Glowworm – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Project Arts Centre

Tiger Dublin Fringe

11/09/16

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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.

Northern Star – Review

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Rough Magic

Project Arts Centre

27/04/16

“We botched the birth,” says Henry Joy McCracken, speaking of his and his fellow “Mudlers’” attempt to bring their idea of Irish independence to fruition. The same phrase could be applied to describe Stewart Parker’s Northern Star. Rough Magic’s production is a good production grappling with an unwieldy play.

Northern Star tells the story of the seven ages of Henry Joy McCracken, as he reflects on the past seven years while hiding in a safe house with his partner and child on the run from the Yeomanry. Parker writes each age of McCracken in the style of a different writer, working his way through the Irish canon from Sheridan to Beckett. This ode to the canon, and examination of the theatricality of the rebellion and representations of it, seems a clever device. However, the changes between the writing styles, and the emphasis put on them means that the plot is often smothered in Wildean foppery or Beckettian linguistic play and patter. This issue is compounded by a lack of finesse in reproduction of many of the writers’ styles, leaving the watcher with a sense of having seen an empty, superficial imitation. While the performers and audience are caught up in this romp through the many styles of the Irish canon, it seems that the plot sometimes puts its feet up and dozes off.

This production does, however, deal well with the script. The suggested doubling of characters is well executed, with the changes to the actor playing McCracken in each age effective in allowing the “main” McCracken (played by Paul Mallon) to observe and reflect on the memories, as well as keeping a freshness in each segment. The performances were, on the whole, impressive, with Charlotte McCurry and Ali White delivering particularly good turns as Mary Bodle and Mary-Ann McCracken. Zia Holly’s set, based in the wings of a theatre, was cleverly conceived to compliment the conscious theatricality of Parker’s writing. This did, however mean that it did, at times, fall into the same trap as Parker’s writing in that it distracted overly from the plot and action. The solemn tenderness of Mary Bodle singing a heartbreaking song about McCracken to their son is somewhat distracted from by a large plush shark sitting just behind McCurry.

Northern Star is a play which tells a compelling story, and which employs and explores interesting theatrical styles and devices. Both are positive features, but unfortunately in this situation neither compliments the other, leaving both falling short.  Though Rough Magic bring high quality performances and design to the production, they still fail to provide the clarity this play needs.

Northern Star runs at Project Arts Centre until 7th May before touring.

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.

Review – I Heart Alice Heart I

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Project Arts Centre

18/3/15

Photo by Emma Burke Kennedy

Photo by Emma Burke Kennedy

       In going to see HotForTheatre’s production of “I Heart Alice Heart I,” the audience are not told a story, they do not simply watch a show; they are invited into the lives of Alice Slattery (Clare Barrett) and Alice Kinsella (Amy Conroy). From the moment Barrett and Conroy step nervously onto the stage, tugging anxiously at cardigan pockets, wringing their hands and breathlessly telling themselves and each other what to do; they bring us into the welcoming, moving and very real world of the two Alices. Presenting a fictional story in a documentary theatre style, Conroy conveys the tale of these two women’s lives, and on a broader scale, elements of the lives of many people around the world with a beautiful honesty and openness.

        This show was a simply told, stunningly moving piece of theatre. As Barrett and Conroy bounced the story back and forth between them, taking it in turns to tell the audience part of their tale or comment on what the other said, they created a perfectly paced and balanced mix of humour and seriousness throughout. Even as they said comic lines and pointed out each others’ amusing flaws, the audience never laughed at the characters, always with them. From their nervousness and the heart-warming story they told, came a sense of not only them supporting each other, but of everyone in the auditorium, both on and offstage alike, bolstering and supporting each other.

       Helping bring Conroy’s excellent writing and her and Barrett’s superb performances to life was the detailed and interesting design of the stage, with the whole play mapped out within the set through posters, charts, post-its and postcards. John Crudden’s lighting design and Ciaran Omelia’s set complimented the scripting and performances, capturing the feeling behind the piece, the setting of the story, and the audience’s imaginations perfectly.

       Finally, at the end of the show there was a “Call to Conscience,” where a number of well-known Irish citizens give a small talk on the subject of the upcoming marriage referendum. At last night’s performance the speaker was Ailbhe Smyth, feminist and lesbian activist, who gave an insightful and interesting discussion of the upcoming referendum and a call for people to vote. This addition to the show, reminiscent of the Abbey Theatre’s Noble Call after performances of The Risen People last year, bridges the gap between the stage and the lives of the audiences, and brings the message of this fictional story firmly into the reality that informed it.

       In short, this is a heart-warming love story which, through sparkling comedy, emotive storytelling, and touching honesty, brings a powerful message to the audience and teaches about love, life and equality.

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“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.

Review – Dublin Oldschool

Dublin Oldschool

Project Arts Centre

13/12/14

IMG_2015-0       This production, written by Emmet Kirwan and directed by Philip McMahon, is a fresh, dynamic, entertaining and powerful piece of theatre. I was caught as soon as Kirwan and Anderson entered, torches shining across the auditorium, immediately and crucially breaking the anticipated boundary between performer and audience. I must admit that, directly following that, my heart sank as Kirwan began to rap. I don’t like rap, or at least I didn’t think I did. However, within moments Kirwan had changed my mind. It showed the link between rap and poetry that I have always found it difficult to reconcile.

          This strong beginning was maintained with a fast paced combination of narration and acted scenes. The transitions between narration and dialogue, between rap and natural speech, and between humour and hard-hitting reality were seamless. This was further complimented by the well developed, realistic characters and recognisable settings. Anyone who has walked around Dublin at night can picture these characters beyond the theatre space and into real life. This was down to a mix of skilled writing and excellent delivery from both actors.

          I now wish to return to the combination of comedy and shocking truths I mentioned earlier. Though I and the rest of the audience laughed regularly throughout the piece, it was, at its core, a very hard-hitting, stark piece. The audience were laughing away one moment (though quite often ruefully) the would suddenly be silenced the next by a single line, a single image of the cruel, destructive reality of “the sesh” that Jason and Daniel live on. This was very powerful as the comedy drew the audience in and caught their attention for the more serious moments

          In terms of design, the lighting of the performers on the bare stage was simple yet stunning. Sarah Jane Shiels’ lighting design managed to capture the feeling of the piece without ever over complicating itself.

         In short, this production was, and I don’t use this phrase lightly, a tour-de-force. One of the most naturalistic and truthful yet somehow highly stylised pieces of theatre I have seen, Dublin Oldschool is a powerful snapshot into the world of “the buzz,” that should be seen by everyone that it can possibly be brought to.

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.