King Lear – Review

Mill Productions

Mill Theatre Dundrum

11/10/17

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Having already seen five productions of King Lear since 2013 and lusted after tickets for numerous others, I am of the firm belief that this play is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and that there is always something new to be drawn out of its rich text, and I suspect I am not alone in this belief. It is regularly produced on stage, Beckett drew inspiration from it for Worstward Ho, there have been multiple screen adaptations of it, and quotes from the text abound in our daily speech. Under the direction of Geoffrey O’Keefe, Mill Productions’ King Lear certainly recognises the versatility of the text and, while producing a straightforward enough production particularly aimed at Leaving Cert. students, capitalises on it successfully in a number of instances, particularly with its gender-swapped Fool.

The interactions between the Fool (Clodagh Mooney Duggan) and Lear (Phillip Judge) are some of the highlights of the production as the nuances of their relationship evolve and the ever-intriguing and affecting power-dynamic between the two characters is well developed. Judge’s overall portrayal of Lear is, however, inconsistent; the transitions between different emotions and states of mind often come across as abrupt and contrived, losing some credibility in their haste.  Similarly there are instances where Goneril (Sharon McCoy) and Regan (Maureen O’Connell) fall into a character type and play their characters with broad strokes that are not always plausible. Despite these issues (which may be resolved as the cast settle into the script after opening-night), the performances are mostly impressive. Michael David McKernan delivers an excellent Edmund, finding the precarious balance between the deplorable elements of his character and the seductiveness of his conspiratorial role as written by Shakespeare in his numerous asides to the audience.

There is strong symbolism in the design of the production, with Gerard Bourke’s set design evoking a three-pointed crown looming large over the action on stage and Kris Mooney’s lighting design playing with shadow to great effect. The sound design, created by Declan Brennan, is less successful. Though it hints at interesting ideas around territory and competition, the running theme of animal noises, a symbol which is also introduced in the feral, animalistic movement in the opening scene, is not woven through the direction of the piece enough to be effective throughout. Instead there is a sense that it was an idea that was inserted into the production rather than one that evolved through it. Alongside this, the sheer volume during the storm scene drowns Lear’s speech, detracting from the strength of the scene.

In the words of the Fool, “Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest.” Had the symbolism been more subtly woven throughout, and had the performances indulged in a little more grey than black and white, some more of this production’s potential may have been realised. Mill Productions’ King Lear explores interesting and promising approaches to the play, but suffers from a lack of flow in terms of performance and sound design that disjoints it and at times leaves the audience feeling jolted through the play.

Shakespeare for Breakfast & Dickens for Dinner – Edinburgh Fringe Review

C Theatre

C Chambers Street

26/08/17 & 27/08/17

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Charles Dickens, author of such novels as Hard Times, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, wouldn’t exactly spring to mind as a cheery soul (though there can be no doubt that he has written some belly laughs dotted through his works), however, C Theatre’s production Dickens for Dinner takes his classic A Christmas Carol and turns it into an irreverent comedy.

After warming their audience with soup on the way into the auditorium (no pleas for gruel here), C Theatre presents a story of Scrooge, failed popstar and confirmed curmudgeon. Narrated by a leather-clad Dickens, this 1980s themed take on the classic novel maintains a surprisingly strong connection to the source material, while seemingly changing just about everything in some way. As in the original, the story revolves around the fact that Scrooge hates Christmas; good luck to anyone who utters the words “Christmas Number One” in his presence. He is visited by the spirits of three famous musicians who remind him of the mistakes he has made in his life and the changes he needs to make to avoid the same purgatorial fate as his late musical collaborator, Shirley Marley.

Full of self-referential gags and clever word-play on Dickens’ original material Dickens for Dinner is by no means a serious literary examination. It is a silly and witty production that serves as a light-hearted introduction to a classic story.

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In a similar vein, C Theatre presents Shakespeare for Breakfast, in which they dissect Macbeth and stitch it back together in the shape of a comedy rather than the tragedy Shakespeare wrote it as. From the very start of the show, when the actors remind us that we cannot call the play or character by its real name and so re-name it McGary, it is clear that this is a production that, rather than indulging in any reverential treatment, will turn the bard on his head and tickle his feet.

The show takes modern references and references to other Shakespeare plays, blending them together to create this humorous tale of McGary’s dastardly attempts to become President of the Thistly Bottom Allotment Society, spurred on by his rather spoiled and power-hungry wife, and some unconventional witches wearing Love Island t-shirts.

Once again retaining the original plot while playing with the finer details, C Theatre create an hilarious production of Macbeth, sorry, McGary, which delights in its own adept silliness.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Edinburgh Fringe Review

The Handlebards

Royal Botanic Garden

23/08/17

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Shakespeare is funny; his raucous revelry is nothing new or newsworthy, but The Handlebards’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes this a headline-worthy step further. While maintaining the integrity of the play, the all-male troupe takes Shakespeare’s work and runs amok with it, leaving their audience wiping tears of laughter from their cheeks clutching their sides for fear of their splitting.

The four performers perform every character with skill and dexterity (and a little help from the audience), switching between characters at the drop of a hat…or the ding of a bicycle bell. The direction clearly plays to each performer’s strengths, with Matthew Seager excelling in the high-strung role of Helena, Callum Brodie playing an hilariously unsettling Puck, and Tom Dixon and Calum Hughes-Mackintosh injecting mischief into every available moment of the play.  All four performers evidently know the play inside out, staying faithful to the story whilst playing irreverently with it throughout. Particularly notable is the way in which the actors constantly upstage each other and play to the audience outside the play, something I might criticise in another production, but which is an intrinsic part of the comedy in this one; each performer holds his own and the ensemble is well balanced on stage. Particular examples of this include Dixon’s business with the puppet trio of Snout, Snug and Starveling, the mischievous administering of the love potion, and a certain incident with a bicycle.

The construction of the set and props similarly does not take itself too seriously, but is still well designed and innovative. From the bicycle powered backdrops, to Titania’s formidable wings, and the use of puppetry, the production is fast-paced and keeps surprising the audience with new theatrical devices and ideas. Add to this the continuing theme of bicycles with which the company leaves its mark, and you have a distinctive production that confidently strides in its own direction.

Taking one of Shakespeare’s most madcap plays and building upon it with their own energy, the company delivers a ceaselessly entertaining production. For anyone who finds themselves infected with the idea that the Bard is boring, anyone who doesn’t, and anyone in between, The Handlebards’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a must-see feast of riotous revelry and mischief.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Royal Botanic Gardens until 26th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

 

The Tempest – Edinburgh Fringe Review

C Theatre

C Venue South Garden

22/08/17

 

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Miranda, The Tempest, 1916 by John William Waterhouse 

 

I’m no purist when it comes to Shakespeare; adaptation and reinvention are part of what has kept the bard alive for the last few centuries. C Theatre’s production of The Tempest alters many aspects of the play, swapping the genders of certain characters, presenting an unconventional Caliban, and condensing the production into less than 90 minutes.

Some of these changes were very successful, with Prospera and Ariel commanding the stage and delivering strong performances, and the same actor who played Miranda doubling as an entertaining Trinculo. However, other changes did not sit as well with the production, leaving questions as to the reasoning behind the director’s decisions. One such change was the portrayal of Caliban as more of a petulant teen than a bitter and angry subject of Prospera’s rule. Singing his anger as he strums an electric guitar takes away much of the credibility of the character; when he, Trinculo and Stephano plot to murder and usurp Prospera as she sleeps, it does not feel like a plausible threat to Prospera’s life. Similarly, though some comedic additions to the productions were effective, there were numerous others that detracted from the power of the story. The sight of Miranda and Ferdinand grappling with enormous novelty chess pieces does not exactly evoke the romantic ending of Shakespeare’s script. The ending   was also weakened by the changes made to Gonzalo’s character which rendered him a shallow and uncertain character whose relationship to Prospera is not portrayed with any definition.

However, there were some strong points to the production worth mentioning, including the imaginative design and staging which made full use of the garden it was staged in. With Ariel and her spirits flitting amongst the audience, it is hard not to get caught up in the magical world of Shakespeare’s final play.

Though visually charming, C Theatre’s production of The Tempest unfortunately sacrifices the strength of  some of Shakespeare’s original script in favour of contemporary references and easy laughs.

King Lear – Review

Originally published in TN2 Magazine.

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Purple Coat Productions

Smock Alley

11/7/16

Shakespeare’s King Lear is a play of many layers, exploring the intensely personal hand-in-hand with the political. Telling the story of King Lear and his gradual descent into madness after dividing his property between his daughters according to their flattery of him, leaving his honest youngest daughter, Cordelia, with nothing, this play has the potential to sharply and insightfully examine ideas around power, madness, family, love and ageing.

A good production of King Lear depends on so much more than just the text. One such thing it depends on is a director to tease out the different themes, textures and ideas within the script. There is no teasing in Karl Falconer’s direction of this production. Throughout, the audience is presented with loud, brash images of incest, drug abuse and sexual assault that, in the context of the play, seem out of place and unjustified. The numerous instances of Lear groping his daughters and the violent sexual imagery that pervade the production suggest attempts at a cheap, base, and ineffective directorial shortcut to shock and an emotional response from the audience.  Similarly the inclusion of a poorly depicted cocaine addiction in Edmund’s character comes across as an attempt to shock the audience or assert the company’s non-traditional take on the play, but once again plays out as an unsuccessful shortcut.

Not only does the production fall short in terms of thematic execution, it also fails in numerous technical aspects of direction, performance and design.  Despite the fact that most of the ground level seating in the Boys School space is on the same level or a very slight slant, a large portion of the action in the play was placed downstage and close to the floor at a crouching level or lower to the ground. This meant that most of the audience were craning their necks and stretching to see what was happening; even though I was sitting in the centre of the second row, very close to the stage, I still struggled to see.  Though is a touring production, not one created within or for the Boys School space, it would have taken some relatively simple modifications to the direction to effectively adapt to the new space. Showing similar lack of foresight, parts of Alisha Johnson’s lighting design broke the flow of the piece as the lights came up on a number of occasions across the stage and audience, strongly suggesting an interval and leading to the audience starting to shift in their seats and move to clap. These are simple directorial and technical decisions that had an extensive negative effect on the production overall because of a lack of consideration of the audience’s position in the venue.

Some of the performances could have been salvageable had they not been fighting against poor direction. However, with shouting being used in place of nuanced emotion, an over-egged Poor Tom, and Lear being confined to one tiny upstage spot for what is arguably the most powerful speech in the play, there was no avoiding the myriad directorial issues.

Purple Coat take what they describe as Shakespeare’s “greatest, bleakest and perhaps last great play,” and deliver a coarse production that soon derails itself with cheap tropes and attempted dramatic shortcuts. To steal words from the bard himself, “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

King Lear runs in Smock Alley until the 12th July before touring.

King Lear – Review

Mill Productions

Mill Theatre Dundrum

13/10/15

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King Lear is my favourite Shakespeare play and consequently I automatically set high standards for any production of it, but Mill Productions’ take on King Lear did not disappoint.

From the opening the lighting stood out, with Kris Mooney’s design capturing the atmosphere and heightening the emotion in every scene perfectly. This was particularly so in the final tableaux with Lear, Cordelia and Edgar which was visually stunning.  Another interesting aspect of the lighting was the engagement with shadows, particularly by the Fool, which added another level of effective visual expression to the production.

Lenny Hayden as Lear and Shane O’Regan as the Fool both delivered impressive performances. Both handled the language with dexterity and worked excellently together as a pair. O’Regan captured the balance between eccentricity and wisdom in the Fool effectively. The rest of the cast all delivered competent and engaging performances, though Paul Elliot as Edmund did at points over-act, with too much shouting and high tension performance at times where it was not necessary.

The opening scene, with the Fool scampering in and starting a dynamic movement scene was an intriguing and captivating one. However, it was not followed through in the piece, which I would like to have seen. Had there been a stronger thread of that movement through the piece, the opening would have gelled better with the play as a whole. As it was they seemed two disjointed pieces, both effective and engaging, but neither entirely connected to the other.

This production was an entertaining and evocative rendition of Shakespeare’s tragic tale. In its engagement with the characters and its attention to the smaller details, Mill Productions truly brought Lear to life.

Review – Hamlet

Just Friends Theatre Collective

Smock Alley

12/12/14Hamlet

This production directed by Aisling Smith with Just Friends Theatre Company, was the second Hamlet I have seen this year and it couldn’t have been more different from the first. Where Ostermier’s porduction with Berlin’s Schaubuhne was a loud, large scale production that tried to shock the audience at every turn, Smith’s Hamlet was a relaxed, engaging and accessible piece. The costuming and setting was unusual with modern dress being worn and the various levels of the Boy’s School space being used to great effect. However, apart from these and the paring back of the script, this was a show that was primarily concerned with telling the audience the enduring story of Hamlet.

For the most part, the performances were very competent, with Rory Doherty finding the balance between Hamlet’s mask of madness and his determination to discover and act upon the true facts of his father’s death, Michael Mullen and Lauren McGarry playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as a young couple and engaging performances from a host of other characters, especially Horatio and Marcellus played by Colm Kenny-Vaughan and Jimmy Kavanagh.

In terms of design, there were some beautiful moments of lighting by Paraic McLean, particularly the final tableau and the lighting of the ghost. Unfortunately due to the placing of the ghost in an archway behind the audience only certain portions of the audience could fully see the striking image. The sound design was unfortunately not as effective as it drowned out certain lines and did not add much to the piece overall.

In terms of direction, the production was overall very good, with only one scene that jarred with the rest of the play. The death of Polonius verged on pantomimic in its execution and detracted somewhat from the drama of the moment. More precision and subtlety would have made this scene much more effective.

Overall, this production of Hamlet was an entertaining and engaging evening’s theatre and I am interested to see more work from Just Friends Theatre Collective.