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

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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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Review – Summertime

Filmbase

Dublin Fringe Festival

21/09/18

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Summertime is only 15 minutes long. Hardly long enough to get an insight into the nuances and changes in a relationship, you would think, but that is not the case. James Elliot’s layered script tells an intensely human story that reminds us how things can seem to turn on a word. Though, as we soon realise, it is never really just a word.

A live sound installation, Summertime is performed by Danielle Galligan and Finbar Doyle, whose lines are heard through headphones, though the performers are moving amongst the audience in the room. Initially the use of headphones felt like it might be a gimmick, but as the two characters voices come into your head in stereo, and the live performances blend with pre-recorded internal monologues, the depth of the idea becomes clear.

Stash is an artist who works in a bar, and Steve is her boyfriend. The story follows them as they drift apart, fighting but not fighting, each not sure how to communicate to the other. As the audience hears the unsaid that could solve the rift between the couple, we realise how painfully simply this not-quite-a-fight could have been avoided by simply talking openly.

Making clever use of sound and setting, Summertime is a beautiful reminder of the power of honesty and openness.

Review – Fable

Dublin Fringe

Project Arts Centre

09/09/18

Originally published on The Reviews Hub.

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Billed as “a sinister dance theatre production for young adults” in its programme, Fable is a show that more than lives up to its description. In this collection of five short dance stories, which blend elements of both street dance and contemporary dance, Human Collective trust and challenge their audience. Each of the stories in Fable explores different facets of present and near future life, presenting chilling possibilities for the continuation of humankind. In some stories, the ideas presented seem like the preserve of dystopian fiction, but others seem all too familiar, making the more dystopian ones seem plausible too. This is an interrogation of modern life that draws bleak conclusions while leaving a doorway open for hope and change.

The ensemble, made up of Matt Szczerek, Tobi Balogun, Leon Dwyer and Cristian Dirocie, is a strong blend of different, but complementary, performance styles and energies. This is particularly evident in the relatively simple but remarkably striking choreography in the third story, entitled “The Changelings of Smolensk.” Dancing with suitcases, and using them as malleable props to denote different stages of their journey, the ensemble resembles a poetic Newton’s cradle, the synchronicity of their movements suggesting a perpetual collective motion. Alongside this strong ensemble work, certain dancers stand out in solo passages, with each dancer’s individual style shining through in their performance of Szczerek’s choreography. Particularly notable was Dirocie, who has surely made a pact with gravity, or perhaps replaced his joints with springs. The flowing, electrical intensity of his performance provided an individual (but not overpowering) spark in ensemble sequences, and turned that spark into a flame in his arresting solo pieces.

The design in the piece was relatively simple, with an empty stage and pared back (but effective) lighting design by Eoin Lennon. In tandem with Lennon’s lighting design, Grzegorz Szczerek’s score created the setting within the empty space. There was also considerable use of projection, designed by Cathy Coughlan, throughout the piece. Though there were interesting elements to the video design, it often distracted from the work of the dancers on stage. This was particularly noticeable in Matt Szczerek’s solo story, where the videos of him dancing on screen drew focus from his impressive live performance on stage. There were points at which one felt the need to choose between following the story on stage or on screen; the two elements were competing rather than complimenting each other.  The live performances were strong enough to carry the thread of the piece through this, perhaps suggesting that they could have carried the meaning of the piece throughout, without on-screen additions.

Fable is a striking, accomplished piece of dance theatre that confidently trusts its young audience to understand and interrogate the world around them, and to recognise the need to change and shape the future.

Runs until 16 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Review – Susie and the Story Shredder

Dublin Fringe

Project Arts Centre

09/09/18

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

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Imagine a world without stories, a world where stories were banned by law. In the kingdom of Levitas, that is exactly the case; spoiled King Levi outlawed stories after he found it too difficult to write his own. If he couldn’t enjoy writing stories, then no-one else could either. But, of course, it is not that easy to stop a child’s imagination and so King Levi employed story destroyers to get rid of the stories written by rebellious children.

Bombinate Theatre’s Susie and the Story Shredder tells the story (Yes, the story! Thankfully King Levi’s laws don’t apply in Dublin) of one such story destroyer, Susie, and her trusty mechanical companion, Shredder. Susie is one of the kingdom’s best story destroyers; she has even created a new invention, which she can’t wait to present to the king. The show follows Susie’s story as she realises that maybe stories are not as dangerous as King Levi suggested.

Mollie Molumby and Ursula McGinn’s script is sparklingly funny, and a charming celebration of creativity. Pause for a second and think of every pun on the word ‘shred’ that you can. Done that? McGinn and Molumby have thought of at least three more.  Matthew Malone and Clodagh Mooney Duggan bring the script to life with enthusiasm, and a dash of mischief, knowing exactly when to look to the audience for a reaction and handling moments of audience interaction with skill and energy. Add to this an amusing sound design by Michael-David McKernan, an enormous and endearing Shredder designed by Johann Fitzpatrick, and some shadow puppetry from Emily Collins and Tales From the Shadows, and you have a delightful storybook world on stage.

Both silly and insightful, Susie and the Story Shredder draws the audience in, makes us laugh, and reminds us of the power of a bright imagination.

Runs until 16 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Review – Assisted Solo

Dublin Fringe

Project Arts Centre

09/09/18

Originally published on The Reviews Hub.

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What does it mean to be solo? (Don’t say anything about the Millennium Falcon) Does it mean acting independently, or acting completely alone, or perhaps something else entirely? Philip Connaughton’s Assisted Solo examines our relationships with independence and ageing through carefully chosen anecdotes and insightful and revealing choreography that moves between the balletic and bizarre, catching the searingly human in between.

As the show opens, Philip Connaughton, Lucia Kickham and Magali Caillet dance a repeated sequence of steps, swapping patterns with each repeat. Each dancer appears to try movements on for size, to test their range of movement and expression. This sequence lays the foundation for the work that is to follow, as the dancers break away from their regimented pattern and begin to explore solo work, sometimes dancing alone, sometimes assisted by or assisting each other. Even when only one artist is dancing on stage, however, the others are still present, changing lighting states, moving around the periphery, or even simply affecting the performance with their gaze. Even the passages that are seemingly entirely ‘solo’ are influenced by the presence of others in the space, whether those others are the audience or fellow performers.

As the choreography prompts us to consider ideas of independence, and relationships between people in common spaces and situations, Connaughton’s anecdotes and the footage he includes of his mother, who suffers from dementia, bring these considerations from the theoretical to the personal. From a story about a Popeye toy to one about dealing with his mother’s problems with constipation, the stories Connaughton tells explore the same subjects as the choreography, and draw together the pain and comedy of the situations he finds himself in as he copes with his mother’s declining health.

While this is, for the most point a moving examination of Connaughton’s experience, and broader questions of independence and interdependence, there are points at which the elements don’t entirely hold together. Though the footage of his mother demonstrates great care, and the way in which it is presented on stage does the same, there are points at which it seems somewhat detached from the movement on stage – a later addition rather than an intrinsic element woven into the fabric of the performance. This detracts a little from the insights on stage, as the video footage seems more of a prop rather than the input of a fourth performer. In a way it adds an interesting new element to the questions of independence in the piece, but perhaps not in an intentional, constructive way.

In its consideration of our interactions with each other, especially in times of need, Assisted Solo raises interesting questions, most of which appear intentional, but some of which seem incidental.

Runs until 15 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Review – Shhh…The Elves Are Very Shy

Botanic Gardens

07/08/18

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Elves are very shy, but if you know what to do and where to look you might be able to find evidence of elves, or even a real life elf. In Shhh…The Elves Are Very Shy, Elfologist Dr. Faye Greenwood takes to the stage to teach her audience all about elves, and perhaps even introduce a few of her elvin friends. This piece of theatre for the littlest audience members and their families is a delightful multisensory experience that is accessible to all ages.

Using four facts about elves as a structure for the performance, writer and performer Charlotte Allan brings her audience on an exploration of all things elvish. We learn that elves love red things, making and dancing, and really don’t like iron. As Allan explores each of the facts with her audience, she creates an interactive multisensory space for all of her young audience members to get involved in. Whether it is making a red dotty shape, offering suggestions, enjoying the coloured scarves and other objects that are handed around, or featuring in the charming improvised song that Dr. Greenwood sings to try to persuade the elves to come out, there is a way for every audience member to get involved. Allan demonstrates a real skill for involving her audience in the story, and giving each child enough attention while still moving the narrative forward.

Though there is a text-basis for the show, language is not necessary to enjoy it as there is a strong multisensory element to the show. Allan creates signs to go along with certain key words in the show, provides pictures, plays music, hands around props, and ensures that there is no need to understand the text to understand the show. The final section of the show, the much anticipated appearance of the elves is beautifully done, with a screen in a box showing a video of the elves and giving the impression that there are actually elves in the box. Dr. Faye Greenwood drops objects into the box, and they appear in the video, perfectly in sync. This innovation and precision is an exciting and charming example of how technology can be used to create magic on stage.

In the perfect setting of the Botanic Gardens (where Dr. Greenwood has collected a number of examples of elf activity), Shhh…The Elves Are Very Shy is a beautiful piece of interactive theatre that will delight young audiences.

Shhh…The Elves Are Very Shy runs at the Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, until August 26th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.