Review – Dinner in Mulberry Street

Bewley’s Café Theatre

05/12/18

j o'neill, a dorrell, f roggio in mulberry 3-1

Image: Futoshi Sakauchi

A Christmas show in Bewley’s is always a treat, even without the pre-show mince pie and coffee I enjoyed beside the fire yesterday. Adapted by Michael James Ford and directed by Bairbre Ni Chaoimh, this year’s Christmas production of Dinner in Mulberry Street tells the story of a young couple, Agnes and Dick Burdoon, who have fallen on hard times and find themselves living on Mulberry Street with a dying fire, hungry bellies, and little else. However, when Dick sells one of their last possessions, they are greeted with a stroke of luck that changes the course of their story.

Ford’s play is based on Fitz-James O’Brien’s 1881 short story Duke Humphrey’s Dinner, and is quite a faithful adaptation; one character is changed, but the overall shape of the story remains the same. Though it is a charming and entertaining story both on the page and the stage, the adaptation may have been wise to stray a little further from the shape of the short story. The lack of action or plot development in the early portions of the short story, and the sudden resolution of events in the final few pages mean that the pacing of the plot is uneven for the stage.

However, the issues of plot and pacing fade as Ashleigh Dorrell and Jamie O’Neill revel in the language of the earlier parts of the play under Ni Chaoimh’s strong direction – though there is little action per se, they bring energy and character to every word as they lament their situation and describe the sumptuous meals they wish they were eating. This is accentuated by Nicola Burke’s costume design which captures perfectly the fall from splendour Dick and Agnes have experienced.

From a seduction via cheese-board to fisticuffs between Fabiano Roggio’s effusive and eccentric Giacomo and O’Neill’s Dick Burdoon, Dinner in Mulberry Street is a play that never takes itself too seriously, and in doing so provides a fun, diverting Christmas show which (despite the Burdoon’s lack of coal), promises warmth and laughter throughout.

 

Dinner In Mulberry Street runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until December 22nd.

Night Paintings

The Cello Factory

London

In his essay on Simon Streather’s exhibition, Night Paintings, Jean-Paul Martinon writes that the paintings are “embodiments to keep the possibility of the possible open, which is nothing else than keeping art and life moving a little further still.”  Standing in the airy, open space of the Cello Factory, surrounded by Streather’s small but striking works in watercolour and ink, the sense of the possible is ever-present.

The paintings are spaced out across the gallery, mounted simply on white paper rather than framed. In this minimalist presentation, there are not works crammed in to fill every available wall, but rather the ones that have been chosen have been carefully placed and given their own space. Despite this sense of the deliberate in the exhibition overall, each painting presents a feeling of fluidity, like one might turn around and see an almost imperceptibly different painting to the one that was there moments previously. To my mind, these works are snapshots or embodiments of the varied states of a mind in the quiet of night. Distilling the ephemeral onto a small photograph-sized piece of paper, Streather presents internal moments captured, but not frozen. As Martinon writes, “these paintings are not just beautiful marks or stains on paper, they express, like all human beings, an allergy to rest, an aversion to dead-points and repetition.” One piece, with flecks of yellow catching the eye through its layers, feels as though something might happen at any moment as you look at it. Another, which I gravitated towards immediately and repeatedly, emits a sense of fleeting serenity in its minimalism. There is great variety in the paintings, and yet there is a strong undercurrent that draws them together.

Of course these readings are just the reactions these works evoked in me; everyone who I spoke to at the opening had experienced them slightly differently, which is the beauty of this exhibition. A conversation made up of exactly the same observations, and even the same words, will be very different depending on who it is with; similarly, these paintings, though they are static as any physical object, communicate something different to each pair of eyes that greets them.

In Night Paintings, Streather has created and brought together captivating manifestations of mutability which convey moments I would have thought too ephemeral to capture on paper.

Review – Wringer

Bewleys Café Theatre

17/10/18

Wringer 4 Joan Sheehy, Maeve Fitzgerald

Image credit: Tom Maher

Elsa, a film blogger played by Maeve Fitzgerald, turns up at a remote house to interview horror actor, Jonathan Ravencliffe (Michael James Ford). As she is greeted at the door by Mrs. Newman, a seemingly Mrs. Danvers-esque housekeeper played by Joan Sheehy, and steps into Naomi Faughan’s classically spooky set, it seems as though Elsa is about to encounter her own real-life gothic horror plot. However, all is not as it seems. Secrets of the past are brought to light and we soon realise the real horror doesn’t lie in the werewolves and vampires of Ravencliffe’s films.Wringer WFT

Though the pacing sometimes slows and jolts a little, Roche’s script is an engrossing story that makes clever use of the Hammer Horror movie genre as a frame. Under the direction of Aoife Spillane-Hinks the three characters are skillfully brought to life by Ford, Fitzgerald and Sheehy. Though allusions to the horror genre and tropes drawn from it are woven throughout the script, the characters and plot never rely on them; the characters resist being caricatures or stereotypes, and the story takes twists and turns into unexpected territory.

Wringer is a well-crafted, fresh and unsettling play. For a lunchtime Halloween horror fix, you won’t go wrong with a ticket to this.

Wringer runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until 4th November.

Review – Company

Project Arts Centre

Dublin Theatre Festival

04/10/18

Company_PAC_cFutoshiSakauchi

Originally published on The Reviews Hub.

Published in 1980, Company seems an unlikely candidate for a stage adaptation, a radio play perhaps, but the story of a man lying alone on his back in the dark considering his past and current existence does not seem like a piece for theatre. However, since its publication, Company has prompted a number of dramatic adaptations, with a radio reading by actor Patrick Magee, a dramatized version at the National Theatre in London, and of course this production from Company SJ. Despite the relative stasis of the text, Company SJ brings Beckett’s prose to the stage of Project Arts Centre in an absorbing and affecting production.

In a costume that immediately calls to mind the most famous images of Samuel Beckett, Raymond Keane performs the role of narrator. He uses a puppet (beautifully designed by Roman Paska) to illustrate the actions and memories of the hearer as he recites the text alongside a recorded voice and projected passages. This breaking up of the text between live performance, recorded voice, and projection gave a strong sense of the fractured nature of the voice and the hearer’s conception of it. Though the text is quite cerebral and introspective, Keane breathes life into the words as he shares them, finding the balance between contemplative and narrative performance.

Particularly impressive in this production was Stephen Dodd’s lighting design. To create a described darkness with light is no small task, but Dodd conjures a shadow flitting space that illuminates the darkness of the text just enough to allow the audience in. Precisely catching Keane’s facial expressions in subtle tracts of light and anchoring the eye to the table in the centre of the stage, Dodd’s design harnesses the ephemeral to portray Company’s “dark place form and dimensions yet to be devised.”

There is a frustration in watching this production, as it lies between the conceptual and the embodied, in a liminal space between the inertia of the page and the action of the stage. But then again, is this state of limbo as we sit in the not-dark listening to a story of a man on his back in the dark inevitably and essentially part and parcel of entering a Beckettian space?

Runs until 7 October 2018 | Image: Futoshi Sakauchi

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Review – Fantasia

Project Arts Centre

Dublin Theatre Festival

28/09/18

Fantasia_ProjectArtsCentre_cMagdaHueckel

Originally published on The Reviews Hub. 

In writing about Anna Karasińska, theatre critic Tomasz Plata coined the term “post-theatre” to describe her work which pushes aside many traditional theatre techniques and conventions, in order to create theatre that does not rely on theatrical illusion or the fourth wall. As her latest work, Fantasia takes to the stage and we see this in action, it becomes clear just how little is needed to create an engaging piece of theatre.

The six actors stand on the stage, awaiting instruction fromKarasińska, who has hidden herself in the auditorium. Karasińska then begins to speak to the audience, giving a little explanation before beginning to issue instructions to the actors – “Agata will now play a person in a far off land who packed raisins in a box for you,” “Adam will play a person who might be wearing a suicide vest,” “Dobrimir will play a man ashamed to dance to a song he likes.” These instructions make up the basis of the piece, as the actors perform their roles to different degrees. They have almost no props, few lines, plain clothes and no set; they simply use the power of the imagination and challenge the audience to do likewise. Some instructions lead to a short scene, while others make a minimal impact on the action on stage. Karasińska’s descriptions paint an image which the actor and audience are imaginatively complicit in.

It is this bizarre semi-imaginary state that makes this piece work; the actors find humour in doing almost nothing, and the audience agrees to this absurdity and laugh. It is a very connected theatrical experience, as everyone relies on Karasińska’s voice and the actors rely on the audience to not only suspend their disbelief but to actively believe. This makes moments where Karasińska breaks out of her instruction to apologise for mistakes particularly interesting, as the audience wonders what is planned, what is accidental, and what is improvised.

Though this is an irreverently entertaining piece of theatre, it is worth noting that on opening night it ran over its stated running time and, in doing so began to tire itself. Originally billed as a 55-minute performance, once it ran over an hour long, it lost some of its energy and sharpness. Had it been shorter (perhaps even a few minutes shorter than the stated running time) it would have held engagement and pace more effectively.

However, the unusual theatrical experience Karasińska creates in Fantasia is refreshing and exciting, eschewing theatrical convention to create something new, immediate and imaginative.

Runs until 14 October 2018 | Image: Magda Hueckel

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Review – Summertime

Filmbase

Dublin Fringe Festival

21/09/18

summertime_website_2_crop

Summertime is only 15 minutes long. Hardly long enough to get an insight into the nuances and changes in a relationship, you would think, but that is not the case. James Elliot’s layered script tells an intensely human story that reminds us how things can seem to turn on a word. Though, as we soon realise, it is never really just a word.

A live sound installation, Summertime is performed by Danielle Galligan and Finbar Doyle, whose lines are heard through headphones, though the performers are moving amongst the audience in the room. Initially the use of headphones felt like it might be a gimmick, but as the two characters voices come into your head in stereo, and the live performances blend with pre-recorded internal monologues, the depth of the idea becomes clear.

Stash is an artist who works in a bar, and Steve is her boyfriend. The story follows them as they drift apart, fighting but not fighting, each not sure how to communicate to the other. As the audience hears the unsaid that could solve the rift between the couple, we realise how painfully simply this not-quite-a-fight could have been avoided by simply talking openly.

Making clever use of sound and setting, Summertime is a beautiful reminder of the power of honesty and openness.

Review – Fable

Dublin Fringe

Project Arts Centre

09/09/18

Originally published on The Reviews Hub.

FABLE-_ProjectArtsCentre

Billed as “a sinister dance theatre production for young adults” in its programme, Fable is a show that more than lives up to its description. In this collection of five short dance stories, which blend elements of both street dance and contemporary dance, Human Collective trust and challenge their audience. Each of the stories in Fable explores different facets of present and near future life, presenting chilling possibilities for the continuation of humankind. In some stories, the ideas presented seem like the preserve of dystopian fiction, but others seem all too familiar, making the more dystopian ones seem plausible too. This is an interrogation of modern life that draws bleak conclusions while leaving a doorway open for hope and change.

The ensemble, made up of Matt Szczerek, Tobi Balogun, Leon Dwyer and Cristian Dirocie, is a strong blend of different, but complementary, performance styles and energies. This is particularly evident in the relatively simple but remarkably striking choreography in the third story, entitled “The Changelings of Smolensk.” Dancing with suitcases, and using them as malleable props to denote different stages of their journey, the ensemble resembles a poetic Newton’s cradle, the synchronicity of their movements suggesting a perpetual collective motion. Alongside this strong ensemble work, certain dancers stand out in solo passages, with each dancer’s individual style shining through in their performance of Szczerek’s choreography. Particularly notable was Dirocie, who has surely made a pact with gravity, or perhaps replaced his joints with springs. The flowing, electrical intensity of his performance provided an individual (but not overpowering) spark in ensemble sequences, and turned that spark into a flame in his arresting solo pieces.

The design in the piece was relatively simple, with an empty stage and pared back (but effective) lighting design by Eoin Lennon. In tandem with Lennon’s lighting design, Grzegorz Szczerek’s score created the setting within the empty space. There was also considerable use of projection, designed by Cathy Coughlan, throughout the piece. Though there were interesting elements to the video design, it often distracted from the work of the dancers on stage. This was particularly noticeable in Matt Szczerek’s solo story, where the videos of him dancing on screen drew focus from his impressive live performance on stage. There were points at which one felt the need to choose between following the story on stage or on screen; the two elements were competing rather than complimenting each other.  The live performances were strong enough to carry the thread of the piece through this, perhaps suggesting that they could have carried the meaning of the piece throughout, without on-screen additions.

Fable is a striking, accomplished piece of dance theatre that confidently trusts its young audience to understand and interrogate the world around them, and to recognise the need to change and shape the future.

Runs until 16 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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