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.”

 

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 – Summertime

Filmbase

Dublin Fringe Festival

21/09/18

summertime_website_2_crop

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 -Big Trouble in Little Monkey’s Daycare

The Space on the Mile

06/08/18

little mmonkey

Something is not right at Little Monkey’s Daycare, and little Tommy, a four-and-a-half year old private investigator, is going to get to the bottom of it. This production from Newcastle University Theatre Society is a sort of backwards Bugsy Malone with the toddlers played by adults, to great comic effect. The writing and performances play to all of the classic tropes; as the characters chew on their candy cigarettes, nurse their Angel Delight hangovers and deal in curly straws, an hilarious twist on the classic gangster story is established. As Tommy and his sidekick Bobby investigate why their classmates are vanishing with a mystery illness, there are comic moments for both children and adults in the audience alike.

The production has an air of the rough and ready about it, but that often add to the humour in the piece rather than detracting from it. Similarly, the dubious, hammed-up New Yoihk accents provide many laughs, though lines are sometimes lost to them. Overall the performances are mixed, with some portraying the toddler gangsters adeptly, with sharp comic timing, and others over-acting theirs. The way in which the children are portrayed, combined with the references to old gangster films, raises the question of who the production is aimed at. Though it is billed as being suitable for all ages, and there are comic moments that would appeal to both adults and children, Big Trouble at Little Monkey’s Daycare seems more like a play about children for adults than a piece of theatre for children.

Big Trouble at Little Monkey’s Daycare is an unpolished but entertaining story of choc-ice crime and chickenpox.

It Lives‽

The dissertation is done, the essays are written, and the post-university existential crisis has been neatly swept under the carpet. That can only mean one thing. Yes, Sitting on the Fourth Wall has awakened from its lengthy slumber, and I am returning to seeing a mildly ridiculous number of plays.

Where better to kick that into action, than at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe? I write this, sitting on my bed in the Network of Independent Critics flat, readying myself for a whirlwind week. So come and join me as I resurrect this blog with as many reviews of work for children and families (alongside a few grown-ups shows) as I can fit in for the next six days of Fringe madness.

Now, let’s see if I can remember what a review is.

Radio Silence

My dear readers,

You may have noticed that this blog has become quite quiet recently. As some of you might know, I’m finishing up university in the next couple of months, and as such I am wading through work on a dissertation and numerous other assignments. In order to give this work the attention it deserves, I will not be taking bookings to review work until after I have submitted my dissertation.

As much as I attempted to pretend that reviewing was definitely research for my dissertation, which is on the development of theatre criticism from print to online publication, it unfortunately doesn’t count.  It kills me to turn down bookings for the fascinating work that is going on at the moment, but hopefully I’ll get something interesting written that I might share (a condensed version of) once I’m done.

Apologies to anyone whose press invites I have had to turn down. I look forward to returning to normal service once I have finished at the end of April!

I’ll catch you on the fourth wall soon.

Glowworm – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Project Arts Centre

Tiger Dublin Fringe

11/09/16

glowworm.png

Zelle De Brulle is different, she knows that, and for the most part she is happy as she is. She contentedly catches and studies her insects, follows in the footsteps of her eccentric uncle William Charles Bugboy De Brulle, and is rarely ever noticed by her Oxborough schoolmates. However one evening, upon catching a glow-worm in the Oxborough gardens, Zelle is reminded of part herself that she had forgotten or pushed away and a new realm of discovery is opened to her.

In the charming setting of William Charles Bugboy De Brulle’s laboratory (brilliantly created under production designer Hannah Bowe) the three actors, Julie Maguire, Conor O’Riordan and Maria Guliver, adeptly bring a host of vibrant characters to life as they try to understand why Zelle does not put the Glowworm in “the killing jar” and pin it to her corkboard like all of her other specimens. As they do so, the audience is guided through Zelle’s experiences of growing up in a reserved Victorian household, her friendship with her uncle, her solitary schooldays, a bizarre encounter in an elderflower thicket, and the other joys and difficulties she found in growing up.

Through a miscellany of music, puppetry and storytelling, this delightful piece is perfectly paced and well-rounded. Kellegher’s sharp, insightful direction provides a balance between sweetness and satire that places this as a family show, neither just for adults, nor just for children.  Also deserving of praise is Dylan Tonge Jones’ composition and sound design, which he performs live during the show. It is not just music, it is a whole layer to the story-telling with every quick musical reaction conveying as much information and emotion as a whole other character could.

Glowworm is a charming, multi-faceted production that blends insightful storytelling with beautiful design to create a true theatrical delight.

Glowworm runs in Project Arts Centre until September 17th.