Talking Movies

July 19, 2015

Once

John Carney’s indie film that could returns home as an unusual musical with a book by playwright Enda Walsh and originating director John Tiffany helming. Here’s a teaser of my review for HeadStuff.org.

Once-the-Musical-Dublin-Poster-image

Here’s a teaser.

Tiffany is responsible for the highly disconcerting set-up in which the audience can clamber onstage and buy a drink while the ensemble plays a number of Irish and Czech folksongs, so that the actual busking opening of the play emerges seamlessly out of a session. As our hero (Tony Parsons) finishes busking, he is accosted by a go-getting Czech musician (Megan Riordan) who insists he must (a) not give up on music, and (b) fix her vacuum cleaner. For he and Da (Billy Murphy) live above their hoover-repair shop in the North Strand, a life straitened by death and desertion. Her life is fuller. She lives with her mother Baruska (Sandra Callaghan), and three Czech flatmates; death metal drummer Svec (Rickie O’Neill), ambitious ‘burger-boy’ Andrej (Dylan Reid), and skimpily-clad man-eater Reza (Ruth Westley). With this injection of energy a burnt-out busker may stand a chance of recording a successful demo…

Click here to read the full review on HeadStuff.org.

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July 11, 2015

St Vincent at Iveagh Gardens

St Vincent arrived in the Iveagh Gardens on the back of the deluxe reissue of fourth album St Vincent, and played nearly all of it.

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Striding out onstage with slicked-back raven hair she was as alien a presence as David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase, and began with ‘Birth in Reverse’ with choreographed dance movements (courtesy of Annie-B Parson) with her bassist Toko Yasuda, that only added to the otherworldly aura if you were far enough from the stage to not be able see her feet as she and Yasuda moved forward and back as if standing on treadmills. Climbing the large three step podium to deliver a triptych of songs before falling down into an inverse crucifixion pose there was also something of Gozer the Destroyer about the stage-craft, something that might please an artist who referenced Edward Scissorhands as an inspiration for the codpiece-flaunting black outfit with touches of grey, often bathed in red or green lights as it was for ‘Cruel’.

After the opening salvo of ‘Birth in Reverse’, ‘Regret’, ‘Marrow’ and a vocally soaring rendition of ‘Cruel’ it was time for the first trademark rambling monologue, dismissing James Joyce as long-winded. And before she could be accused of the same crime she launched into her biggest hit ‘Digital Witness’, followed by ‘Year of the Tiger’, and then three songs delivered in a haze of dry ice from atop the podium – ‘Severed Crossed Fingers’, ‘Cheerleader’, and ‘Prince Johnny’. Standing near the speakers on the right of the stage it was noticeable from the off just how crisp and crunchy the sound was, rendering St Vincent’s material more electro-clash than you’d think. This was perhaps a pity for some of the quieter songs, but it rendered the opening of ‘Rattlesnake’, repeated over again while St Vincent danced, an unexpectedly juddering dance riff.

After ‘Every Tear Disappears’ and ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’ St Vincent delivered another monologue, with a huge pause after talking about how much she shared with Dubliners, like her favourite Yeats quote, before deadpanning ‘There’s … so many, too many to pick just one…’ and launching into ‘Actor Out of Work’. ‘Teenage Talk’, ‘Bring Me Your Loves’, and a rousing ‘Huey Newton’ closed the set. Returning for an encore laid out like a body in repose she delivered ‘The Party’ lying down, before utilising the full depth of the stage and the front row for ‘Your Lips Are Red’ which turned into a full-on Led Zeppelin ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ solo-tastic improv-jamming freak-out. St Vincent played 9 songs from her newest album, all effective, and the two most reflective and subdued of them, played atop the podium, were highlights.

St Vincent might have been better served venue-wise by a brace of Olympia dates, but she’s an artist at the height of performing confidence promoting an equally strong record.

4/5

 

 

 

 

*Nothing to do with the gig proper, but this was the worst crowd I’ve suffered through a concert with; not for setting fire to tents, but for talking. Talking, and talking, and talking… When St Vincent and her bassist stripped ‘Your Lips Are Red’ down to just vocals I could barely hear them above the hubbub of six different group conversations. Throughout the gig when she played louder, people shouted louder, to continue their *deep and meaningful* dialogues. I saw one woman’s face almost as much as St Vincent’s throughout the show because no matter how much I moved she always ended up in my line of sight as her group moved, and she was always facing me because she was nearly always turning her back on St Vincent to talk to her friends instead. People, just go to Starbucks…

January 20, 2015

The Walworth Farce

The Olympia Theatre stages its second star-studded Enda Walsh play in six months as the Gleeson family throw themselves into an extravaganza of physical theatre.

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The play opens with proud Corkman Dinny (Brendan Gleeson) in the living room, matching a hideous yellow tie to his hideous blue suit. In the bathroom of their quietly disintegrating London flat son Blake (Domhnall Gleeson) is shaving his legs. They are both preparing for their day while Dinny’s other son Sean (Brian Gleeson) is out shopping. Once Sean is back, wigs and dresses can be donned, and a ritual can begin: Dinny relates the story of his mother’s funeral and the reading of her will. His sons stand in for all other characters while he plays himself; possibly the sincerity of his interpretation is the reason that every day he wins the acting trophy. But today Sean has stage-managed badly, bringing home a sausage. “It’s just not working without the chicken,” laments Dinny – which made me think  of “This chicken is the only real thing here, so I’m going to work with it” – but not only has Sean not supplied the needful props, he’s also accidentally invited an audience…

The Walworth Farce becomes an acting showcase for the Gleesons. Brendan’s charisma is such that he’s able to maintain our sympathy as the overbearing Dinny, despite some horrendous physical abuse where slapstick moments result in real injuries. Brian is the straight man, performing the part of Dinny’s put-upon brother, while in reality he is the quiet, defeated son; horrified at having bungled the shopping, but also excited by the prospect of escaping this life. Domhnall is remarkable, his physicality encompasses sitting with his leg wrapped behind his head, and playing three female characters with three distinct voices (and three different wigs, and, thanks to Velcro, outfits); running from place to place to carry on conversations with himself in different guises. Aside from the manic comedy he also registers the fear Dinny has instilled in his boys of dangerous London – dead bodies waiting to rise up from the footpaths and grab you – and resentful fury when their routine is interrupted by frightfully enthusiastic Tesco assistant Hayley (Leona Allen), luring away Sean.

It’s odd seeing this 2006 play after 2014’s Ballyturk. In both plays manic enacting of absurdist small-town bickering is interrupted by a stranger. Hayley is initially amused, then bored, and finally terrified by the ritual – and, unlike Ballyturk, which remains defiantly oblique, we know that the trio perform the routine because Dinny needs to in order to function; so that her attempts to take Sean away are fraught with danger for both herself and Sean. Walworth is less abstract than Ballyturk. Paul Keogan brightly lights the performance, while reality is subdued and sinister. Alice Power’s set of half-shown walls convincingly depicts a decaying flat: a bathroom with a hole in the wall, a bedroom with a bunk-bed and a ‘dining room’ sign with a coffin laid over two chairs, a kitchen, a sitting room with a curious wheelchair. Yet, when a knife appears, your stomach knots in dread, and you realise that there is no rational way to predict where, or in whom, it will end up by the curtain.

Director Sean Foley’s track record in exuberant, slapstick comedy is a perfect match for Walsh’s mania, but he also brings out these trapped players’ tender desperation, and the almost Pinterish edge that Hayley’s arrival brings to this family dynamic.

4/5

The Walworth Farce continues its run at the Olympia Theatre until the 8th of February.

October 7, 2014

Bailegangaire

DruidMurphy returns to the Dublin Theatre Festival with an enthralling revival of Tom Murphy’s 1985 play of storytelling and crisis.

bailegangaire

The ailing elderly Mommo (Marie Mullen) lies propped up against the pillows in her bed, which is in the middle of the kitchen of a small house. She is nursed by her granddaughter Mary (Catherine Walsh), who gets little thanks for her ministrations; Mommo does not recognise her, and treats her as a servant. Mommo’s mind is instead in the past, telling the same story every night, a story she never finishes; about how the town of Bochtan became known as Bailegangaire, and why no one there over the age of reason ever laughs. Mary is driven to distraction by this, and when her abrasive sister Dolly (Aisling O’Sullivan) arrives on her motorbike, they fight over Mary’s responsibilities towards Mommo, and Dolly’s abusive husband Stephen, until Dolly becomes oddly determined to make Mommo finally tell her story to its conclusion.

I wasn’t familiar with Bailegangaire, and so found the first act rather disorienting. Mommo’s continually interrupted story about Bochtan’s finest laugher and the challenge of a stranger at the fair that he had a better laugh was exceedingly hard to keep track of, but in the second act as Mommo is driven by Mary to finish the story and as Rick Fisher’s lights single in on Mommo it becomes quite mesmerising as the laughing competition is relayed; with its outcome told before its conduct in a charmingly perverse move. Bailegangaire is also quite scabrous. Mommo uses a bedpan at length, Dolly roars off on her motorbike for a quickie with her lover, and Murphy gifts Dolly, Mary, and Mommo a fair quota of earthy insults. Mullen alternates nicely between demanding requests, shy requests, and malicious moments in her challenging role.

But despite the monologist storytelling by Mommo, this is very much a three-hander. Walsh makes viscerally evident Mary’s despair; she needs to escape but she can’t escape because the conditions which create the need also prevent its execution – her crippling familial duty to care for the oblivious Mommo. O’Sullivan is on fine form as the swaggering but damaged Dolly, but her accent overplayed hoarse Whesth of Ireland. Francis O’Connor’s impeccably realist set disappears into darkness at roof level, and Gregory Clarke’s sound design renders passing cars practically just past its wall, but director Garry Hynes is focused on the performances. Murphy’s play has a Beckettian quality, with its narration that has to be continually forlornly attempted, but it’s rooted firmly in the 1980s; yet its zeitgeist undercurrents of new technology and crises with multinationals seem to collapse that thirty-year gap.

My fellow academics Graham Price and Tom Walker, both previously mentioned in dispatches here, dubbed Bailegangaire Happy Days as Irish kitchen sink drama’. I’m not about to disagree, Murphy’s unexpectedly redemptive storytelling is towering.

4/5

August 14, 2014

Ballyturk

Cillian Murphy and playwright Enda Walsh reunite for their second collaboration in two years, following Misterman’s success, and Ballyturk is another extravaganza of physical theatre.

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Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi are trapped in a massive room, which, courtesy of designer Jamie Vartan, fills every inch of the stage, with a fold-down bed, a shower, a kitchen-space, and endless closets. The play begins with Murphy in a hurling helmet screaming his head off about the inhabitants of Ballyturk. Murfi, however, is not dressed yet – and so ABC’s ‘The Look of Love’ soundtracks their ritualised manic getting-dressed routine. It will be the first of many 1980s pop songs that they dance to amongst other performances. They listen to mysterious voices from next door, are terrified of a cuckoo clock, and, when their alarm clock rings, throw darts at a wall of sketches and then enact the interactions of the pinpointed inhabitants of Ballyturk. And writer/director Enda Walsh relishes the physical theatre of their recreations of Ballyturk’s denizens.

Murphy leaps around the stage, even nearing its roof as he perches on a ledge to portray the town’s waspish storekeeper, embittered by her loss at bingo to her hated rival Mrs Reynolds. He has frequent fits, which Murfi holds him during, and becomes despairing at the presence of a fly which makes their routines less satisfactory so that he bangs his head against a wall till he bleeds. Murfi joins Murphy in destroying their LP collection, and cycles manically through Ballyturk’s rogue’s gallery, but his calmer character is defined by his elaborate stacking of biscuits. Stephen Rea’s startling arrival into this closed space is an equally startling change of pace, as he engages in a lengthy monologue about ageing, parenthood, and both the necessity and purpose of death in creating meaning by bringing lives, and stories, to an end.

But what’s it all about? Are they brothers? Is Rea their father? Perhaps. Murfi protects Murphy, and says he as the eldest should be first to go when Rea threatens one must die. But Teho Teardo’s foreboding music, and a chilling final minute, suggest a different interpretation – perhaps this is a more manic and surreal Room-like depiction of abduction? Rea’s musical number, in which a mic is lowered down from above certainly suggests effortless control. Or maybe it’s Plato’s allegory of the cave? Rea offers a glimpse of the world outside, but are its flowers that bloom from nothing in minutes more real than the rich Ballyturk created by the neon sign over the gallery of sketches, and could Murphy and Murfi ever accept a world outside their own mental projections as being as satisfyingly real as their imaginative creations?

It could be a poetic vision of mental illness. Ultimately I have no idea what this play is about and I rather like that. It’s simply barmy and brilliant.

4/5

Ballyturk continues its run at the Olympia Theatre until the 23rd of August.

November 25, 2011

Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer

Aidan Dooley’s acclaimed one man show returns for another sell-out tour, playing short runs at the Olympia Theatre and the Civic Theatre.

Dooley has been performing this solo tour de force all over the world since 2003. Originally conceived as a 15 minute ‘Living History’ piece for the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich it grew to its present length after the publication of Michael Smith’s 2002 book Tom Crean: Unsung Hero. We’re told at the outset that Crean never wrote a diary, unlike Scott and Shackleton, so that he was largely forgotten in histories of the polar expeditions of his two iconic commanders until the last decade. Dooley creates for us a version of the man from Annascaul, deriding Corkmen in a broad Kerry accent, mixing stoicism with wit, and demonstrating the unwieldy gear worn by the polar explorers as they dragged cumbersome supplies across the ice.

It’s surprising to see the much ridiculed Captain Scott being depicted with so much affection as a brave taciturn man, who sends Crean back from the final suicidal assault on the pole by muttering about Crean’s bad cough rather than telling him directly that he can’t go on. The personalities of the ship are well conveyed, from the unpopular officer being chased by a leopard seal who finds his subordinates cheering on the seal, to the young officer who sensationally admits on the trek back from Scott’s final base that he made a navigational mistake, and what’s worse made it three days ago, before belaying Crean’s obvious impulse to retrace their steps with an equally suicidal decision to keep going, and ski down an uncharted slope. The later discovery of Scott’s tent and the frozen bodies of his final team makes for an unexpectedly moving first act finale.

The second act relates the ill-fated voyage of the Endurance, which showcased Crean’s courage and remarkable physical stamina. Shackleton, the wry commercial mariner from Kildare, is less cripplingly class conscious than Scott of the Royal Navy, and his priority is keeping his men alive once their ship is crushed by pack-ice as their original simple plan is scuppered by ruinous events. Dooley downplays Crean’s heroism in volunteering for an expedition in a modified lifeboat that had about as much chance of succeeding as Captain Bligh finding dry land after being thrown off the Bounty. Instead he’s adamant he volunteered because trying to keep peace between mutineers and loyalists on the island base would have driven him demented.  Shackleton seriously states “I’m afraid I don’t know much about sailing” as they sail away towards South Geogia, but somehow Crean survives to marry and open his own pub; so that every morning he starts working at The South Pole

A fascinating insight into unsung heroism at the ends of the earth, recreated with warmth and humour, this is top notch theatre.

4/5

February 2, 2011

The Field

Tony-winning actor Bryan Dennehy trades in Eugene O’Neill and Broadway for John B Keane and the Olympia and the results are impressive.

Keane’s play was held to be the archetypal depiction of the historic Irish hunger for land. The housing bubble demonstrated that the hunger hadn’t disappeared, just morphed into a more genteel but equally insane form. Director Joe Dowling takes new meaning from the tragedy of the Bull McCabe, a man faced with disaster when the precious field he has been renting and carefully cultivating is put up for sale at a reserve price far above his means, but not that beyond that of an outsider. Dowling focuses as much on the conflict between legal rights and natural justice as on the hunger for land. The Bull is not a clear-cut villain. Both he and William Dee, who’s blown-in from Galway via England to bid on the field, have good justifications for their actions; but the Bull has raised his son Tadhg (Garrett Lombard on perma-scowl) in such a way as to make inevitable the excessive violence he uses against Dee in attempting to scare him off. Dennehy’s imposing physique is what makes this Bull McCabe intimidating; he can still physically bully people just by his mere presence. A wonderful tic by Dennehy is to have the Bull repeatedly remove his cap and massage his head when explaining his right to the land as cultivator rather than owner, in seeming despair that other people just don’t get it…

Dennehy’s accent hits American at times of stress in the first act, and occasionally makes inexplicable sorties to Belfast, but for the most part, and crucially during his lengthy scene with Tadhg in the second act, it’s securely stowed in Munster. The omerta which his action imposes on the village fails to be broken by the powerful condemnatory speech by the Bishop. This seems to find expression in the complicated set. A facade lowers down in front of the very solid interior of the pub, which rushes forth to fill the stage after an initial glimpse of the titular field. This shop-front then pulls up as we dive into the machinations occurring in this pub/auctioneers. More than once as characters walk past the shop-front and its unheard conversations it seems that primal familial secrets of the pub can never find expression in the outside world of church and law. Dennehy carries the tragedy while around him the supporting cast Fassbender for all their worth, almost as if the only sane response to the presence of such darkness in a small closed community is black humour.

The comedy of the work is more apparent than usual, witness the magnificent shrug given by publican/auctioneer Mick Flanagan (Bosco Hogan) at one point. Derbhle Crotty (so good in The Silver Tassie) in particular makes the long-suffering Mamie Flanagan more of a jester than normal, satirising the alpha-males around her. All this unexpected levity only counterpoints the Bull’s desperation, and the germ of truth in what he says. As he justifies himself by demagoguery against the priest and garda you can see what enticed Dowling and Dennehy here for this play. Irish people may not live on the land anymore, but many of them do feel that there is one law for the establishment and another for everyone else. In synching in with David McWilliams’ insider/outsider analysis of our current woes Keane’s 1965 play is made startlingly of our times….

4/5

The Field continues its run at the Olympia Theatre until February 13th.

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