at a semi-unbiased review of Keith Thompson directing Macbeth.

Thompson has directed and acted in several Shakespeare productions at UCD’s Astra Hall, and his hallmark brevity is at work here as Macbeth comes in at just under 100 minutes without an interval. The play opens with King Duncan (Finbarr Doyle) receiving news from a wounded soldier (Patrick Doyle) of Macbeth (Gerard Adlum) successfully suppressing a rebellion. His generous decision to reward Macbeth with the rebel’s title Thane of Cawdor backfires spectacularly, however, as Macbeth and Banquo (Conor Marren) have just been visited by three witches who prophesied receiving that title would be the first step towards Macbeth becoming King of Scotland. But it is not until Macbeth returns home, with the unexpected news that Duncan intends to stay with them, that the mischief really starts as ambitious Lady Macbeth (Jennifer Laverty) pushes him to murder Duncan and seize power…

There are no lulls until Malcolm and Macduff’s filler scene in this breathless production. Macbeth’s castle on the fateful night is a frenetically busy place, and Cait Corkery’s design cleverly utilises the Romanesque windows of the Boys School space by running stairs up to them to create a balcony, which Macbeth hides under at one point gripped by fear and guilt. The witches are druidic figures, appearing in hooded cloaks on three sides of the audience in the gangway above. And returning soldiers run down these gangways to gain entrance to the stage, injecting tremendous bursts of energy into Shakespeare’s tale of dark plotting. Eoghan Carrick’s lighting design emphasises the nocturnal aspect of the play, while his use of greens and blues in his night-time tints also subtly hints at the supernatural powers at work forcing Macbeth ever bloodily forward.

But a Thompsonian Shakespeare will always have naturalistic comedy, and here Katie McCann as an excitable Ross offers much background joviality, and also an unexpected personal note in her plea to Malcolm (Jamie Hallahan) that in his cause even the women of Scotland would fight against the tyrant. Meanwhile Patrick Doyle in a terrific performance in a portmanteau role at Chez Macbeth transforms the Porter’s speech into a series of ‘knock knock’ jokes told to various members of the audience, casually slits Banquo’s throat ending his indignation, serves drinks afterwards as Macbeth hastily dabs off Banquo’s blood from his cheek, smiles devilishly as he appears on the balcony to check the escape of Lady Macduff (Claire Jenkins) with the faux-innocent question ‘Where is your husband?’ and, as Seyton, stays by his murderous master till the bitter end of Birnam Wood.

Playing Shakespeare with a cast of nine, regardless of the cutting done, requires this sort of doubling; and everything works except for an unfortunately Lynchian moment when Macduff arrives to check on Duncan. Eschewing any crown for instead a chair and a ring,(which Macbeth continually twists on his finger because of his guilty conscience) it’s all too easy to forget that Finbarr Doyle is Duncan/Macduff, so for a second it appears Duncan has arrived to where he is to check if he’s sleeping… Doyle though is a notably gracious Duncan, and his Macduff has pleasing notes of integrity. He also engages Macbeth in a sword-fight which thrills because it is perilously close to the audience in this small venue, and, because of some tweaking of the text, looks rather like Macbeth is going to get the upper hand on Macduff.

Thompson’s cutting of the text puts us inside Macbeth’s head to a degree that makes him approach Richard III, except that instead of gleefully informing us what he’s going to do before he takes action, like Richard, this Macbeth is almost asking our advice on whether he should take action at all by outlining his qualms. Adlum has Macbeth simultaneously tempted and horrified by the witches. He has a painful awareness of what Jan Kott called ‘the grand staircase of history’ in Shakespeare’s plays. He knows that to kill Duncan will put him one level higher on the staircase, and will also create on the step he did occupy an equally lethal challenger to his new status. Laverty’s Lady M tempts him by pricking his vanity; she supplies the pragmatism for murder and immediate advancement, but not for reigning hereafter.

This lean production keeps our sympathy with a hero, first doing wrong out of fear of being usurped, who eventually collapses into amoral madness.

4/5

Macbeth continues its run at Smock Alley until January 25th.

December 9, 2013

Macbeth Needs Your Money!

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Do you want to fund an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a production of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Globe in Smock Alley? Then click on this link,http://fundit.ie/project/macbeth-1, and take your own tiny step towards being Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare in Love – “Who are you?” “Ah, well, I’m the money”…

For two weeks in January theatre troupe Fast Intent will convert the atmospheric Smock Alley Boys School space into a traditional Elizabethan Playhouse, a theatre of the type that Shakespeare himself would have recognised. In this heaving indoor cauldron; complete with Shakespeare’s favourite trouble-makers, rowdy groundlings who stand rather than sit because their tickets cost so little; they will present one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most thrilling plays – the brilliantly bloody Macbeth. Taking inspiration from research into Elizabethan and Jacobean staging practices they promise an engaging, thrilling experience, full of blood and guts, swords and shields, raucous crowds and high drama. Playing the power couple to avoid like the plague in medieval Scotland are Gerard Adlum (as Macbeth) and Jennifer Laverty (as Lady M), who both greatly impressed in previous Fast Intent production The Lark. Finbarr Doyle is the vengeful MacDuff, and the ensemble includes Patrick Doyle (fresh from his brilliant Harker in Fast Intent’s recent Dracula), Katie McCann, Conor Marren, Kyle Hixon,Claire Jenkins, and Jamie Hallahan. The set design is by Cait Corkery, and other crew members include Carol Conway and Caoimhe Murphy.

So why fund Macbeth? Star Gerard Adlum explains the appeal of the Thane thus: “He may not have Hamlet’s education, or Richard II’s eloquence, but Macbeth has a dextrous grasp of language and expresses himself with the ease of a poet, though his thoughts are never easy. Left to his own devices he deals in metaphors and similes, as if he desperately needs the audience to know that he is not a thug, not a brute. The challenge for the actor is not to prove his strength but to reveal his innate vulnerability.” For Adlum Macbeth’s key line of self-justification is ‘Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill’ – “This is the unfortunate logic that drives him on; two wrongs will eventually make a right.” Director Keith Thompson, a sometime co-writer and co-director hereabouts, has previously helmed productions of Richard III and Hamlet; the former starring Adlum as Buckingham. “I have wanted to direct Macbeth for years. It is both incredibly simple and complex. Complex in that it seems to cram into two hours the entire gamut of human emotions: love, hope, fear, desire, greed, guilt, loss. At the same time its speed and simplicity means there is no time to stop and think. Everything is truly experienced in the moment. It lends itself to constant re-interpretation, having something to say for each and every generation. It is human, raw and very, very messy.” Thompson finds Lady MacDuff’s line ‘but I remember I am in this earthly world where to do harm is often laudable, to do good sometime accounted dangerous folly’ “incredibly relevant to the world we are currently living in, where apathy is our common discourse and greed often not just considered lawful, but admirable. It shows that though this may have always been the case, there are always people who will identify it and struggle against it.”

So, that’s what they have to say. So why do I say to you fund Macbeth? Well, I’ve already thrown money at it because this is Fast Intent doing Macbeth. Fast Intent consistently pare back plays to their bare bones, and focus the audience’s energy onto the performances and the text. When it worked with Dracula it brought Stoker’s best prose to vivid, sensuous life. In The Lark it aided Anouilh’s theological ideas to sparkle across the stage, with real emotions grounding them in reality. And this is a cast that has proven itself at Shakespeare at a young age. While still in college Finbarr Doyle played Richard III with gleeful malevolence, Patrick Doyle played Macbeth with striking originality as distracted by visions, and Gerard Adlum played Lear with a startling maturity for such a young actor. But having a great cast is only one competent here. The key to successfully staging Shakespeare is not being afraid to cut his words. Reverence before his text too often is simply fear and trembling before the Bard rather than awe; and the result is a slow untheatrical death. But you need to have a confidence bordering on chutzpah to do the needful sometimes and meddle with the sacred scriptures. Keith Thompson, directing Hamlet in 2012, cut Polonius’ advice to Laertes, in its entirety, because he wanted a more serious Polonius. So, yeah, he has the confidence to pull this off bustling take…

Fast Intent’s goal is to raise €3,500, which will cover about half of the production costs; including costumes and hiring the venue – Smock Alley’s Boys School. The other half of the budget will consist of sponsorship from local businesses and by hosting various fundraising events. The contribution of Fundit donors is thus vital to the successful realisation of Macbeth. Fast Intent was established in 2011 by Sarah Finlay, Ger Adlum, Nessa Matthews and Keith Thompson. Their theatrical work to date has included acclaimed productions of Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes (The Complex), Family Voices and One for the Road (both New Theatre) and The Lark by Jean Anouilh (Smock Alley). 2013 has seen them producing an entire body of work for Dublin Castle’s cultural programme, including historical monologue pieces for Culture Night, an adaptation of Dracula for the Bram Stoker Festival and the just gone Christmas show, Shakespeare by Candlelight. Rewards for funding at various levels are set out on the website, where the company also expresses its desire to have you asone of their “dearest partners of greatness”.

Go on, dream of sound and fury, and click http://fundit.ie/project/macbeth-1

November 19, 2013

Dracula

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Dublin Castle marked their Hallowe’en weekend Bram Stoker Festival with a stripped down theatrical interpretation of Stoker’s original 1897 text in the Print Works space.

Jonathan Harker (Patrick Doyle) travels to Transylvania to make the final legal arrangements for Carfax Manor being signed over to Count Dracula (Karl Shiels). He is warned off by the superstitious locals, and his coachman even attempts to dash past the rendezvous, but Harker’s perseverance pays off … to his misfortune. The Count is initially welcoming, but soon Harker realises he is trapped in a Gothic nightmare. His attempts to escape leave him a broken man in the care of Dr Seward (Neil Fleming) back in England. However, the mysterious death of Seward’s fiancé Lucy Westenra, and the ravings of another patient Renfield (Gerard Adlum) lead Seward to confess the truth to Harker’s wife Mina (Nessa Matthews); Lucy was killed by a vampire, and her emasculated husband was the first English victim of that ancient evil intent on conquest – Dracula…

The Print Works is a difficult space to stage Dracula, as the audience sits in a horseshoe arrangement of rows of chairs around a long raised runway. This works well for the initial scenes as Harker brushes off the peasants and makes his way down the runway towards Castle Dracula, and it allows Dracula some nice scares when he stalks among the audience to make his way onstage, but it makes it hard to be truly scary when there’s no grand guignol supply of squibs. Director Keith Thompson instead concentrates on using Stoker’s text to hypnotic effect. Patrick Doyle is a very effective Harker. His crisp English accent overlays a subtly played decline of Victorian confidence as grudging respect for the natives’ sincere concern morphs into panicked desperation and impotence. Karl Shiels is an impressive Count. His over-elaborate courtesy is deliciously played, and a nervous tic with his hand betrays the immense bloodlust he is restraining. The weird sister (sic) makes a creepy appearance indebted to The Ring, but the true power lies in Harker and Dracula’s twisted relationship. Mark Curry’s lighting dims to two spotlights on the pair in the large dark room, to focus the impressive sound design by Jody Trehy and Cian Murphy onto Stoker’s language of sensuous rush as Dracula attacks both Harker’s blood and being.

Stephen King dubs Dracula’s vanishing act from his own story one of “English literature’s most remarkable and engaging tricks”, but it breaks the spell of this performance. Jumping from Harker’s escape attempt to Mina visiting Lucy’s grave is disconcerting enough, but then Van Helsing, Godalming and Morris are composited into Dr Seward; and Dracula without Van Helsing is like the Brat Pack without Judd Nelson. This may not disconcert people unfamiliar with the novel, and it works structurally in creating a lean tale, but it also makes Seward and Harker look quite dim. Mina deduces Dracula’s powers and weaknesses not by mastering the chaotic journals and notes of five disorganised men, unaware that they’re working the same case, but by pointing out the obvious to a doctor and his patient. This tragically undermines the character’s strength, despite Nessa Matthews’ commanding presence. Adlum is an unexpectedly restrained Renfield, who’s delusional enough to delightfully fix his hair before meeting Mina, while Fleming exudes decency and gravitas as Seward. Matthews provides the best scare, shrieking when Seward tries (too late) to spell her against Dracula using a communion wafer, but once Dracula fades from the story the power of this production steadily ebbs away as well.

Thompson coaxes fine performances as he delivers half of an impressive adaptation here, mounted with gorgeous costumes by Sarah Finlay, but the complications of Stoker’s novel ultimately defeat him.

2.75/5

October 11, 2013

Neutral Hero

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The New York City Players present Richard Maxwell’s lauded meditation on the mundane as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

That sentence is perfectly neutral. I’ve given you the facts and nothing more. Why? Did you want more? A joke, some sort of a pithy judgement? Neutral Hero is not the kind of play that lends itself to reviewing in that style. So here are some more facts. Twelve empty chairs line the back of the stage, and are gradually occupied by the actors, who emerge first singly, then in pairs, then severally. The first five actors to appear each deliver a monologue. They describe in fastidious detail a small Mid-Western town. But don’t think because of that you can expect Our Town for the 2010s to begin with the first scene. The first scene isn’t a scene in any naturalistic sense, and the actors don’t play it with any emotion in their delivery, or their expressions. Just strictly neutral.

There are twelve actors. These are their names. Janet Coleman, Keith Connolly, Alex Delinois, Bob Feldman, Jean Ann Garish, Rosie Goldensohn, Paige Martin, James Moore, Philip Moore, Andie Springer, Andres Weisell. Listing them alphabetically avoids creating artificial ranks of distinction within the troupe. They perform the piece. Oddly I found myself thinking only of Bret Easton Ellis’ affectless prose with endless sentences describing in detail physical objects and leaving emotions beyond its ken. Is this Brechtian? Yes, but what’s the point? This is a play with much music. The effect of the vocal interpretation of neutrality is to replicate Nico’s stilted singing with the Velvet Underground, but with more Americana instrumentation; being banjos and mandolin beside piano and drums. If Bret Easton Ellis and Arcade Fire collaborated would they produce Neutral Hero? No. Because they’d do something; shocking or anthemic.

It’s interesting to see what experimental theatre groups are doing in New York City. But neutrality onstage can only go so far, at some point it runs into the audience, who have react to it. Otherwise it’s not theatre. And I was bemused. The New York Times said that Maxwell “makes the soaringly heroic feel like the natural and inevitable subtext of the numbingly quotidian”. Now if the New York Times told me to go jump off a cliff I wouldn’t do it, not least because I’d probably fall asleep while Thomas Friedman got sidetracked with an anecdote about a man called Hector, who lives in Winesburg, Ohio, who he once told to jump off a cliff. Actors walking from one side of the stage to the other, and then back, isn’t really choreography. And this isn’t really “a story of epic ordinariness concerning a young man searching for his father in the wide open landscape of the American Midwest”. Telling, isn’t it, that a story was promised in publicity?

Neutral Hero sticks to its principled guns, even to the point of refusing to take a bow at the show’s end, but this theatrical Van Burenism ultimately becomes self-defeating.

2/5

Neutral Hero continues its run at the Project Arts Centre until October 12th.

October 8, 2013

Desire Under the Elms

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Corn Exchange performs Eugene O’Neill’s 1924 play in Northern Irish accents, placing the emphasis very much on the first part of its hyphenate identity Irish-American.

Peter (Peter Coonan) and Simeon (Luke Griffin) are hardworking brothers on a stony farm in 1850s New England. Their resentful half-brother Eben (Fionn Walton) is convinced the farm is really his thru his mother, their father’s second wife. But when their father Ephraim Cabot (Lalor Roddy) unexpectedly remarries, they realise the farm is nobody’s but his new wife Abby’s (Janet Moran) as when he finally dies she’ll inherit. Peter and Simeon, disgusted at this, sign over to Eben their shares in ‘his farm’, and head off to California’s gold rush. But when Abby realises the brooding Eben’s staying, and a threat to her marriage for social status, she promises to give Ephraim a son; to ensure her place on the farm. But she might prefer to have a child with her virile step-son, rather than her wizened husband. And if her manipulations are unmasked, then all hell will break loose…

Corn Exchange oddly abandons its commedia dell’arte style for this mash-up of Greek tragedy and Irish-American land-hunger, when you’d imagine the heightened nature of retelling the tortured romantic triangle of Phaedra, Hippolytus and Theseus would be perfectly suited for that technique. Director Annie Ryan strips the play to its core, reducing a cast of 20 to just 5 actors who play out the tragedy on Maree Kearns’ bare stage with just a table, a bed, and some firewood and building timbers running up against an abstract backdrop. O’Neill doesn’t leaven his plays with much humour though, and this approach means that the rawness of Desire Under the Elms can be overwhelming. Luke Griffin sports the best worst hair I’ve seen in some time, and he and Coonan are fantastically dishevelled and avaricious as the animalistic brothers Simeon and Peter. It is a loss after the interval when they don’t reappear.

The monstrous patriarch is so hyped that Roddy takes some time in living up to his billing when he arrives. But this feels like a John B Keane play relocated to Maine. Ephraim is as monomaniacal as Bull McCabe on the subject of how he sweated blood to tame nature. He wants to give his farm to a son, so that even when he’s dead, in  a way the land will still belong to him. O’Neill’s script reaches its apex of vivid imagery when Ephraim describes how otherwise he’d rather set fire to the farm and free the livestock. But opposite him Moran and Walton disappoint. Her unsubtle seduction doesn’t convince as patent manipulation leading to sincere love, his melodramatic contradictory reactions don’t ring true with his character’s rigidity hitherto, and after the interval their falling-out feels rushed – there’s too much of a steep descent to the brutally Greek climax.

It’s sometimes hard to square O’Neill, the Nobel laureate and Broadway intellectual, with the brutal toiling characters that populate his plays. This production, in emphasising the Irish elements, casts an interesting light on O’Neill.

3/5

Desire Under the Elms continues its run at Smock Alley Theatre until October 13th.

October 7, 2013

The Critic

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Rough Magic strikes gold again with a hilarious production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1779 comedy in which they transpose the absurdist action to Georgian Dublin.

Mrs Dangle (Eleanor Methven) is out of humour with Mr Dangle (Darragh Kelly). She sits reading about Lord North’s monumental failures while he amuses himself reading up on theatre gossip. Her mood is not improved when Mr Sneer (Ronan Leahy) arrives, and the two erstwhile theatre critics ignore the parlous state of the country. But then her beloved struggling writer Sir Fretful Plagiary (Rory Nolan) arrives, and she supports him thru the ‘helpful’ critiques of his latest rejected manuscript by Sneer and Dangle. Luckily for her she misses the arrival of the disreputable Mr Puff (Karl Shiels), who explains his various types of puff-pieces to an impressed Sneer before allowing the duo attend a rehearsal of his new tragedy. At which point a host of actors take to a different stage to perform, with constant interruption from the three gentlemen…

The unusual experience of sitting around in the Culture Box as if eavesdropping in the Dangles’ drawing room before trotting up to The Ark to follow them to a rehearsal of Puff’s tragedy of the Spanish Armada is inspired. In the intimate setting of the Culture Box Nolan’s prancing ninny Sir Fretful Plagiary richly deserved the solo round of applause he got for his harrumphing exit, while Karl Shiels makes a wonderful entrance as the lecherous and slightly tipsy Mr Puff who explains matters like ‘the puff collusive’ with bravura. Sneer and Dangle passing snide remarks from the Ark’s balcony makes you think that Sheridan may have created Statler and Waldorf two centuries before The Muppets: this is their take on Puff’s utterly random comic sub-plot – “Why, this under-plot would have made a tragedy itself” “Ay, or a comedy either”

Peter Daly narrates helpfully at the Culture Box, interrupting dialogue with helpful information for the audience, before stealing the silliest moment of the entire play in The Ark with the infamous silent meditation and preposterously meaningful shake of the head by Puff’s tragic antagonist. Sheridan’s abrupt ending is creatively expanded here with Puff being chased off-stage for criticising his actors and a baffled Dangle and Sneer taking to the vacated floor, reading the opening of Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, dismissing it and then being taken by surprise (much like the audience) by the back wall of the theatre slowly rising to a light show, as the talented young ‘tragedy’ actors from UCD Dramsoc, Trinity Players and the Gaiety School of Acting stand in front of a montage of theatre troupe names and people flock into the square behind to observe – thus proving Brook’s point.

The Critic has never been out of repertory of since it premiered in 1779, largely because its well-turned jokes are as fresh as ever.

4/5

The Critic continues its run at the Culture Box until October 13th.

September 20, 2013

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

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Dario Fo’s most celebrated play receives an exceedingly energetic but ultimately misjudged production at the New Theatre in Temple Bar.

A madman, who likes to torment blustering local Garda (Paul Kealyn), worms his way into the corridors of power and, passing himself off as a judge conducting an inquiry, grills all the police officers present when an anarchist ‘accidentally’ fell off the 4th floor of police headquarters. Distractingly the characters retain names like Bertosi despite wearing Garda uniforms. The panicked Inspector (Neil Fleming) tries to maintain his alibi in the face of increasingly damning questions, dragooning the obviously guilty Superintendent (Rory Mullen) into buttressing the madman’s increasingly elaborate and supposedly helpful alibi for the alibi, as it were. They’re aided in their attempts to fabricate a narrative by the idiotic Constable (Paul Elliot, giving the most understated and effective performance), and hindered by the late-arriving crusading journalist (Dagmar Doring). But this is Hard Candy without any attempt at ambiguity; the dramatic dice are fatally loaded.

The play is dominated by a certified madman, but that doesn’t mean he has to be played as a madman. However, Patrick O’Donnell plays him from the get-go as Graham Norton meets Jim Carrey, with some grace notes from John Cleese as Basil Fawlty increasingly evident after the interval. This is not without merit by any means. There are many scenes which are screamingly funny because of this approach, but there are many more scenes which would work if played subtly that fail miserably because of this OTT tack. Cleese didn’t play Basil as screaming and prancing from start to finish, there were escalating levels of madness thru which Basil would reach his peak of manic exasperation. This production asks its cast en masse to start at full volume, which, toning it down being verboten, leaves them nowhere to go…

Director Peter Reid’s gloss on Simon Nye’s translation is a greater worry. An anti-austerity song is amusing, but seems pandering; but then it’s followed by an abortion zinger so pointed it’s not part of the play, but a statement of political credo – so much so that someone in the audience cheered loudly when it was delivered. This pulls you out of the theatre, and the madman’s subsequent lengthy speech on how religion reinforces capitalist hegemony annoys because Shaw would instantly produce an opposing argument; but here you’re expected to nod your head approvingly. Euripides with the Trojan Women challenged his fellow Athenian Imperialists to reflect on their conduct, Shakespeare with his history plays challenged his fellow countrymen to dream the England he was imagining for them, but this production merely asks Irish socialists to slap themselves heartily on the back.

If you believe theatre is an arena where you bask in the glory of your own beliefs then this will satisfy – but surely theatre aims for more than that?

2/5

September 19, 2013

Major Barbara

Paul-McGann-in-the-Abbey-Theatre-s-production-of-Major-Barbara-by-Bernard-Shaw--Directed-by-Annabelle-Comyn--Runs-until-21-September--Pic-Ros-Ka

Annabelle Comyn directs her third summer show in a row on the Abbey stage and, following 2011’s Pygmalion, makes a welcome return to Bernard Shaw.

Shaw’s 1905 play begins with the imperious Lady Britomart (Eleanor Methven) initiating her shallow son Stephen (Killian Burke) into the shameful history of his millionaire father, arms manufacturer Andrew Undershaft (Paul McGann). Lady Britomart intends to tap Undershaft for marriage settlements for their daughters Sarah (Liz Fitzgibbon), engaged to upper class twit Charles Lomax (Aonghus Og McAnally), and Barbara (Clare Dunne), engaged to bohemian Greek scholar Adolphus Cusins (Marty Rea). She also hopes, by inviting Undershaft to meet his children for the first time in decades, to spark some paternal sentiment in him so that he will abandon the Undershaft tradition of disinheriting the lawful heirs in favour of settling the massive arms concern on a foundling. The unrepentant Undershaft, however, is more impressed by his daughter Major Barbara; who he makes swear to visit his arms factory if he visits her Salvation Army shelter. But which of their competing philosophies will overcome the other?

Major Barbara is dominated by the character of Undershaft and McGann rises boldly to the challenge. His entrance into Lady Britomart’s library, absolutely unsure as to which of the three men in it is his son, is expertly prolonged, and his delivery of his unscrupulous politico-economic philosophy jaded without being cynical; his very sincerity hinting at the need for new energy which the steely Barbara suddenly offers to him. Dunne’s fervour as Barbara, with undertones of despair, complements McGann’s nuance, while Methven Fassbenders as the Wildean matriarch insulting her son and prospective son-in-laws with arch put-downs. Burke does a fine job of Stephen’s indignation shading into admiration as he sees his father’s works, but comedic honours go to Aonghus Og McAnally and his repeated contention that whatever’s being discussed involves a good deal of tommyrot. Talking Movies favourite Rea makes his shady character a worthy foil to Undershaft, alternating between ecstatic acceptance and mulish rebellion.

But, far more than Pygmalion, this play engages with the poor of London. The elegant library, by Comyn’s regular set designer Paul O’Mahony, loses its refinement to become the facade of the Salvation Army shelter. Shaw presents the poor who despise being reliant on charity (Chris McHallem’s defeated Peter Shirley), the poor who play up their Christianity to cynically con charity (Emmet Kirwan’s sly Bronterre O’Brien Price), and the poor who only Barbara would tackle (Ian Lloyd Anderson’s truly menacing Bill Walker). This is a London haunted by the winter depression of 1886, and, even as Barbara and Walker clash rhetorically and physically over his rejection of salvation, the visiting Undershaft instructs the attentive Cusins in the employers’ interest in the Army keeping the poor content, but in their place. When Undershaft offers a massive donation to Mrs Baines (Fiona Bell) to help keep open the shelter, Barbara resigns rather than usefully employ tainted money.

And so the final act finds the library transforming into a munitions factory with a massive weapon as its centrepiece as Undershaft attempts to uphold the Undershaft tradition while yet employing his fiery daughter… Major Barbara runs for nearly three hours and is a dense play. Is Shaw satirising the Salvation Army as the acme of religious enthusiasm that horrified staid Victorians? Or merely challenging the Army to convert the rich because they will be more sincere as they do not need their charity? And then there’s the grenade he throws in of personal integrity getting in the way of the greater good. Does Barbara have a duty to accept money made from wrongdoing in order to serve the greater good? Given recent resignations of conscience and Trevor Sargeant’s 2007 resignation to allow his party enter government this is not an abstract Antigone dilemma. Undershaft’s seductive honesty is very Shavian, if he doesn’t believe something he won’t pretend to for the sake of social niceties; and so he magnificently flourishes the fact that his industry controls government. But are his actions consistent with his philosophy or is he as impetuous as Barbara, so Shaw’s calling for compromise not mad idealism?

These knotty questions can’t really be answered, and so this production of Major Barbara is to be commended for expertly maintaining the comedic undertone in its intense examination of the ever-relevant clash between private integrity and the public good.

4/5

Major Barbara continues its run at the Abbey until the 21st of September.

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