Talking Movies

October 16, 2019

Hamlet

Director Geoff O’Keeffe presents his second production of Leaving Cert staple Hamlet in three years at the Mill Theatre Dundrum.

“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King”

Prince Hamlet (Kyle Hixon) is in mourning for his father, Old Hamlet. But the rest of the Danish court is celebrating as Old Hamlet’s brother Claudius (Gerard Byrne) has succeeded not only to the throne, but also to the royal bed, unexpectedly marrying the widowed Queen Gertrude (Caoilfhionn McDonnell). But Hamlet’s isolated mourning turns to bloody thoughts of vengeance when his friend Horatio (Harry Butler) reveals that Old Hamlet’s ghost has been haunting the battlements of Elsinore, and the ghost unmasks Claudius as a murderous usurper. As Hamlet feigns madness to better hatch his revenge, the guilt-ridden Claudius seeks the aid of foppish counsellor Polonius (Malcolm Adams), whose children Ophelia (Laoise Sweeney) and Laertes (Felix Brown) will become tragically ensnared in the mayhem that consumes the court, as will Hamlet’s untrustworthy university friends Rosencrantz (Jack Mullarkey) and Guildenstern (Rachel O’Connell).

There is an odd quality of déjà vu when the same director tackles the same play again so soon. 2016’s Claudius, Neill Fleming, appears in three minor roles as does the Laertes of that production, Matthew O’Brien. The pair bring some hi-viz vest business to grave-digging as well as doing a questionably saucy mime of the Murder of Gonzago to the strains of the Arctic Monkeys. Similarly attention-grabbing doubling occurs with Mullarkey and O’Connell as a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who, clad in red and green hoodies and leather jackets, project an oddly Bill & Ted vibe, while as Bernardo and Marcellus they are unrecognisable in flak vests and helmets, wringing an unexpected laugh from Horatio’s careless line next to two jumpy soldiers with rifles. O’Keeffe reprises a conceit, having Byrne play both Claudius and Old Hamlet, using Declan Brennan’s video projection to allow a shaven Byrne loom over proceedings while a hirsute Byrne stalks the stage as the surviving brother.

Byrne, however, is not a revelatory Claudius as Fleming was in 2016, a synecdoche of this production’s reined in ambitions, which extends even to the set design of Gerard Bourke utilising a smaller than usual playing space dominated by a platform and ramp. Likewise a solid Hixon does not emulate Shane O’Regan’s physical Hamlet; his is a subdued performance that blooms after the interval when he mines the black comedy of the madness. Hixon and Byrne often seem oddly rushed in their delivery, which draws attention to the more measured verse of House Polonius: Sweeney is an Ophelia of unusual tragic gravitas in her madness, Brown a charismatic Laertes, and Adams very entertaining as a self-regarding man in a spiffy three-piece suit, whose ritual platitudes are so familiar his children can finish them for him. The interval at 90 minutes could come earlier, but it then gallops to the finish.

This Hamlet becomes more sure-footed after the interval, but while it is always engaging it lacks the notes of unusual interest we have to come expect from these productions.

3/5

Hamlet continues its run at the Mill Theatre Dundrum until the 25th of October.

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July 28, 2015

The Shadow of a Gunman

Director Wayne Jordan returns to the Abbey after 2012’s The Plough and the Stars for another summer production of a venerable Sean O’Casey Dublin play.

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Donal Davoren (Mark O’Halloran) is trying to write poetry in a Dublin tenement in May 1920. A task rendered nigh impossible by his talkative roommate Seamus Shields (David Ganly), and constant interruptions from a never-ending stream of visitors. There are Shield’s Republican associate Maguire (Muiris Crowley), hated landlord Mulligan (Gerard Byrne), and fellow tenants, the excitable Tommy Owens (Lloyd Cooney) and the flirtatious Minnie Powell (Amy McAllister). And that’s just for starters. Over the course of a long day Davoren gets no verse composed as he finds himself implored by Mrs Henderson (Catherine Walsh) to stand up for put-upon Mr Gallogher (Malcolm Adams) at the Republican courts in his capacity as an IRA gunman on the run. Davoren is happy to play along with this glamorous misunderstanding, until his masquerade suddenly turns all too real with searches, bullets, and bombs…

The Shadow of a Gunman’s two acts are played through without an interval. As so often with Jordan’s work it’s hard to discern the artistic imperative of that decision. It seems impossible for Jordan to inspire negative reviews, but this showcases his consistent flaws as much as it does his trademarks; down to O’Halloran reprising Jordan’s Twelfth Night tic of eschewing socks with shoes. Sarah Bacon’s tenement set has impressive depth, but it has none of the grimy realism of Bob Crowley’s 2011 Juno and the Paycock creation, and it seems to belong to a much later time-period, as does her brightly coloured short dress for Minnie Powell. Perhaps then this production is meant to be a critique of fellow-travellers in the years before the Troubles kicked off, with Davoren a nationalist who talks the talk but shrinks from walking the walk. No. But then sets and costumes have made illusory promises or served one joke in Jordan’s oeuvre before.

The costume is the first step to transforming the confident survivor O’Casey wrote into McAllister’s interpretation of Minnie as wide-eyed innocent. Surrounding her Crowley camps it up as Maguire, and Cooney is nearly a teenager in a Martin McDonagh Leenane play; giving the idea that fighting for anything is a bad joke. Ganly eventually hits his stride as Shields, but it’s hard, after Alice in Funderland, not to feel Jordan is laughing at religion in its own right when it comes to Shields’ religiosity, rather than laughing with anger at the hypocritical use of religion as O’Casey intended. O’Halloran plays Davoren’s frustration well, but his exaggerated movements seem a bit too much commedia dell’arte elsewhere; this is not a role akin to his scene-stealing turn in Hay Fever after all.

Gunman, courtesy of Mel Mercier’s impressive sound design, ends with a bang; but this is a consistently misfiring production.

2/5

The Shadow of a Gunman continues its run at the Abbey until August 1st.

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