Talking Movies

July 19, 2019

Epiphany

Druid take over the Town Hall Theatre for their premiere of a transatlantic offering for the Galway International Arts Festival.

Morkan (Marie Mullen) is hosting a dinner party with the assistance of Loren (Julia McDermott).  The perpetually drunken Freddy (Aaron Monaghan) is the first to arrive, to the disappointment of Morkan who is awaiting her celebrated nephew Gabriel Conroy, a critic for the Review, who has promised to make a speech. Her old friend Ames (Bill Irwin) slips and slides in from the snow, as do Marty Rea and Jude Akuwudike’ musicians, and the supercilious couple of Rory Nolan’s marketer Rory Nolan and Kate Kennedy’s psychiatrist. It quickly becomes clear that nobody has read the attachments to the invitation, or indeed done more than scan the invitation, and all Morkan’s plans for elaborate festivities will come to naught. And then Aran (Grace Byers) unexpectedly arrives, bearing the news that her partner Gabriel will not be joining them. And so the party begins…

Director Garry Hynes stages proceedings deliberately chaotically, so much so that at a few points I thought of all the guests roaring about the mansion after Tim Curry in Clue. There are some comic tours-de-force: Rea’s attempt to get Mullen to feed him the words and music of a song he is pretending to know, his brilliantly performed piano piece that to paraphrase John McGahern at every moment has as much reason to stop as to go on (to the consternation of Nolan’s attempts to applaud it out of existence), Irwin’s injury with a carving knife which leads him to decline coffee beans being applied to the wound because he’d be up all night, and Kennedy’s 11 probing questions that Akuwudike furiously claims to have permanently shattered Rea’s mind by making him ask of his remaining lifespan – is it enough?

But these frivolities sit uneasily beside the fact that Brooklyn playwright Brian Watkins is clearly meditating on James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, not that that was highlighted in publicity. Francis O’Connor’s impressive set with its multiple staircases creates a sense of a beloved brownstone with snow constantly seen falling thru the windows, and, in the end, of course, thru the strange black hole in the roof of the living room; that the snow might fall on all the living and the dead. Watkins has borrowed from Joyce occasion, character names and traits, and, rather astonishingly, the singing of the ‘The Lass of Aughrim’ for an epiphanic moment. And these are characters badly in need of an epiphany as they struggle sans schmartphones to remember just what Epiphany is meant to celebrate, and flail around confusedly trying to create a secular celebration.

Epiphany has a number of memorable set-pieces, its muted ending with old friends Irwin and Mullen seeing out the night is affecting, but it’s not as revelatory as hoped.

3.5/5

Epiphany continues its run at the Galway Town Hall Theatre until the 27th of June.

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July 15, 2019

Kate Crackernuts

No Drama Theatre returned to Smock Alley’s main stage with an eccentric fairytale by NYC playwright and screenwriter Sheila Callaghan.

The ever capable Kate (Megan Carter) faces a challenge when her beautiful step-sister Anne (Siobhan Hickey) comes to her with a blanket over her face to hide the fact that her beautiful head has been switched for that of a sheep. Kate’s own mother (Greg Freegrove) is the suspect, but this wicked stepmother may have done it by accident, as the local mystic (Darcy Donnelan) may have got her pickled and enchanted eggs all muddled. A headless sheep (Dave McGovern) is convinced that Anne has got his head, but finds it hard to get an opportunity to just ask for his head back when Kate and Anne fall into the orbit of brothers Paul (Shane Robinson) and Ralph (Daniel O’Brien). The path of true love is not smooth though, Kate needs to wean Paul away from Miss Prima (Sorcha Maguire)…

Callaghan’s play is apparently based on a Scottish fairytale, to which she has added some modern notes. Carter splendidly embodies the no-nonsense nature of Callaghan’s heroine, an early rapid-fire exchange with her sister typical: “What did you eat for breakfast?” “An omelette” “Mother made it?” “Yes” “What she did eat?” “…Cereal” “Ah..” But Callaghan includes a fake happy ending before the more ambiguous real one because this is a fairytale that isn’t interested in simple solutions. Ralph becomes besotted with Anne, sheep’s head and all, but you shouldn’t think of Shakespeare’s Bottom so much as Woody Allen’s EYAWTKAS* (BWATA) Gene Wilder vignette. O’Brien has a scene-stealing monologue on how it’s finally his turn for romance with Anne before hysterically unconcealed disappointment that Anne has got her human head back and therefore lost that furry quality that made her his soul-mate.

The vibrant lights and sound of Dan Donnelly, Suzie Cummins, and Hasan Kamal are very effective in transforming the sparsely furnished stage into a nightclub presided over by Prima. My regular theatre cohort Fiachra MacNamara and I thoroughly disagreed over the meaning of what happened there. I took it as an allegory for drug addiction – that the more Paul, rendered by Robinson almost as a Baz Luhrmann bohemian, fell under the spell of Prima, the further he became detached from his true self, his voice (Ali Keohane). Fiachra took it as an allegory for the dwindling influence over Paul of his dead mother, which is why his voice eventually saved Prima’s neglected Baby (Rahul Dewan), trusting him to Kate. Either interpretation fits the redemptive outcome desired by Paul and Ralph’s widowed father (Greg Freegrove again), a rich but clueless king.

3/5

November 15, 2018

A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Filed under: Talking Theatre (Reviews) — Fergal Casey @ 3:36 pm

Martin McDonagh’s new play is undoubtedly the oddest thing he’s ever done.

Trying to explain the plot involving Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Dickens, two Congolese pygmies, and a couple of time-travelling dead Belgian soldiers makes one seem as deranged as the play. I have the feeling that, like Paul McCartney’s song on Picasso, this is an artist responding to a bet by showing there is nothing so implausible they can’t construct plausible work from it.

There is something to offend everyone; from mining the Belgian rule of the Congo for comedy, to jokes about the Famine, to deriding the English as an ugly race; and the effect is delirious. Jim Broadbent is a callously clueless buffoon as HCA while Phil Daniels brought the house down as a foul-mouthed Charles F****** Dickens, not Charles Darwin as HCA keeps addressing him.

4/5

October 14, 2018

Macbeth

Director Geoff O’Keefe reunites with actor Neill Fleming, following his memorable Claudius in the Mill’s 2016 Hamlet, for an eerie take on Shakespeare’s Scottish play.

Civil War rages in Scotland. King Duncan (Damien Devaney) is only kept on the throne by the bloody valour of the Thane of Glamis, Macbeth (Neill Fleming). But when three witches prophesy that Macbeth shall be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland hereafter fatal ambition seizes the mind of both his wife (Nichola MacEvilly) and he. Obstacles in his path are Duncan, and his son Malcolm (Matthew O’Brien); and obstacles to security as King are friend Banquo (Andrew Kenny), and his son Fleance (Eanna Hardwicke). And having filed his mind for the sake of his ambition all morality and sanity go by the wayside for Macbeth…

Gerard Bourke’s set and Kris Mooney’s lighting design create a powerfully eerie atmosphere. A skeleton and a decaying body hang over the stage emphasising the brutal nature of this Dark Ages kingdom, while Olga Criado Monleon’s costume design of flowing robes with all-encompassing hoods for the witches unsex them, allowing a terrific initial jolt when they seem to exit on one side and immediately appear on the other by magic, and also continually allowing them to prowl in the shadows of a stage replete with nooks and crannies. Their constant surveillance of the action makes them appear like irresponsible Greek gods toying their chosen mortals, and allows a terrific interval when they close the curtains with some theatrical magic.

If Michael Fassbender’s cinematic interpretation seemed to focus on the line ‘Full of scorpions is my mind’, Fleming’s turn here seemed to pivot on his agonised complaint to Lady M, ‘I have filed my mind’. MacEvilly’s Lady Macbeth is wonderfully contemptuous of Macbeth’s weakness during the feast, and in her sleepwalking seems less to be plagued by guilt as to be reciting both sides of her fight with Macbeth for his blundering with the knives. But despite the darkness O’Keefe finds some unexpected comedy in the text. Devaney’s Porter is played as still reeking of drink, and Macbeth arrives as if after carousing, concluding the recitations of ominous portents with a tart ‘It was a rough night’. There is also a delirious moment where Macbeth wheels around during the feast to check if Banquo is still there precisely when Banquo has melted away temporarily, the better to appal him later.

Playing Shakespeare with a cast of nine requires much doubling, and bar the predictably Lynchian moment when Devaney’s Porter appears right after the murder of Devaney’s Duncan, it works very well. Ailbhe Cowley very effectively switches between Lady Ross and Lady Macbeth’s servant with quick changes of hair, costume, and accent, while Kenny makes his doctor unrecognisable from his Banquo. Jed Murray’s imposing Macduff is a gruffer character than we’re used to, and his sword-fight with Macbeth ends with a piece of derring-do that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood swashbuckler.

The gruesome coup de grace may not work for all, but this is a fast-moving production of much dark magic.

4/5

Macbeth continues its run at the Mill Theatre until the 26th of October.

October 9, 2018

Richard III

DruidShakespeare finally makes it to the capital having kept the Henriad away, and yes, the wait has been well worth it.

Photo: Robbie Jack

Richard (Aaron Monaghan) has been sent into this world before his time, scarce half made up.  And in a time of peace after the Wars of the Roses he embraces the role of villain. With gusto, informing us of his scheming before he undertakes each deceit. His machinations against his brother Clarence (Marty Rea) are only the beginning of an escalating palace intrigue that will undo Buckingham (Rory Nolan), Hastings (Garrett Lombard), Rivers (Peter Daly), Lady Anne (Siobhan Cullen), and the little Princes in the Tower (Zara Devlin, Siobhan Cullen again), before it brings back a time of war and undoes Richard himself.

This is not a short production but its 150 minutes with interval gallops by so gripping does director Garry Hynes make the action. There are numerous moments throughout that change forever how you will read passages in the text. Whether it be Marty Rea’s incredible turn as Catesby, the fastidious assassin with his ritualised use of a captive bolt gun, or Garrett Lombard’s unexpected and sublime ‘Whoa’ worthy of Keanu Reeves as Hastings suddenly realises that the doors have shut, the extractor fan and fluorescent light has come on, and he’s the only one left on the stage along with Catesby – bogus.

5/5

Richard III continues its run at the Abbey until the 27th of October.

August 24, 2018

Somewhere Else

Gorgeous Theatre returns to the intimate space of Players Theatre with a 21st century spin on some mid-20th century influences.

Gene (Noel Cahill) is on a journey, destination unknown. As he says, “I must leave this place. Find another. A different place altogether”. His quest to get somewhere else sees him travel to the archetypal big city; with the help and hindrance of Tonya Swayne’s assorted characters; repeatedly meet and attempt to impress a mysterious woman (Saoirse Sine), and be perpetually annoyed by two manically energetic characters (Emma Brennan, Tanja Abazi) who dog his steps with requests for him to join their fun and just for once stay where they are. (And also annoy him with a door he does not want to see.) It takes a while, and much physical mayhem, before the pieces fall into place, and the guiding maxim might well be Kierkegaard’s aphorism that life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Ciaran Treanor’s script and direction doffs its hat at times to Chaplin; Cahill executes delirious pratfalls and turns a mechanical sequence of dishwashing into slapstick chaos. At other times, with the wonderful cardboard props of misbehaving taxis, buses, aeroplanes, and even a raft, we seem to be firmly in Thurber territory; Gene a Walter Mitty with extravagant daydreams to escape a humdrum reality. But that the urban reality conjured by Erin Barclay and Louise Dunne’s inventive set design comprises some 70 boxes that part to reveal the nightlights of a CITY skyscraper, which, when Cahill and Sine dance in front of it recalls the ‘Gotta Dance’ fantasy sequence in Singin’ in the Rain. Not that all these familiar notes get in the way of Treanor’s originality anymore than La La Land’s borrowings prevented it from doing something new and unexpected.

3.5/5

April 5, 2018

The Approach

Mark O’Rowe returns as both playwright and director with his first new play since 2014’s Our Few and Evil Days and it’s another intricate puzzle.

Cora (Cathy Belton) hasn’t seen Anna (Aisling O’Sullivan) for a while when they meet for a coffee. This is a recurring theme. Later Cora hasn’t seen Denise (Derbhle Crotty) for a while when they meet for a coffee. And when Anna and Denise finally meet for a coffee neither has seen Cora for a while. An awful lot of coffee might be drunk but this is not a physically rambunctious play, for all that chairs are hanging in mid-air like they’d been flung at the ceiling. The sisters Anna and Denise are estranged and Cora is engaged in the tricky task of trying to remain friends with both of them, and the even trickier task of maybe pushing them towards rapprochement. Although maybe that’s not what she’s doing, maybe she’s the source of their estrangement. This is O’Rowe after all.

It’s hard not to feel that O’Rowe is playing the same three card trick he successfully pulled off with Our Few and Evil Days.

3.5/5

March 23, 2018

Alex and

Gorgeous Theatre follow last summer’s largely wordless debut production June with a talkative show that is easier to describe yet a far more ambitious enterprise.

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There are routines that by dint of ecstatic repetition ascend to ritual, like the Shah in John McGahern’s final novel transforming each day into the same day. Then there are routines that go directly into a rut. Alex (Helen McGrath) is stuck in a rut. She enjoys going to shows with Friend (Ciaran Treanor), is in love with Partner (Andrea Bolger), and has a long-suffering closeness to Parent (Amy Kellett). But the repetitive nature of her life is beginning to bring her down. Every bloody day it’s breakfast, work, home, something, something, sleep alone – rinse and repeat. As Alex starts to buckle under routine she increasingly resents the emotional demands of others and alienates them. But as the people in her life strike their names out from the blackboard of her world can she pull herself back from the brink?

The Teachers Club is a small playing space, but writer/director Noel Cahill used it with some panache; by the end the stage was as littered with detritus as at the close of many an Enda Walsh play. Walsh was in the air as Alex’s implosion due to the mundanity of life was reminiscent of a character’s suicidal wishes in The Last Hotel because people were making (ordinary) demands of her. There was also the physical business of making breakfast more efficient by just pouring cereal into Alex’s open mouth and then adding milk, and the thoroughly unexpected trio of musical numbers (courtesy of Enda Cahill) extolling the most important meal of the day; the first a solid show-tune, the second a hysterical gangsta rap performed with gusto and admirable deadpan as to its absurdity. But where there’s Walsh there’s Beckett.

4/5

February 27, 2018

Sive

Druid return to John B Keane after 2011’s coruscating Big Maggie, and the result is another potent blend of riotous comedy and barbed social commentary.

Tommy Tiernan as Thomasheen Sean Rua. Image Ros Kavanagh

Before I saw this show I had wondered if Garry Hynes could tame Tommy Tiernan. But it turns out he was perfectly cast as Thomasheen Sean Rua. There was no need to tame him, merely to wind him up and point him in the right direction. The way Tiernan played the character was positively Dickensian, a creepy moment in which he moves his head closer to Sive akin to Uriah Heep and the vim he displayed the rest of the time two steps from Fagin.

5/5

February 15, 2018

Look Back in Anger

The Gate advertise the hell out of their doing John Osborne’s seminal 1956 play, and then refuse on point of principle to actually do it.

Jimmy Porter (Ian Toner) is an angry young man, indeed he is the angry young man. He watched his father die from wounds sustained in the Spanish Civil War, and now despite his college education he finds himself manning a sweet stall down the market, unable to escape his working class roots in this post-war Midlands city despite his formidable, vituperative mental and linguistic agility. His rage against the establishment lashes against his upper-middle-class wife Alison (Clare Dunne), and to a lesser degree their Welsh Irish lodger Cliff (Lloyd Cooney). But when Jimmy eventually pushes Alison too far, a visit from her snobbish friend Helena (Vanessa Emme) sees Alison finally desert her stormy marriage. Only for the damndest thing to happen in the continuing war of contempt, class consciousness, and the desire for a worthy opponent between Jimmy and Helena…

While the audience is coming in the actors amble onto Paul O’Mahony’s curious canted stage of a realistic attic apartment, as a box within the exposed walls of the Gate’s backstage area. Emme reads the stage directions while the others take their places, and Dunne is reluctant to don the particular shirt specified. So far so Brecht, kind of. But then it continues, on and on and on, adding God knows how long to the endless 2 hour 45 minute running time, and for one purpose, so that Alison and Helena can eschew the stated directions, even when they’re emphatically repeated. The female characters, like Taylor Swift, would like to be excluded from this narrative. Which doesn’t do much for the narrative. Jimmy ends on his knees cooing a redemptive moment to nobody, as Alison refuses to follow Osborne’s directions.

I saw Kenneth Branagh star in Osborne’s 1957 play The Entertainer on the West End in 2016. Some sequences were melodramatic, but mostly it was very effective; startlingly so indeed because, despite being about the post-imperial crisis of confidence the Suez crisis amplified, one line drew gasps from the crowd because it seemed about Brexit. I expected director Annabelle Comyn would do something of the same here; pare down Osborne’s text like her lean 2015 Hedda Gabler, and bring out the impotent rage against an aloof establishment that would seem apposite to the Brexit moment. Instead I got leaden pacing, and a bad academic workshop exercise gone rogue. Give me a few days and I can furnish you with a version of Hamlet focused on his abusiveness towards Gertrude and Ophelia. But then we wouldn’t have Hamlet anymore would we?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Homecoming would not exist without this play. When Toner leans into Michael Caine in his characterisation of Porter he unconsciously directs attention to how this play aided the explosion of the working class into British culture in the 1950s and 1960s. In short Osborne’s work deserves a modicum of respect. Instead gags and clues to Porter’s left-wing politics are clipped, so Toner is left in the bizarre, thankless and pointless position of playing a charismatic character who is purposefully being denied laughs or attraction by the disapproving staging, while Tom Lane’s sound design and Chahine Yavroyan’s harsh lighting is used to accentuate the most malicious of his rants, and Alison’s father is no-platformed (with his part being read from a script) because he sympathises with Jimmy’s frustration. Dunne kisses Cooney on the lips far too passionately to deny Osborne’s script its intent, while you suspect Cooney and Emme are being deliberately theatrical in their delivery as a further distancing measure. But why bother?

If you are so contemptuous of this play, and contempt comes washing off the stage in great waves, then for heaven’s sake why are you doing it? Who exactly is forcing Selina Cartmell and Annabelle Comyn to do this (sigh) problematic play? Why not do The Children’s Hour or A Taste of Honey or Oh! What a Lovely War or Our Country’s Good or Blasted or Enron or Posh or The Flick instead? It is odd to prioritise doing a ‘bad’ play by a male playwright over doing a good play by a female playwright. It is odder to ask people to pay 35e to see a play deliberately done poorly because the company wishes to complain about its place in the canon. The Gate is not doing itself any favours with this tedious approach to its commercial stock-in-trade, revivals.

This is easily the worst production I have ever seen at the Gate, and sadly it is also the worst show I have ever seen directed by Comyn.

1/5

Look Back in Anger continues its run at the Gate until the 24th of March.

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