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

Fantasia_ProjectArtsCentre_cMagdaHueckel

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 – Luck Just Kissed You Hello

Dublin Theatre Festival

Project Arts Centre

02/10/15

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Big Ted is dying and Sullivan, Gary and Mark have come together to make final arrangements and farewells, but despite the constant beeping of hospital equipment in the background, this piece quickly reveals itself to be about much more than just the difficulties of composing a eulogy and making practical arrangements. Sullivan sees Ted as a father figure though he isn’t his biological son, Gary and Mark are estranged from Ted, their father, Gary is gay, Mark’s birth name was Laura; in short, there is a simmering tumult that the death of Ted is bringing to a head.

This tumult shines through in Conroy’s writing, with sharply insightful, carefully crafted dialogue running throughout the piece. This is punctuated with stirring and unsettling scenes of reminiscence that consume the stage and audience and envelop them in a chilling wave of memory and mis-memory. However, watching this piece I found there to be an imbalance of focus in the script between the characters. The writing (and partly direction) of the hierarchy of characters in this piece created too great of a division between the character of Mark (Amy Conroy) and those of Gary and Sullivan. Had the focus been somewhat more balanced, rather than being so strongly centred on Mark, each character, Mark included, could have brought more strength to the story.

In terms of design this performance was very impressive, with John Crudden’s lighting design deserving of particular mention. Aedín Cosgrove’s minimal set provided the perfect blank canvas for Crudden’s dynamic and evocative design.

Moving beyond the execution of this piece, Conroy’s treatment of the subject must be commended. Similarly to some of her other work, Luck Just Kissed You Hello brings subjects often swept under the carpet to the fore through a recognisable story or setting. In blending the story of the family and Big Ted with Mark’s experience of transition, Conroy makes both stories accessible and engaging.

With its blend of comedy, insight and harrowing truths, Luck Just Kissed You Hello is an exploration of family relationships, acceptance and identity that entertains and informs in equal measure.

“Riverrun”- Review

Project Arts Centre

29/1/15

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I surprised myself by loving Olwen Fouéré’s Riverrun; had someone described the piece to me I would have been sceptical. A flowing stream of interlinking sense and senselessness, the script and Fouéré’s delivery of it was both natural, distinctly unsettling and peculiar. The simple set, with white powder or sand scattered along a curved path echoing the banks of a river, and the incorporation of the microphone, stand and lead into this created a simple yet atmospheric image that complimented but never distracted from the raw beauty of Fouéré’s words and performance.

This piece surrounds the senses, with the words filtering through the consciousness swimming between brief moments of clarity and of dancing, flowing confusion, the underlying sounds of the river and the simple yet powerful lighting complimenting the tone of the script. Riverrun is a captivatingly beautiful and intriguing piece that interests and delights throughout.

A Conversation With Kate Heffernan

Writer Kate Heffernan talks about her work, her thoughts on Irish theatre and advice for people considering a similar career.

Photo by Senija Topcic

Photo by Senija Topcic

Tell us a little about what you do.

I am a writer – a ‘yes but no but yes but’ writer – contrarily uncomfortable calling myself either theatremaker or playwright, but comfortable with the makerly meaning of the word wright. When not agonising over definitions, I write texts for performance. I also do lots of other work to supplement this questionable lifestyle choice, such as graphic design, bespoke show programmes, writing and editing and producing support.

How did you find your way into your field? Was it something you always had an interest in?

I haven’t always been a writer. I’ve worked in lots of different capacities over the past twelve years, from running a box office for an arts festival on an island at the other end of the world, to stage-managing a site-specific dance performance in hotels across this island, to my most recent role as Assistant Producer at Project Arts Centre. My first job in theatre coincided with the opening of Dunamaise Arts Centre in my hometown when I was 16, and I worked as stage-manager for a production by Shake the Speare, a brilliant young ensemble led by Cabrini Cahill. My interest started right there, and I then just said yes to every job that came my way – tearing tickets and unloading sets and putting season brochures in envelopes and hanging lamps while reading English at college lined my pockets, informed by thinking as a writer, and the vast range of performance I absorbed at the same time fuelled my imagination.

You just finished a year as Artist in Residence at the Dunamaise Arts Centre Portlaoise with Maisie Lee, could you tell us a little about that?

Home was a project by, for and about the people of Laois. We encouraged people from all walks of life to get in touch, to make contact, to share their ideas. We spent the first half of the year meeting with groups and individuals of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds from all over the county, discussing and workshopping ideas of ‘home’. We became very interested in exploring radio as a medium that could reach people in their own homes. The residency culminated in Hometruths, a series of six fictional texts for radio, written by me and directed by Maisie, based on all of the ideas collected throughout the year. Recorded for broadcast at Dunamaise and various locations throughout Laois, five of the pieces were performed by a local cast. Hometruths was broadcast live from Dunamaise by Midlands 103 last December.

You had a successful run at the 2013 Dublin Fringe Festival with your play “In Dog Years I’m Dead” for which you won the Steward Parker Award. Could you tell us a little about your experience of writing it and having it in the fringe?

That was a whirlwind. One second Maisie and actor Marie Ruane and I are chatting semi-absently about shared anxieties surrounding turning 30, the next second we’ve made a play about it with the collaboration of actor Rob Bannon, its on in the Dublin Fringe Festival and its selling out, its revived for a month-long run at Bewleys Café Theatre and its winning the Stewart Parker Award. Or at least it felt like two seconds. That was about 18 months in reality, a period in which I took a terrifying leap from being a secret writer to a public writer, with the unwavering support of the brilliant Maisie Lee, and also the incredibly enabling encouragement of Róise Goan, then director of the Dublin Fringe Festival. All of it feels a bit whirlwindy, apart from one moment at the top of our very first preview, Maisie and I glancing uneasily at each other as we stood behind our very first audience, uncertain about what way it would go. That first moment when you feel an audience connect with what you’ve tried to achieve is overwhelming, that energy in the room, whether it’s a laugh, a gasp, or a still silence. That’s the feeling that makes time slow down. And the drug that will keep me coming back for more.

What has your favourite theatre moment of the last 12 months been?

I’ve wrestled with this, and have decided there are just too many to reduce it to one! I was struck by the beauty of L’apres-midi d’un Foehn by Compagnie Non Nova (at the Ark as part of Dublin Dance Festival), in which Jean-Louis Ouvrard transforms plastic bags into a troupe of prima ballerinas. The simplicity of its artistry will stay with me, a simplicity that in my own work always seems just out of reach. The ethereal vocals of Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq and Sonya Kelly’s smart slant on immigration, love and a lamentation for avocados in How to Keep and Alien (both as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe), the hypnotic words and fractured world of Chris Goode’s Men in the Cities at the Traverse during Edinburgh Fringe, the irresistible joy of Fabulous Beast’s Rian at Dunamaise for Culture Night. Two design moments will stay with me: a stunning singular second in The Company’s The Rest Is Action, when Rob McDermott as Cassandra, begins to have visions of the future (at Project Arts Centre as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe); and the opening sequence of Schaubühne’s Hamlet, a simple diffuse water hose adding a layer of tension to the farcical burial of Hamlet’s father, and just one of many engrossing sequences during that incredible production (at BGET as part of Dublin Theatre Festival). The Dublin Theatre Festival offered so many moments: the weird growing-up-in-a-small-town vibes of Jonathan Capdevielle’s Adishatz/Adieu, the letter-perfect choreography of BERLIN’s Perhaps All the Dragons, and Pan Pan’s often off the wall, always coherent, unwaveringly engaging (and sometimes tutu’d) production of The Seagull and Other Birds.
Good grief, I’m fierce longwinded.

What do you think of the current state of Irish theatre?

Lots of brilliant things, lots of less brilliant things but – with improved strategy, policy, vision, ambition and rigour at every level – lots of space and possibility for more brilliant things

If you had to pick one change to make to Irish theatre, what would it be?

Less polarity in our thinking, in our language, in our preoccupations: less of centre versus periphery, funded versus unfunded, pre-2008 versus post-2008, new work versus new writing, playwright versus theatremaker (Oh give it a rest, Kate!), self-produced versus every-other-kind-of-produced, emerging versus established, traditional versus contemporary, absolutely incredible versus total shit! And so on, ad infinitum. And by saying less, I imply more: more informed, rounded and active engagement with everything that’s happening by everyone involved. Is that a bit airy-fairy?

What advice would you give to a person considering pursing a similar career to yours?

Don’t be too hung up on gut. I’m not sure I ever had one to follow. Some decisions are hard, some are easy, very few singular decisions will alter the entire course of your life, make the decision that’s right for now, and things will slowly slot into place. Don’t beat yourself up for not being in the place you thought you’d be if indeed you ever thought about such a place. Read a lot, see lots of different types of work, but don’t passively consume it or lazily dismiss it. Think about the artists’ intentions not as a critic might but as a fellow maker does, think carefully about your responses – articulate them. Try and keep a notebook, but don’t worry if it’s not for you, plenty of writers don’t. Find someone who you can share your work with, a reader whose opinion you trust, but not someone who is either too critical or holds such a lofty position in your life that it is crippling rather than enabling. Read Stephen King’s On Writing. Read The Paris Review interviews and keep your favourites close to you during the bad times. Make things – always make things. I had a blast reading English but it stopped me dead in my tracks as a writer, turning me from maker into self-doubting critic, and it took (is taking) years to come back around from that. Don’t stay away from studying literature, but keep creating, being careful not to let your literary analysis skills overcome your skills as a maker. Take all advice with a large flake of Irish Atlantic Sea Salt.

Thanks to Kate Heffernan for sharing her thoughts.

A Conversation With Karen Fricker

Karen Fricker, theatre academic and critic talks about her career, her views on current events and the future of theatre.

Karen Fricker web headshot copy

Tell us a little about what you do.
I am an assistant professor of Dramatic Arts at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. The focus of my research is on the ways in which globalization is affecting contemporary theatre and performance. Before I became an academic I worked as a theatre critic and arts magazine editor, and maintain a keen interest in theatre criticism and how it’s changing in the digital age.

 

How did you find your way into your field? Was it something you always had an interest in?
My mom sent me and my sister to a summertime drama programme at our local university when I was 12 and I have been hooked ever since.I studied English and Drama at university and didn’t find my way to criticism until after graduation, as I slowly realized that what I most loved about theatre – going to seeing shows and thinking and talking about then afterwards – could be something you do for a living.

 

What are your thoughts on the role of the critic in today’s society? How do you see it changing?
The received wisdom about criticism today is that thanks to the internet, everyone’s a critic. In fact everyone has always been a critic, inasmuch as the capacity to respond to the arts thoughtfully is part of what makes us human. But the rise of digital technologies means that pretty much anyone with a computer and internet access can broadcast their viewpoints. At the same time, and for related reasons, the number of paying jobs for professional critics is in decline, and some media outlets now privilege consumer/citizen reviews over expert ones. This is perceived by many with stakes in professional criticism as a situation of dire crisis. I prefer to see it as one of transition – expert voices will never be silenced. But just how they’re going to make themselves heard above the cacophony of online conversation is something that’s still playing itself out. It’s an exciting time.

 

What has your favourite theatre moment of the last 12 months been?
Ooh, I love that question. The most beautiful and moving performance I saw in 2014 was the contemporary circus piece Acrobates by the French company Le Montfort. I wrote about it extensively on my blog (www.karenfricker.wordpress.com) so I’ll not go on about it here — but I will say that contemporary circus is extremely vibrant at the moment and that maybe if Ireland gets really lucky, Willie White will program Acrobates in the Dublin Theatre Festival. That’s a hint, Willie.

 

What do you think of the current state of Irish theatre?
From 1997-2007 I lived in Dublin and was in the thick of things in the Irish performing arts, but now I only make it back twice a year so it’s hard for me to comment comprehensively. If I can say what work I most regret having missed in the years since I left it’s that of Anu Productions — their immersive Monto Cycle has been acknowledged as a major achievement. I am very sorry I never got a chance to see those productions.

 

If you had to pick one change to make to Irish theatre, what would it be?
Improved government funding.

 

You have worked a lot with young people, as an assistant professor in Brock University and on projects such as NAYD’s annual Young Critics programme. What are your thoughts on the future of theatre having worked with some of the practitioners, critics, academics and audiences of the present and future?
Working with young people is a great privilege, because through their eyes I see theatre as a space of limitless possibility and creativity. It’s impossible to get jaded! At the moment I am particularly interested to see what the next big thing after the post-dramatic (others may already know – please tell me!) and how digital criticism is going to continue to change my particular area of focus.

 

What advice would you give to a person considering pursing a similar career to yours?
Total, utter cliché but – follow your gut, follow your passion. If you feel like there’s something that needs to be said or done and you can’t figure out why no one is saying or doing it, that’s your cue. Do it yourself, say it yourself.

 

Thanks to Karen Fricker for sharing her thoughts.

Review – “Our Few and Evil Days”

“Our Few and Evil Days”
Abbey Theatre
23/10/2014

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“It will rip something inside you and stitch it back together, but not in the same way, snatch your breath.”

This was the reaction a friend gave when I tweeted that I would be seeing the Abbey Theatre’s production of “Our Few and Evil Days” written and directed by Mark O’Rowe, and she was right. This was a stunning production that indeed snatched my breath, inhabited every part of my mind, made me both laugh and cry, and left me reeling as I left the auditorium. There are few shows that have that powerful pause between the final blackout and the applause as the audience absorbs what they just experienced and readjust to real life, but this was one of them.

The combination of O’Rowe’s skilled writing and the powerful performances delivered onstage, particularly by Ciarán Hinds and Sinead Cusack, made this piece an exciting, amusing and heart-wrenching experience. Every part of the performances and writing played a part in building the story of this family. The nuances, tone and progression of every conversation were intensely realistic, with each interruption and pause timed and delivered exactly, but with a powerfully natural feel. This was further complimented by the small devices in characterization, such as Hinds’ regular exclamations of “Jesus!” and Cusack’s slow, almost tired speech which portrayed important parts of the characters and story on an almost unconscious level.

These performances were strengthened by the excellent design of the stage and lighting. Particularly effective were the blackouts at the ends of scenes which served to build tension and to leave things unsaid that were more potent in their absence than if they had been said. These blackouts were especially effective when contrasted with the well designed, realistic lighting throughout the rest of the production.

Finally, I wish to comment on one particular moment which was not central to the plot and could in fact have easily gone unnoticed; I don’t even know if it was intentional. At this point in the play, Hinds’ character was standing at the kitchen sink which had a window above it when the rumble of the Luas passing made its way into the auditorium. Rather than just ignoring it, as is usually done, Hinds’ briefly looked out of the window, as if to acknowledge the passing of the Luas. My pet hate with the Abbey is the sound of the Luas reverberating through the auditorium, breaking the atmosphere momentarily so I absolutely loved this incorporation of it into the production. Whether purposely timed to coincide with the Luas, or just a fortuitous coincidence, this was a gem of a moment.

It may seem that I gave a disproportionately large amount of text to that particular moment, but it is significant as it is an example of the many small but powerful devices used within the production that gave it its overall strength and impact. Every aspect of the production combined perfectly to create a visually stunning, emotionally striking and utterly incredible theatrical experience.