Talking Movies

July 15, 2019

Kate Crackernuts

No Drama Theatre returned to Smock Alley’s main stage with an eccentric fairytale by NYC playwright and screenwriter Sheila Callaghan.

The ever capable Kate (Megan Carter) faces a challenge when her beautiful step-sister Anne (Siobhan Hickey) comes to her with a blanket over her face to hide the fact that her beautiful head has been switched for that of a sheep. Kate’s own mother (Greg Freegrove) is the suspect, but this wicked stepmother may have done it by accident, as the local mystic (Darcy Donnelan) may have got her pickled and enchanted eggs all muddled. A headless sheep (Dave McGovern) is convinced that Anne has got his head, but finds it hard to get an opportunity to just ask for his head back when Kate and Anne fall into the orbit of brothers Paul (Shane Robinson) and Ralph (Daniel O’Brien). The path of true love is not smooth though, Kate needs to wean Paul away from Miss Prima (Sorcha Maguire)…

Callaghan’s play is apparently based on a Scottish fairytale, to which she has added some modern notes. Carter splendidly embodies the no-nonsense nature of Callaghan’s heroine, an early rapid-fire exchange with her sister typical: “What did you eat for breakfast?” “An omelette” “Mother made it?” “Yes” “What she did eat?” “…Cereal” “Ah..” But Callaghan includes a fake happy ending before the more ambiguous real one because this is a fairytale that isn’t interested in simple solutions. Ralph becomes besotted with Anne, sheep’s head and all, but you shouldn’t think of Shakespeare’s Bottom so much as Woody Allen’s EYAWTKAS* (BWATA) Gene Wilder vignette. O’Brien has a scene-stealing monologue on how it’s finally his turn for romance with Anne before hysterically unconcealed disappointment that Anne has got her human head back and therefore lost that furry quality that made her his soul-mate.

The vibrant lights and sound of Dan Donnelly, Suzie Cummins, and Hasan Kamal are very effective in transforming the sparsely furnished stage into a nightclub presided over by Prima. My regular theatre cohort Fiachra MacNamara and I thoroughly disagreed over the meaning of what happened there. I took it as an allegory for drug addiction – that the more Paul, rendered by Robinson almost as a Baz Luhrmann bohemian, fell under the spell of Prima, the further he became detached from his true self, his voice (Ali Keohane). Fiachra took it as an allegory for the dwindling influence over Paul of his dead mother, which is why his voice eventually saved Prima’s neglected Baby (Rahul Dewan), trusting him to Kate. Either interpretation fits the redemptive outcome desired by Paul and Ralph’s widowed father (Greg Freegrove again), a rich but clueless king.

3/5

June 15, 2016

The Trial

Disorientation seems to be an aim of No Drama’s production of Kafka’s The Trial. And from the issuing of pencils and paper on arrival for your first plea, to the actors running offstage eschewing a bow, disorientation is certainly achieved.

Kafka's The Trial Banner Image

Somebody must have been telling lies about Josef K (Daniel O’Brien), for he wakes up one morning in his boarding house to find instead of breakfast a brace of mysterious warders (Elaine Fahey, Amélie Laguillon) searching his room. Their senior supervisor (Greg Freegrove) tells K he’s been arrested, but this shouldn’t interfere with K’s work as a senior clerk at the bank; so long as he can make time on Sundays and evenings for interrogation. The charge…? Well, the supervisor’s not authorised to discuss such matters; best take that up with the judge. So begins K’s nightmarish journey thru the gallery of grotesques that surround the Law. ‘Helped’ by the enfeebled Advocate Huld (Louise Dunne), her degraded client eternal client Block and sultry nurse Leni (Sarah Maloney), and the court portrait artist Titorelli (Nikhil Dubey), it is little wonder he despairs.

There are memorable sequences; K’s decision to fire Huld being celebrated by means of a mid-90s rock-out, the actors pairing off and walking back and forth in a muted dance while narration and light jumps between actors. And some fine performances. O’Brien is initially over-indignant, but reins it in for an engagingly desperate K. Dunne eschews the usual hypochondriac bombast Huld, giving us genuine infirmity with a rasping whisper and outraged anger. Freegrove amusingly channels Berkoff as the menacing supervisor, Maloney vamps it up as Leni, and Siobhan Hickey is vivacious and knowing as K’s crush. But No Drama’s production runs for 2 hours 45 minutes with a 10 minute interval, as compared to the Young Vic’s 2015 The Trial which clocked in at 2 hours without an interval. This is absurdly long, and the good performances and sequences get lost in an increasing muddle.

Directors Noel Cahill and David Breen have crafted a very loud interpretation. Eardrums will be ringing from 10 people consistently shouting by the time the court chaplain climactically bawls at the audience mere inches away. The most effective moments are actually the quietest; Huld’s monologues, K’s isolation, or the chorus’ whispered “Josef K”; and starting out turned up to 11 leaves the show nowhere to go. The trip-hop musical introduction outstays its welcome, and a bit of business with everyone hanging on K’s words is protracted beyond the point of comedy – both emblematic of pacing problems that cannot all be blamed on the script. As for the script… The legendary travelator of Richard Jones’ Young Vic staging is obviously beyond the budget of an amateur company, but if the essential elements of Berkoff’s minimalist script (screens, costumes, and all actors save K to have their faces painted) are abandoned, is it really still Berkoff’s adaptation?

There is an astonishingly literal interpretation of K stumbling on pornographic pictures in the court which is far from the mime Berkoff intended. Reducing your staging to a rope, glasses, and one costumed actor in such a difficult space as the Boys School is self-defeating. An ecstatic Dramsoc production of East from Anna Simpson with future Fast Intent founder Nessa Matthews relied on basic props and costumes before launching into outré physicality. Far too often here attempting Berkoff’s physicality after abandoning his supports results in endless busyness of unclear meaning – shouting “I’m a train” may be funny but sadly it’s not redundant when the specified identifiers for it have been discarded. And can Kafka be Kafka if it’s not (to misapply Peter O’Toole’s Ruling Class descriptor) ‘black comedy with tragic relief’? All the elements of Kafka and Berkoff are present, but they do not cohere: we end up with neither paranoid hilarity nor expressionist vim.

The ensemble display admirable commitment and energy, but having set aside so much of Berkoff’s blueprint this production’s continued insistence on presenting a version of his physical theatre almost always gets in the way of this being good theatre.

2/5

The Trial continues its run at Smock Alley until the 18th of June.

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