Talking Movies

May 16, 2018

RIP Tom Murphy

I attended Dancing at Lughnasa at the 2015 Dublin Theatre Festival mere days after the death of Brian Friel. That production served almost as a wake, and Graham Price and I mused then that Tom Murphy was now Ireland’s greatest living playwright. Alas, now he is taken from us too.

I studied The Gigli Concert for my MA in Anglo-Irish Literature & Drama. I didn’t really get it, nor did I think that, despite patches of undoubted brilliance, it really worked overall. Only for Frank McGuinness to pronounce that often Murphy’s work didn’t read very well, it had to be performed to really come alive. I remember scratching my head at the time about that. My unspoken objection was: how would you ever know something was worth performing if you had to perform it first to see its quality? Frank McGuinness, of course, knew best. 2012 saw a feast of Murphy on the Dublin stage and I reviewed three of those productions here. First out of the blocks was Annabelle Comyn’s revival of The House, which dripped Chekhov, and a savagery in characterisation and theme when tackling emigration. But savagery in Murphy hit its high water-mark at the very beginning with A Whistle in the Dark, which formed part of DruidMurphy’s repertory at the Dublin Theatre Festival. The primal violence of A Whistle in the Dark brutalised the Gaiety’s substantial capacity into a stunned silence. It still remains one of my most vivid theatrical memories. And then, in a marvel of repertory, the same cast turned their hands to the serious comedy Conversations on a Homecoming; with Rory Nolan and Garrett Lombard morphing from the two scariest brothers in Whistle to an amiable duffer and the village intellectual scrapper respectively.

Druid returned to the Murphy well for a striking production of Bailegangaire a couple of years later. President Michael D Higgins was in attendance when I saw it with Graham Price and Tom Walker who summed it up perfectly as ‘Happy Days as Irish kitchen sink drama’. It is startling to think in retrospect that Murphy’s classic was packing out the Gaiety, when it represented such a collision of the avant-garde with the popular mainstream. When the Gate finally broke its duck and presented The Gigli Concert as its first foray into Murphy’s oeuvre the same thing happened: packed audiences, to the extent that the play was brought back for a second run. Graham Price reviewed it on the second run, to add a corrective to what he felt was my insufficiently admiring review from the first time round. I realised that it did work better in performance than it read, but still didn’t think it was the ne plus ultra of Irish drama. And then I ended my belated exploration of Murphy’s work where I began, with Annabelle Comyn directing on the Abbey stage in the summer. But The Wake was a very different proposition than The House.  Comyn threw practically every Bat-tool in the director’s utility belt at it but Murphy’s rambling script proved ungovernable. But for all that there was still much brilliance shining thru the wreckage. Not bad for a play written in his early sixties.

I have a personal hit-list of key Murphy plays left to see: A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant, The Morning after Optimism, and The Sanctuary Lamp. Now, whether anyone other than Druid will put them on in this current cultural climate is sadly quite another matter.

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/the-house/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/a-whistle-in-the-dark/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/conversations-on-a-homecoming/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/bailegangaire/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/the-gigli-concert/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/the-gigli-concert-3/

https://fergalcasey.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/the-wake/

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November 29, 2017

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

August 24, 2017

Arlington

Enda Walsh’s latest play hit the Abbey stage, a transfer from Galway Arts Festival, and provoked walkouts from people who just don’t do interpretive dance.

 

Isla (Charlie Murphy) is an institution, it seems. The stage is a vast room of sterile white walls with the odd potted plant and high windows. And to one side, visible to us but hidden from her by a wall, is Hugh O’Conor. He is the new psychiatrist or gaoler or interrogator in a pokey office filled with monitors and equipment with an unfortunate habit of going on fire. They talk through microphone and speaker, and then suddenly Murphy is freed. But then O’Conor takes her place, bloodied and beaten, unsure what he did wrong. We are equally unsure, and also as to what happened to his predecessor, or what post-apocalyptic solution to humanity’s violent impulses this sterile room and the video projections of meanderings through forests are meant to represent, or the meaning of Oona Doherty’s lengthy solo dance.

Enda Walsh is getting vaguer and vaguer, even as he’s becoming ever more extravagant with his staging. If Ballyturk was an abstracted rewrite of The Walworth Farce, but with added prop destruction and unexpectedly expansive set design, then this is even more puzzling, but even more extraordinary in its use of space. There is something wonderful about the sheer extravagance of filling most of the Abbey’s canvas with blank space, and focusing all the action on a tiny corner where two people separated by a wall talk to each other. Except that for a significant portion of the just about 90 minute running time the floor is held by Doherty performing Emma Martin’s choreography. And, having previously praised The Cherry Orchard and The Select: The Sun Also Rises, I realised suddenly that what I loved was their choreography en masse.

As my regular theatre cohort Graham Price and I discussed afterwards, perhaps instead of running straight thru the 90 minutes there should have been an interval at the very obvious curtain point to facilitate people who don’t like dance, with a later call to put down your G&Ts because “Charlie Murphy will be re-taking the stage in 5 minutes”. As it was some people simply got up and walked out, no longer willing to wait hopefully for the ticket machine on stage to dispense dialogue at some unspecified point in the future. O’Conor brought a wealth of comic tics and Murphy was winningly naive and curious but they were dwarfed, first by Jamie Vartan’s set, and then by the crushing feeling that this was a meditation on weighty but ill-defined themes as empty as the fish tank on the stage.

Enda Walsh’s work has been getting steadily more abstracted, but this may represent the tipping point where he literally loses interest in ‘play’-writing in favour of exploring other media.

2.75/5

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.

November 30, 2016

Helen & I

Druid returned to the Dublin Theatre Festival with a heavyweight cast and director tackling a new play by Meadhbh McHugh.

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Helen is Cathy Belton, and the ‘I’ is Rebecca O’Mara’s Lynne; who we first meet nervously plastering on make-up in the kitchen where she is waiting to meet her estranged sister as they keep a vigil over their dying father. Their nervous rapprochement is complicated by the arrival first of Lynne’s husband Tony (Paul Hickey), and then Helen’s daughter Evvy (Seána O’Hanlon’s).

This feels in thrall to Tom Murphy’s ouevre, most particularly the paralysing grip of the past which can simultaneously not be acknowledged in Bailegangaire, but never truly catches fire. Perhaps it was an unfortunate coincidence of casting that led to an unwarranted feeling of a perfectly good play not quite achieving the heights of greatness: Belton and O’Mara having previously played estranged sisters keeping a vigil over their dying father in Aristocrats at the Abbey in 2014.

Belton dominates the stage, conveying the emotional meltdown Helen endures in a sweltering Galway summer, but this feels like it could have been more than it is.

3/5

The Father

The Gate Theatre’s contribution to the Dublin Theatre Festival was the Irish premiere of Florian Zeller’s acclaimed play, in a spare translation by Christopher Hampton.

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4/5

November 6, 2016

The Seagull

Corn Exchange took over the Gaiety for a flagship show of the Dublin Theatre Festival; Anton Chekhov’s first masterpiece, The Seagull, in a new version.

seagull

The impecunious teacher Semyon (Stephen Mullan) loves the sullen housekeeper’s daughter Masha (Imogen Doel), who loves the temperamental young artist Constance (Jane McGrath), who loves the flighty girl next door Nina (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman), who loves the cynical famous writer Trigorin (Rory Keenan), who is the lover of the self-absorbed great actress Arkadina (Derbhle Crotty), who had an affair with the dashing doctor Dorn (Louis Lovett), who the downtrodden housekeeper Polina (Anna Healy) still loves after all these years by the lake. No wonder the master of this chaotic Russian household, Sorin (Stephen Brennan), feels that he has never truly lived in his 60 years because he never got married or became an artist but ground away in the government bureaucracy till he had ground himself down. But grinding people down is what life does, as Constance and Nina painfully discover…

Eto Ne Chekhov.

When a company tweaks the work of Joyce, O’Neill, and Chekhov in successive festivals, and in each instance produces a misfiring production, the fault must lie with the company.

1.5/5

October 3, 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Director Sean Holmes returns to the Dublin after his bold version of The Plough and the Stars some months back, but this show seems to indicate he was on his very best behaviour for that…

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The implacable Duke of Athens Theseus (Harry Jardine) is distracted from his upcoming nuptials to Hippolyta (Cat Simmons) by romantic problems in his court, specifically the complaint of Egeus (Ferdy Roberts) that Lysander (John Lightbody) has wooed his daughter Hermia, despite Egeus sanctioning her betrothal to Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander run away to the forest beyond the writ of Theseus, but a jealous Helen (Clare Dunne) betrays her erstwhile friend Hermia by telling Demetrius of this deception. As the four lovers stumble thru the forest they fall foul of the machinations of quarrelling fairy royal couple, Oberon and Titania (Jardine and Simmons again). Oberon, aided by his faithful spirit Puck (Roberts again), amuses himself toying with the mortals’ affections, and humiliates his Queen into the bargain by making her fall in love with Bottom (Fergus O’Donnell), transformed into a donkey.

Well, that’s the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Holmes and co-director Stef O’Driscoll don’t seem to have much interest in that. Instead the focus is on Ed Gaughan as Peter Quince, Fergus O’Donnell as Bottom, and Keith De Barra as Keith the gentlest drummer in Wicklow three years running – aka The Mechanicals. Who doesn’t love a high concept ditched at the first sign of trouble? Well, I don’t when a large portion of the running time is spent in setting up the conceit that O’Donnell is a Mancunian musician stepping in from the audience to keep the show going after we’ve been told guest star Brendan Gleeson is trapped in a lift and can’t play Bottom so the show can’t go on, and that concept then fades into air, thin air, after generating too much ‘meta-fiction’ hot air.

To paraphrase GK Chesterton, I will not say that what occurred at the Grand Canal Theatre the other night was a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but rather a mixture of stand-up comedy, slapstick nonsense, sub-D’Unbelievables audience interaction, and musical numbers, into which iambs from A Midsummer Night’s Dream were introduced from time to time with a decent show of regularity. If, like Blackadder, you cannot find comedy in Shakespeare’s comedies, you don’t have to do them; you can do something else instead, maybe something that’s more your cup of tea, like Noises Off. I gave tgSTAN’s Cherry Orchard and Holmes’ Plough & Stars enthusiastic standing ovations, but I did not stand and clap this, because to deliver a bold and vibrant interpretation of a classic it is first necessary to engage with the actual text of the classic.

Cat Simmons was magnificently cast as Titania, someday I hope to see her perform the role in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

2.5/5

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.

December 5, 2015

Enjoy

The work of Rough Magic SEEDS participants Zoe Ni Riordain and Cait Corkery is showcased at the Project Arts Centre in this off-beat Japanese story.

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I’ll freely admit defeat in being able to remember the character names, but I’m in good company; the New York Times gave up on them too. There are three older workers in a comic-book cafe in downtown Tokyo (Gerard O’Keefe, Dylan Coburn Gray, John Doran). Two of them are in crisis because a new part-time worker (Ashley Xie) is dating the other member of their Gen X trio. And this girl is only 22. Which blows their minds. The younger workers at the store (Emmet Byrne, Daryl McCormack) don’t care that much, they’re more concerned about one of the Gen Xers melting down at them for their treatment of a homeless guy trying to shuffle into the store. And that’s a whole other story, involving that Gen Xer and his thirtysomething girlfriend (Erica Murray) breaking up with no small bitterness.

It’s kind of hard to keep track of the characters anyway, as playwright Toshiki Okada (translated by Aya Ogawa) mischievously has them narrate what other people say and conduct dialogue on someone else’s behalf to the point where you can momentarily forget whether or not someone is speaking as themselves. And that’s before you add in the disconcerting pre-recorded voiceover of the character’s thoughts which the actors loop into onstage. It’s quasi-reminiscent of Neutral Hero at the 2013 Theatre Festival, down to the long monotone pastiche Bret Easton Ellis narrations; but this is far livelier. John Doran’s long drones are played for huge laughs, his ability to keep going on nigh-endless tangent-heavy qualification-ridden over-elaborate interrogations of the simplest of actions like a Pinter character mashed up with Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim spectacular. Oh, plus the third act is largely karaoke.

Dylan Coburn Gray seemed on the brink of corpsing, hardly surprising given that he had to perform lyrics about mundane blanking by old friends to ‘With or Without You’ and societal pressure to ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby,’ but his was the stand-out performance as the most complicated Gen Xer. Alongside Murray and Breffni Holohan he imparted a growing emotional charge to the karaoke as ‘Someone Like You’ sound-tracked a brutal break-up injunction to just die already, before he revealed his character’s fear of the future. Corkery’s set sadly eschews any comic-book touches, but her costume designs delineate the characters’ attitudes: sharpness for the thirtysomething women, sober matching colours for the twentysomething men, and hipster colour clashes for the Gen Xers. Numerous flubbed lines suggest Ni Riordain could’ve used more rehearsals, but it also made the Cube feel like Dramsoc.

UCD Dramsoc at its best, in the old LG space, a clique of people passionate about theatre crowded into an over-heated cauldron to see a production give it everything.

3.5/5

Enjoy continues its run at Project Arts Centre until the 5th of December

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