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.

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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