Talking Movies

May 26, 2014

Fast Intent presents Zelda

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.

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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.

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February 14, 2013

King Lear

The Abbey amazingly hasn’t staged King  Lear since the early 1930s. Director Selina Cartmell thus has no  legendary productions of Shakespeare’s bleakest tragedy to outshine.

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All dark, and comfortless

The aged Lear (Owen Roe) has decided to split his kingdom between his three  daughters. But, while the scheming diabolical siblings Regan (Caoilfhionn Dunne)  and Goneril (Tina Kellegher) flatter him to get their rightful shares, Lear’s  only good-hearted daughter Cordelia (Beth Cooke) refuses to lie or exaggerate,  enraging the vain Lear; and her share is thus split between her sisters’ husbands Cornwall (Phelim Drew) and Albany (John Kavanagh). Cordelia leaves  without a dowry to become the Queen of France and the noble courtier Kent (Sean  Campion) is banished for taking her part in the quarrel. He disguises himself to  serve Lear, but the scheming bastard Edmund (Ciaran Mcmenamin) uses the fraught  situation to eliminate his legitimate brother Edgar (Aaron Monaghan) from the  line of succession to Gloucester (Lorcan Cranitch); exploiting the political  chaos that Lear’s wise Fool (Hugh O’Connor) foresaw…

I found myself comparing Cartmell’s interpretation of the text to Sarah Finlay’s 2010 production  starring Ger Adlum because Gaby Rooney’s costume design replicated its  colour-coded royal houses, both productions being indebted to Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. But instead of Finlay’s icily  austere minimalism Cartmell offered rich medieval costuming, wolfhounds lurching  around between scenes, and a second storey built onto the Abbey stage to add a  period gallery to the drunken carousing in castles below. Garance Marnuer’s  layered set design sends a triangle into the audience for characters to deliver  their monologues, so that in the front rows the eye is caught by actors on three  levels; and that’s before the triangle spectacularly rises for the heath scene.  Given such impressive staging the climactic fight with long-staffs between  Edmund and Edgar surprises with its sheer inertness and lack of ambition in  clashing choreography…

Cartmell’s commitment to visual  medievalism though clashes with her highlighting of the paganism in  Shakespeare’s most nihilistic play. ‘Nothing comes from nothing’ proclaims Lear  in a famously pre-Christian thought, and the illuminated paganism is truly  chilling in one scene in which Lear, holding an antler skull to channel power,  calls down a curse on the heavily pregnant Goneril to make her miscarry for her  ill treatment of him. But… there are constant references to Greek philosophers  and Roman gods, and why would they be invoked if you believed in animist gods or  pantheism? Especially as Gloucester’s “As flies are to wanton boys so are we to  the gods/They kill us for their sport” screams of the capricious Greek  divinities. And that’s before you wonder what historical neverland Cartmell has  situated her post-Roman but pre-Christian nations of France and England in…

Cartmell coaxes many strong  performances. Roe is appropriately magisterial as Lear, while Monaghan is  fiercely committed as Edgar’s alter-ego Poor Tom (even if John Healy was not the  only one coughing Gollum), and Cooke’s Cordelia shedding a tear when Lear  finally recognises her in his madness is extremely affecting. Dunne makes  Regan’s villainy a progressive revelation, while Drew gives some richness to the  oft one-note psychotic Cornwall, and Ronan Leahy stands out from the ensemble  with empathetic nuance as he counsels Gloucester and Cordelia. Kellegher’s  Goneril though lacks subtlety, and Mcmenamin’s Edmund, emphasising his  discordant Northern accent and swanking around in black, at times appears to be  in an entirely different play. Cranitch’s straightforward Gloucester meanwhile  failed to match Keith Thompson’s 2010 camp lecherous interpretation, making his  eye-gouging less traumatic despite some truly horrific gouged eye-socket makeup.  He certainly wasn’t helped though by both beard and gouged-eye makeup peeling  off on the night I went…

This is a good production that has a  number of great performances, but some disappointing turns and an  inconsistency in tackling the text hold it back from true greatness.

3/5

King Lear continues its run at the Abbey  until the 23rd of March.

July 27, 2012

Fast Intent celebrate Joan of Arc

BBC 2’s recent Hollow Crown Henriad may have focused attention on the looming 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, but 2012 actually sees the 600th anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc, and, while the occasion had a special commemoration in France, Fast Intent (a theatre company formed in late 2011 by director Sarah Finlay and actors Gerard Adlum and Nessa Matthews) are probably the only Irish arts organisation marking the occasion; with a staging of the perennially relevant story of an individual’s struggle against the hypocrisy of the institutions that surround them – Jean Anouilh’s classic The Lark.

Born mere years before the battle of Agincourt, in which the out-numbered Henry V heroically out-marshalled the French and established English claims to French territory, Joan was destined to eventually rout the English. At the age of 12, she stated that she had received visions from God telling her to drive the English powers from France. For two years, she led armies and a nation to war and to victory. But, captured by the English and tried for heresy, she was then condemned to death and burnt at the stake. Anouilh’s play is set during her trial, and we watch her extraordinary story played out and dramatised by the very people who wish to condemn her. Anouilh’s The Lark, in the celebrated translation by Christopher Fry, himself the author of legendary verse dramas The Lady’s Not for Burning and A Sleep of Prisoners, is receiving its Irish premiere under the direction of Sarah Finlay at the newly renovated Boys School space in Smock Alley Theatre.

The Lark is a dramatic account of the exceptional life of Joan of Arc. Over the centuries, Joan has taken on a mythological status, been utilised as a symbol and rarely recognised as a human being. She has been the subject of films of hysterically varying approach by Luc Besson and Carl Dreyer (among others), portrayed by actresses as different as Ingrid Bergman and Siobhan McKenna, and inspired Bernard Shaw’s St Joan which houses the most disturbing line of dialogue he ever wrote – “Must then a Christ die in every generation for those that have no imagination?” Claimed by the far right as a symbol of ultra-nationalism, by the Church as a Saint, and by the far left due to her ‘lowly’ beginnings as a shepherdess, Anouilh’s script seeks to recapture and explore rather than own or explain Joan’s story. Anouilh (1910-1987) and his 40 plays loom over French theatre because he had a rare facility for both high drama and absurdist farce. His 1952 play Waltz of the Toreadors was filmed with Peter Sellers, while his 1959 play Becket was filmed with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole giving intense performances as St Thomas a Becket and Henry II. Anouilh’s best known play is his version of Sophocle’s Antigone (1942), a pointed attack on Vichy government, and a forerunner of The Lark (1953), another tale of a young woman defying her society’s strictures to do what she believes is right.

Fast Intent seeks to inflect this text with questions essential to modern Ireland. Is there a place for youth and idealism? Do we have a desire for truth? Can one person’s actions make a difference? The Lark is a story of belief, passion and the struggle for a single voice to be heard as Joan fights the classic modes of abusive authority; the government, the church, and older people who fear her idealism. Directed by Sarah Finlay, the production features a cast of 7 (Ger Adlum, Shane Connolly, Dave Fleming, Ruairí Heading, Jennifer Laverty, Ian Toner, and Catriona Ennis as Joan), 4 of whom will play multiple roles, giving an often humorous edge to proceedings. Adlum and Finlay have collaborated before on a previously mentioned production of King Lear as well as Fast Intent’s debut production of Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes in The Complex, Smithfield in August 2011. That show was a riveting rendition of Pinter’s cryptic response to the Balkans Wars of the 1990s and was dubbed “thought-provoking and highly engaging” by DublinCulture.ie. The Boys School at Smock Alley has been a church, a brothel, a school-house and a theatre. Among these ghosts The Lark resurrects St Joan…

The Lark runs from Tuesday 31st July to Saturday 11th August at 8pm in The Boy’s School, Smock Alley Theatre, with matinees on Saturday 4th August and Saturday 11th August at 3pm. Ticket prices are €15 with concessions of €12.50, and a low price preview on 30th July with all tickets €10. Booking information is available at www.smockalley.com (01 – 6770014) and group rates are available.

For more information see https://www.facebook.com/events/413158028722025/

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