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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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.

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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