Talking Movies

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.

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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.

November 29, 2017

The Effect

Lucy Prebble’s acclaimed 2012 play finally receives its Irish premiere, in the surprisingly small setting of the Project’s Cube space.

 

Connie (Siobhan Cullen) and Tristan (Donal Gallery) have volunteered for a drugs trial. They are just two of many subjects, some of who will be given the drug, others the placebo. In charge of deciding who gets what is doctor Lorna (Ali White). At least she thinks she’s in charge of that, but when manipulative doctor Toby (Ronan Leahy), who she knows of old, enters the picture their complicated past opens up all new ethical challenges. And that’s before Connie and Tristan develop feelings for each other and will not listen to reason that they have no real feelings, it is literally a chemical romance. What is real? How do you define real? Isn’t all love an irrational manipulated flood of endorphins and hormones?

Writing this review months after the fact means that in the intervening time I have finally read Tom Stoppard’s 2013 play The Hard Problem, and, struck by superficial similarities in these works commissioned for the NT, admired anew the cleverness with which Prebble constructs her piece, and also consider that she might actually have bested the titan of theatre in the successful execution of an interrogation of scientific ethics and the big questions of life.

5/5

Tribes

The Gate reinstates seats for the Dublin Theatre Festival but burns its audience a different way with a coruscating play of spectacular, hilarious family dysfunction.

Nick Dunning is Christopher, the patriarch of an intellectually combative upper-middle-class Jewish family in North London, or is it South County Dublin, we’ll have to get back to that… He is infuriated to have all three of his adult children Billy (Alex Nowak), Daniel (Gavin Drea), and Ruth (Grainne Keenan) living under his roof again, for various reasons. Shouting matches between Christopher and his children, Christopher and his wife Beth (Fiona Bell), the competitive siblings among themselves, and some combination of all the above are frequent, ribald, cutting, and funny. But as Nowak’s Billy is deaf, he misses a lot of it. Mercifully some might say. And others might not, such as his new girlfriend Sylvia (Clare Dunne), who is losing her hearing, and who teaches Billy sign language; setting him on a collision course with his already troubled family…

Now then… where is this play set? Nina Raine wrote it for the Royal Court in 2010 and set it in North London. If you think of North London and argumentative Jewish intellectuals and wordsmiths like the Corens, Milibands, and Aaronovitches that makes perfect sense. Idly relocating Tribes to South County Dublin startles, just as idly relocating an Arthur Miller play from Brooklyn to Buncrana would startle. Tribes was not written in French like God of Carnage, so why did it need that relocation treatment? What next, Harold Pinter done as Roddy Doyle? And why was the relocation so incompletely rendered? Half the cast employ English accents for Blackrock, and Dunning mercilessly pillories people from the North by which he means Yorkshire. It is a meta-moment when characters express (appropriate) surprise Billy will be interviewed in the (foreign) Irish Times.

Dunning is magnificent. He so dominates proceedings that when Conor Murphy’s gleaming modernist kitchen reveals its outré surfaces to be a projection screen for surtitles it is with Dunning’s voice that you read the immortal line “Well, was I right or was I right about the deaf community?” The surtitles that allow us understand the sign language Billy and Sylvia fire at each other also, in Raine’s stroke of genius, express the body language and facial expressions of all. So that Beth, when Billy makes his stand to leave his family’s ‘bigotry’, worries “Why isn’t Billy saying anything?” and then “I feel like I’m in a Pinter play”, before sniping silently with her husband: “I feel completely unapologetic” “Yes, you’re good at that”.

 

I was one of few laughing uproariously at a half-empty matinee, and such sparse attendance was not a one-off for this “huge hit with audiences”. Has the Gate purposefully burnt off its old audience, only to find the new audience that wanted edgy original material instead was largely …imaginary?

4/5

November 8, 2017

This isn’t my Desk

At Large Theatre move up from Trinity’s Players Theatre to the considerably larger space of Smock Alley’s main stage for a purposefully baffling office satire.

 

Global Futures are hiring. What exactly Global Futures do is not clear. But they are hiring. And firing. Sometimes they get ahead of themselves, as when B (Darcy Donnellan) arrives in the office and nervously tries to find out what she should do from A (Alice ni Bheolain), only to disconcertingly find that she’s there to replace her, just as soon as Management (Maureen Rabbitt) throws her out of the building. New co-worker C (Ciaran Treanor) is completely unhelpful, locked as he is in a titanic struggle over regaining his rightful desk, Housekeeping (Dominik Domresonski, Sarah O’Farrell) are deliberately intrusive, but Documentation (Orla Devlin) is seductive and eternal. Well, mostly eternal, as a client visit signals a shake-up. Management begins to unspool completely under the stress, and only desperate measures, and intern seedlings can save the day.  Or maybe not.

Written and directed by Kate Cosgrave This isn’t my Desk almost serves as a bizarre and funny summation of a number of previous outings by these theatre-makers: Treanor’s role in The Trial, Donnellan’s turn in Nowhere Now, and artistic director Grainne Curistan’s own office satire The Meeting. There’s also a fleeting nod to Spike Jonze’s Her as B becomes enamoured of her documentation. I’m not going to pretend that I understood this play; my regular theatre cohort Fiachra MacNamara was equally unsure as to who exactly C’s poignant flashback monologues were about; but it really didn’t matter. Despite being frequently baffled I was always engaged and usually highly amused. Management’s climatic rant about her underlings was a comedic highlight to set beside C’s desk being downsized in a deft visual gag much to his subsequent emailed fury.

3/5

October 16, 2017

King Lear

The Mill Theatre returns to the Shakespearean well in autumn once again with a spirited production of Shakespeare’s bleakest tragedy.

Lear (Philip Judge) has decided to divide his kingdom between his three daughters. But, while sycophantic siblings Goneril (Sharon McCoy) and Regan (Maureen O’Connell) flatter him to get their rightful shares, his truth-telling daughter Cordelia (Clodagh Mooney Duggan) refuses to lie or exaggerate, enraging the vain Lear; and her share is thus split between her sisters’ husbands Cornwall (Fiach Kunz) and Albany (Damien Devaney). Cordelia leaves England sans dowry to become the Queen of France, and the steadfast courtier Kent (Matthew O’Brien) is banished for taking her part in the quarrel. He ‘disguises’ himself to serve Lear, while the scheming bastard Edmund (Michael David McKernan) uses the fraught situation to eliminate his legitimate brother Edgar (Tom Moran) from the line of succession to Gloucester (Damien Devaney again); exploiting the political chaos that Lear’s wise Fool (Clodagh Mooney Duggan again) foresaw…

There is a certain Game of Thrones vibe to this production, from Kent’s ‘disguise’ being a Yorkshire swagger, through the furry ruff of Lear’s greatcoat, to the stylised throne amidst three massive complicated spikes making a crown that dominates Gerard Bourke’s set design. This delivers an unexpected visual payoff when near the finale the villainous Edmund sits on the throne to lean on his sword; so close to possessing absolute power… Comparisons to Selina Cartmell’s 2013 Abbey production are inevitable as that trafficked in medieval visuals, but this production is considerably less expansive; no galleries and wolfhounds here. Director Geoff O’Keefe, however, avoids the muddled paganism Cartmell attempted. But, in a play already replete with disguises, he has doubled a number of parts; most startlingly Cordelia and the Fool being the same actress. That bold choice pays off, as do most of the doublings, though there is one silly wig.

O’Keefe doesn’t quite achieve anything as revelatory as Neill Fleming’s Claudius in last year’s Hamlet, but he adds interesting notes to multiple characters. The Fool is the apex of an uncommon commitment to the bawdiness of the play, and when CMD returns as Cordelia she holds a sword almost as a signal that she has been hardened by her exile; which makes her reunion with the mad Lear, when he finally recognises her, all the more tear-jerking. McCoy’s Goneril is more nuanced than the pantomime villain oft presented, her glances at Regan and Cordelia in the opening scene suggest a panicked resort to flattery and encouragement to her sisters to do likewise to humour a mad old man. O’Keefe perhaps overeggs her late asides to the audience being spot-lit, but McCoy grows into villainy impressively; aided by O’Connell’s novel rendering of Regan as daffy malice, and McKernan bringing out the black comedy of their love triangle as an Edmund cut from Richard III’s gloating cloth.

Judge is a notably conversational Lear in his ‘fast intent’ speech; his decision already made there is no need for pomp or majesty. This is a king in flight from majesty. Whereas previous Lears that I have seen, Owen Roe and Gerard Adlum, favoured camp notes for their madness, Judge’s Lear is childish; running, hiding behind benches, playing games with imaginary friends. His retreat from responsibility while wishing to still enjoy kingship is after all a retreat to childishness, and his shocking spit on Goneril is of a part with the spite of children. The madness on the heath is wonderfully achieved with Kris Mooney’s blue lights raking the audience while Declan Brennan’s sound effects swirl queasily. Judge’s descent into second childhood is expressed through sudden rage that almost outstrips language, perhaps the impulse for the sound design of screeching animals between scenes. In support Tom Ronayne is wonderful comic relief as a put upon servant, fussing over benches and defending himself with a cloth.

This is a fine production that has a number of interesting interpretations, and succeeds in pulling off the extreme ending which still remains the ultimate kick in the guts.

3.5/5

King Lear continues its run at the Mill Theatre until the 28th of October.

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