Disco Pigs & Sucking Dublin – Review

Disco Pigs & Sucking Dublin

Smock Alley Theatre


sucking dublin

First premiered in 1996 and 1997 respectively, Enda Walsh’s plays Disco Pigs and Sucking Dublin are uncompromising explorations of entrapment, self-destruction and escape, and Reality:Check Productions’ revival of them feels as fresh as I would imagine they felt 20 years ago.

Disco Pigs tells the story of Pig and Runt, two 17 year olds who share a birthday, a secret dialect of their own, and their unique, inventive and often harsh version of life in “Pork Sitty.” They have grown up together, taking on life as a duo, but now that they are seventeen and facing into impending adulthood, Runt finds herself needing space while Pig can’t let go. Tied by time, geography, friendship and necessity, these two characters live a life infused with humour, violence, love, fear and incessant energy. Walsh’s script is a whirlwind to grapple with, but it is one which this production whips into a successful theatrical frenzy. Directed by Tracy Ryan, Ethan Dillon (Pig) and Toni O’Rourke (Runt) deliver impressive and engaging performances. O’Rourke’s Runt, which this production focuses on, is a strong but heartbreaking character who evolves before the audience’s eyes. The energy of the performances is mirrored in Shane Gill’s lighting design that lends a structure of sorts to Pig and Runt’s wild written-word world, and Lydia Dorman’s excellent costume design which treads the border between imagination and reality as precipitously as the characters tread it in their escapades around “Pork Sitty.”


Following Disco Pigs, we move north-east to Sucking Dublin a harrowing story involving five characters who are seemingly locked in cycles of their own personal forms of self-destruction. After one of these characters violently sexually assaults another, the characters disperse, each fighting their own battles in the aftermath of the attack. The story centres on Little Lamb, who was assaulted, and her experiences of trying to escape the difficulties and hurt she has been landed with. It is a painful, though at moments hopeful, piece to watch, but it is worth it. With Tracy Ryan’s insightful and dynamic direction, and strong performances from the whole cast, particularly Honi Cooke as Little Lamb and Michael-David McKernan as Steve, this is a difficult but rewarding piece of theatre.

This double-bill, which brings the experiences of the central female characters from each play, Runt and Little Lamb, into focus, ties these two plays together to create a powerful and engaging theatrical experience that is not to be missed.

Disco Pigs and Sucking Dublin run in Smock Alley Theatre until December 16th.

Scene and Heard – May I Use The Bathroom Please/Mic Drop

May I Use the Bathroom Please?


Written and directed by Johnny Walsh, May I Use the Bathroom Please?  has many of the elements of a successful comedy, however, in 30 minutes it does not make the most of this potential. The escalation of tension and energy in the piece is uneven and rushed, with too many plot twists crammed in to a short space of time.  Set in a dingy bar in Dublin that suffers from a lack of customers (but which will not suffer the arrival of any newcomers), May I Use the Bathroom Please? is a farcical comedy about a St Patrick’s Day like no other. The performers all delivered energetic performances, but consistently stood outside their light and struggled at moments with timing of lines. Though the story, if developed further, has the potential to be a strong farce, there is a rushed, haphazard feeling about much of the writing and the execution of the piece.

Mic Drop


Perry Pardo, a successful and wealthy internet entrepreneur, takes to the stage to teach his audience the secrets of success in a digital age and to tell them how he made his fortune, having started in the streets (like Dre, he reminds us). Written by Gareth Stack and performed by Adam Tyrell,  Mic Drop is an entertaining piece of theatre, that shows two sides of fame, and questions the idea of success. Pardo made his fortune, but at what cost? As he snorts coke, checks his tinder on stage, almost breaks down repeatedly and loses himself in angry tangents, Pardo is a character who is self destructing in pursuit of success. Though the character holds great potential, it is sometimes unclear exactly what the production is commenting on; has Pardo been broken by a dog-eat-dog individualist society, is it just heartbreak to blame for his behaviour, or are both these things, and more, feeding in to each other? There are some cracks in the overall arc of the production, but it is a piece that, with some clarification of ideas, has great potential for development.

Scene and Heard – Owned/Syrius



Exploring the slave trade, from its pre-civil war American history to the current realities of the use of slavery in production of most of what we consume, from Nestle cereals to Gap hoodies, Syrius is a strong piece of theatre that challenges its audience. The work blends text with movement, with each ensemble member bringing a distinct but complementary style to the piece. The piece is, at times, somewhat disjointed, with the text coming across as a talk or lecture rather than a theatre piece, but it is still effective in conveying its message. In breaking the fourth wall in a number of ways, and encouraging the audience to look up www.slaveryfootprint.org, the performers push the audience to truly engage with the subject matter. Owned, directed by Ailish Leavy is an engaging and confident production that highlights an important global issue.



Written and performed by Romana Testasecca, with direction by Karen Killeen, Syrius is a powerful piece of theatre exploring the experience of one woman who travelled from Syria to Portlaoise as a refugee.  The powerful movement in the work, choreographed by Stefanie Dufrense, portrays the many difficulties faced by the character, from her initial defiance against the military presence in Syria, to her journey to Ireland. Testasecca has an impressive presence on stage, drawing the audience into the story and creating a pulsing vein of hope throughout the piece.

Gays Against the Free State – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Tiger Dublin Fringe

Smock Alley Theatre



We voted yes on May 22nd 2015, so that is it isn’t it? Everyone is equal now, are they not?  Gays Against the Free State is here to remind us why that is not the case, why everyone is not equal. Drawing inspiration from many sources, this production, written by Oisin McKenna and directed by Colm Summers, is a sharp reminder of the ways people can be left behind as change occurs, a reminder of the importance of intersectionality in campaigning.

While the message the production expresses is still a fresh and pertinent one, there are times when the production’s chosen means of expression come across as worn and trite. The parody of Irish celebrities and stock characters is entertaining to a point, but after a while it feels like the piece is just painting a picture of the problems without providing any comment on them.  When Gays Against the Free State dispense with the loud stereotypes, pare back their performance style and speak directly to the audience the true point of the production shines through. These couple of minutes of intensity and natural speech pack more of a punch than any of the pointedly satirical pieces that precede them.

That said, there is a lot of skill in the construction of the more elaborate scenes. From Seamus Ryan’s musical score (performed by Mark O’Donnell and Ryan) to Hugo Lau’s entertaining and acerbic video sequences, the design of the piece is excellent.

Gays Against the Free State is a promising production that delivers an important message but too often falls back on worn stereotypes and tropes to convey it entirely effectively.



Into the Water – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Smock Alley Theatre

Tiger Dublin Fringe


Up and Over It are an exciting and talented dance duo, and this show reflects that. What Into the Water does well it does excellently, however, outside of these things there are serious gaps in the production that must be addressed.

Presenting two characters that appear to have washed up in a new place, and their exploration of their unfamiliar surroundings, Into the Water is poorly paced with too little of anything to create an engaging story between dance sequences. The dance is impressive and captivating; the choreography and execution cannot be faulted. However, the construction of the show around it is lacking in structure and content. We know as little about the characters in the end of the show as we found out in the first five minutes. Little happens to drive their exploration of the space and neither character develops through the piece.  Cleary’s character comes across as mean and bullying to Harding’s but there is no move to address that; there is, overall, very little message or driving thought behind the show. This simplicity would make one think that the production was suited mostly to pre-school age audiences but the darkness and intensity of some segments negates this, leaving one wondering who exactly the production is aimed at.

Similarly, the design is a mixed bag, with stunning projection work but poor lighting design. From a rain storm to a sky full of stars, the world of the show is beautifully created around the characters. However, the basic lighting design is far too dark. Any of the eclectic and charming set beyond centre stage is barely visible and whenever either of the performers ventures to the sides of the stage they too are shrouded in darkness. It is like putting a carpet on a dirty floor; the projection may have been impressive, but without a strong overall lighting design its effect is weakened.

Had Into the Water dispensed with its story and just presented a series of dance vignettes, or alternatively had it included another artist or more time devoted to story, it would have been much more effective. As it was, it was a show with potential that fell just short.

Into the Water runs in Smock Alley until September 24th.



Hostel 16 – Review

Smock Alley Theatre

Tiger Dublin Fringe



Like many, I had questions as to the decision to produce a play about the direct provision system with an entirely white, Irish ensemble. Would it work, producing a true insight into the relationship between asylum seekers in Ireland and the system in which they live, or would it be an uncomfortable appropriation of people’s stories?

The answer to that question is that yes, it did work. Using their own names and some powerful symbols, the production creates a sense of presenting, rather than adopting the stories of people living in direct provision. Under the direction of Raymond Keane, the cast present a nuanced and insightful examination of the direct provision system and its effect on people living within it.

Fionnuala Gygax’s well-crafted script gives the audience a chance to see into the all too hidden problems of direct provision in Ireland. Following eleven different characters in the days leading up to a protest outside the centre they live in, Gygax conveys the everyday difficulties of families in such situations. From the little girl who realises just how little she has after going to a classmate’s birthday party, to the young couple wondering how they are going to bring up their new baby in the small room and dire financial straits in which they live, everyone has a different experience, but everyone is struggling in their own way.

Lisa Kearns’ sparse set, with white lines on the stage marking out rooms, effectively conveys the cramped spaces in which people live, while maintaining an open stage that suggests the sense of community between the characters.

Hostel 16 examines the pertinent problem of the Irish direct provision system with depth, clarity and sensitivity, drawing the personal and political together into a powerful and moving piece of theatre.

Hostel 16 runs in Smock Alley Theatre as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe until 18th September.


Breaks – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub


Smock Alley Theatre

Tiger Dublin Fringe



“Females have been insulted, as it were; and while they have been stripped of the virtues that should clothe humanity, they have been decked with artificial graces, that enable them to exercise a short lived tyranny.”  – Mary Wollstonecraft

This quote comes to mind upon watching Breaks, a production based on the true story of Gesche Gottfried of Bremen who systematically poisoned 15 of her family and friends before her arrest and execution. It is the story of a woman who is breaking under the oppression of her sex, but the concealment of whose crimes is also aided by the same oppression. She was seen as the nurse, the mother, the wife, the unfortunate “Angel of Bremen,” as she “cared” for her ill relatives, but never the murderer. This mode of working within what Wollstonecraft calls “the gilt cage,” of using society’s dismissal of her as simply a caring creature, in order to fight against her position, is powerfully symbolised in her decision to wear thirteen corsets, creating a structured, dangerous image. She takes the garments used to constrain the appearance and activity of women, and wears them almost as a painful suit of armour beneath her safe, acceptable dresses and petticoats.

Opening with a stunning, eerie pre-set (with set designed by Naomi Faughnan and lighting by Teresa Nagel) Breaks blends the old and the current to cut into the reasons behind Gottfried’s actions and to highlight the issues that women still face with regards to gender equality. With strong performances by the cast, Erin Gilgen, Morgan Cooke and Louise Wilcox, the show not only tells you a story, but prompts you to interrogate it too.

There are points at which the ties between the contemporary and historical are a bit rough and there is a somewhat episodic, disjointed feeling throughout much of the production. This combined with what appears to have been to be a few forgotten lines here and there breaks the flow of the piece. However, this is forgivable in the face of the engaging story and punchy message; with a little polishing and trimming, this production could easily pick up another star.

From Gesche Gottfried to “them’s the breaks,” Breaks is a production that, in the telling of one extreme story, reminds the audience of the myriad stories of women throughout history.

Breaks runs in Smock Alley Theatre until 18th September.


Cuncrete – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Smock Alley Theatre Black Box

Tiger Dublin Fringe



Presented by Rachel Clerke and the Great White Males, Cuncrete is a production with an interesting germ of an idea. Using concrete as a metaphor,  Clerke and the band create a drag-king punk gig exploring capitalism, hegemonic masculinity and the strong ties between the two. However, there is too little exploring for Cuncrete to develop from a good idea to a good production.

The tone and pacing for the piece is set from its opening section; a long, repetitive musical build up to the entrance of Clerke. The production maintains a slow drawling pace, setting up the idea of what they describe as a “dysto-utopia” and introducing the Great White Males. This could have been forgivable had there been a development of the ideas through the show, but once Clerke and The Great White Males had laid out their premise in their opening number (which was reprised in an uncalled for encore) they simply went on to repeat and re-iterate that in their subsequent songs. There are moments of amusing satire, such as in the descriptions of the band members, but even then they rely on reductive and stereotypical character types. Similarly there are some strong images, but they are often tempered by weaker ones (there are only so many times the image of a rich person snorting cocaine, or a symbolic substitute, can be edgy) Throughout, this feels like a production that could go somewhere, but always leads to an anticlimax.

Cuncrete is a 55 minute show that is 45 minutes too long. Had the original idea evolved, it could have been an engaging and sharp production, but as it stands it is an over-simplified and under-developed piece.

Cuncrete runs in Smock Alley Theatre until September 13th.






Eamonn (From Menswear) – Review

Ill-Advised Theatre Company

Smock Alley



Photo Credit: Ste Murray

Eamonn (from menswear) is 25, a dad, and he is here to tell you about his life. Through a combination of rhymed verse, song and straight talking, Fionn Foley tells the age old story of a man learning to overcome prejudices as he faces the challenges that come with raising a family and traversing everyday life. Recounting his experience of working in a menswear department, of bringing up his daughter and of awkward encounters with his neighbours, Eamonn gradually reveals his closed “us and them” mentality. He thinks people are sound, as long as they are like him. As he works his way through the mundane challenges of life, he sees nothing wrong with this outlook, but all is not as it seems and Eamonn is about to be taught a serious lesson in a bizarre setting.

Foley creates an entertaining and engaging production, bringing it to life with his dynamic and enthusiastic performance. However, it must be said that the rhyming form was, at times, stretched to its limit and could have been more effective had it been interchanged with more prose style writing. When it worked, it was excellent, but at other times it felt as though the words were being roughly wrestled into verse. Despite this, Foley’s script is vivacious, madcap and delightfully frank. There is a self-awareness to his writing that wraps the audience around his little finger and has them rolling in the aisles. This is further complimented by Molly O’Cathain’s set design and John Gunning’s lighting design, both of which demonstrate a strong understanding of the space in which they are working and use the shape of the Boys School to great advantage.

Overall, though the basic plot is a time-worn tale, Ill-Advised Theatre Company put a fresh stamp on it in the exuberant and sharp Eamonn (From Menswear).

Eamonn (From Menswear) runs in Smock Alley until 6th August.


King Lear – Review

Originally published in TN2 Magazine.


Purple Coat Productions

Smock Alley


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.