Talking Movies

August 16, 2017

Dublin Theatre Festival: 5 Plays

This is the 60th anniversary of the Dublin Theatre Festival, but this year’s programme is not very good; in fact it’s the weakest I can remember since I started paying attention back in 2007 and the 50th anniversary iteration when Druid presented James Cromwell in Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Tribes 28th September – October 14th Gate

English playwright Nina Raine’s acclaimed work about a deaf youngster’s emotional battles with his highly-strung family gets a puzzling relocation from Hampstead to Foxrock, as if Hampstead was in a faraway country of whose people we knew little. Fiona Bell, Clare Dunne, Nick Dunning, and Gavin Drea are among the familiar faces throwing around hyper-articulate insults while director Oonagh Murphy makes her Gate debut.

Melt 28th September – October 8th Smock Alley Theatre

Lynne Parker directs a new script by Shane Mac an Bhaird which has attracted an impressive cast of Owen Roe, Rebecca O’Mara, Roxanna Nic Liam, and Charlie Maher. Set in Antarctica it follows rogue Irish ecologist Boylan, his young colleague Cook, his love interest Dr Hansen (ex-wife of Boylan), and their discovery from a sub-glacial lake – Veba. Rough Magic promise a fairytale!

The Second Violinist October 2nd – October 8th O’Reilly Theatre

Composer Donnacha Dennehy and writer/director Enda Walsh reunite following their opera The Last Hotel with Crash Ensemble again providing the music, while the chorus of Wide Open Opera and actor Aaron Monaghan join the fun. Jamie Vartan again provides a set on which for 75 minutes physical madness of a presumably ineffable nature can play out, to a Renaissance choral backdrop.

Her Voice October 10th – October 11th Samuel Beckett Theatre

A Japanese riff on Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days sees Keiko Takeya and Togo Igawa directed by Makoto Sato; who has also designed the set and stripped away all the words from Beckett’s scripts save his numerous stage directions to get to a new kernel of the piece as Takeya conveys Winnie’s rambling monologues of memory purely through gesture and facial expression.

King of the Castle October 11th – October 15th Gaiety

Director Garry Hynes and frequent collaborators designer Francis O’Connor and lighting maestro James F. Ingalls tackle Eugene McCabe’s 1964 tale of rural jealousy. Sean McGinley’s Scober MacAdam lives in a Big House in Leitrim, with a large farm and young wife, played by Seana Kerslake. But their childless marriage sees rumours swirl amidst neighbours Marty Rea, John Olohan, and Bosco Hogan.

August 11, 2017

A Statue for Bill Clinton

Tom McEnery, former mayor of San Jose, turns playwright with a whimsical take on the locals of Ballybunion attempting to crash the news-cycle in 1998.

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Jackie Costello (John Olohan) is trying to put some hope back into Ballybunion, but the other members of the local civic Committee aren’t much help. John Joe (Frank O’Sullivan) wants a statue of the O’Rahilly, Shamie (Enda Kilroy) doesn’t care, Hannah (Joan Sheehy) is preoccupied waiting for a mystical island to rise, and local politician Austin (Damien Devaney) is more concerned with the cost of preserving the local ruined castle than with the prestige of preserving it. Local enigma Ted provides a solution, which, with the help of visiting emigrant Jimmy (Mark Fitzgerald), might be a real boost for Ballybunion. Dedicate a statue to Bill Clinton to lure the President into town for a game of golf beside Costello’s pub while visiting to celebrate the Good Friday Agreement’s adoption. The only objections come from Kathy (Liz Fitzgibbon), Jackie’s cynical daughter.

Watching A Statue for Bill Clinton is a disconcerting experience. Everything feels made for export: Irish characters in Ireland, as written by an American for Americans. Much quoting of Wilde, Shaw, Heaney amid analyses of Ireland, while can-do American spirit provides the answer to all ills. Not that how hoping that getting POTUS to do a photo-op will magically rejuvenate the town’s economy is ever interrogated as dubious ‘self-help’. The pub setting, returning emigrants, and dreams of success and idealism recall Conversations on a Homecoming and Kings of the Kilburn High Road. Which is unfortunate as it clearly does not aspire to their depth. But then despite billing itself as a true Irish comedy, it doesn’t attack the comedic jugular either. Instead Jackie speechifies hopefully and Kathy speechifies cynically on the motion of the superstitious backwardness of dear old Ireland.

Things pick up in the second half as the characters wince their way thru radio reports on the deepening Lewinsky scandal, and shenanigans abound with dodgy sculptors and mischievous local rivals. You wish that McEnery had either concentrated on this material from the beginning, or done another draft to trim some of the thematic posturing and deepen the characters. At times it feels like he’s 80% towards a successful script, if only he would make the economic homilies a little less on the nose, the relationship between Jimmy and Kathy a little less of a homage to that Irish theatrical trope from John Bull’s Other Island to Translations of the instant romance between the Irish girl and the arriving foreigner, and stop making 1998 quite so anachronistic: pretending the Church is all-powerful, while also anticipating the demise of the Tiger.

A Statue for Bill Clinton is enjoyable, but it’s not quite a comedy and it’s not quite a proper drama either.

2.75/5

A Statue for Bill Clinton continues its run at Belvedere College until the 13th of August.

July 31, 2016

Dublin Theatre Festival: 10 Plays

Tickets go on sale for the 2016 Dublin Theatre Festival at 10:00am on Tuesday August 16th. Here are 10 shows to keep an eye on.

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Helen & I 27th September – October 1st Civic Theatre

The great Annabelle Comyn decamps to Druid to direct an original script by newcomer Meadhbh McHugh. Rebecca O’Mara is the ‘I’, returning home to fence with older sister Helen (Cathy Belton) as their father lies dying. It’s always great when Druid tour, and hopefully this will be a return to form for Comyn after the bafflingly praised debacle of The Wake.

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream 28th September – October 1st Grand Canal

Sean Holmes, responsible for the recent, storming Plough & Stars in the Abbey, returns with co-director Stef O’Driscoll for a Shakespearean rampage. This looks to be very much a ‘This was not Chekhov’ production, but in the best sense, as the text is stripped down to 90 minutes, with live grunge band, nerf gun battle, and an epic food fight.

 

Don Giovanni 29th September – October 2nd Gaiety

Roddy Doyle has for some reason decided to update the libretto to Mozart’s opera about the womaniser par excellence. Eyebrows must be raised at the amount of ‘versions’ he’s doing versus original writing in recent years. Pan Pan’s Gavin Quinn will be directing, while Sinead McKenna follows up her acclaimed diabolist lighting design for The Gigli Concert’s finale with some bona fide operatics.

 

The Father 29th September – October 15th Gate

Just when Michael Colgan had lurched into self-parody by programming The Constant Wife he conjures an ace from nowhere: a piece of new writing from France that has swept all before it on Broadway and Piccadilly. Ethan McSweeney directs Owen Roe as a man suffering from Alzheimer’s, while the supporting cast includes Peter Gaynor and Charlotte McCurry, and Francis O’Connor is set designer.

 

Guerilla 30th September – October 2nd Project Arts Centre

It wouldn’t be a festival without some fellow PIIGS getting bolshy about neo-liberalism, the failure of Europe, and the age of austerity. This year it’s El Conde de Torrefiel company from Spain, presenting the confused inner universe of a group of people inhabiting the same city and collective consciousness, represented by projected text over an electronica concert, Tai Chi class, and conference.

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Death at Intervals 4th October – October 8th Smock Alley

Trailing clouds of glory from its Galway premiere comes an adaptation of Jose Saramango’s novel directed by Kellie Hughes. Olwen Fouere is the grim reaper in retirement, accompanied by her faithful musician Raymond Scannell. Death likes to dance too. A mixture of music, theatre, and dance, with Scannell also co-composing with Alma Kelliher; but he did also compose Alice in Funderland

 

Alien Documentary 4th October – October 8th Project Arts Centre

I’ve read this production’s pitch repeatedly and I’m damned if I can figure out what it is. Director Una McKevitt is apparently mixing transcriptions of real people’s conversations with invented dialogues of her own imagining, so that’s her writing credit sorted. But what exactly is this show? PJ Gallagher, James Scales, and Molly O’Mahony having unconnected deep/comic conversations for 90 minutes?

 

The Seagull 5th October – 16th October Gaiety

Writer Michael West and director Annie Ryan together fashion a modern version of Chekhov’s tale of unrequited loves starring the oft-Fassbendering Derbhle Crotty as well as Genevieve Hulme-Beaman who shone in support in the Abbey’s You Never Can Tell. But will this Corn Exchange production be as hit and miss as their version of Desire Under the Elms that severely downsized O’Neill’s ambition?

 

Donegal 6th October – 15th October Abbey

Frank McGuinness’s new musical/play with music/musical play sounds unfortunately like a pilot for the Irish version of Nashville, as a fading country music star is threatened by a new talent she must curry favour with for her own survival. Director Conall Morrison specialises in exuberance, and grand dames Deirdre Donnelly and Eleanor Methven appear beside Once’s Megan Riordan, but can McGuinness make a comeback?

 

First Love 12th October – 16th October O’Reilly Theatre

Reminding us why he was important before the age of austerity Michael Colgan directs Gate stalwart Barry McGovern in a solo Beckett outing. This time they head up the road to Belvedere College for a Beckett novella turned into a one-man show about a rather existentialist-sounding refusal of a man to fall in love with a woman who’s in love with him.

October 9, 2015

The Cherry Orchard

Belgian company tg STAN bring a revelatory, fourth-wall crumbling production of The Cherry Orchard to the Dublin Theatre Festival.

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Widower Lyuba (Jolente De Keersmaeker) is returning home to her Russian estate after five years in Paris. She and daughter Anya (Evelien Bosmans) find that Lyuba’s brother Leonid (Robby Cleiren) and her adopted daughter Varya (Evgenia Brendes) have been unable to keep up interest payments on the estate’s mortgage. The spendthrift family is in danger of being evicted, despite the sensible, if heartless, advice offered by millionaire entrepreneur Lopakhin (Frank Vercruyssen) to cut down the trees and lease the land for summerhouses. But there is little hope of anything sensible being done in this house. If Leonid isn’t playing imaginary games of billiards or eulogising bookcases, then Lyuba is tearing up letters from her lover and, inspired by the return of Petya (Lukas De Wolf); her drowned son’s tutor; lamenting that it’s all a punishment from God for her misdeeds.

If you wish Chekhov to be presented in splendid costumes with elaborate sets and subtle naturalistic lighting, then this is not Chekhov. The ball in the background of the action in Act Three is a party scored by Belgian house music that frequently becomes a mesmerising foreground. The dawn breaking in Act One is achieved by Stijn Van Opstal removing filters from lights visible behind some moveable scenery, and informing the audience ‘It’s the sun rising’. Van Opstal also offers members of the front row a bottle of water at the start of Act Three as he puts out water for the house party in his capacity as aged servant Firs. He also plays Master Mishap, Semyon, a dual role he informs us of with ‘A change of shoes, a change of shirt, oh, and yes, a change of character’.

The Cherry Orchard as presented by tg STAN may be construed as Chekhov via Bertolt Brecht via Groucho Marx. The fourth wall is a moveable feast. Van Opstal literally winks at the audience. When one person laughed at a tender line between Petya and Lyuba both actors turned to look for that person in the audience to raise their eyebrows at them. This is tremendous fun, and a not unreasonable response to Chekhov’s anarchic script. It also makes supporting players like drunken neighbour Boris (Bert Haelvoet) and governess/magician Sharlotta (Minke Kruyver) incredibly memorable. Indeed it will be almost impossible not to hold Kruyver’s still, wry performance as the resigned, witty drifter dressed in New Romantic garb as the benchmark when next encountering the character. Emphasising the ensemble in this way also amplifies Chekhov’s pathos by highlighting the characters’ shared haplessness.

This stands beside 2009’s Three Sisters and 2012’s The Select: The Sun Also Rises as a production which will forever affect the way you think about a classic work.

5/5

The Cherry Orchard continues its run at Belvedere College until the 10th of October.

October 6, 2015

The Last Hotel

Playwright and screenwriter Enda Walsh adds another string to his bow with his first libretto, the opera being scored by his Misterman collaborator Donnacha Dennehy.

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Mikel Murfi’s silent hotel porter cares for a ramshackle two-star hotel. At least it’s ramshackle from what we see in Jamie Vartan’s set, which impressively fills the Belvedere College stage; a canted platform surrounded by the detritus of hotel cleaning and catering, with a series of ad hoc handholds to one side for Murfi to shin up the back wall to his tiny bedroom above the stage. From that perch he notices with horror a bloodstain on the platform and descends to clean it up. This cleaning their room is what holds up the opera’s characters: Soprano Claudia Boyle’s Irishwoman who cheerfully greets an English couple; baritone Robin Adams and his sullen wife, soprano Katherine Manley. Adams helped Boyle at an event; she’d underestimated the amount of wine that would be drunk; so she’s turned to him for darker help…

Walsh’s libretto isn’t quite as outré as his plays, but it’s still recognisably his world. Adams and Manley have been hired to murder Boyle with a gas canister, a plastic bag, and some rope to make it fast. Manley is reluctant, and sings sadly of her husband’s emotional distance from her. Adams, however, extols the joys of hotel food; “People tend to pile the plate, but not me, I respect the buffet”; exults in the extension Boyle’s blood money will finance; “A kitchen of substantial size”; and scolds Murfi over his lack of hygiene in preparing mashed potatoes. Boyle seems to be suicidal because her teenage daughter is moody, or because everyone’s always looking to her for leadership; pretty flimsy reasons for checking out. But in this strangely haunted last hotel, as Manley chillingly predicts, no one can ever leave.

Walsh also directs, which means not only showcasing Murfi’s physical acting and creating an elevator from spotlighting a square light and having Crash Ensemble play muzak, but also, after recent bafflingly squib-free stabbings in A View from the Bridge and By the Bog of Cats, that blood is properly spilt when Adams and Murfi have an altercation. It’s harder to judge Dennehy’s contribution. Nobody’s going to mistake this for a Verdi score, and yet, while plenty atonal, it’s not Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire either. The most unsettling moments, especially the climax, are driven by jagged, frenzied strings that almost combine Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Herrmann’s Psycho. The prominent use of piano, flute, and xylophone gives an unusual texture to the music, while there are definite touches of Philip Glass in the minimalist repetition that Dennehy often uses to underpin arias.

The Last Hotel is a qualified success. It’s certainly an interesting meeting of minds between Enda Walsh and Landmark Productions and the other cultural world of Wide Open Opera.

3/5

December 1, 2012

The Select: The Sun Also Rises

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Hemingway’s first novel was transformed at Belvedere College into one of the highlights of the Dublin Theatre Festival by New York troupe Elevator Repair Service.
 
Hemingway’s picaresque tale of America’s ‘Lost Generation’ carousing aimlessly around 1920s Paris and Spain was vividly brought to life within an impressively detailed set of The Select bar where these expats spend so much time drinking. Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson) is our narrator, a maimed war-hero now earning a living as a writer. Jake spends his days drinking with his quasi-friend Robert Cohn (Matt Tierney) and Cohn’s verbally abusive girlfriend Frances (Kate Scelsa), and flirting ineffectually with native women (Kaneza Schall), but life becomes far more complicated for all these characters when Lady Brett Ashley (Lucy Taylor) breezes back into town… Jake is hopelessly in love with Brett, but his war-wound renders him impotent, and so, in one of literature’s most heartbreaking thwarted romances, Brett, despite being truly in love with only Jake, turns to many men to do for her the one thing he can’t. Her impending marriage to fellow rich Briton Mike Campbell (Pete Simpson) might perhaps stop her wandering eye but in the meantime she gets entangled with Cohn, which ensures a very tense visit to Pamplona for the Fiesta for the entire expat group; including Jake’s sardonic, macho, shooting and fishing friend Bill Gorton (Ben Williams).
 
This show put the other high-profile adaptation Dubliners to shame. Director John Collins begins with Jake’s casual narration straight to the audience, and then strips it away to stage dialogue scenes that use sound effects to conjure what cannot be staged, with the narration used for comic effect as Jake comments on conversations from within or for scene-setting until the climactic bullfight when, deliriously, a sports microphone appears as Jake and Brett sit together commentating using Hemingway’s narration as the star bullfighter takes on an intimidating bull; which is a table with horns being dashed about the stage by Ben Williams stomping the ground. The sound effects are truly spectacular, whether it’s glasses that don’t touch clinking together, a man stepping away from a typewriter which continues typing and when he announces in response to a question that he’s finished rings the end of a page, to the sloshing of the endless booze drunk by the characters, the lapping water and splashes of struggling fish in a pastoral idyll, and the roar of cheering and animalistic grunting from the bullfight. Small wonder that once Cohn’s role is finished Tierney stays on stage so we see him operate the live sound-work.
 
But this is theatricality that illuminates the novel. The dance to what would have been the catchiest song on the Continent in 1926, which continually interrupts the conversation between Brett, Jake and the Count (Vin Knight), is both a delight of ensemble choreography and encapsulates the frustrating allure of Brett; a moving target of a romantic lead who can’t be tied down by any man. Taylor’s Brett, all short blonde hair, clipped accent, and passionate recklessness, is well nigh definitive, while Iveson is immensely sympathetic and charismatic as Jake. In support in the first act Kate Scelso plays the Ugly American stereotype with astonishing gusto in a lengthy harangue. I didn’t remember Bill being a funny character, but Ben William’s performance was so modern that it was compared to Sam Rockwell and Will Arnett by my companions. Williams only features in the second act but he finds the sardonic humour and hidden tenderness in Hemingway’s declarative hardness, the highlight being his deadpan questioning of a telegram in Spanish – “What does the word Cohn mean?” The entire ensemble excelled though, not least in the amazing Fiesta sequence of pulsating lights, mass shuddering primal dance, and furious ecstatic noise; including Simpson drumming thunderously on a chair. But for all the triumphant sound and fury that created Pamplona’s excitement the heart of the play comes with lighting reduced to mere spots on Jake and Brett as they whisper their agonising unrequitable love for each other – an astonishingly intimate ending for such an expansive and exuberant play.
 
I had to read The Sun Also Rises for a course, which is always a good way to ruin a novel, but this production was so electric it’s actually forced me to re-evaluate and increase my estimation of Hemingway…
 
5/5

October 11, 2011

Peer Gynt

Director Lynne Parker follows last year’s misfiring Phaedra with another deeply frustrating combination of theatre and live music…

Arthur Riordan’s rhymed version of Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 farewell to verse drama is underscored by a constant live soundtrack from traditional/jazz quintet Tarab which renders his script as bad rap at its worst and good beat poetry at its best. Talking Movies’ favourite Rory Nolan is our hero Peer Gynt, incarcerated in a lunatic asylum for his Baron Munchausen tendencies, but who continues to spins yarns of his adventures (which are oddly identical to heroic Norwegian folklore) to the disdain of inmates and staff alike. Riordan’s script never addresses this set-up directly though, it’s all only suggested by the costumes. John Comiskey follows last year’s massive stainless steel set with tunnels, narrow windows and video screens for Phaedra with an imposing, stately lunatic asylum set designed with Alan Farquharson. It is equally irrelevant as the characters largely stalk up and down the narrow playing space imagining, and inhabiting, outdoor locations.

Three hours is a hefty running time for a misfiring production, but hysterically the longer second half is far better as it largely dispenses with the conceits that sink the first half. There are only two scenes that work brilliantly in the 75 minute first half, the first and last. Peer’s opening account of chasing a deer thrillingly uses the rhythm of verse and music to conjure up a vivid hunt complete with a hilarious fabulist anti-climax, while his comforting of his dying mother Aase (Karden Ardiff) with a recreation of a childhood fantasy she told him is genuinely tear-jerking. Everything in between doesn’t work. Hilary O’Shaughnessy is too arch for her own good as runaway bride Ingrid, and the slapstick comedy Trolls are merely pointlessly silly. It all leaves you thinking Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite is a better adaptation. The best moments come later on when Tarab’s music stops.

Silence allows the 90 minute second half to begin with hilarious sequences of Nolan and Co discussing demented imperialist plans in half-British accents, before Peer becomes a false prophet, leading to a wonderful sequence in a Cairo lunatic asylum. These sequences, jam-packed with quick costume changes and absurdist props, see Will O’Connell display great comedic flair across multiple roles, before delivering a powerful eulogy at a draft-dodger’s funeral. Fergal McElherron and Peter Daly have their best moments in their smallest roles as the Devil and the Button Moulder, one rejecting Peer for not having sinned enough, the other condemning him to Purgatory for never truly having been himself. Sarah Greene is again scene-stealing, moving wonderfully between the demure Solveig, whose unshakeable love for Peer may yet save him, and an Egyptian dancing-girl alter-ego. Riordan half-attempts to Hibernicise Ibsen but never makes the obvious link to Translations, that escaping material poverty by imaginative fantasy can be equally imprisoning. His script, in its vagueness and prioritisation of rhyme, ultimately resembles Peer’s famous peeling of the onion that symbolises his fabulist personality – no core.

This is slightly better than Phaedra, but Seneca, Racine and Ibsen aren’t to blame when a classic play doesn’t work. Rough Magic’s insertion of pointless live music into half-updated scripts performed on extravagant but irrelevant sets has disappointed two years in a row. Henceforth, this Rough Magic I here abjure…

2.75/5

Peer Gynt continues its run at Belvedere College until October 16th.

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