The Ghost Light Glows On

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Originally published on takeyourseats.ie.

Earlier this month, the safety curtain abruptly dropped and our stages went dark. Artists, company managers, box office staff, technicians, marketing teams and every other person in our industry scrambled to figure out the staging for this unexpected rewrite. An unwelcome rewrite.

Just as theatres closed their doors against the Plague in the 16th Century, today our auditoriums lie empty and our stages are silent due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept in and changed our lives more swiftly and thoroughly than a deus ex machine in the final act of a Greek tragedy.

As scripts are sadly consigned to desk drawers for the time being and sets sit gathering dust, things can feel a little hopeless. Simon Callow wrote in the New York Review’s “Pandemic Journal” last week, “The whole point of theatre, since the Greeks, at any rate, has been to gather the citizens together, to remind us, as Shakespeare so incomparably put it, that ‘we are not all alone unhappy.’” Though we cannot gather people as we usually do, we are all still doing what we do best – creating, inventing, imagining, connecting.

Since the theatres and other cultural institutions closed, there has been a wave of generous creativity. Companies, venues and individual artists have had steam coming out of their ears with the speed at which they have been thinking up new ways to bring the joy of theatre to everyone in their homes.

We may not be able to do what we do best, in the way we do it best, at the moment but with live streams, creative challenges, new online creations, and plenty more in the works, we are certainly doing the best we can.

Times are tough but every show, even the most painfully dull and lengthy ones, must come to an end, and so too will this. We will keep this imaginative generosity going, and let the glow of the ghost light remind us that when this passes our auditoriums will be filled with the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd once more.

Phenomenal Women

international-womens-day-4887650_1920Originally published on TakeYourSeats.ie.  

This Sunday, International Women’s Day, we celebrated all of the fantastic women who have shaped our history, made their mark on the present, and are crafting our future. For over a hundred years, International Women’s day has been a day for celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

Throughout their history, Ireland’s theatres have been home to myriad phenomenal women, from Lady Gregory pouring her energy into establishing our National Theatre, to the incredible women who took to the stage of that same theatre in 2015 to call out the gender inequality that is rife in our in our industry. This International Women’s Day, I want to look both backwards and forwards, remembering some of my favourite shows on Irish stages created by women in the last few years, and looking forwards to some of the exciting work that is on the horizon.

So without further ado, let’s take a journey back to some of the treasures of the recent past.

Asking For It

One of the most talked about productions of 2018, Asking For It, based on Louise O’Neill’s lauded 2015 novel of the same name and brought to the stage by writer Meadbh McHugh and director Annabelle Comyn, was a powerful, incisive and urgent piece of theatre. From Cork, to Dublin, to Birmingham, Asking for It has brought a vital message about rape culture to our stages, and has done so in a sharply crafted, memorable production.

Owing to the Failure of

Moving to a production smaller in scale but equal in quality, we come to Owing to the Failure of, presented at The Workman’s Club in Dublin as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2018. Written by Zoë Comyns and directed by Catríona McLaughlin, Owing to the Failure of was one of the best love stories I have seen on a stage in recent years.

Rosas Danst Rosas

There are not many shows that I would return to see two nights in a row, but Rosas Danst Rosas at Dublin Dance Festival 2019 was one of them. The power sustained by the four women on stage, through the intensity of Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s arresting choreography was a truly breathtaking thing to experience. A landmark piece of postmodern dance, the piece has not lost a joule of energy through its 37-year lifespan.

Anna Karenina

No list of brilliant women’s work on Irish stages would be complete without a mention for Marina Carr. Coming to the stage soon after the Waking the Feminists movement came to life, Carr’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel breathed new life into an old story, and tied the experiences of Tolstoy’s 19th century fictional women, to those of the women in the audience and on stage in 2016.

The Olive Tree

Written and performed by Katie O’Kelly, The Olive Tree is a magic realist adventure that delves deep into one of the most pertinent political issues of today. As a weary shop assistant peels a Boycott Israel sticker off of a bottle of olive oil, the tree on the label becomes real and takes her on a journey through the stories of Palestinian struggles past and present.

These are just a smattering of the excellence that has graced our stages from women’s pens and imaginations, but International Women’s Day is about looking forward, not just back. So let’s take a look at some of the exciting things that we have to look forward to on our stages.

The Red Book of Ossory

A deconstruction of several songs and poems written by 14th Century Kilkenny Bishop, Richard de Ledrede and included in the historic manuscript The Red Book of Ossory. With the famous witchcraft trial of Dame Alice Kylteler, for which de Ledrede was responsible, as a backdrop, The Red Book of Ossory at Project Arts Centre promises to be an enrapturing blend of the historical and contemporary created and performed by Anakronos, led by Catríona O’Leary.

This Beautiful Village

Returning to the Abbey Stage after a successful run last year and continuing onwards on a national tour, Lisa Tierney-Keogh’s This Beautiful Village is a piece that I am determined to catch in whatever corner of the country I can. Described by critic, Katy Hayes as ’utterly clued in to the zeitgeist,’ This Beautiful Village promises to sharply dissect privilege, power and prejudices.

The Boy

Indeed, no list of brilliant women’s work on Irish stages would be complete without a second mention for Marina Carr. Coming to the Abbey Theatre during the 2020 edition of Dublin Theatre Festival, The Boy is a new cycle of plays written by Marina Carr and directed by Catríona McLaughlin. It is loosely based on the three Theban Plays, continuing Carr’s exploration of Ancient Greek theatre, and asks questions about responsibility and complicity in cycles of violence. The Boy  looks set to be an ambitious durational theatrical work, and is one of the plays I am most excited to see this year.

Between this year’s International Women’s Day, and the next, seek out the work of brilliant women, and remember the final four points of Lian’s List, created by Lian Bell as part of the Waking the Feminists Campaign:

“67. Support women: celebrate their success, amplify

their voices, show your solidarity.

68. Take responsibility for making changes.

69. Yes you.

70. You have more power than you think.”

 

Cupid Enters Stage Left

Originally published on takeyourseats.ie

Cupid’s bow is strung, florists are awash with red roses, and primary school students up and down the country are painstakingly gluing heart-shaped confetti to elaborate cards – yes, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

I’m sure that, on Friday night, auditoriums will be full of couples contentedly fed by special pre-theatre menus and complimentary chocolates, enjoying a date in honour of St Valentine. While a trip to the theatre can undoubtedly be a romantic evening (provided you don’t go for something like Prometheus Bound or 4.48 Psychosis), and anyone who knows me is well aware that theatre trips are a clear route to my heart, but the romance of theatre does not only unfold on one side of the fourth wall.

From the enduring tales of romance in Japanese Kabuki Theatre, and courtly love of Medieval European stages, to the turbulent relationships of Tennessee Williams’ characters and the chaos that invariably ensues whenever love is invoked by Shakespeare’s pen, love in all of its forms has graced our stages for millennia. As the Bard of Avon himself wrote in As You Like It, “the sight of lovers feedeth those in love,” and romance on our stages is not simply a diet of saccharine coconut-ice representations of love, but the mundane Monday-morning toast type and the unripe-apple sharpness of the unrequited sort too.

My favourite story of love in theatre is the madcap tale of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Puck and his motley crew create a theatrical chaos, and the faeries and lovers create a muddle of their own, the realities of theatre and those of love are married in hilarity. Theseus puts it best when he says “the lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact.” There are few other places where we can let go of reason in the same way as we do when we tumble into love, but theatre is certainly one of them. The highs, lows, laughs and tears of the theatre, are also those of love.

As theatre holds a mirror up to our society, each and every one of us can find a tale of romance that speaks to our hearts. Whether you want to get lost in a flurry of feathers and heartache with the Moscow City Ballet’s Swan Lake at the Bord Gáis, indulge in a smorgasbord of romantic tales at Scene + Heard festival in Smock Alley, split your sides laughing with a loved one at Dirty Dusting in Visual, Carlow or enjoy some Cole Porter classics as Lili and Fred feud in Kiss Me Kate at the Lyric Theatre, there is a Valentine’s day theatrical treat for everyone.

Lovecraft (Not The Sex Shop in Cardiff) – Review

Ffresh, Wales Millenium Centre

Cardiff

29/11/19

Lovecraft credit Kirsten McTernan (1)

Credit: Kirsten McTernan

Self-professed international love-monger, Carys Eleri, takes to the stage in Ffresh to introduce the audience to Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff), her one-woman science comedy musical about the brilliant neurological nonsense that is love. In her hour on stage, Eleri takes a comprehensive, comic and considered look at the loneliness epidemic that is sneakily working its way through society, and at the importance of love in life to combat it.

Telling anecdotes of her past relationships (with the memorable characters, Eddie Pie-Hands and Bernie the Beautiful Shit) Eleri takes her audience on a journey through the chemical processes of falling in love, and reminds them of the importance of all sorts of love – romantic, platonic, familial. However, this is not just a science or sociology lecture. Throughout the show Eleri accents her point with howlingly funny stories and songs about rejection, jealousy, tinder, and cocaine-addicted mice among other topics. The musical numbers, produced by Branwen Munn, are welcome earworms that will stay in your mind and provide you with residual giggles well after you have left the theatre.

Not only are Eleri’s writing and performance excellent, the slideshow that accompanies her performance on screens at either side of the stage is the source of much hilarity. I know, a slideshow in a theatre show; it doesn’t sound like it will work, but with glitzy hormones and dancing rats, and a kaleidoscopic mammary montage, this is not your average PowerPoint presentation. Like the rest of this show, it is slightly mad, and yet catches the audience and draws out common experiences that make Eleri’s escapades easy for the audience to relate to.

From the moment she walks on stage, Eleri has the audience in the palm of her hand. Even I, an avowed avoider of audience interaction, was happy to join in the audience-wide cwtch (Welsh for cuddle), and sing-along songs. Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff) is an open, frank show that draws its audience in with ease as Carys Eleri not only reminds the audience that life is short and best spent in the company of others, she gives the audience a chance to enjoy the reality of it as they share an evening of laughter, chocolate and music with each other.

Beginning -Review

Gate Theatre

04/04/19

Photo Ros Kavanagh

Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Something happens after midnight. Perhaps it’s the light from the stars, or maybe the silence in the air, but whatever it is, it brings truth much closer to the surface and people much closer to each other. It’s the early hours, and Laura and Danny are the last two people left after Laura’s housewarming party.

They don’t know each other.

This is where we find ourselves at the start of David Eldridge’s Beginning. Directed by Marc Atkinson, and starring Marty Rea and Eileen Walsh, this production is a compelling story of honesty, loneliness and love.

As Laura moves from playful seduction to laying her heart on the table in front of Danny, and her vulnerability is gradually reciprocated, Eldridge paints a picture of two intensely realistic characters who find themselves making an unprecedented connection. A masterclass in storytelling and characterisation, Eldridge’s script, with its comic back and forth, absorbing monologues, and touching moments of mundane humanity, is brought vividly to the stage by Atkinson, whose direction is clear and precise, but never laboured.

This subtle precision and attention to detail is what makes this production. Rea and Walsh bat the power in the evening’s conversation back and forth with an intent naturalism – drawing the story out of each other, and tying the audience’s hearts to these two lonely souls as Danny and Laura edge closer to each other. In one scene in particular, where the pair begin tidying up the flat, the silence of both as they work, with the tension punctuated by quick glances and clattered plates, speaks volumes. And never before has a fish-finger sandwich said so much.

WTF Beginning

The beautifully theatrical naturalism does not only lie in the direction and performances though. Sarah Bacon’s set and costume design delights in detail –  Laura’s favourite colours are evident as the colour palette of her costume mirrors the paint swatches on her wall, but the rich, muted pinks and blues soon infuse more layers of her character than just her wardrobe choices. The front door, placed upstage centre, poses a constant question to both the characters and audience.

Selina Cartmell’s current programme at The Gate promises love and courage, and this production of Beginning delivers both in its touchingly comic staging of love, loneliness and connection.

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.