Northern Star – Review


Rough Magic

Project Arts Centre


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


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.