Review – Wilde Creatures

Pleasance Courtyard

04/08/18

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Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, though few in number are enormous in the scope of their understanding. They are snapshots of reality through an imaginative lens that teaches vital lessons in kindness, generosity, understanding and respect. Taking the story of The Happy Prince as a frame, Wilde Creatures deftly draws elements of almost all of Wilde’s fairy tales together to bring these lessons, and the beautiful stories that convey them, vividly to life on stage.

The town has become very quiet, the beautiful statue of the Happy Prince is no more, and the Mayor has stopped children from playing in the town centre in order to keep it tidy. The town is not happy. It is decided that there should be a new statue to liven up the town square, but the question is, who deserves to be the subject of this statue? Of course the self-important town Mayor believes the statue should be of him, but the townspeople decide to take a vote. Performing various Wilde fairy tales through storytelling and song, the Wile Creatures ask whether the statue should be of Little Hans, the student, or the princess. As they tell their stories, gradually the townspeople, and the audience, learn that maybe the best way to liven up the town is not through creating a statue of a powerful (selfish, greedy or unkind) person, but by opening back up the square to everyone and caring for its citizens who are struggling.

The Wilde Creatures display impressive versatility as performers, playing multiple musical instruments, and flitting between characters in the stories with gusto. Tom Jude’s overbearing Mayor and Lauren Silver’s brattish princess are two highlights, with both performers creating delightfully unlikeable characters. Alongside the strong performances, Barney George’s ingenious set creates a changeable, captivating Wilde world.

Wilde Creatures is a lively, charming production that reminds us that “humans are the most beautiful flowers of all.”

Wilde Creatures runs at Pleasance Courtyard on alternate days with The Canterville Ghost until 26th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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.”

Hot Brown Honey – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Spiegeltent, Tiger Dublin Fringe

10/9/16

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Briefs Factory’s feminist cabaret and burlesque extravaganza, Hot Brown Honey, has the audience crying with laughter, whooping, clapping and stamping their feet, but it isn’t from this that the show gets its electric energy. The Honeys are a group of women who are unashamedly angry and this is a show that makes no question of its bold intention to smash the patriarchy.

In a series of vignettes, the Honeys present the audience with well worn images and stereotypical characters before turning each and every one on its head. In one instance the audience is introduced to a “typical Samoan woman,” a romanticised idea of a woman in nothing but a leaf skirt sitting weaving herself new clothes from leaves. However, this illusion is shattered in moments as she turns and performs an impressive reverse strip-tease with a costume that seems impossibly, magically versatile. Another example is the caricaturing of characters that are defined by their physical features as Busty Beats appears wearing a costume with breasts the size of beach balls.

While most of their routines have a sizeable dash of the ridiculous and over-the-top about them  (one needs only to have seen the costumes for the “Don’t Touch Her Hair” number to know that) that does not detract from the weight of the message in each segment.  Tearing into questions of sexism, racism and homophobia, and tackling results of colonisation, the Honeys leave the audience in no doubt as to just how serious they are. This may be an audacious, entertaining and fun show, but it also leaves a sobering mark.

Through a fierce cabaret of hip-hop, song, circus and politics, Hot Brown Honey takes the audience through a whistle-stop tour of intersectional feminism and provides plenty of laughs and sass along the way. As the Honeys themselves say, “fighting the power never tasted so sweet.”

Hot Brown Honey runs until September 16th in the Spiegeltent at Merrion Square.

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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.

Taboo – Review

Taboopic

The New Theatre

16/02/16

Taboo, written by John Morton and directed by Sarah Baxter can best be described as provoking a “yes, but, no, but” reaction. Well performed and directed, this play had good potential and many positive features, but fell sadly short in terms of script.

Both Morton and Fox, under Baxter’s laudable direction, give engaging turns as Tom and Lily. Opening the show, Fox demonstrates excellent comic timing and ability to quickly switch characters as she rehearses nervously for her impending date with Tom. Morton bounces of this agitated energy effectively, bringing a good balance of character to the stage. The two performers maintain this quality of performance throughout, despite having to contend with an unwieldy script.

Morton’s writing displays an strong aptitude for character-writing, and for natural, light dialogue. However there were issues with the construction of the story; rather than following a clear, smooth arc, the story felt more as though it was following two lines that were lightly joined together. The switch in tone mid-way through the piece came across as abrupt and awkward. Though there had been hints that all was not as it seemed in the earlier scenes, there was too heavy-handed an introduction of darker elements later in the play for this to balance with the light comedy of the start. In addition to this, the script would benefit from generous editing in places. At times, such as one particular scene in which the characters discuss urban legends, the dialogue and action dragged, losing the audience’s attention.

With an interesting and entertaining root idea, Taboo takes an almost-there script and puts it on stage with skill and vivacity.

Taboo runs at The New Theatre until 27th February.

 

Trainspotting -Review

Smock Alley Theatre

4/2/16

 

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Renton doesn’t choose life. Renton chooses “something else.” Tracing the interlocking stories of a group of friends, acquaintances, “associates,” whose lives have been ravaged by heroin, Trainspotting is a sharp, painfully funny and agonisingly heartbreaking piece.

From the off the cast bring an impressive energy and passion to the performance, with Shane O’Regan once again showing his skill and versatility as an actor, delivering a vivid, raw turn as Renton.  O’Regan captures the multi-faceted nature of the character; he is not just “a junkie,” he is a character that has a burning vitality and story around him. As well as portraying the intensity of Renton, O’Regan has a particular skill for quick quips, delivering sharp laughs and gags with a perfectly measured but naturalistic style. Lórcan Strain’s performance as Tommy was also impressive, capturing the changing situation impressively. The entire cast caught the essence of their characters, however, in the case of Foley and Healy there were moments at which this was masked by dubious Edinburgh accents. Inaccurate accents, laid on too thickly resulted in lines being lost.

Noteworthy in terms of Tracy Ryan’s direction is her use of the all too often neglected upper levels of the Boy’s School giving a powerfully immersive feeling to the piece. Ryan allows the audience to take in many aspects of the characters and situation by having the characters engage directly with them, breaking down the distance created by more traditional staging.

Adding to this immersive feeling, Brian Murray’s lighting design, with its initial club atmosphere, right through to moments of intense use of shadow, was a particularly strong feature of the production. Once again, the clever use of the space available was evident in the design.

The whole production was well-constructed to truly draw the audience into the characters’ story, to the extent that at one point when a number of characters are chanting for another to jump dangerously from a height, members of the audience were so caught up in the atmosphere that they joined in the chant before realising what they were doing and stopping.  This is a good indicator of just how engaging and powerful this production is.

Trainspotting is not an easy play to watch, it demands engagement both in terms of your attention and your emotions, but it is a great play to watch. I came out of the auditorium well and truly phased by the intensity of the production; it didn’t feel like watching characters, it felt like watching people, and that is what makes Trainspotting an entertaining but stomach-turning and heart-wrenching piece of theatre.

 

Trainspotting runs until February 13th

 

The Importance of Being Earnest – Review

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Gate Theatre

16/01/16

Although it was first staged just short of 121 years ago, Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, still feels fresh and, well, earnest. Even in reading the text, the vigour with which each character lives their lives is infectious; in performance it becomes a feast of vivacious madcap antics. Earnest fits the style of the Gate theatre perfectly, and Patrick Mason does a superb job with it.

Marty Rea’s acting has always impressed me, but in this production he truly came into his own, revealing perfect comic timing and a flair for face-pulling akin to Danny Kaye. Of the three portrayals of the character of Jack Worthing I have seen, this is the only one that I feel does justice to the character.  The rest of the cast all deliver impressive performances, with every actor pulling their weight.  Particularly notable were Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Lorna Quinn making the perfect duo as Gwendolen and Cecily, bouncing the energy of the two characters back and forth with sharp but easy precision.

From here, I wish to turn to the set, designed by Francis O’Connor. Few sets can capture the tone of a piece and the nuances of the characters that inhabit each setting as well as O’Connor’s does. With a relatively bare pre-set, we have little clue as to how much the set is going to bring to the production (though the addition of an image of Wilde on the back wall was a clever and playful touch!). Soon however, the many surprises of the set are revealed as a whole host of sliding panels and extensions transform into the home of Algernon Moncrieff, with everything a well-to-do dandy could want, through a garden, to the home of Jack, the polar opposite of the foppish Algy.

Wilde himself described Earnest as “exquisitely trivial,” and that was certainly the feeling in the auditorium at the Gate. I regretted wearing eyeliner as tears of laughter streamed down my face; from polite titters to uproarious belly laughs, the room rippled almost constantly with a wave of collective laughter.  This production of The Importance of Being Earnest is a lively, smart and suitably irreverent evening of Wildean wit and frivolity.

The Importance of Being Earnest runs until 6th February 2016.