Talking Movies

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.

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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

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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

December 3, 2011

Big Maggie

The Clinic star Aisling O’Sullivan stars as the titular monstrous matriarch in Druid’s production of John B Keane’s abrasive comedy-drama.

John B Keane’s 1969 play is remarkably explicit in its dissection of how ecclesiastical attitudes to sexuality were a rather useful enabler to the snuffing out of any romantic machinations that didn’t also satisfy cravings for social climbing thru land acquisition. Maggie opens the play smoking by an empty hearse rather than watch her husband be buried. A lengthy and tense scene in the family home sees her reveal that he had signed over to her all rights to money, house, shop and farm. She means to dominate now, and the children will get nothing unless they toe the line. Mick, the eldest son promised ½ the farm by his father, immediately leaves for England. Maurice is strung along with the promise that he might be allowed to marry and have the farm, if he waits. Maggie chillingly notes that he’s only 24, and his father (in this deranged society) was considered very young to be married at 35. Gert and Katie are to swap working in kitchen and shop as punishment for Katie being the father’s favourite.

Maggie’s determination to exercise absolute authority powers the resolution of this family struggle over four shocking scenes. Charlie Murphy is impressively haughty and saucy but also fragile as Katie, the eldest daughter who it’s implied might have had an incestuous relationship with the dead patriarch. The only member of the family who can land a verbal blow on Maggie, she is nevertheless forced into a loveless marriage by her mother for the sake of money and respectability. Sarah Greene is wonderfully jejune as Gert, the youngest daughter who is shocked by Katie’s early revelations but grows up quickly under the harsh tutelage of her mother’s cruelty in stifling her love life. John Olohan is again a terrifically funny presence as the monumental sculptor Byrne. He’s gifted the filthiest gags in the play as well as both delivering and receiving tremendously vicious putdowns in his flirtatious bantering with Maggie. Director Garry Hynes’s stunt-casting gamble pays off as Keith Duffy is surprisingly good as the playboy commercial traveller, trading on his boy-band looks and matinee idol romantic posturing to good comedic effect.

The bleak ending is both a quasi-reversal of Riders to the Sea, and, as Fiachra MacNamara pointed out to me, almost a nod towards Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. Aisling O’Sullivan does a good Kerry accent and delivers biting lines with relish, but she has rarely made any of her characters particularly likeable, and it’s tempting to ask if Maggie’s motivations might have seemed more convincing with a different actress in the role. Would another actress have made Maggie’s marrying off of Katie, despite her complaints about the misery of her own marriage for the sake of financial security, seem tragic in its complicity with a hated socio-economic system rather than merely hypocritical? Despite the quality of the acting and sharpness of the writing this play becomes quite draining because of the sheer selfishness of Maggie, which appears in her final espousal of her ‘zero-sum world’ philosophy; a philosophy which she fails to note is contradicted by the continued support and affection her exiled children still afford each other, but will now justly deny to her…

Nevertheless this is a strong production of a play whose existence challenges the conventional wisdom about our recent past.

4/5

Big Maggie is on a nationwide tour, ending with its return to the Gaiety in February.

April 26, 2011

Revue: Attempts on Her Life: Review

A postmodern play is what we mean when we point at something and say, ‘This is what we mean by a postmodern play’…

A review of a play should be impartial and objective. It’s never a good idea to review a play when you know people acting in it. Having said which I’ve already done so to an extent when reviewing Death of A Salesman last summer. But of course I never knew Rory Nolan half as well back in 2001 when he was my Dramsoc committee liaison as I do some of the people in this play. Can we get around this? Perhaps..

SCENE 7. ARGUMENTS.

BORIS, GODUNOV, and JOHNSON are onstage. They can be any age and either sex. They are panellists on a TV show, or maybe politicians at a debate, you decide.

BORIS: It’s weird beyond belief. I approve.

GODUNOV: But is it good-weird or bad-weird?

BORIS: Can one apply such banal terms to post-modern theatre? It exists, it breathes; one cannot pigeonhole it into such bourgeois categories as good or bad.

JOHNSON: But surely a play has to achieve something other than simply being?

BORIS: You would like a tidy linear plot and developed characters progressing along a satisfying and predictable emotional arc, would you? Anything else we can do for you while we’re rolling back theatrical history? Bring back the Lord Chamberlain? Maybe we could ban women from acting again…

GODUNOV: I think that what Johnson meant was that a post-modern play whose sole content is reiterations of how impeccably post-modernist it is becomes as self-defeating as a woman Irish poet whose sole subject for poetry is the trials of being a woman Irish poet, to the point where you must ask if it’s such a chore trying to fit into the patriarchal tradition of Yeats why not just chuck it for something more congenial like novel-writing. Seems to work out nicely for Emma Donoghue…

BORIS: There you go again. You have an obsession with every work of art being pre-digested for your facile consumption, rather than struggling against patriarchy.

JOHNSON: I fear Boris that we are getting away from the play.

BORIS: Yes. We are. I thought a triumphant scene was the superbly combative Aisling Flynn talking down Ian Toner in the panel discussion tentatively chaired by Sam McGovern.

GODUNOV: Yes, he did catch rather well the host awkwardly caught between both trying to start fights and defuse excess tension at the same time.

BORIS: Shut up, Godunov. Yes, it was a pitch-perfect parody of the sort of spats over modern art once catches on Newsnight Review of a Friday. I also admired the deranged quality of Fiachra MacNamara’s monologue while blindfolded and being whipped by a girl wearing a pig-mask and shouting thru a microphone.

JOHNSON: The blunt satire of the second scene with the children’s entertainment turning into a discussion of atrocities bothered me by its tremendous lack of subtlety. Does one need really need to jackhammer at obvious truths like that? But I must ask you one question Boris. Did it not bother you that for large chunks of the play you had absolutely no idea what was going on? I’m thinking of that amusing but baffling Pinter homage where Toner and McGovern seemed to be either ad-men or hit-men, writing a personal ad or an obituary, with a mysterious suitcase bothering their efforts.

BORIS: I understood everything that happened.

GODUNOV: I beg to differ. You turned to me during the scene with the six actresses doing the satirical car adverts in different languages to ask in a terrified whisper if that man was meant to be on stage or had he just wandered in off the street?

BORIS: I was merely adding to your confusion to amplify the intended artistic effect…

JOHNSON: The scene deconstructing pornography I thought was another highlight.

BORIS: It appealed to your low taste for moralism in art did it?

GODUNOV: Why must you constantly sneer at any attempts to find meaning in life?

BORIS: Because one cannot find meaning in life! Crimp’s entire gestalt is that no play can represent accurately even one person, so how on earth could a play seek not only to create multiple ‘realistic’ characters but then have the audacity to claim that they represent the universe in some sort of microcosm, and that the play can thus make ‘important’ points about society? The only point it can make is the inadequacy of its ability to make points.

JOHNSON: You ascribe a Beckettian impulse to Crimp then, the compulsion to speak, mixed with the awareness of the inability to say anything worth speaking of?

BORIS: Don’t bring your philosophical poppycock into this, Crimp is operating on a purely aesthetic level. I have no idea what I mean by that. Or do I? …

GODUNOV: Are you attempting to say that we must not look for any deeper meaning? That Attempts on Her Life represents merely post-modern theatre’s abdication of the urge to create versions of reality in favour of merely stringing together disparate scenes containing blunt anti-capitalist satire? Didn’t 9/11 make that sort of posturing an embarrassment? If western civilisation is not inviolable what is the point of deconstructing it?

BORIS: Well, one could say the same about resisting the Nazis after the tide turned in Africa or in Russia. The battle against patriarchal structures is never futile. Vive La Resistance. You will notice the ‘La’…

JOHNSON: I think Boris that you have lost your mind.

BORIS: I’m in the good company of Nietzsche in that case.

GODUNOV: And I keenly resent the implication that I am a Nazi.

It’s hard not to feel that Enron shows the influence of Attempts on Her Life while simultaneously abjuring it. They’re both Royal Court productions but separated by a traumatic decade. There are a number of inexplicable musical numbers in both plays although neither is a musical, in both actors double up and a huge cast run thru many different cipher characters, and multi-media is also a commonality with large screens bombarding the audience with subliminally fast images of modern life; but the differences are huge. The blunt satire of capitalism remains, but the generalised anxiety of Martin Crimp is replaced by a sharp focus on the fall of one company by Lucy Prebble, who also develops four stable characters amid the slapstick in order to give us an emotional anchor, and has a solid plot in the downfall of Enron’s insane accounting system to drive things forward in a semi-linear fashion. In other words Attempts on Her Life is an important play but it’s not a trailblazer, nothing can follow it, other writers can only plunder from it what they like best and incorporate it into their own more traditional work – after all if one actually wants to say something about society it’s not really that satisfying only having a dramatic framework that deconstructs the validity of any and all attempts to say anything about society.

3/5

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