Fight Back 2020 Festival – Week 2

For thoughts from the first week of Fight Back 2020 Festival, click here.

Fight+Back+2020+Festival+Poster

I’m used to theatre festivals meaning a few weeks of running around, subsisting on sandwiches slightly squashed in pockets as I clock up the kilometres between venues, and taking up residence in corner seats of theatre or near-the-theatre cafés imbibing coffee and probably crisps as I type up my reviews in the brief gaps between shows. It has felt a little strange to travel no further than the distance between the back garden where I lazed in the sun watching the first two of this week’s performances, to the couch in the sitting room where I watched the second two performances after the breeze outside threatened to steal the pages I was writing on. However, though Fight Back 2020 Festival is not a normal theatre festival, it has still brought the work of some of Ireland’s talented writers and performers to the fore.

The second week of the festival opened with a delightful monologue written by Ultan Pringle. Toffee, performed by Clelia Murphy, tells the story of a Aisling, who is going on a first date with a woman at the National Gallery Café. While she waits for her date to arrive, she tells the audience about her experience of going to university in her mid-40s, after a divorce, and raising her two grown up children. There are no major twists or surprises in the 15-minute monologue, but none are needed. Exactly the sort of heart-warming story that is called for in these trying times, Toffee is as sweet as its title.

Day six of the festival brings another love story, but not such a straightforward one. A hilarious and slightly bizarre lockdown story, Ali Hardiman’s Hug takes the form of a lockdown diary inspired by Matt Damon’s video diaries in The Martian. As she grumbles about her neighbours, reminisces about her childhood friend Jack, and reveals the difficulties in her family. Bringing an interesting twist to escapism, Clíodhna, played by Madi O’Carroll, will certainly make you laugh but will also make you pause and think.

Ella Skolimowski’s monologue Pandemic Panic, tells the story of a very different reaction to the Covid-19 lockdown. Aneta Dina Kedar plays a very stressed character who is struggling to manage her OCD while in lockdown. Though the monologue is funny in moments, it is also a tense watch which clearly conveys the fear and panic that the character is feeling.

The final day of Week 2 brought a comic story of a time machine in a wardrobe. Written by David Halpin and performed by Jed Murray, Backwards and Forwards takes the form of a FaceTime call, in which the main character is excitedly discussing the dilemma of whether to go backwards or forwards in time with his newly constructed wardrobe time machine in order to save the world. Though it is light-hearted and funny on the surface, Backwards and Forwards, like many of the other monologues this week, also conveys the frustration and uncertainty of a character in lockdown.

Fight Back 2020 Festival continues until 24th April.

Fight Back Festival and Theatre in Lockdown

kyle-head-p6rNTdAPbuk-unsplash

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt the pang of absence lately upon hanging up a phone call, FaceTime or Zoom chat. Though these technologies help us to stay in touch, and bridge the gap between one isolated household and another, they also highlight the distance that is separating us. The slightly pixelated images of friends on your screen, constrained by the reach of their webcam, as you have an online “pub” session during lockdown serves to remind us of the things that we are missing. A chat over zoom can’t really replace the feeling of walking into the pub and seeing your mates sitting at a table in the corner, a packet of crisps torn open in the middle of the table for sharing, someone already mid-scéal as you sit down and join them.

It has been uplifting to see the ingenuity, community spirit and enthusiasm that has been displayed by the theatre sector from the outset of this lockdown. The theatres closed, but people stepped quickly into the breach and began generously sharing work online. Amid this wave of creative generosity though, I can’t help but feel a cold current of absence running through it. When we move theatre online, we lose a lot of what makes theatre what it is. Like the Zoom “pub” gatherings, though a great deal of care and talent is evident in them, these online theatrical offerings remind us of the things that we love about theatre that are missing.

As I watched the first week’s plays in The New Theatre and takeyourseats.ie’s Fight Back 2020 Festival, this feeling of absence was brought into focus. The four works told engaging stories, written and performed by talented artists but throughout them all, the lack of so many vital elements of live theatre were brought into focus on camera.

The Festival opened on Tuesday 7th April with An Unmade Bed, written by Elizabeth Moynihan and performed by Laoisa Sexton. The story was one of a woman struggling in a relationship with a man addicted to recreational drugs. The setting of the piece during the Covid-19 lockdown heightened the sense of isolation and entrapment that the woman was feeling as she warred with her love for her partner and the knowledge that his addiction was wearing them both down. In terms of pacing and tone, the work would, like most of the other pieces in the festival, have benefitted from a directorial eye. Overall, the fifteen-minute work felt more like an eloquent short film than a play, with a voice-over narrating beautiful close up shots of Sexton’s character observing the world from her window, and slow fades and between shots of her in a tangle of white sheets as she considers her relationship. Billed as a short film, this piece would be more satisfying, as the cinematic nature of the performance and editing meant that An Unmade Bed did not come across as the theatrical play it was described as.

The second day of the Festival brought a similarly meditative piece, with Tara Maria Lovett’s The One Tree, performed by Pat Nolan. This short play is the most theatrical of the week, with Nolan’s grounded storytelling style holding the audience’s attention as he speaks to someone just beyond the camera. Filmed from a single angle, with static images marking scene changes, the simplicity of this work is its strength. Lovett’s magic-realist script and Nolan’s performance bring to life a bittersweet story of love and loss in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the input of designers and directors, the space to elaborate on the story, and freed from the restrictions of a tightly focused camera, The One Tree has all of the ingredients for a successful one man play.

Day three presented a double bill of Shard, written by Stewart Roche and performed by Neill Flemming, and The Pleasureometer, written by Jack Harte and performed by Gerard Lee. These two contrasting pieces were filmed in a similarly straightforward manner as The One Tree, and both similarly felt like scratch pieces for successful one-handers. Shard tells an increasingly unsettling story of a commune on an island off the coast of Cork. The plan to set up the commune seems suspect from the outset, but as older and more powerful forces than they could ever have expected come into play, the characters gradually realise that they are in far out of their depth. The piece could be a longer one, with the suspense of the story held for longer, and as with An Unmade Bed, the piece would have benefitted from directorial input in the staging and filming of the play. However, the story is engaging and original, and Flemming delivers a strong performance as a member of the commune recounting the story from quarantine in the near after being rescued from the island. Finally, The Pleasureometer provides some comic relief to close the week. As he laments the closure of the pub for the lockdown, Lee’s character meditates on the community that is formed around the pub, with the different characters that he sees only in that setting – the Teacher, the Cynic, the Young Lad, and Himself. Himself, the classic chancer that every community has. Telling the story of one particular day in which Himself brings along a new invention to test on his fellow pub-goers, Harte brings some comic lightness to the lockdown situation, and provides a laugh to end the first week of the Festival on.

When I set out to review work online, I had no idea of the quandary I was setting up for myself, the position I would be putting myself in as a theatre critic reviewing not-quite-theatre. Though the skill of their writers and performers is evident, all four of these works, and many of the other works that are being produced online in lockdown, are a reminder of the collective effort that goes into creating a production – the designers, the technicians, the directors, the dramaturgs,  the writers and the performers. No man can be an island in theatre. While we enjoy and support the work that is filling the gap left by the closure of venues, and make no mistake I have been enjoying it, we must also fix our minds on the eventual return to the stage for we can’t forget that theatre is in its very essence a live, collective art form in which social-distancing is not an option.  As the writer Griselda Gambaro once wrote, “A theatre piece of itself, demands a confrontation with the audience. It demands that you connect with people; it demands a collective and social effort with the company and later with the audience.”

The Ghost Light Glows On

felix-mooneeram-evlkOfkQ5rE-unsplash

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.

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.