Review – what happens to the hope at the end of the evening

what happensaa

Peacock Theatre.

Dublin Theatre Festival 4/10/2014

This gem of a piece directed by Karl James and performed by Tim Crouch and Andy Smith was a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. From the moment Smith walked through the auditorium, sat in his chair and began to speak, I knew I was going to enjoy the show.

Telling the story of an evening between two long time friends who have been apart for some years, the piece examines the changes in each of their lives, the changes in their friendship and in the way they communicate. In doing this, light is also thrown on how we communicate, on how we are present in a space with other people. This was an interesting idea told through a compelling story.

Crouch and Smith delivered top-notch performances. Smith moved between narration and acing out scenes seamlessly and Crouch brought the character of his friend who has lost direction, who hasn’t moved on like Smith’s character, to life with expertise. The two actors bring the characters credibly to life while still maintaining interesting stylistic techniques such as talking to and looking out towards the audience and only rarely looking at each other. These devices are very effectively used to convey the traits of each character; Crouch’s character in his own world, looking beyond the audience and Smith’s more settled, talking to the audience and acting as a bridge between the characters and audience.

The tale of these men’s friendship, of the evening they spend together and the many past spent is further reinforced by moments such as those when Smith asks the audience to shake hands with each other and asks them to take off their shoes. As well as drawing the audience further into the story, these features served to strengthen the ideas of presence and togetherness that were central to the piece.

In terms of design this was a simple piece. However, the fully lit set changes carried out by Crouch were, like every other aspect of the piece, very effective in maintaining and developing the tone of the piece. They meant that the audience was never torn out of the story by a blackout; there was a flow to the piece that gave it a very natural feel despite the unnatural devices such as the positioning of the actors’ gazes.

In short, this piece was a powerful and compelling yet comfortable piece of theatre that drew the audience in from the start and delivered a captivating narrative with startlingly real characters and a potent message.

Review – “Adishatz/Adieu”

Project Arts Centre

Dublin Theatre Festival 3/10/14

My trip to see Jonathan Capdevielle’s “Adiashatz Adieu” at the Project Arts Centre was an impromptu one. I was offered a ticket a couple of hours before the show and accepted without really knowing what the piece was; I had no time to research it and my notes were taken on the back of the programme because I didn’t have my notebook with me. However, this piece was so different, so fresh that I think that even had I had the chance to know more about it before I saw it, it would still have produced the same responses, the same unsettlement and the same questions.

The show began with Capedeville, dressed unassumingly, holding a mic in one hand and a can of Pepsi in the other standing in the centre of the stage projecting a nervous air towards his audience. This feeling of testing the waters continued as he broke into an a cappella Madonna medley, pausing between each song, hand in his pocket, closed off; but soon we could feel him find his feet as the strength of each song grew and he began to show off his vocal abilities.

From the Madonna medleys Capedeville moved to much more shocking, harrowing songs in French (with surtitles). This gave us an idea of what was to come as the show progressed. Following these songs Capedeville quickly moved into playing out scenes from real life; a stilted conversation with his father, a distressing scene in a hospital with an ill relative and an all too familiar scene of drunken antics outside a nightclub.

Capedeville portrayed these scenes with great skill, switching between characters vocally with ease and distinction. Midway through these scenes he also changed character in terms of costume, switching into drag at a dressing table upstage. The onstage costume change complimented the raw, pared down feeling of the piece. There was no flashy fantasy in this; it was a bare snapshot into Capedeville’s mind.

The performance was further strengthened and complimented by the excellent lighting by Patrick Riou. Riou kept the lighting simple in terms of colour and used effects sparingly so that when they were used, they had a real power. From the beautiful yet unsettling reflections from the mirror ball to the spotlight which created the powerful separation between Capedeville and the other singers; the lighting was superb.

I only have one minor complaint and that is to do with the surtitles. Generally they were very good, but I found there to be some inconsistency in translation at some points. There were some parts in French that were not surtitled and consequently would have been lost on any members of the audience who did not understand French. This is, I think, a pity as they were no less important than any other lines.

Without a doubt, this was an unsettling piece. I know that during it I hardly knew what to think or how to react and judging from the occasional moments of uncertain laughter from the audience; I doubt I was the only one that felt that way. However, this unease felt intentional and I think it worked with the piece. This, for me, was something truly new and different. I was left thinking and reflecting upon it for some time after I left the theatre behind.

Review – “Hamlet”

Schaubuhne-Hamlet

Berlin Schaubühne
Bórd Gáis Energy Theatre
Dublin Theatre Festival 25/9/2014

Berlin Schaubühne’s production of “Hamlet” came highly recommended to me; however I sadly cannot pass that recommendation any further. This production, directed by Thomas Ostermeier has been generally very well received but, though elements of it were very impressive, I was disappointed with it overall.

The show opened with a striking dumb show at the burial of Hamlet’s father. This very impressive visual scene with no dialogue did, in a way, set the tone for the rest of the piece. However, I must say that I found this opening scene, with the dark, shadowy pre-set, the slapstick antics of the gravedigger, the stony faces of the other characters, the ever building music and the tension this all created, to be the high point of the production.

After this scene, there was a return in the direction of the original script with the celebrations of Gertrude and Claudius’ marriage and Claudius’ ascension to the throne. I on the other hand was not celebrating as this scene marked the introduction of the radio microphone which was quickly to become very much overused. There were points at which it was a powerful dramatic tool, such as in the appearance of the ghost, but for the most part it felt like a gimmick. This can also be said for the live video feed that was used regularly throughout. There were many devices like these that began very quickly to bring the production down. The worst of them was without a doubt when Hamlet (played by Lars Eidinger whose performance was for the most part very good) broke the fourth wall and began to interact with the audience in English. He had a moment where he introduced a DJ-like persona to his character and another where when audience members left the auditorium during the performance he called out to them, stopped them and questioned them on why they were leaving. This was unnecessary and irritating as it broke the flow of the piece without any real reason or benefit and came over as nothing but a blundering attempt at alienation.

Elements like these dominated the production and it seemed to me that they sometimes overtook the plot in terms of importance in the eyes of Ostermeier. The story, on occasion, took a backseat in favour of attempting to shock the audience or provide a radical gesture. This, in my opinion, gave the whole production a contrived air that began to bore me as a spectator.

Despite these flaws, I must mention the excellent technical and musical features of the production. The set, designed by Jan Pappelbaum, was very well designed with an exact balance of versatility and aesthetics. This was complimented by the atmospheric and minutely detailed lighting design by Erich Schneider. Finally, as I mentioned before, the music in this production, composed by Nils Ostendorf, perfectly brought the emotions and action of the play to a new level of vitality.

I understand why the director did what he did in creating such madness on stage to mirror Hamlet’s insanity and throw a new perspective onto the play. The right idea was there and this production could have been brilliant. Indeed, it had many of the elements of a great production but it took them too far and added gratuitous action that seemed to serve no purpose but to shock the audience. Berlin Schaubühne’s “Hamlet” tried too hard, pushed its boundaries too far and consequently it unfortunately derailed itself.