Talking Movies

June 27, 2017

June

New company Gorgeous Theatre launch with an almost entirely wordless production in the intimate surroundings of Trinity College’s Players Theatre.

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Bob (Noel Cahill) meets Alice (Helen McGrath). They hit it off, and from a romance that begins with childish enthusiasm they plan to go on a holiday away together in high summer. What could be more fun than swimming and building sand castles? But there’s something odd surrounding their preparations. Alice thinks she hears someone outside their door while they’re packing, but when Bob heroically leaps out with a knife to confront the lurking menace, there’s nobody there. But the enigmatic June (Emma Brennan) is indeed waiting, smoking, observing, manipulating, and getting ready to start interfering with gusto. Because far from being an innocent getaway for two, June insinuates herself, by ‘accident’, into their beach vacation, and soon the simple holiday is taking a distinct detour into surreal seductions in the vein of Pasolini’s Teorema or the Rocky Horror Show.

My regular theatre cohort Fiachra MacNamara confirmed the soundness of my initial flashbacks to the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe show The Ladder and the Moon, devised by Nessa Matthews, Ian Toner, and Eoghan Carrick. The mime of childish enthusiasm and romance was very similar, and may perhaps be inevitable when you try to convey such sentiments physically, but June is longer, darker, and more interested in the use of music than The Ladder and the Moon. There are indeed entire sequences set to music, like the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s ‘Take Five’ or Jens Lekman’s ‘Black Cab’, that veer almost from physical theatre to pure interpretive dance. Which is a bold move for a new company’s first show, given that people unapologetically walked out of Arlington at the Abbey recently; almost physically and ironically conveying the idea “I don’t do interpretive dance.”

Given this importance of music it should be no surprise there’s an almost Lynchian change in the soundtrack as the play progresses; a sunny, upbeat soundscape of Cliff Richard and Dave Brubeck is replaced by the moodiness of (perhaps) Chet Baker and the starkness of the Pixies’ ‘Hey’. Who is June? What is June? Daniel O’Brien’s story is more interested in raising questions like that than answering them, and director Ciaran Treanor plays on the contrast between June’s angelic white costume and her frequent disappearances into black space with a lit cigarette revealing her presence like a demonic eye. All of a part with the totemic but ambiguous action figures representing Bob and Alice. Cahill and McGrath perform some spectacular pratfalls in their energetic turns, and there is a delirious moment where melancholy music is actually revealed to be from a portable radio.

June is not going to appeal to everyone, but it is endearing throughout, with all three actors clearly giving it their all, and veers into unexpected territory right up to its ambiguous ending.

3/5

August 22, 2015

Bob and Judy

Gerard Adlum and Nessa Matthews were strangers meeting on an apocalyptic night in Bob and Judy, the second instalment of Fast Intent’s Theatre Upstairs residency.

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A chair, a tangled tree, and a temperamental radio form Katie Foley’s set for this tale of a simple package delivery that turns into an unlikely existential crisis, on personal and global levels. Bob (Gerard Adlum) is a delivery man for Science World who ambles into a back garden in his innocuous but dogged way to get Judy (Nessa Matthews) to sign for a package. But Judy is absolutely insistent that she does not want any package, and when she discovers to her horror that said package contains a telescope; a birthday present from her late mother, ordered months before; she tries to return it. But Bob isn’t about to let his professional reputation be impugned, and, as they bicker and bond, the tragic circumstances of both their lives emerge while the radio bears news of an unusual interstellar wonder.

Bob and Judy is scripted by Adlum from a story devised by the company (Adlum, Matthews, Sarah Finlay), and directed by Finlay. There’s a touch of John Wyndham’s off-kilter approach to sci-fi in how the heavenly aberrations impact tangentially on a more important earthly conflict between two people. Bob is played by Adlum as a study in defeat, hiding his disappointment with his life (and his guilt) behind a facade of mundane efficiency. Judy is more problematic. Her past, in one line of dialogue, seems akin to Jennifer Lawrence’s in Silver Linings Playbook, and her interactions with the harmless Bob seem at times excessively aggressive, almost shrill. Admittedly this is due to an effect of the cosmic phenomenon; heightening emotions; as the radio informs us. But does Bob & Judy’s story really need that entire strand of sci-fi at all?

There’s odd cultural confusion at work from deliveries by Science World to Judy’s hostility to her mother’s mores to Morgan Jones’ American newscaster voice announcing doom; a sense in which this seems a mash-up of the details of small-town America and rural Ireland, as if the company doing a reading of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries last year had unconsciously informed their devising. And while Eoghan Carrick’s lighting and Dylan Tonge Jones’ sound design are impressive in creating impending destruction from the stars it’s arguable whether that strand is necessary when the real crux of the play is Bob and Judy’s emotional journey. The sci-fi maguffin almost feels like JJ Abrams’ Super 8 gambit, a writing short-cut to catharsis. And the writing doesn’t need shortcuts, as, whether rendering childhood word-games or a spectacular argument about dinosaurs, it’s touching and hilarious.

Bob and Judy is an interesting play, filled with great dialogue, but invoking our insignificant place in the universe arguably uses a philosophical sledgehammer to crack a dramatic nut.

3/5

June 18, 2015

The Irish Dramatic Revival 1899-1939

I was lucky enough last night to attend the launch in the Abbey theatre of Professor Anthony Roche’s latest book The Irish Dramatic Revival 1899-1939.

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Professor Patrick Lonergan of NUIG, who edited the book for Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, gave a generous introductory speech; noting as an undergraduate in UCD in 1993 he had been struck by the way Roche presented his lectures as if he’d just rushed from a good play either in the Gate or in UCD Dramsoc’s LG theatre and was eager to tell his students about it so they could experience it too. Indeed Lonergan claimed that he remembered lectures Roche gave then more vividly than lectures he’d heard in the last month. Roche’s interest in, and support for, UCD Dramsoc was attested to by the presence of former students Caitriona Ennis, Caitriona Daly, and Eoghan Carrick, now rising stars of the Dublin theatre scene as the founding members of We Get High On This theatre company.

Fiach Mac Conghail, the artistic director of the Abbey, praised Roche for inscribing performance into the study of the Revival. Yeats may have prioritised a literary theatre, but he still needed actors to speak his words, and Mac Conghail noted that without the Fay brothers and the Allgood sisters the early Abbey would not have succeeded. He also noted that Roche had a telling eye for gossip in detailing the power struggles by which Yeats managed to subvert a democracy of actors and writers, and instead form a smaller unit; centred on himself; who decided what plays to perform and who to cast in them. Mac Conghail observed that questions of art and commerce as were laid bare in the book still beset the current Abbey board, and that the duality of the theatre was captured by the term ‘show-business’.

Mac Conghail also praised Roche for matching his prioritisation of the collaborative nature of the Abbey repertory players and the Abbey writer/directors with a reinstatement of the influence on the Abbey writers, particularly JM Synge and Sean O’Casey, of Henrik Ibsen; a reinstatement practised in the Abbey’s current season which deliberately followed a new version of Hedda Gabler with a revival of The Shadow of a Gunman. Mac Conghail also promised that Shaw would return to the Abbey at Christmas (Which Shaw? Wait and See), and praised the work done by Roche, as well as Frank McGuinness, in writing Shaw back into the narrative of the Revival; ‘The Absent Presence’ as Roche’s chapter dubs him. Roche launched the book officially by noting that Bloomsbury’s offer to write a book accessible to general audiences gave him a chance he’d been waiting for – to tell the long narrative of the theatrical Revival.

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Director Patrick Mason and Prof. Tony Roche

The Irish Dramatic Revival: 1899-1939 by Professor Anthony Roche is published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.

May 26, 2014

Fast Intent presents Zelda

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Before she was Zelda Fitzgerald, she was Zelda Sayre. Before she was a Riviera socialite, she was a Southern belle. Before she was F Scott’s crazy tormentor, she was his beloved muse. And both personae are explored in Eddie Naughton’s new play, Zelda, based on Zelda’s life and own writings.

I’ve been poring over Blake Bailey’s biography of Richard Yates (A Tragic Honesty) again recently, and was struck by the notion that Yates had modelled himself so much on the doomed F Scott as a writer that his entire life started to slide into equal drink-fuelled catastrophe. Yates, of course, was compounding his own mental illness with drinking that erased his medication’s benefit; and Zelda’s own slide into madness was not dissimilar. But there’s another striking note in Bailey’s book; the idea that every writer has some essential tale to tell, that can be disguised in any number of interesting ways – but will always be at the core of their best work. For F Scott, that was his love for the unattainable Zelda; and The Great Gatsby was F Scott spinning out that epic romance into a piercing continent-encompassing metaphor.

Naughton’s play strips away the Daisy Buchanan facade to examine the real woman in a script which puts Zelda in a hospital room telling her story. Zelda Sayre was a Southern belle who became internationally famous alongside her husband F Scott Fitzgerald whose stunning debut This Side of Paradise mythologised their romance; casting Zelda as the archetypal flapper. Their life together was a never-ending parade of alcohol-fuelled jazz-scored parties, with F Scott’s talent keeping them in a luxurious lifestyle; in New York, Paris and the Riviera; previously reserved for the self-indulgent robber barons. Friends with Cole Porter, Hemingway and Dorothy Parker, a writer and painter, dancer and mother, it should never have ended in a fiery death at a psychiatric hospital; but such was the price of alcoholism and escalating mental illness. Naughton resurrects the biting wit before that curtain.

Zelda seems a perfect fit for Fast Intent. Fast Intent was set up in 2011 by director Sarah Finlay and actors Ger Adlum and Nessa Matthews. Their previous productions include Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes (The Complex), Family Voices and One for the Road (New Theatre), Jean Anouilh’s The Lark and William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (both Smock Alley), and an adaptation of Dracula for the Bram Stoker Festival at Dublin Castle; part of a residency there which included Shakespeare by Candlelight in December and a series of monologues for Culture Night in September. Zelda joins Joan of Arc as another radical heroine for Fast Intent to explore in their pared down style that focuses on ideas and emotions. Zelda is performed by Sharon Coade, directed by Sarah Finlay, and produced by Gerard Adlum and Keith Thompson, with Lights, Sound, and Set design by Eoghan Carrick, Nessa Matthews, and Aoife Fealy respectively.

Zelda runs at Theatre Upstairs from Tuesday the 3rd of June to Saturday 14th. Performances are at 1pm, Tuesday to Saturday, when the ticket price of €10 includes a light lunch. There are 7pm performances from Thursday to Saturday. Bookings can be made at http://www.theatreupstairs.ie.

January 20, 2014

Macbeth

 

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As I did stand my watch upon the hill I looked toward Birnam and anon methought the wood began to move

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5

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

August 7, 2012

The Lark

Anouilh’s strikingly modern take on Joan of Arc is performed in the strikingly antique Boys School space in Smock Alley.

The audience sit on benches in front of a stage, bare except for chairs and a chest, while the Lord Bishop Cauchon (Gerard Adlum) and the Earl of Warwick (Dave Fleming) discuss how they will conduct the trial, as if the audience were attending it in 1431, and inform us that they can’t enter the battles in evidence as they don’t have enough men to stage them… Eoghan Carrick’s spotlights aid fluid switches between the trial and flashbacks, while the monastic garb (with extra medieval caps and steeple hats for actors playing multiple roles) epitomises director Sarah Finlay’s high seriousness. This is a stripped-down production which demands absolute concentration from the audience on fierce theological arguments debated in front of a centuries old Romanesque wall.

Warwick, a sardonic Machiavellian, wants Joan condemned in order to discredit her crowning of the Dauphin as King of France. Cauchon, however, insists the Maid is not for burning. Joan is allowed perform her family’s disbelief of her visions and her encounters with her local squire and the Dauphin. The father-daughter scenes convince not only because of the striking height difference between the two actors but also Shane Connolly’s nuanced portrayal of an exasperated but loving father, beating his daughter to try and protect her from herself. Sadly the other flashbacks drag. Ian Toner is nicely leering as de Beacourt, eager to exercise his droit de seigneur, and also amuses as the mistress of the Dauphin, but both scenes outstay their welcome. Ruairi Heading’s turn as the Dauphin similarly suffers in comparison to his more tightly written role of the compassionate Brother Ladvenu. Indeed the second act crackles with energy purely because Anouilh eschews flashbacks.

Joan (Caitriona Ennis) is frequently the still centre of a hurricane of ideas. Toner’s hysterical Promoter sees a seductive Devil everywhere. Joan’s suggestion that God could damn a soul, free will be damned is pounced on by him as a terrible heresy but then forgotten, even though it’s arguably proto-Calvinism. More rigorous is Jennifer Laverty’s terrifying Inquisitor, who attacks Joan for elevating Man in importance against and over God. Though ultimately suspiciously Manichean for a defender of Orthodoxy, in insisting that man is evil because he is worldly, the Inquisitor intimidates the other clerics, and if it’s not specified by the script is brilliant casting by Finlay as Laverty stands in ultimate judgement over another woman. Laverty also scoops a great line rebuking someone for confusing “charity, the theological virtue, and the murky liquid known as the milk of human kindness”. Fleming is wonderfully droll as Warwick, but Adlum has the most interesting role and he is riveting every time Cauchon clashes intellectually with Joan.

Cauchon is desperate to save Joan’s soul, and distances himself from Warwick’s politicking. Ennis plays saintly simplicity very well, the ‘sign’ she gives of recognising the disguised Dauphin is done with the playfulness of a child, while her connection to God when rebuking her favourite soldier for swearing is as utterly self-conscious as her performance of God’s voice for the benefit of her interrogators. Ennis also displays some nice signs of self-doubt under the subtle questioning of Cauchon on what Joan would do if one of her soldiers started to hear voices countermanding her orders… The steel and righteous savagery of Joan the soldier though only appears once when, in a speech uncannily similar to the contemporaneous The Crucible, she renounces her abjuration in order to be true to herself.

Fleming’s English accent is close cousin to a certain contemporary politician, suggesting chummy but callous people always triumph. But self-immolating in protest about that won’t change society, and Anouilh refuses to endorse either Joan’s martyrdom or Cauchon’s mercy. Anouilh’s Joan literally prefers burning out to fading away, but a script so focused on complicated ideas surely implicitly endorses thinking over feeling. Joan temporarily changed the world by emotional force of will, but perhaps the question of Calvinism is left hanging to make us realise that if Joan felt the truth of Calvinism it took Calvin’s application of rigorous theology to make it a force. The lesson: only by understanding a conventional wisdom can one hope to permanently change it.

Fast Intent provides an absorbing production of a thought-provoking play.

3/5

The Lark continues its run at Smock Alley Theatre until the 11th of August.

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