King Lear – Review

Mill Productions

Mill Theatre Dundrum

11/10/17

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Having already seen five productions of King Lear since 2013 and lusted after tickets for numerous others, I am of the firm belief that this play is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and that there is always something new to be drawn out of its rich text, and I suspect I am not alone in this belief. It is regularly produced on stage, Beckett drew inspiration from it for Worstward Ho, there have been multiple screen adaptations of it, and quotes from the text abound in our daily speech. Under the direction of Geoffrey O’Keefe, Mill Productions’ King Lear certainly recognises the versatility of the text and, while producing a straightforward enough production particularly aimed at Leaving Cert. students, capitalises on it successfully in a number of instances, particularly with its gender-swapped Fool.

The interactions between the Fool (Clodagh Mooney Duggan) and Lear (Phillip Judge) are some of the highlights of the production as the nuances of their relationship evolve and the ever-intriguing and affecting power-dynamic between the two characters is well developed. Judge’s overall portrayal of Lear is, however, inconsistent; the transitions between different emotions and states of mind often come across as abrupt and contrived, losing some credibility in their haste.  Similarly there are instances where Goneril (Sharon McCoy) and Regan (Maureen O’Connell) fall into a character type and play their characters with broad strokes that are not always plausible. Despite these issues (which may be resolved as the cast settle into the script after opening-night), the performances are mostly impressive. Michael David McKernan delivers an excellent Edmund, finding the precarious balance between the deplorable elements of his character and the seductiveness of his conspiratorial role as written by Shakespeare in his numerous asides to the audience.

There is strong symbolism in the design of the production, with Gerard Bourke’s set design evoking a three-pointed crown looming large over the action on stage and Kris Mooney’s lighting design playing with shadow to great effect. The sound design, created by Declan Brennan, is less successful. Though it hints at interesting ideas around territory and competition, the running theme of animal noises, a symbol which is also introduced in the feral, animalistic movement in the opening scene, is not woven through the direction of the piece enough to be effective throughout. Instead there is a sense that it was an idea that was inserted into the production rather than one that evolved through it. Alongside this, the sheer volume during the storm scene drowns Lear’s speech, detracting from the strength of the scene.

In the words of the Fool, “Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest.” Had the symbolism been more subtly woven throughout, and had the performances indulged in a little more grey than black and white, some more of this production’s potential may have been realised. Mill Productions’ King Lear explores interesting and promising approaches to the play, but suffers from a lack of flow in terms of performance and sound design that disjoints it and at times leaves the audience feeling jolted through the play.

The Power of Wow – Dublin Fringe Festival Review

Bewley’s Cafe Theatre at Powerscourt Centre

Dublin Fringe Festival

21/09/17

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Image Credit: LUXXER

It is a truth universally acknowledged that weddings are often dramatic affairs, but what wedding could be dramatic enough to happen night after night at Dublin Fringe Festival?

What’s that I hear you say?

Yes, that’s right; it’s the wedding of Xnthony and Tiffany.

Following his repeated Eurovision rejections, pop-star Xnthony has decided to rebrand and create a new image for himself as a man “like Dónal Skehan,” by getting married to co-collaborator Tiffany Murphy. The ensuing wedding is an intense, yet comedic and entertaining, exploration of fame, desperation, misogyny and power. From the very opening of the wedding there is an evident tension between the two characters, with each vying for attention and Xnthony repeatedly sidelining the bride. As this tension develops we see the reasons behind the wedding revealing themselves, and a desperation for fame and recognition that becomes more and more destructive.

From simple suggestions, such as the timings of the vows, with Tiffany never getting to finish her sentence, to the more explicit grappling on the dance floor, The Power of Wow produces a layered exploration of misogyny and the expectations of marriage. Tiffany gradually begins rebelling against the rules she is supposed to follow and reveals that she is also marrying Xnthony for the purpose of boosting her fame as a “celebrity wife.” Murphy’s interludes in which she increasingly breaks down her initial speech that reminds us that there are certain sacrifices women are expected to make if they want to marry, certain rules to be followed, reflect the dilemma of marriage that women have been faced with for centuries. If they marry, certain social benefits accompany that, but at what cost?  This then leads both characters to reflect on their own decisions in trying to become famous, and the costs of those choices. From belly-laughing beginning to thought-provoking end, through comic songs, wild dances, a sharp script, a few shots of Mickey Finns, and a lot of bananas, X & Co. bring a challenging, at times hilarious, and consistently absorbing piece of work to the stage.

By interrogating the characters and their motives so thoroughly on stage, as well as making the audience complicit in the misogynistic behaviour in the production (while still maintaining a high-energy comic and musical show) X & Co. present a strong piece of theatre that leaves its audience unsure of whether they should laugh and clap. Exposing and delving into some of the recurrent forms of misogyny in society, and in marriage in particular, The Power of Wow delivers a punchy message and forces the audience to question their own position while never appearing didactic; this was a show with a message, and not (the currently all too common) message with a show.

This production is an engaging and challenging progression of the characters of Xnthony and Tiffany (who previously appeared in Douze) that involves the audience in both light-hearted and provocative, searching ways. The Power of Wow is a brave (and at times bizarre) work of art that is not afraid to push boundaries and does so with confidence, conviction, and bananas.

The Power of Wow runs at Dublin Fringe Festival until 23rd August.

 

The Ten Fringe Commandments

Originally published in TN2 Magazine as: Edinburgh Fringe Festival: The Ten Fringe Commandments. A Heavenly Guide to Navigating the Holiest of Fringes

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Ask anyone interested in the arts what they think of when they hear “Edinburgh” and what will they say?

(Don’t say Trainspotting or Jean Brodie, you’ll ruin my point.)

Yes, that’s right, it’s the Edinburgh Festivals.

For four weeks every August, the city is taken over by the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, though I have yet to attend that one). Both the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe were established seventy years ago in 1947 and, with the recent news that the Scottish Government has pledged an additional 10 million in funding for the Festivals; they are set to continue for a long time yet. The International Festival was founded in the wake of World War Two by Rudolph Bing and Henry Harvey Wood as a curated festival where high-quality theatre, music, dance and opera productions are brought from across the world to Edinburgh by invitation of the Festival Director. However, Fringe had a more interesting beginning (and arguably a more interesting future), and so it’s the Fringe that I am here to write about. The Fringe had a less official beginning in 1947 when eight theatre companies arrived in Edinburgh, uninvited, to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival. Though they were not there under the official auspices of the Festival, they made use of the already-present audiences and staged their work in alternative venues on…you’ve guessed it…the fringes of the International Festival. These performers set a precedent for others to imitate them in following years and the Fringe grew as a volunteer led event until 1958 when the Festival Fringe Society formed, formalising the Fringe’s existence and has continued to grow since then to become the World’s largest arts festival. To this day the Fringe Society follows the same basic principles of the original Fringe; though they will organise bookings, programmes and co-ordination of the thousands of productions that are staged, there is no vetting process like there is in the International Festival. As they say on their own website, the will include in the programme “anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them.”

Despite that torrent of information I just delivered, and the fact that I am a massive theatre addict, until this year I had never been to Edinburgh during festival time, but with both the International Festival and the Fringe celebrating their 70th year in 2017, I chose the right year for my first visit. As I was over reviewing work at the Fringe with the Network of Independent Critics for the last week in August, I had a jam-packed week in which  saw twenty-two shows, wrote many words, and walked many, many miles. I dived in at the deep-end, programme clutched to my chest, and spent a week sprinting from venue to venue up and down the city’s many hills and steps, fuelled by coffee, baked potatoes and a wild enthusiasm for theatre.

It was fantastic.

However, with 3,398 shows running at Fringe this year (and probably as many if not more next year), and the streets filled with excitement, performances, posters and, well, Fringe, it’s easy to find yourself drowning a little in the deluge of flyers, choices and chances, so I have put together a wee list to let you learn from my mistakes and get you acquainted with Edinburgh and the Fringe.

 

The Ten Fringe Commandments:

 

  1. Thou shalt not plan thy Fringe to the very last minute.

(There are always a few gems you may have missed in the programme. Leave yourself time and space to discover new things.)

  1. Thou shalt not narrow thine options.

( Sure, you may not think you’ll like that Morris Dance show about Madonna and existentialism, but you might surprise yourself. The thing you take a chance on may be terrible, but you might just stumble upon the next Pythons.)

  1. Thou shalt sleep.

(This is the voice of experience. You feel invincible at the start and going to that breakfast show after going to that gig that began at 2am seems entirely reasonable, but remember to pace yourself. By the end of a week you’ll be glad you pencilled in time to sleep.)

  1. Man cannot live on hasty snacks alone.

(Same as above. Nature Valley bars are great, but have at least one decent meal a day. If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, cook and freeze a few basic meals in advance, and remember that Edinburgh has a lot of delicious places to eat; leave space in your budget to explore a few of them.)

  1. Thou shalt remember to wear layers and comfortable shoes.

(Prepare for every season and lots of walking.)

  1. Thou shalt check and double-check thy venues.

(You don’t want to be left racing from Pleasance Courtyard to Pleasance Dome at the last minute.)

  1. Thou shalt leave thyself time.

(On a similar note to the sixth commandment, make sure you have time to get between shows and leave yourself some contingency time. I thought it would be no problem to trot the five minute walk between venues in the ten-minute gap between shows, but I forgot that the five minute walk was up a sizeable hill. I could have lit the whole show with the glow from my beetroot, breathless face.)

  1. Thou shalt talk to strangers.

(No, I don’t mean the scary ones down dark alleyways, but chat to the person next to you in the queue at box office or when you’re hanging around venues. Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to discover exciting work you might not have heard of otherwise.)

  1. Thou shalt remember that there is more to Edinburgh than the Festivals.

(With all the festival-ing, don’t forget to take some time out to clear your head. Lots of people decide to climb Arthur’s Seat, but if you’re looking for a less strenuous escape take yourself for a picnic at the Botanic Gardens or have a wander round one of the city’s many museums and galleries.)

  1. Thou shalt enjoy thyself.

(The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world; throw yourself in, enjoy the unexpected, make memories and have fun!)

Now, my young Fringelings, you have a year to prepare. Go forth, write plays, save money, play “Yes, and…,” get excited for Fringe and let these commandments help you on your way.

The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Edinburgh Fringe Review

New Town Theatre

27/08/17

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As is the case with anything improvised, it is difficult to review it in the same way as I would another theatre show; the stories I saw on Saturday are not going to be the same as those you might see on the day you see it. However, I can say with confidence that the stories you will see in The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron Munchausen will probably be hilarious and entertaining.

The trio of performers base their sketches off of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (a 1988 film directed by Terry Gilliam), but take suggestions from the audience, which brings an even greater touch of the absurd to the tales than was there to begin with. Using characters such as Magesterious Wizard and Sir Jonah of Wales, the performers deliver confident, quick-thinking performances in which jokes and gags abound.

On the day I attended Jeremy Corbyn was conveniently speaking upstairs, lending himself as material for many topical jokes throughout. Alongside this, the performers retained information they gathered from the audience and, rather than simply incorporating it into the piece at the time that they asked for it, they created running jokes throughout that had the audience joining in conspiratorial laughter as they anticipated the directions of the tales.

Blending smart comedy and daft gags, The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron  Munchausen is an entertaining production that is as unpredictable as it is absurd.

There May Be Dragons – Edinburgh Fringe Review

Stories Alive

The Hispaniola

26/08/17

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As part of a pair of shows, There May Be Pirates…There May Be Dragons, Eden Ballantyne of Stories Alive presents the exciting story of Gilly and the dragon egg she finds while playing hide and seek. Having found the egg, but not knowing what it is, Gilly takes it home with her, and when a dragon hatches, the adventure begins.

The story is an engaging and dramatic tale that captures all of the excitement of classic fairytales, but it goes one step further. While it captures the thrill of a classic fairytale, it doesn’t leave the adventures to knights or princes, instead, our protagonists are both young girls who decide to take matters into their own hands, and raise and protect the dragon themselves. It is a refreshing story that opens itself out to everyone listening.

Playing the role of Gruff, the troubadour, Ballantyne narrates the story with a magically infectious enthusiasm. Though the production is, for the most part, a simple and pared-back storytelling session, the few props used are truly beautiful and very effective. The main prop used is a dragon puppet, used to portray Crackle the dragon. It is a well made puppet that seems to take on a life of its own under Ballantyne’s direction. Another notable point in the performance is when Gruff calls for children to volunteer to help in acting out scenes from the story. With a light-hearted, low-pressure approach, Ballantyne involves his young audience in the show and lets them share in the excitement of the story.

There May Be Dragons,  is an excellent storytelling show that takes a classic style and format and breathes new life into it in the form of the adventurous characters of Gilly and Brenna.

Shakespeare for Breakfast & Dickens for Dinner – Edinburgh Fringe Review

C Theatre

C Chambers Street

26/08/17 & 27/08/17

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Charles Dickens, author of such novels as Hard Times, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, wouldn’t exactly spring to mind as a cheery soul (though there can be no doubt that he has written some belly laughs dotted through his works), however, C Theatre’s production Dickens for Dinner takes his classic A Christmas Carol and turns it into an irreverent comedy.

After warming their audience with soup on the way into the auditorium (no pleas for gruel here), C Theatre presents a story of Scrooge, failed popstar and confirmed curmudgeon. Narrated by a leather-clad Dickens, this 1980s themed take on the classic novel maintains a surprisingly strong connection to the source material, while seemingly changing just about everything in some way. As in the original, the story revolves around the fact that Scrooge hates Christmas; good luck to anyone who utters the words “Christmas Number One” in his presence. He is visited by the spirits of three famous musicians who remind him of the mistakes he has made in his life and the changes he needs to make to avoid the same purgatorial fate as his late musical collaborator, Shirley Marley.

Full of self-referential gags and clever word-play on Dickens’ original material Dickens for Dinner is by no means a serious literary examination. It is a silly and witty production that serves as a light-hearted introduction to a classic story.

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In a similar vein, C Theatre presents Shakespeare for Breakfast, in which they dissect Macbeth and stitch it back together in the shape of a comedy rather than the tragedy Shakespeare wrote it as. From the very start of the show, when the actors remind us that we cannot call the play or character by its real name and so re-name it McGary, it is clear that this is a production that, rather than indulging in any reverential treatment, will turn the bard on his head and tickle his feet.

The show takes modern references and references to other Shakespeare plays, blending them together to create this humorous tale of McGary’s dastardly attempts to become President of the Thistly Bottom Allotment Society, spurred on by his rather spoiled and power-hungry wife, and some unconventional witches wearing Love Island t-shirts.

Once again retaining the original plot while playing with the finer details, C Theatre create an hilarious production of Macbeth, sorry, McGary, which delights in its own adept silliness.

The Complete History of Europe (More or Less) – Edinburgh Fringe Review

More or Less Theatre

C Chambers Street

26/08/17

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Fitting about 5000 years of European history in to an hour-long show is no mean feat, but Malcom Galea and Joseph Zammit of More or Less Theatre do so with a generous helping of gusto and mischief. The Complete History of Europe (More or Less), takes its audience through a whistle-stop tour of European history, covering events from the Bronze Age to Brexit, dispensing lots of facts (and a little bit of fiction) on the way.

The performers make a strong double act, with Zammit playing the joker, while Galea plays the more straight-laced, long-suffering historian of the pair. Zammit’s character provides gags aplenty as he plays on puns of historical figures’ names, devises ridiculous characterisations and appears in increasingly outlandish costumes. The combination of fast-fact delivery and comedy is reminiscent of Terry Deary’s successful Horrible Histories, though More or Less Theatre provide their own distinctive, theatrical style. The structure of the production, with a large map of Europe in the centre, onto which the performers stick labels of the important events they cover, is simple and open but bright and engaging. Their final song about the European Union is a definite highlight, blending comedy, history and politics in a family friendly song. The self-awareness of the performances suits the style and subject of the production, adding to the comedy with lines such as the one referencing James Watt’s “perfectly serviceable Scottish accent” safeguarding this theatrical history lesson from ever taking itself too seriously.

Even as a grown up, a bit of a history nerd, and someone who studied history all the way through to my Leaving Certificate, I learned some new facts during this jam-packed show; as a family show this production really has something for everyone. The Complete History of Europe (More or Less) is a feast of laughter and learning that’s not to be missed.