Rising – Review

Dublin Youth Theatre

Peacock Theatre

19/8/16

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Some productions are made for the stage. Dublin Youth Theatre’s Rising, though it takes place in the Peacock, and with great success, is not one of those productions. This show, developed by Helena Enright, Tom Creed and the cast, is the sort of production that should stop the traffic on O’Connell Street, interrupt the feeding of ducks in Stephen’s Green or stir up the orderly queue at the Tesco checkouts. Described as a “wide-ranging contemporary look at what revolution means to young people now,” this production uses archive material, interviews, iconic songs and the boundless energy of the 20-strong Dublin Youth Theatre cast to awaken a range of ideas and ask vital questions about revolution, youth, art and activism.

In a series of vignettes, working with movement, music and text, the production explores various social issues and political causes through the years, probing the reasons behind why people engage, what makes people care. Decked out in an array of shirts and badges from the Palestinian Freedom Theatre, the Repeal the 8th movement, the Yes Equality campaign, and many others, the cast presents a strong ensemble that, though they may not all be united in the same causes, are powerfully united in their energy and enthusiasm towards taking a stand and making a difference.

Not only do the cast present a strong political energy, they also produce an impressive work in terms of artistic quality. The versatility of the performers, with many doubling as musicians as well as actors, and all engaging in dynamic movement pieces was impressive and engaging. Alongside this, Sarah Jane Shiels’ lighting design is the North Star guiding the energy of the piece, as even the most subtle changes in lighting have a pointed effect on the mood and perfectly parallel the tone of the script.

Rising will make you reconsider any presumptions you may have had about young people’s supposed political apathy, and leave you inescapably and inexhaustibly awake.

 

 

Eamonn (From Menswear) – Review

Ill-Advised Theatre Company

Smock Alley

1/8/16

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Photo Credit: Ste Murray

Eamonn (from menswear) is 25, a dad, and he is here to tell you about his life. Through a combination of rhymed verse, song and straight talking, Fionn Foley tells the age old story of a man learning to overcome prejudices as he faces the challenges that come with raising a family and traversing everyday life. Recounting his experience of working in a menswear department, of bringing up his daughter and of awkward encounters with his neighbours, Eamonn gradually reveals his closed “us and them” mentality. He thinks people are sound, as long as they are like him. As he works his way through the mundane challenges of life, he sees nothing wrong with this outlook, but all is not as it seems and Eamonn is about to be taught a serious lesson in a bizarre setting.

Foley creates an entertaining and engaging production, bringing it to life with his dynamic and enthusiastic performance. However, it must be said that the rhyming form was, at times, stretched to its limit and could have been more effective had it been interchanged with more prose style writing. When it worked, it was excellent, but at other times it felt as though the words were being roughly wrestled into verse. Despite this, Foley’s script is vivacious, madcap and delightfully frank. There is a self-awareness to his writing that wraps the audience around his little finger and has them rolling in the aisles. This is further complimented by Molly O’Cathain’s set design and John Gunning’s lighting design, both of which demonstrate a strong understanding of the space in which they are working and use the shape of the Boys School to great advantage.

Overall, though the basic plot is a time-worn tale, Ill-Advised Theatre Company put a fresh stamp on it in the exuberant and sharp Eamonn (From Menswear).

Eamonn (From Menswear) runs in Smock Alley until 6th August.

 

King Lear – Review

Originally published in TN2 Magazine.

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Purple Coat Productions

Smock Alley

11/7/16

Shakespeare’s King Lear is a play of many layers, exploring the intensely personal hand-in-hand with the political. Telling the story of King Lear and his gradual descent into madness after dividing his property between his daughters according to their flattery of him, leaving his honest youngest daughter, Cordelia, with nothing, this play has the potential to sharply and insightfully examine ideas around power, madness, family, love and ageing.

A good production of King Lear depends on so much more than just the text. One such thing it depends on is a director to tease out the different themes, textures and ideas within the script. There is no teasing in Karl Falconer’s direction of this production. Throughout, the audience is presented with loud, brash images of incest, drug abuse and sexual assault that, in the context of the play, seem out of place and unjustified. The numerous instances of Lear groping his daughters and the violent sexual imagery that pervade the production suggest attempts at a cheap, base, and ineffective directorial shortcut to shock and an emotional response from the audience.  Similarly the inclusion of a poorly depicted cocaine addiction in Edmund’s character comes across as an attempt to shock the audience or assert the company’s non-traditional take on the play, but once again plays out as an unsuccessful shortcut.

Not only does the production fall short in terms of thematic execution, it also fails in numerous technical aspects of direction, performance and design.  Despite the fact that most of the ground level seating in the Boys School space is on the same level or a very slight slant, a large portion of the action in the play was placed downstage and close to the floor at a crouching level or lower to the ground. This meant that most of the audience were craning their necks and stretching to see what was happening; even though I was sitting in the centre of the second row, very close to the stage, I still struggled to see.  Though is a touring production, not one created within or for the Boys School space, it would have taken some relatively simple modifications to the direction to effectively adapt to the new space. Showing similar lack of foresight, parts of Alisha Johnson’s lighting design broke the flow of the piece as the lights came up on a number of occasions across the stage and audience, strongly suggesting an interval and leading to the audience starting to shift in their seats and move to clap. These are simple directorial and technical decisions that had an extensive negative effect on the production overall because of a lack of consideration of the audience’s position in the venue.

Some of the performances could have been salvageable had they not been fighting against poor direction. However, with shouting being used in place of nuanced emotion, an over-egged Poor Tom, and Lear being confined to one tiny upstage spot for what is arguably the most powerful speech in the play, there was no avoiding the myriad directorial issues.

Purple Coat take what they describe as Shakespeare’s “greatest, bleakest and perhaps last great play,” and deliver a coarse production that soon derails itself with cheap tropes and attempted dramatic shortcuts. To steal words from the bard himself, “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

King Lear runs in Smock Alley until the 12th July before touring.