Scene and Heard – Owned/Syrius

Owned

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Exploring the slave trade, from its pre-civil war American history to the current realities of the use of slavery in production of most of what we consume, from Nestle cereals to Gap hoodies, Syrius is a strong piece of theatre that challenges its audience. The work blends text with movement, with each ensemble member bringing a distinct but complementary style to the piece. The piece is, at times, somewhat disjointed, with the text coming across as a talk or lecture rather than a theatre piece, but it is still effective in conveying its message. In breaking the fourth wall in a number of ways, and encouraging the audience to look up www.slaveryfootprint.org, the performers push the audience to truly engage with the subject matter. Owned, directed by Ailish Leavy is an engaging and confident production that highlights an important global issue.

Syrius

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Written and performed by Romana Testasecca, with direction by Karen Killeen, Syrius is a powerful piece of theatre exploring the experience of one woman who travelled from Syria to Portlaoise as a refugee.  The powerful movement in the work, choreographed by Stefanie Dufrense, portrays the many difficulties faced by the character, from her initial defiance against the military presence in Syria, to her journey to Ireland. Testasecca has an impressive presence on stage, drawing the audience into the story and creating a pulsing vein of hope throughout the piece.

Efficacy 84 – Review

Samuel Beckett Theatre, TCD

TCD Drama Department Devising Debut Festival

16.7.17

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Taking the 1984 Kerry Babies Case, in which the body of a baby was found on Cahirciveen beach, and another buried on a local farm, leading to an investigation that was fraught with issues around Garda conduct and veracity of information, as inspiration, Efficacy 84 is a heartbreaking piece of theatre that examines the society in which such an event could occur. This work, devised by Luke Casserly is an insightful exploration of a personal and public story.

Using effective distancing techniques, including microphones and the blurring between actors and characters, the piece recreates a sense of distance from the people involved, such as Joanne Hayes who was suspected of killing the children. As the piece develops the audience gradually realises the effect of this separation from the characters as people; the investigation clung to Joanne Hayes for so long despite scientific evidence to contradict suspicion against her because investigators saw her as an example rather than a person. She was not just Joanne Hayes; she was a woman caught between the Old and New Ireland, a woman who, for some people, embodied the change that was taking place in the country. It is easy to let injustices slip by when the victim is not recognised as a person, when a connection is not made with them. The framing of the piece, with Casserly joining the cast on stage and directly addressing the audience, combined with highly stylised performance, brings this to life and puts the audience in a position whereby they are engaged in the act of distancing.

The performances are consistently strong, with the actors finding a balance between levity and intensity under Casserly’s direction. Lisa Nally delivers an open, powerful performance as Joanne Hayes, and the entire cast operates as an impressively connected ensemble.

The design of the piece also plays a large part in the distancing discussed earlier, with Sorcha Flanagan’s costume design standing out as a particular example. By dressing the female actors in simple floral dresses and plain brogues and the only male actor, Simon Geaney in a classic shirt and jumper, Flanagan suggests a sense of timelessness of the story – this is based on a story from 1984, but it is just one example of the effects of a long-held mindset in Ireland. Benedict Esdale, as the pianist, is dressed in a luxurious velvet jacket, suggesting the conscious theatricality of the piece.

This combination of many small details makes Efficacy 84 a strong, well-rounded, affecting piece of theatre that confidently involves its audience in its development.

 

Danse, Morob – Review

Project Arts Centre

17/1/17

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

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The daughter of Morob is trying to find him. Upon learning that his body is missing from its grave, she sets out with her pack of dogs to find the Long Kesh ex-political prisoner.  However, it soon transpires that this magic-realist play is about much more than just the recovery of the corpse, it is about a woman coming to an understanding of the death of her father and finding Morob, the person rather than Morob, the corpse.

The piece opens with a strong physical segment, moving quickly from the slow pre-set movement around the set and building to an intense combat between performers in which words and movement clash with breathtaking results. However, this level of interplay between text and physicality is not sustained and such choreography is used less as the text takes over.  This detracts somewhat from the energy and power of the piece, as lengthy monologues lose themselves at points and go for more where less may have been more effective. The repeated motifs in the text, a technique that one would recognise from other Emergency Room works such as riverrrun, do not carry the text forward in the way one might expect, instead slowing the pacing and giving the text a static quality at times. Even though the lead role is powerfully performed by Olwen Fouéré, whose voice could command the attention of a theatre even if she was only reading a shopping list or telephone directory, the text seems to weigh the performance down.

Despite this, there were many interesting questions raised alongside the central father/daughter story. There were questions of connection and communication brought to the fore in interactions between the characters during the seated monologues, and in the sense of self interrogation in many of Fouéré’s pieces. This also leads to contemplation of questions of identity – to what extent is the lead character defined in relationship to Morob? How much does she define herself along that plane? This is developed as the narration moves from first person to second and third. The detachment of the use of the third person towards the end conveys a strong message about Fouéré’s character’s identity as the Daughter of Morob.

The daughter of Morob appears to be a prisoner herself (though why or to whom we cannot be sure), and this is conveyed effectively through Molly O’Cathain’s costumes which are created with an excellently balanced colour-palette that compliments and is complimented by Sinéad Wallace’s striking lighting design. Wallace’s design subtly suggests the opposition between the clear-cut lines of the place versus the hazy or murky internal experience of Fouéré’s character. José Miguel Jimenez and Luca Truffarelli’s AV elements create intense experiences of the search for Morob, but the fact that they are projected behind the characters and, along with Wallace’s lighting design, disrupts the sense of space and gives the audience the impression that they are experiencing the internal world of Fouéré’s character. One gets the impression that the daughter’s search for Morob may actually have taken place in one room, in one space.  It is, as mentioned before, not just a physical search, but journey to finding an understanding of Morob and his death.

Danse, Morob is a visually stunning production that is hindered by a stilted text.

Danse, Morob runs at Project Arts Centre until January 28th 2017.

 

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Waking The Feminists: One Thing More

Originally published on The Reviews Hub: One thing more on gender imbalance in Irish arts

 

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Photo by Kate Horgan

 

“This is what collaborative feminist power looks like and it is a powerful, playful and inclusive thing.”

In just one sentence Sarah Durcan, general manager of Science Gallery International and member of the Waking the Feminists group, succinctly summed up the atmosphere in the Abbey Theatre today at Waking The Feminists’ One Thing More.

On October 28th 2015, the Abbey Theatre launched its 2016 programme marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising, a programme which featured only one play written by a woman, and only three directed by women. In no time Ireland’s feminist alarm clock, Lian Bell, had posted her now famous Facebook post highlighting the issue of gender imbalance, not just in the Abbey, but across the sector, and the wheels were in motion. Just two weeks later, the first Waking the Feminists meeting took to the Abbey stage, kicking off what was to be one of most active years of evolution and change in Irish Theatre in over a century.

Today, Waking the Feminists filled the Abbey Theatre for their final event, One Thing More. The aim of today’s event was to take stock of the year that was, and to discuss where the work of the campaign could lead in the future. With too many speakers to reference individually, dozens of diverse voices said their one thing more about Waking the Feminists.  Young, old, Irish, American, English, Welsh, Scottish, men, women, writers, producers, managers, actors, people from every corner of the sector and beyond added their voices to the discussion. Our new directors of the Abbey Theatre, Neil Murray and Graham McLaren, offered an open call for everyone’s “outrageous,” reminding us that “regardless of race, gender, age, or the money in your pocket, the Abbey is your theatre” and re-iterating that the National Theatre exists to serve, not be served.  Later, Amelie Metcalfe, the youngest speaker at only eight years old, told the audience of the reasons she is proud to  be a girl in Irish theatre, but asked when it was going to “wake up to children” appealing to her adult colleagues with the words “Excite us. Inspire us.” From a child then on to a parent, Tara Derrington of “Mothers Artists Makers” (M.A.Ms) spoke of their work over the past year, and of their continued aim to highlight the unequal care burden that is pushing many mothers out of careers in the arts.

Not only were there speeches in person on the stage; a number of supporters sent video messages to be played as part of the proceedings. Emma Rice, former artistic director of The Globe, took to the screen to much applause as she asserted that “we need to make our presence felt at every level.” With one speaker just off the plane from America, another a long-time emigrant returned to Ireland, another sharing her experiences of theatre in Poland, messages from England, America, and across Ireland streaming in, and a wealth of passionate voices both on and off the stage, there was a tangibly electric and powerful atmosphere throughout the venue. Orlaith McBride, director of the Arts Council, said that Waking the Feminists is “a perpetual flame, it is a fire that will not go out,” and the energy in the Abbey mirrored that.

Towards the end of the morning, the research group from NUIG who compiled a study of gender equality in Irish theatre over the past decade presented a number of their findings, sending a cacophony of gasps and sighs rippling through the auditorium. The full report is due to be published in early 2017, but even today’s snapshot painted a stark statistical picture.

As happened in 2015, with the now iconic sing-along to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” the meeting ended on a song. Camille O’Sullivan sang the event to a close with her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” bringing many to tears and all to their feet by the time she sang the final lines.

Waking the Feminists has been an historical moment in Irish theatre, and One Thing More was a fitting end to it. To borrow a quote from Jane Daly, “to do nothing is simply not an option.”

Loose Canon – Book Review

Loose Canon: The Extraordinary Songs of Clive James & Pete Atkin

Ian Shirocore

Red Door Publishing, 2016

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“The common characteristic of all Atkins/James songs is that they don’t sound like each other, and they don’t sound like anything else.”

The appeal of Ian Shircore’s book Loose Canon: The Extraordinary Songs of Clive James & Pete Atkin, is best summed up in this line from chapter 17. It is a celebration of the diverse and accomplished careers of Clive James and Pete Atkin, as well as an exploration of how their collaborative work came to be what it is.

Blending technical analysis of songs with entertaining personal anecdotes, Shircore writes a book that is an interesting and entertaining read for both the casual and the devoted listener. While it is definitely aimed at an audience of long-time Atkin and James fans, fans who were listening through the duo’s most active years in the 1970s, this is by no means alienating or limiting. I, a twenty year-old listener of Atkin and James’, felt welcomed into the book with open arms.

Even in the most densely factual and analytical passages, Shircore writes with flair. Making liberal use of metaphor and lyrical images of his own, with a description of James’ writing in Have You Got a Biro I can Borrow as a “dancing constellation of internal rhymes” standing out as a particular example of this, Shircore mirrors James’ own tendency to marry technical particularity with natural flair. The information about James and Atkin, beyond their work, that is woven through the exploration of a selection of their songs adds depth to the discussion of their work and gives an insight into the artists as people.

Shircore writes with an easy, open style that makes this book an accessible and engaging read. This casual tone can, at times, lead to some repetition which takes some chapters on a circuitous route to their point, and to sweeping statements which can err on the side of hyperbole in the case of lines such as the one in which “Together at Last” is described as featuring “the most spectacular enjambment ever.” However, overall it is one of the strongest features of the book, opening the doors and leading the reader through an exploration of James and Atkin’s varied and fascinating careers with ease.

Loose Canon takes an engaging and insightful look at the careers of Clive James and Pete Atkin through a close examination of a selection of their extensive songbook. It is a book to be read whilst listening to the songs it discusses; between the writing of Shircore, James and Atkin, “the music in the room, both beautiful and true, on plushly hushed extended wings, is flown to me and you.”

Butterflies and Bones – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Butterflies and Bones

Project Arts Centre, Dublin

20/10/16

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In recent months, Irish stages have been awash with productions exploring 1916 and where we stand on the events of that year now, in 2016, a hundred years later. There have been productions about the Easter Rising, productions about the creation of the state we live in now, and productions about Roger Casement. As one might imagine, after nine months of this, the theme is getting worn and fewer avenues are left to be discovered. However, Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project, created by Fearghus Ó Conchúir as part of Project Arts Centre’s 50th anniversary programme, puts paid to any such ideas of staleness. An electric and insightful work, Butterflies and Bones conveys the human behind the history with skill and passion.

Roger Casement (formerly Sir Roger Casement; he was stripped of his title before his execution for his involvement in Irish revolutionary activity, including the 1916 Rising) was a British peer, and Irish nationalist figure and all-round enigmatic historical figure. However, alongside his political life, there is his personal life. As a gay man in early 20th century Ireland, Casement had a carefully hidden portion of himself that was only later discovered in a number of diaries. Butterflies and Bones effectively reminds the audience of this; that Casement was not just a political or revolutionary figure, but a person too.

Ó Conchúir’s choreography (created in conjunction with the performers) is evocative and intense, conveying the formal public Roger Casement, and the raw, open private Casement. Introducing strong elements of each performer’s personal dance style into the performance, and then creating segments in which they adopt each others’ movements, the choreography creates a strong ensemble that portrays Roger Casement as a multi-faceted character. One of the most powerful elements of this, when combined with Alma Kelliher’s expressive sound design, comes through in the undercurrent of fear and threat portrayed almost throughout the performance. Even in moments of heady ecstasy, there is a threat lingering in the atmosphere, whether of being discovered in his republican activities or in his personal life.

Working with dance styles reminiscent of those such as Lucinda Childs’ 1970s/1980s postmodern choreography, The Casement Project takes the theme of 1916/2016 far from any danger of nostalgia or stasis and injects it with a revolutionary quality of its own. As it breaks down, reforms and plays with a tower of speakers and two large metallic cloths (the only props), this production breaks down and represents a well known historical figure in a new and insightful light. Complimenting this performance and direction style, Ciaran O’Melia’s skilful design, both in terms of lighting and set, takes the piece far from the reach of realism and into an exciting, open and productive space.

Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project takes a well-worn topic and re-invigorates it in innovative and engaging ways. With a wealth of dramatic, political and social history to absorb and re-invent with ingenuity and fervour, this production takes a truly new approach to the story of Roger Casement and 1916.

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Dusk – Review

The New Theatre

13/10/16

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When one thinks of Irish myth and folklore on stage, one writer springs immediately to mind, W.B. Yeats. His plays earned their place in Irish theatre history for his lyrical writing, interpretations of the obscure and unexplored in Irish mythology, and reimagining of old well-worn tales.  His legacy has evidently lived on and manifests itself in Eamon Carr’s Dusk.  Telling the story of Aisling, who meets the ghost of the ancient Irish hero Cúchulain on the eve of her wedding, Dusk explores the real and mythological in Irish history. Carr’s verse writing and theatrical techniques are reminiscent of a number of Yeats ‘ works, with one particular scene in which The Morrígan (a mythological figure likened to the Valkyries of Norse folklore) dances, appearing to pay almost direct homage to At The Hawk’s Well. Drawing direct influence from such a well-known writer who has such an individual writing style is an ambitious decision, but for the most part, Carr takes on the challenge with impressive skill. There are points at which the text begins to lose pace in favour of stylistic writing (though I believe that can often be said of Yeats’ plays too!), but overall it is an engaging and well-crafted story.

Under Denis Conway’s direction, Garrett Lombard delivers an impressive performance as Cúchulain, striking the balance between ethereal and human qualities in the character, and deftly handling the dense text with gravity and intensity. It is his performance of the character that carries the show through its slow paced moments and keeps the audience engaged. There are, however, points at which Caoimhe Mulcahy (Aisling) appears to struggle with speaking in verse, breaking the flow of her character’s emotion. Similarly, the character of the Caretaker, played by Denis Conway, breaks the flow of the piece and slows its pace further, without much tangible benefit.

One of the most impressive scenes is the Morrigan’s dance, choreographed and performed by Justine Doswell. Though a short scene, it encapsulates the ethereal sense of the play effectively and further blurs the hazy lines between the real and mythological setting, and between past and present.

Worthy of mention is Katie Davenport’s set design which is actually composed largely of smoke and mirrors. With candles, a large mirror covering one wall and a dappled cloud pattern painted across it and the other two walls, the ambiguous setting is highlighted and each character’s reality is subtly represented.

Despite flaws in pacing and performance, Dusk is an engaging and interesting production, re-interpreting and challenging of the character of Cúchulain with regard to the mythological Ireland in which he existed and the Ireland which exists outside the theatre.

Dusk runs at The New Theatre until  October 15th.