Talking Movies

March 27, 2017

My Own Personal Theatre Awards 2016

It seems odd that Irish theatre should be so ruled by just one set of awards, especially when they have such transparent biases. Someday perhaps someone with the necessary money, reach, and prestige will set up an alternative to the Irish Times Theatre Awards. In the meantime here’s my 2nd annual Theatre Awards, pitched as a corrective; like the Film Top 10 is pitched somewhere between the mid-1990s Oscars and MTV Movie Awards; operating under the fervent aspiration that what is good ought be popular and what is popular ought be good.

Best Production

The Plough and the Stars (The Abbey)

Northern Star (Project Arts Centre)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (The Gate)

The Beauty Queen of Leenane (The Gaiety)

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (The Abbey)

Othello (The Abbey)

 

Best Director

Lynne Parker – Northern Star (Project Arts Centre)

Sean Holmes – The Plough and the Stars (The Abbey)

Garry Hynes – The Beauty Queen of Leenane (The Gaiety)

Jeremy Herrin – Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (The Abbey)

Joe Dowling – Othello (The Abbey)

Annabelle Comyn – The Wake (The Abbey)

Ethan McSweeny – The Father (The Gate)

Best Actor

Denis Conway – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (The Gate)

Marty Rea – Othello (The Abbey)

Owen Roe – The Father (The Gate)

Peter Macon – Othello (The Abbey)

Phelim Drew – Kings of the Kilburn High Road (The Gaiety)

Gary Lydon – The Weir (The Pavilion)

 

Best Actress

Fiona Bell – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (The Gate)

Aisling O’Sullivan – The Beauty Queen of Leenane (The Gaiety)

Cathy Belton – Helen & I (Civic Theatre)

Derbhle Crotty – Juno and the Paycock (The Gate)

Lisa Dwyer Hogg – After Miss Julie (Project Arts Centre)

 

Best Supporting Actor

Marty Rea – Juno and the Paycock/The Beauty Queen of Leenane (The Gate/The Gaiety)

Rory Nolan – Northern Star (Project Arts Centre)

Darragh Kelly – Northern Star (Project Arts Centre)

David Ganly – The Plough and the Stars (The Abbey)

Paul Kennedy – Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (The Abbey)

Aaron Monaghan – The Beauty Queen of Leenane (The Gaiety)

Neill Fleming – Hamlet (The Mill Theatre)

Brian Doherty – The Wake (The Abbey)

 

Best Supporting Actress

Marie Mullen – The Beauty Queen of Leenane (The Gaiety)

Janet Moran – The Plough and the Stars (The Abbey)

Eileen Walsh – The Plough and the Stars (The Abbey)

Ali White – Northern Star (Project Arts Centre)

Sophie Robinson – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (The Gate)

Caoimhe O’Malley – Juno and the Paycock/The Constant Wife (The Gate/The Gate)

Darcy Donnellan – Nowhere Now (Players Theatre)

 

Best New Play

The Father by Florian Zeller (The Gate)

The Meeting by Grainne Curistan (Players Theatre)

Nowhere Now by Daniel O’Brien (Players Theatre)

Helen and I by Meadhbh McHugh (Civic Theatre)

 

Best Set Design

Paul O’Mahony – The Wake (The Abbey)

Jonathan Fensom – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (The Gate)

Francis O’Connor – The Father/The Beauty Queen of Leenane (The Gate/The Gaiety)

Ciaran Bagnall – Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (The Abbey)

Riccardo Hernandez – Othello (The Abbey)

Gerard Bourke – Hamlet (The Mill Theatre)

 

Best Lighting Design

Paul Keogan – Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme/The Plough and the Stars (The Abbey/The Abbey)

Sinead McKenna – Othello/Juno and the Paycock (The Abbey/The Gate)

Rick Fisher – The Father (The Gate)

Kris Mooney – Hamlet (The Mill Theatre)

 

Best Sound Design

Emma Laxton – Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (The Abbey)

Philip Stewart – The Plough and the Stars (The Abbey)

Denis Clohessy – The Father (The Gate)

Ferdy Roberts & Filter Theatre – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Grand Canal Theatre)

 

Special Mention

Pippa Nixon – The Tempest (The Globe)

I’m loath to include anything I saw in London in these awards, but an exception must be made here.

Nixon’s commanding turn as Ariel was one of those performances that upend your perception of a play.

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October 3, 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Director Sean Holmes returns to the Dublin after his bold version of The Plough and the Stars some months back, but this show seems to indicate he was on his very best behaviour for that…

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The implacable Duke of Athens Theseus (Harry Jardine) is distracted from his upcoming nuptials to Hippolyta (Cat Simmons) by romantic problems in his court, specifically the complaint of Egeus (Ferdy Roberts) that Lysander (John Lightbody) has wooed his daughter Hermia, despite Egeus sanctioning her betrothal to Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander run away to the forest beyond the writ of Theseus, but a jealous Helen (Clare Dunne) betrays her erstwhile friend Hermia by telling Demetrius of this deception. As the four lovers stumble thru the forest they fall foul of the machinations of quarrelling fairy royal couple, Oberon and Titania (Jardine and Simmons again). Oberon, aided by his faithful spirit Puck (Roberts again), amuses himself toying with the mortals’ affections, and humiliates his Queen into the bargain by making her fall in love with Bottom (Fergus O’Donnell), transformed into a donkey.

Well, that’s the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Holmes and co-director Stef O’Driscoll don’t seem to have much interest in that. Instead the focus is on Ed Gaughan as Peter Quince, Fergus O’Donnell as Bottom, and Keith De Barra as Keith the gentlest drummer in Wicklow three years running – aka The Mechanicals. Who doesn’t love a high concept ditched at the first sign of trouble? Well, I don’t when a large portion of the running time is spent in setting up the conceit that O’Donnell is a Mancunian musician stepping in from the audience to keep the show going after we’ve been told guest star Brendan Gleeson is trapped in a lift and can’t play Bottom so the show can’t go on, and that concept then fades into air, thin air, after generating too much ‘meta-fiction’ hot air.

To paraphrase GK Chesterton, I will not say that what occurred at the Grand Canal Theatre the other night was a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but rather a mixture of stand-up comedy, slapstick nonsense, sub-D’Unbelievables audience interaction, and musical numbers, into which iambs from A Midsummer Night’s Dream were introduced from time to time with a decent show of regularity. If, like Blackadder, you cannot find comedy in Shakespeare’s comedies, you don’t have to do them; you can do something else instead, maybe something that’s more your cup of tea, like Noises Off. I gave tgSTAN’s Cherry Orchard and Holmes’ Plough & Stars enthusiastic standing ovations, but I did not stand and clap this, because to deliver a bold and vibrant interpretation of a classic it is first necessary to engage with the actual text of the classic.

Cat Simmons was magnificently cast as Titania, someday I hope to see her perform the role in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

2.5/5

September 21, 2016

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

The Abbey characteristically gives the bloody cul-de-sac of the Somme equal precedence with the seminal Rising in this year of centenaries, but this is a stunning revival of Frank McGuinness’ work of imaginative empathy.

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Old Pyper (Sean McGinley) is haunted. In his workshops he rails against phantoms, guilt-ridden over being the sole survivor of a band of brothers wiped out at the Somme in 1916. As he remembers the slaughter the phantoms materialise, and we flashback to their meeting for the first time after enlisting. There is Young Pyper (Donal Gallery), to all concerned instantly pegged as a ‘rare boyo’, sparring with Craig (Ryan Donaldson). There is the inseparable Moore (Chris McCurry), blind as a bat, and his more confident friend Millen (Iarla McGowan). There is the disgraced minister Roulston (Marcus Lamb), an old enemy of Pyper’s, and a Derry boy Crawford (Jonny Holden). And then there’s Belfast bashers Anderson (Andy Kellegher) and McIlwaine (Paul Kennedy). As these pairs, existing and new, bond the terrible sacrifice of the Somme campaign looms before them all.

McGuinness’ rambunctious second act, in which he introduces eight characters in uniform in a barracks setting, and yet makes them all vividly individual, is a marvel of concision and inspiration, and, after seeing The Plough & the Stars earlier this year on the same stage, perhaps just a bit reminiscent of O’Casey. Thoroughly contemporary though is the abstracted third act’s pairing of the men on their leave before the full measure of devotion is called for. Not least because while Millen forces some courage into Moore on a rickety bridge, Crawford literally beats metaphysical common sense into Roulston, and Anderson helps McIlwaine mount a late Orange march, Pyper on a remote island entices Craig into revealing that he is also a rare boyo. McGuinness’ reaching across the divide to depict Unionists is mirrored in an audience weeping for McIlwaine, who would of course beat them all senseless for being Taigs.

The emotional knockout punch of the final charge by the doomed soldiers may be the most moving theatrical moment 2016 will see.

4.5/5

July 31, 2016

Dublin Theatre Festival: 10 Plays

Tickets go on sale for the 2016 Dublin Theatre Festival at 10:00am on Tuesday August 16th. Here are 10 shows to keep an eye on.

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Helen & I 27th September – October 1st Civic Theatre

The great Annabelle Comyn decamps to Druid to direct an original script by newcomer Meadhbh McHugh. Rebecca O’Mara is the ‘I’, returning home to fence with older sister Helen (Cathy Belton) as their father lies dying. It’s always great when Druid tour, and hopefully this will be a return to form for Comyn after the bafflingly praised debacle of The Wake.

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream 28th September – October 1st Grand Canal

Sean Holmes, responsible for the recent, storming Plough & Stars in the Abbey, returns with co-director Stef O’Driscoll for a Shakespearean rampage. This looks to be very much a ‘This was not Chekhov’ production, but in the best sense, as the text is stripped down to 90 minutes, with live grunge band, nerf gun battle, and an epic food fight.

 

Don Giovanni 29th September – October 2nd Gaiety

Roddy Doyle has for some reason decided to update the libretto to Mozart’s opera about the womaniser par excellence. Eyebrows must be raised at the amount of ‘versions’ he’s doing versus original writing in recent years. Pan Pan’s Gavin Quinn will be directing, while Sinead McKenna follows up her acclaimed diabolist lighting design for The Gigli Concert’s finale with some bona fide operatics.

 

The Father 29th September – October 15th Gate

Just when Michael Colgan had lurched into self-parody by programming The Constant Wife he conjures an ace from nowhere: a piece of new writing from France that has swept all before it on Broadway and Piccadilly. Ethan McSweeney directs Owen Roe as a man suffering from Alzheimer’s, while the supporting cast includes Peter Gaynor and Charlotte McCurry, and Francis O’Connor is set designer.

 

Guerilla 30th September – October 2nd Project Arts Centre

It wouldn’t be a festival without some fellow PIIGS getting bolshy about neo-liberalism, the failure of Europe, and the age of austerity. This year it’s El Conde de Torrefiel company from Spain, presenting the confused inner universe of a group of people inhabiting the same city and collective consciousness, represented by projected text over an electronica concert, Tai Chi class, and conference.

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Death at Intervals 4th October – October 8th Smock Alley

Trailing clouds of glory from its Galway premiere comes an adaptation of Jose Saramango’s novel directed by Kellie Hughes. Olwen Fouere is the grim reaper in retirement, accompanied by her faithful musician Raymond Scannell. Death likes to dance too. A mixture of music, theatre, and dance, with Scannell also co-composing with Alma Kelliher; but he did also compose Alice in Funderland

 

Alien Documentary 4th October – October 8th Project Arts Centre

I’ve read this production’s pitch repeatedly and I’m damned if I can figure out what it is. Director Una McKevitt is apparently mixing transcriptions of real people’s conversations with invented dialogues of her own imagining, so that’s her writing credit sorted. But what exactly is this show? PJ Gallagher, James Scales, and Molly O’Mahony having unconnected deep/comic conversations for 90 minutes?

 

The Seagull 5th October – 16th October Gaiety

Writer Michael West and director Annie Ryan together fashion a modern version of Chekhov’s tale of unrequited loves starring the oft-Fassbendering Derbhle Crotty as well as Genevieve Hulme-Beaman who shone in support in the Abbey’s You Never Can Tell. But will this Corn Exchange production be as hit and miss as their version of Desire Under the Elms that severely downsized O’Neill’s ambition?

 

Donegal 6th October – 15th October Abbey

Frank McGuinness’s new musical/play with music/musical play sounds unfortunately like a pilot for the Irish version of Nashville, as a fading country music star is threatened by a new talent she must curry favour with for her own survival. Director Conall Morrison specialises in exuberance, and grand dames Deirdre Donnelly and Eleanor Methven appear beside Once’s Megan Riordan, but can McGuinness make a comeback?

 

First Love 12th October – 16th October O’Reilly Theatre

Reminding us why he was important before the age of austerity Michael Colgan directs Gate stalwart Barry McGovern in a solo Beckett outing. This time they head up the road to Belvedere College for a Beckett novella turned into a one-man show about a rather existentialist-sounding refusal of a man to fall in love with a woman who’s in love with him.

April 20, 2016

The Plough and the Stars

The Abbey curtains up second in the curious case of the duelling Sean O’Casey productions for the 1916 centenary, but their rendition of his 1926 provocation surpasses the Gate’s Juno.

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O’Casey’s final Abbey play depicts the Rising exploding the lives of the extended Clitheroe family and their tenement neighbours. The socially ambitious Nora Clitheroe (Kate Stanley Brennan) is cordially disliked by her neighbours Mrs Gogan (Janet Moran) and Bessie Burgess (Eileen Walsh). Voluble dislike exists within the Clitheoroe clan as preening Citizen Army peacock Uncle Peter (James Hayes) is tormented by the Young Covey (Ciaran O’Brien) for his ignorance of true socialism, and ridiculous garb. Ignoring these political spats is Jack Clitheroe (Ian-Lloyd Anderson) who resigned from the Citizen Army on being passed over. However, when it’s revealed he was promoted, but Nora hid the letter from him, Jack furiously leaves her to join a monster rally whose Pearse-derived rhetoric stirs the patriotism of even the disreputable Fluther (David Ganly). The Rising sets the scene for looting and Nora’s undoing…

English director Sean Holmes has spoken of how he approached the text as if it was a Shakespeare play, not bound by its period. This aesthetic is evident everywhere, from Jon Bausor’s intimidating steel staircase with multiple landings, to Catherine Fay’s modern dress costumes including hardhats, via Paul Keogan’s disruptive lights which render the Figure in the Window a glare from a big screen in a pub, to Philip Stewart’s thumping music between acts, and it pays off in spades. Needless to say this is all very much ‘Not Chekhov’ to reference the multiple audience walkouts back in October at a similarly radical take on The Cherry Orchard. But it works, and works gloriously. Consumptive Mollser (Mahnoor Saad) singing the national anthem at the start of the show (in a transparent bid to bring the audience to their feet at every performance) before coughing blood; Fluther, Mrs Gogan, and Mrs Burgess all directly cajoling and heckling the audience; Fluther robbing cans and puncturing one which sprays the audience before he desperately tries to drink it hands free – all these touches bring a Shakespearean vividness and rambunctiousness that casts these characters in a new light. Fluther’s drinking, whoring, and disdain of piety and patriotism becomes Falstaffian, Hotspur and Lady Percy hover over the abrupt parting of the Clitheroes, and King Lear shimmers over the finale’s madness and dead bodies, not least because O’Casey’s final kick in the teeth does in his more abrasive version of Cordelia.

4.5/5

The Plough and the Stars continues its run at the Abbey Theatre until the 23rd of April.

Have you read Jenersky’s Thesis on the Origin, Development, and Consolidation of the Evolutionary Idea of the Proletariat?

November 10, 2015

An Alternative Abbey 2016 Programme

I’d been waiting for the Abbey’s new season, and was disappointed by it. I didn’t think much of their commission choices, and felt their other selections betrayed a peculiarly apologetic and almost self-loathing attitude towards a celebration of our independence. So I thought about what I might have programmed instead…

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Here are the essentials of the Abbey’s 2016 programme to September:

 

*Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland

(dir: Vicky Featherstone)

The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey

(dir: Sean Holmes)

*New Middle East by Mutaz Abu Saleh

(dir: Bashar Murkus)

*Tina’s Idea of Fun by Sean P Summers

(dir: Gerry Stembridge)

Othello by William Shakespeare

(dir: Joe Dowling)

*Town is Dead by Philip McMahon & Ray Scannell

(dir: TBC)

The Wake by Tom Murphy

(dir: Annabelle Comyn)

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme by Frank McGuinness

(dir: Jeremy Herrin)

 

Here are the essentials of my alternative Abbey 2016 programme:

 

*Commissioned Work by Mark O’Rowe

(dir: Mark O’Rowe)

John Bull’s Other Island by George Bernard Shaw

(dir: Roisin McBrinn)

*Not I by Samuel Beckett, Play by Samuel Beckett, On Baile’s Strand by WB Yeats, Riders to the Sea by JM Synge

(dir: Annie Ryan)

*Delirium by Enda Walsh

(dir: Conall Morrison)

Making History by Brian Friel

(dir: Patrick Mason)

*The Effect by Lucy Prebble

(dir: Annabelle Comyn)

Commissioned Work by Marina Carr

(dir: Selina Cartmell)

The Wake by Tom Murphy

(dir: Annabelle Comyn)

 

*Plays marked with an asterisk are on the Peacock stage.

This alternative programme is of course a fantasy, because it takes no account of the availability of directors and playwrights, but it does utilise people who have done fine work at the Abbey in recent years. It commissions new plays from two of our finest playwrights, Mark O’Rowe and Marina Carr, and gives Enda Walsh’s exuberant Dostoevsky adaptation from 2008 the chance of a subtler interpretation. The Shavian elephant in the room is finally tackled, and what better time for Shaw’s exuberant interrogation of our capacity for self-government? The late Brian Friel is honoured with a timely production of his exploration of exile and myth-making in Irish history, while Tom Murphy’s more recent dissection of exile and return ends the summer season. The Abbey’s fullest spectrum is utilised: Revival classics are paired with two of Beckett’s trickiest works, and Comyn returns to her beginnings in directing a contemporary English play.

The Abbey perhaps stands at an odd angle to 1916. It is after all a national theatre older than its politically constituted nation, led in its early days by Anglo-Irish writers with a gift for enraging their Irish audience, and its seminal engagement with the decade of revolution was by a writer whose corrosive scepticism spared no institution. The Plough and the Stars is the obvious choice for marking the Rising, perhaps too obvious a choice. It has been staged too frequently to too little effect in the last decade to be wheeled out once again to throw cold water over Pearse’s dream. Not least when Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme is deliberately programmed against it, as if we’re apologising to Unionists for rebelling when we could have been nobly dying for the British Empire instead. As for Othello, one quote deployed by Haughey does not a state of the nation play make. Serious engagement with Shakespeare’s quatercentenary would be a post-colonial take on The Tempest.

1916 is to be celebrated like 1776 or 1789, not apologised for, agonised over, or disparaged. The only way to discuss a programme of plays is to parse it qualitatively play by play, because that’s how people choose to go to the theatre: play by play, depending on their particular artistic cost-benefit analysis of the actors, the playwright, the director, and the subject matter. I’ve felt compelled in disliking so many of the Abbey’s individual picks to present an alternative programme of plays. Consonant with my banishing O’Casey I say there’s little use tearing down everything and building up nothing.

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.

May 1, 2014

Twelfth Night

Wayne Jordan tackles Shakespeare’s serious comedy and the result is nearly three and a half hours of mystifying directorial decisions.

Viola (Sophie Robinson) and her ship’s Captain (Muiris Crowley) are washed up on the shores of Illyria. Her twin brother Sebastian having drowned, Viola adopts his wardrobe to become a male courtier to Duke Orsino (Barry John O’Connor); quickly being favoured above long-suffering Valentine (Elaine Fox). The Duke is in love with the widowed Olivia (Natalie Radmall-Quirke), who’ll have nothing to do with him. Olivia is also fending off the suit of Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Mark Lambert), friend of her dissolute cousin Sir Toby Belch (Nick Dunning). Her court is split between the punctiliousness of Malvolio (Mark O’Halloran) and the buffoonery of Sir Toby, with the Fool Feste (Ger Kelly) and Fabian (Lloyd Cooney) siding with Toby, especially when Olivia’s servant Maria (Ruth McGill) devises a prank to humble Malvolio. But Sebastian (Gavin Fullam) did not drown, he was saved by Antonio (Conor Madden), and their arrival causes comedic chaos…

That at least was what Shakespeare wrote, but it’s not what Jordan renders onstage. The opening line ‘If music be the food of love, play on’ is taken a bit … literally: 5 massive speakers are wheeled out onto the stage and Orsino plays raucous music on a mandolin plugged into them. It’s unfortunately reminiscent of the start of Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White’ video… The speakers are (saving a fridge, table and chairs) all the set Ciaran O’Melia provides, and they’re redundant for most of the action. When active they provide comedy extraneous to the text: playing ‘Sexy Boy’ for the Duke parading his Freddie Mercury cloak, and Rage Against the Machine for Sir Toby standing on a table shouting profanities until the music is turned off. Sir Toby also gets a gong sounded when he does the crane pose during a fight, and he leads Feste and Sir Andrew in a barbershop version of ‘Firestarter’. These are all funny only by virtue of being inappropriate, but if you can’t find comedy within Shakespeare why stage him? Why not set Twelfth Night in Manhattan and sprinkle it with Woody Allen one-liners to get laughs?

This is the third Jordan Abbey production I’ve suffered thru after Alice in Funderland and The Plough and the Stars, and he apparently has no idea of pacing. Twelfth Night starts at 730 and runs until 1055 with one interval. It’s a romantic comedy, and it’s nearly 3 ½ hours long… The mark of a confident director of Shakespeare is their willingness to cut the Bard’s text. Instead Jordan inserts material: the insistence on having everyone listen while one character sings a song makes you feel you’ve wandered into some Cameron Crowe nightmare. The ‘brave’ anti-Catholicism of Alice is also in evidence, as, unheeding of Calvary’s critique of the blanket vilification of priests, Jordan decides that the priest interrogating Malvolio should be played by Feste adopting a thick Kerry accent. His appearance being preceded by a jibe from Shakespeare produces the bizarre spectacle of English Anti-Catholicism enacted via Irish Anti-Catholicism.

And then there’s Jordan’s queering of Shakespeare and weak casting… Robinson fails to project the necessary comic vivacity as Viola, indeed by the finale Viola has become a petulant teenager, and her Northern accent does not synch with Fullam playing her ‘identical’ twin Sebastian at all. But internal logic isn’t much of a concern in this production. Sebastian is introduced in bed with Antonio (in their tiny whiteys, as everyone must appear in their underwear), as a very literal reading of a few lines of dialogue is used to make them a gay couple. But Jordan wants us to applaud this enlightened reading while at the same time having Valentine play pantomime shocked when she sees it, which is just ridiculously smug back-slapping: much like Alice’s ‘satire’, Jordan appears to think he’s scandalising an audience of Eisenhower and DeValera stalwarts. And then with massive illogicality Fullam’s fey mannerisms as Sebastian are instantly dropped for an enthusiastic sexual relationship with Olivia. Sebastian is either inconsistent or opportunistic, and faithful Antonio is totally shafted by Sebastian’s marriage to Olivia, who herself is played as obviously still in love with Viola in her female guise. Internal logic schlogic…

The obvious saving grace of this production is the great Mark O’Halloran as Malvolio. He is very funny, especially in convincing himself by crazy leaps of logic that Olivia has written him a love letter. His hysterical appearance in a full yellow-bodysuit underneath his suit is perhaps over-egging the comic pudding, but it’s saved by the perverse dignity with which he replaces his glasses over his hooded head. Radmall-Quirke also exudes that quality of perverse dignity in fending off Malvolio, and the gradual softening of her icy facade is well played. Ger Kelly is also a splendid physical presence as Feste, and his delivery of Fool’s wit sparkling. The impulse to go too far is intermittently present in Lambert’s drunken Sir Andrew, but his outraged vanity gets the biggest laugh out of the script Shakespeare actually wrote. Dunning, however, feels like he’s playing Aidan Gillen’s Sir Toby, not his own.

Dunning’s unexpectedly mean-spirited Sir Toby seems to feed into a bizarre interpretation of the text by Jordan, in which he wants to queer Shakespeare by having the traditional climatic heterosexual marriages be a parade of misery. Olivia and Antonio are unhappy at losing Viola and Sebastian. The Duke marries Viola for no apparent reason, making Valentine unhappy. Sir Toby is horrid to Sir Andrew, and loses his only friend, while Sir Andrew runs away from Illyria. And Malvolio runs thru the audience, with his face stained with tears. O’Halloran is so good you feel like crying at Malvolio’s humiliation, but his exit line could be high comedy as could Sir Toby and Sir Andrew’s parting. Instead after 3 ½ hours nearly everyone ends up miserable. The finale is thus so muted that when Feste sings you half-expect the characters to come back. And then they all do, in their underwear … and gather under a giant shower-head, before running off to don bath-robes before bowing. As with so much else, such as the pointless drumming minor characters start before the audience has returned from the interval, I had no idea why that decision was taken.

This production will no doubt receive the acclaim that all Jordan’s projects get, but after three duds I can only protest such acclaim’s undeserved.

2/5

Twelfth Night continues its run at the Abbey until May 24th.

August 7, 2012

The Plough and the Stars

Director Wayne Jordan reprises his acclaimed 2010 production of O’Casey’s old warhorse, but, even with returning stars Joe Hanley and Gabrielle Reidy on good form, this fails to ever soar…

O’Casey’s final Abbey play sees the 1916 Rising explode into the lives of the extended Clitheroe family and their tenement neighbours. The socially ambitious Nora Clitheroe (Kelly Campbell) is cordially disliked by her neighbours Mrs Gogan (Deirdre Molloy) and Bessie Burgess (Gabrielle Reidy). Cordial dislike also exists within the extended Clitheoroe clan as the preening Citizen Army member Uncle Peter (Frankie McCafferty) is tormented by the Young Covey (Laurence Kinlan) for placing nationalism above socialism. Ignoring these political discussions is Jack Clitheroe (Barry Ward) whose pride has seen him resign from the Citizen Army on being passed over for promotion. However, when it’s revealed that he was promoted, but Nora hid the letter because she wanted him out of danger, Jack furiously leaves her to join a monster rally that stirs the patriotism of even the disreputable Fluther (Joe Hanley). But though the Rising has begun Nora isn’t finished yet…

This show lacks the comic vim of recent O’Casey productions, and this makes it feel slow-paced. Peter and the Covey just don’t strike sparks the way they should, and without that relationship being totally anarchic Nora is no longer trying to keep order in a madhouse but is merely trying to social climb within a tenement, which makes it difficult to empathise with her. Nora’s line “What do I care for th’ others? I can only think of me own self”; an attitude that would’ve brought the French Revolution to a shuddering halt; becomes uncomfortably emblematic, especially as it immediately precedes her pleading with Jack to come home,utterly oblivious to the disturbing squib-enhanced suffering of his dying comrade. Thankfully Hanley is very funny as Fluther, and Reidy very skilfully executes O’Casey’s most complicated character as she lifts the curtain on Burgess’ constant abrasiveness to reveal an equally generous heart.

Kate Brennan’s grimly realistic costume and make-up as the prostitute Rosie Redmond is contradicted by the overly self-performative turn she gives alongside Tony Flynn’s complementarily pouting barman. The effect is disorienting, and when the viciously combative Burgess and Gogan arrive into this milieu it defeats Casey’s satiric intent in juxtaposing Pearse’s rhetoric with poverty the new republic would not ameliorate. The high-flown idealism of the Man in the Window becomes a relief from such petty squalor. The unflattering juxtaposition caused riots in 1926 but here the blood-thirsty speech is instead rendered only slightly more extreme than Jefferson’s “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Oddly enough its genuinely rousing effect is counterpointed by the production’s most moving moments being the unseen troops singing ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ as they march past on their way back to the hell of the trenches, and the two English Tommies climactically crooning ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’. The latter moment saves an act almost ruined by an imaginary window within Tom Piper’s steel scaffolding set being established then sloppily ignored…

This is a decent show overall albeit with serious flaws, but in the wake of tremendous renditions of The Silver Tassie and Juno and the Paycock ‘decent’ can only disappoint.

2.5/5

The Plough and the Stars continues its run at Belvedere College until the 15th of September.

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