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

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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”

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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.

Review – “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”

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Rough Magic and Opera Theatre Company
The Olympia Theatre
22 June 2014

The City of Mahagonny, the city of decadence where anything goes except you. Written towards the end of the roaring twenties and premiered in Germany in 1930 in the midst of the Great Depression, this play by Brecht and Weill describes the rise and fall of capitalism and materialism through the imaginary city of Mahagonny and the story of Jimmy Mahony. Founded by a trio on the run from the law, Mahagonny is to be a city of pleasure and a city of debts from which they make their fortune. However, from the off, flaws show through in the plan and the arrival of four lumberjacks from Alaska, including Jimmy Mahony, sees the beginning of the end for this city where food, sex, boxing and drinking are the only way of life.
Somewhat like Mahagonny itself this production by Opera Theatre Company and Rough Magic was overall very enjoyable but sadly had some cracks that showed through, though thankfully not to the same extent as in Mahagonny!
The performances were mostly excellent, particularly by John Molloy as Trinity Moses, who perfectly captured the suave nastiness of his character and whose rich bass filled every corner of The Olympia. Claudia Boyle also delivered a very impressive performance as Jenny, bringing a great power to the character, both vocally and in terms of characterization. I did find however that Julian Hubbard lacked a similar power in his role as Jimmy, with some of his vocals lost to the orchestra, which was a pity as his overall portrayal of the character was promising.
The design by Aedín Cosgrove was generally very good. The re-configuration of the venue, with the orchestra where the left half of the stalls would be and the performers roaming the stalls, circle and the left boxes, was effective from where I was sitting (Row B in the stalls) and, I believe, from the stage seats. However, I doubt it was of much benefit to the audience in the upper circle and boxes. Apart from this, I found the whole production design very impressive, from the simple yet effective lighting to the set; Mahagonny was really brought to life.
The part of the production that, for me, raised the most questions was the final scene. The crucifixion of Jimmy (where in the text he is executed in the electric chair) left me questioning the director’s reasoning. Was it placing Jimmy as a sort of Messiah? If he was, we must question what he was a messiah for. He promoted greed, violence and materialism. Did the director, Lynne Parker, really believe his character deserved the symbolism of the crucifixion or was she simply looking for an easy striking image? Whichever it was, it needed more to explain it.
I think that, like the plans of Begbick, Moses and Fatty, this production seemed promising but fell short in its execution. It was a daring and ambitious project but one that unfortunately did not live up to the ideas of its creators.

Review – “Swing”

Steve Blount and Janet Moran in Fishamble's Swing, photo by Pat Redmond 10

Fishamble Theatre Company
Dunamaise Arts Centre
1st July 2014

There is no better way to swing into summer than with Fishamble’s sparkling new production “Swing”. I guarantee that this short but sweet show will make you want to dust of your dancing shoes and Charleston!
Janet Moran and Steve Blount excellently portray this hilarious and moving story of friendship. Both capture their main characters, Mae and Joe, to perfection while filling in all of the other characters at the class with ease. From the “amazeballs” instructors to the somewhat intimidating Regina and the homesick Noellia, every character is expertly created. As well as capturing each character, Moran and Blount capture the audience as they engage with them from the moment Mae steps in the door. As she nervously walks in asking the audience “Swing?”, we immediately want to get to know her character. The same goes for Joe who wanders in, bike helmet on, back for more dancing. Both characters are very real, engaging, endearing people.
The characterization is complimented by the smart, funny and touching writing. I don’t think I have ever seen a show produce more genuine belly laughs, chuckles and giggles as this. The balance of physical and verbal comedy, combined with the sweet story makes the production a joy to watch.
This is all topped off with the toe-tapping, heart-warming final scene where Moran and Blount show that alongside being excellent actors, they are quite some movers and shakers too! The upbeat music, simple yet effective lighting and the vibrant performances make this a must-see.

Review – “War Horse”

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National Theatre
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
2nd April 2014

The applause had died down, the cast had left the stage and the house lights had gone up, but I did not want to leave. The world created in War Horse was so compelling, so moving and, ultimately so real that it captured me within it. This adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s timeless novel by Nick Stafford is utterly stunning.
Of all of the aspects of this production, the puppetry by Handspring Puppet Company stood out and turned this from a great production to a groundbreaking one. The vitality of all of the animal puppets from the tiny birds to the horses is breathtaking. The awe felt by the audience is tangible as Joey rears up on his hind legs; however, there is another element to the puppets that brings a whole new dimension to the piece. This is the use of puppets instead of people as the battalion rides into battle. As the puppeteers animate them for their short lives, one is hit with the realisation that in the war they were all puppets. Every soldier in the war, from the Captains Friedrich Muller and Nicholls to the lowest foot soldier, was a puppet, a pawn. This incredible use of the puppets on a metaphorical level as well as a visual level gives the play a depth of reality and power that is hard to match.
Alongside the puppetry, the excellent performances convey all of the minutiae of emotion within every character. Martin Wenner delivered a particularly excellent performance as Hauptmann Friedrich Muller. The way in which the character is written combined with Wenner’s performance powerfully conveys the hugely important message that both sides were essentially the same. The German soldiers were as human as the Allies and suffered as much as they did. Lee Armstrong was very good in the role of Albert, bringing the youth of his character and his experience of the war excellently to the stage. The performance of the excellent musical numbers was also very powerful. The ensemble pieces were wonderfully moving, but it was the warm, resonant, expressive voice of Bob Fox that really stood out.
Finally, the technical design on the show was superb. The projections were beautiful yet maintained the harsh reality of the war. The same can be said for the lighting design. The gentleness of a country village and the horrors of the battlefield were equally well described through the lighting. At some points during the battle scenes, the audience feels the full force of the flashes of light from explosions, serving to draw us further into the story and connect us even more to the characters.
This play is, in short a visually astounding, heart-wrenching, heart-warming tale of one boy and his horse.

Review – “The Risen People”

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The Abbey Theatre
4th January 2014

I, like many others, studied the 1913 Strike and Lockout in school, I know the history of it, the facts, the figure, but never before has it been more alive in my mind than as I watched the Abbey Theatre’s production of “The Risen People” by James Plunkett, directed by Jimmy Fay.
A moving and engaging piece of theatre, “The Risen People” brings the harsh reality of the lockout to life, reminds us of the day to day difficulties of the families involved and draws the audience into the world of Dublin in 1913. Every aspect of the production added to the atmosphere and drew the audience further into the story. The incredible musical numbers, directed by Conor Linehan are, in my opinion, some of the best I have ever seen. Some serve to convey the raw suffering of the people, some show the dissatisfaction that sparked the rising and some, such as “The Internationale” serve to rouse the spirits of the audience and give them a taste of the pride and drive that led the workers to stand up for their rights. The shadowy, cold lighting and sparse set are beautifully designed to give the audience a sense of the poverty and hardship felt by the workers. These, when combined with the excellent acting performances, particularly by the female characters, played by Hilda Fay, Charlotte McCurry and Kate Stanley Brennan, make for a truly breathtaking production. The cherry on top, which really brings the production into the here and now, is the Noble Call in which each night, a well known figure is invited to give their opinions on the production and share the message they gained from it through words, art or music.
I can promise you that from the striking opening sequence through the stirring story, as the houses are emptied and the pawn shop is filled, to the final line, your eyes will be riveted to the stage and you will feel every emotion of every character. You will live the lockout.

Review – “A Feast of Bones”

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Theatre Lovett,
The Ark,
6th October 2013.

What does one do when faced with a long wait for a train home from a weekend of non-stop theatre and workshops with NAYD Young Critics at the Dublin Theatre Festival? Perhaps you would go do a spot of shopping, walk around the city, grab a bite to eat and relax after the weekend or, if you are me, you go see another play!
“A Feast of Bones” is an excellent piece of theatre from Theatre Lovett. A play for both children and adults like no other, it is a dark yet wonderfully funny play that is beautifully written by Frances Kay. Based on the story of Henny Penny by Walter de la Mare, this play tells the tale of the revenge of Henny Penny. Set in 1918, the play ties together the story of Henny Penny and her friends’ misguided journey to tell the King the sky was falling that led them into the jaws of the fox to the first world war, the waste of life and misery experienced by the soldiers.
We enter the world of “Le Monde Boulversé” with a song and travel through the story with many more jaunty, haunting and melodious tunes which bring a life and flair to the stage that draws the audience into the tale instantly. On this high note (pun intended!) the action begins as the ravenously hungry Mr. Renard enters the restaurant “Le Monde Boulversé”. Mr. Renard, brilliantly played by Louis Lovett, provides many belly laughs, giggles and chuckles. He combines slapstick, puns, humorous comments and audience interaction while preparing to eat his dinner.
Playing opposite him is the excellent Lisa Lambe as Henny Penny, a waitress who is as mysterious and refined as Mr. Renard seems transparent and daft. This stark contrast between the characters, coupled with the exquisite musical talents of Messrs. Nico Brown and Martin Brunsden gives an atmosphere of mystery and danger that tells us the, while we are laughing our socks off at the escapades of Mr. Renard, all is not well. The first course arrives with the information that it is best served cold, and so the play takes on a darker twist as Henny Penny serves up a generous helping of revenge to the fox Mr. Renard.
Henny Penny’s delicacy may be cold, but the play certainly is not. From the brilliant and innovative music making by Brown and Brunsden to the excellent acting of Lovett and Lambe and from the well designed, atmospheric lighting plot to the beautiful set, Theatre Lovett’s production of “A Feast of Bones” is a fantastic feast for the imagination that is a pleasure to watch.