Disco Pigs & Sucking Dublin – Review

Disco Pigs & Sucking Dublin

Smock Alley Theatre

6/12/17

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First premiered in 1996 and 1997 respectively, Enda Walsh’s plays Disco Pigs and Sucking Dublin are uncompromising explorations of entrapment, self-destruction and escape, and Reality:Check Productions’ revival of them feels as fresh as I would imagine they felt 20 years ago.

Disco Pigs tells the story of Pig and Runt, two 17 year olds who share a birthday, a secret dialect of their own, and their unique, inventive and often harsh version of life in “Pork Sitty.” They have grown up together, taking on life as a duo, but now that they are seventeen and facing into impending adulthood, Runt finds herself needing space while Pig can’t let go. Tied by time, geography, friendship and necessity, these two characters live a life infused with humour, violence, love, fear and incessant energy. Walsh’s script is a whirlwind to grapple with, but it is one which this production whips into a successful theatrical frenzy. Directed by Tracy Ryan, Ethan Dillon (Pig) and Toni O’Rourke (Runt) deliver impressive and engaging performances. O’Rourke’s Runt, which this production focuses on, is a strong but heartbreaking character who evolves before the audience’s eyes. The energy of the performances is mirrored in Shane Gill’s lighting design that lends a structure of sorts to Pig and Runt’s wild written-word world, and Lydia Dorman’s excellent costume design which treads the border between imagination and reality as precipitously as the characters tread it in their escapades around “Pork Sitty.”

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Following Disco Pigs, we move north-east to Sucking Dublin a harrowing story involving five characters who are seemingly locked in cycles of their own personal forms of self-destruction. After one of these characters violently sexually assaults another, the characters disperse, each fighting their own battles in the aftermath of the attack. The story centres on Little Lamb, who was assaulted, and her experiences of trying to escape the difficulties and hurt she has been landed with. It is a painful, though at moments hopeful, piece to watch, but it is worth it. With Tracy Ryan’s insightful and dynamic direction, and strong performances from the whole cast, particularly Honi Cooke as Little Lamb and Michael-David McKernan as Steve, this is a difficult but rewarding piece of theatre.

This double-bill, which brings the experiences of the central female characters from each play, Runt and Little Lamb, into focus, ties these two plays together to create a powerful and engaging theatrical experience that is not to be missed.

Disco Pigs and Sucking Dublin run in Smock Alley Theatre until December 16th.

Bat the Father, Rabbit the Son – Review

The New Theatre

2/11/17

Rabbit

Rabbit is a self-made man, a king of Dublin haulage, a businessman through and through. Sitting in front of Keogh, one of his employees, Rabbit tells us of how he built Rabbit haulage from nothing, or at least from nothing more than a ladies bike and his Butlin’s Rock legs. He’s proud of what he has built, and isn’t going to let anything take the place of his name in haulage. He says he started with a ladies bike, but even a fiercely independent character like Rabbit can’t entirely deny his past; Rabbit wasn’t always Rabbit.  As he cuts a deal with Keogh, Rabbit finds himself thrown off track, some  things won’t be forgotten and as he speaks the spirit of his father, Bat, bubbles up irrepressibly and pours through his mind and out his mouth pushing Rabbit into flashbacks and anecdotes of a time past, when Rabbit was Terence in short trousers.

This warring of Rabbit’s sharp businessman’s personality with that of his father, a Citizen’s Army member and pawn shop assistant who takes lie at a more forgiving pace, is impressively executed in Donal O’Kelly’s relentlessly engaging script and impressive performance. O’Kelly’s writing is replete with subtle hints at exposition and backstory amongst Rabbit’s bluster and pronouncement, while still leaving space for irreverent and mischievous storytelling throughout. This is complimented by his energetic style of performance that brings the spark and vivacity of his writing to life.image-06

The simple stage design comprised of a steel table and chair, constructed by Aideen Farell, provides a dynamic canvas for O’Kelly’s invention. Paired with Cathy O’Carroll’s lighting design, these elements combine to truly transport the audience down the Liffey with Rabbit, Keogh (and Bat).

Bat the Father, Rabbit the Son is a must see, an irrepressible feat of storytelling that explores the relationship between father and son, and past and present with insight, humour and verve.

Bat the Father, Rabbit the Son  runs at The New Theatre, Dublin until 11th November.

King Lear – Review

Mill Productions

Mill Theatre Dundrum

11/10/17

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Having already seen five productions of King Lear since 2013 and lusted after tickets for numerous others, I am of the firm belief that this play is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and that there is always something new to be drawn out of its rich text, and I suspect I am not alone in this belief. It is regularly produced on stage, Beckett drew inspiration from it for Worstward Ho, there have been multiple screen adaptations of it, and quotes from the text abound in our daily speech. Under the direction of Geoffrey O’Keefe, Mill Productions’ King Lear certainly recognises the versatility of the text and, while producing a straightforward enough production particularly aimed at Leaving Cert. students, capitalises on it successfully in a number of instances, particularly with its gender-swapped Fool.

The interactions between the Fool (Clodagh Mooney Duggan) and Lear (Phillip Judge) are some of the highlights of the production as the nuances of their relationship evolve and the ever-intriguing and affecting power-dynamic between the two characters is well developed. Judge’s overall portrayal of Lear is, however, inconsistent; the transitions between different emotions and states of mind often come across as abrupt and contrived, losing some credibility in their haste.  Similarly there are instances where Goneril (Sharon McCoy) and Regan (Maureen O’Connell) fall into a character type and play their characters with broad strokes that are not always plausible. Despite these issues (which may be resolved as the cast settle into the script after opening-night), the performances are mostly impressive. Michael David McKernan delivers an excellent Edmund, finding the precarious balance between the deplorable elements of his character and the seductiveness of his conspiratorial role as written by Shakespeare in his numerous asides to the audience.

There is strong symbolism in the design of the production, with Gerard Bourke’s set design evoking a three-pointed crown looming large over the action on stage and Kris Mooney’s lighting design playing with shadow to great effect. The sound design, created by Declan Brennan, is less successful. Though it hints at interesting ideas around territory and competition, the running theme of animal noises, a symbol which is also introduced in the feral, animalistic movement in the opening scene, is not woven through the direction of the piece enough to be effective throughout. Instead there is a sense that it was an idea that was inserted into the production rather than one that evolved through it. Alongside this, the sheer volume during the storm scene drowns Lear’s speech, detracting from the strength of the scene.

In the words of the Fool, “Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest.” Had the symbolism been more subtly woven throughout, and had the performances indulged in a little more grey than black and white, some more of this production’s potential may have been realised. Mill Productions’ King Lear explores interesting and promising approaches to the play, but suffers from a lack of flow in terms of performance and sound design that disjoints it and at times leaves the audience feeling jolted through the play.

The Power of Wow – Dublin Fringe Festival Review

Bewley’s Cafe Theatre at Powerscourt Centre

Dublin Fringe Festival

21/09/17

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Image Credit: LUXXER

It is a truth universally acknowledged that weddings are often dramatic affairs, but what wedding could be dramatic enough to happen night after night at Dublin Fringe Festival?

What’s that I hear you say?

Yes, that’s right; it’s the wedding of Xnthony and Tiffany.

Following his repeated Eurovision rejections, pop-star Xnthony has decided to rebrand and create a new image for himself as a man “like Dónal Skehan,” by getting married to co-collaborator Tiffany Murphy. The ensuing wedding is an intense, yet comedic and entertaining, exploration of fame, desperation, misogyny and power. From the very opening of the wedding there is an evident tension between the two characters, with each vying for attention and Xnthony repeatedly sidelining the bride. As this tension develops we see the reasons behind the wedding revealing themselves, and a desperation for fame and recognition that becomes more and more destructive.

From simple suggestions, such as the timings of the vows, with Tiffany never getting to finish her sentence, to the more explicit grappling on the dance floor, The Power of Wow produces a layered exploration of misogyny and the expectations of marriage. Tiffany gradually begins rebelling against the rules she is supposed to follow and reveals that she is also marrying Xnthony for the purpose of boosting her fame as a “celebrity wife.” Murphy’s interludes in which she increasingly breaks down her initial speech that reminds us that there are certain sacrifices women are expected to make if they want to marry, certain rules to be followed, reflect the dilemma of marriage that women have been faced with for centuries. If they marry, certain social benefits accompany that, but at what cost?  This then leads both characters to reflect on their own decisions in trying to become famous, and the costs of those choices. From belly-laughing beginning to thought-provoking end, through comic songs, wild dances, a sharp script, a few shots of Mickey Finns, and a lot of bananas, X & Co. bring a challenging, at times hilarious, and consistently absorbing piece of work to the stage.

By interrogating the characters and their motives so thoroughly on stage, as well as making the audience complicit in the misogynistic behaviour in the production (while still maintaining a high-energy comic and musical show) X & Co. present a strong piece of theatre that leaves its audience unsure of whether they should laugh and clap. Exposing and delving into some of the recurrent forms of misogyny in society, and in marriage in particular, The Power of Wow delivers a punchy message and forces the audience to question their own position while never appearing didactic; this was a show with a message, and not (the currently all too common) message with a show.

This production is an engaging and challenging progression of the characters of Xnthony and Tiffany (who previously appeared in Douze) that involves the audience in both light-hearted and provocative, searching ways. The Power of Wow is a brave (and at times bizarre) work of art that is not afraid to push boundaries and does so with confidence, conviction, and bananas.

The Power of Wow runs at Dublin Fringe Festival until 23rd August.

 

The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Edinburgh Fringe Review

New Town Theatre

27/08/17

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As is the case with anything improvised, it is difficult to review it in the same way as I would another theatre show; the stories I saw on Saturday are not going to be the same as those you might see on the day you see it. However, I can say with confidence that the stories you will see in The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron Munchausen will probably be hilarious and entertaining.

The trio of performers base their sketches off of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (a 1988 film directed by Terry Gilliam), but take suggestions from the audience, which brings an even greater touch of the absurd to the tales than was there to begin with. Using characters such as Magesterious Wizard and Sir Jonah of Wales, the performers deliver confident, quick-thinking performances in which jokes and gags abound.

On the day I attended Jeremy Corbyn was conveniently speaking upstairs, lending himself as material for many topical jokes throughout. Alongside this, the performers retained information they gathered from the audience and, rather than simply incorporating it into the piece at the time that they asked for it, they created running jokes throughout that had the audience joining in conspiratorial laughter as they anticipated the directions of the tales.

Blending smart comedy and daft gags, The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron  Munchausen is an entertaining production that is as unpredictable as it is absurd.

There May Be Dragons – Edinburgh Fringe Review

Stories Alive

The Hispaniola

26/08/17

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As part of a pair of shows, There May Be Pirates…There May Be Dragons, Eden Ballantyne of Stories Alive presents the exciting story of Gilly and the dragon egg she finds while playing hide and seek. Having found the egg, but not knowing what it is, Gilly takes it home with her, and when a dragon hatches, the adventure begins.

The story is an engaging and dramatic tale that captures all of the excitement of classic fairytales, but it goes one step further. While it captures the thrill of a classic fairytale, it doesn’t leave the adventures to knights or princes, instead, our protagonists are both young girls who decide to take matters into their own hands, and raise and protect the dragon themselves. It is a refreshing story that opens itself out to everyone listening.

Playing the role of Gruff, the troubadour, Ballantyne narrates the story with a magically infectious enthusiasm. Though the production is, for the most part, a simple and pared-back storytelling session, the few props used are truly beautiful and very effective. The main prop used is a dragon puppet, used to portray Crackle the dragon. It is a well made puppet that seems to take on a life of its own under Ballantyne’s direction. Another notable point in the performance is when Gruff calls for children to volunteer to help in acting out scenes from the story. With a light-hearted, low-pressure approach, Ballantyne involves his young audience in the show and lets them share in the excitement of the story.

There May Be Dragons,  is an excellent storytelling show that takes a classic style and format and breathes new life into it in the form of the adventurous characters of Gilly and Brenna.

Shakespeare for Breakfast & Dickens for Dinner – Edinburgh Fringe Review

C Theatre

C Chambers Street

26/08/17 & 27/08/17

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Charles Dickens, author of such novels as Hard Times, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, wouldn’t exactly spring to mind as a cheery soul (though there can be no doubt that he has written some belly laughs dotted through his works), however, C Theatre’s production Dickens for Dinner takes his classic A Christmas Carol and turns it into an irreverent comedy.

After warming their audience with soup on the way into the auditorium (no pleas for gruel here), C Theatre presents a story of Scrooge, failed popstar and confirmed curmudgeon. Narrated by a leather-clad Dickens, this 1980s themed take on the classic novel maintains a surprisingly strong connection to the source material, while seemingly changing just about everything in some way. As in the original, the story revolves around the fact that Scrooge hates Christmas; good luck to anyone who utters the words “Christmas Number One” in his presence. He is visited by the spirits of three famous musicians who remind him of the mistakes he has made in his life and the changes he needs to make to avoid the same purgatorial fate as his late musical collaborator, Shirley Marley.

Full of self-referential gags and clever word-play on Dickens’ original material Dickens for Dinner is by no means a serious literary examination. It is a silly and witty production that serves as a light-hearted introduction to a classic story.

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In a similar vein, C Theatre presents Shakespeare for Breakfast, in which they dissect Macbeth and stitch it back together in the shape of a comedy rather than the tragedy Shakespeare wrote it as. From the very start of the show, when the actors remind us that we cannot call the play or character by its real name and so re-name it McGary, it is clear that this is a production that, rather than indulging in any reverential treatment, will turn the bard on his head and tickle his feet.

The show takes modern references and references to other Shakespeare plays, blending them together to create this humorous tale of McGary’s dastardly attempts to become President of the Thistly Bottom Allotment Society, spurred on by his rather spoiled and power-hungry wife, and some unconventional witches wearing Love Island t-shirts.

Once again retaining the original plot while playing with the finer details, C Theatre create an hilarious production of Macbeth, sorry, McGary, which delights in its own adept silliness.