Casting the New Year

Originally published on takeyourseats.ie.

via Pixabay

I can’t remember any new year as eagerly anticipated as 2021. After the trials of 2020, we have all needed the sense of renewal, resolution and hope that comes with the turn of the year. Though we are back into a level five lockdown and Covid-19 cases have risen alarmingly in recent weeks, news of vaccine programmes getting underway has provided the much needed light at the end of the tunnel. They say that it is always darkest before the dawn and, finally, it is beginning to feel like dawn might be on its way.

With that in mind, rather than the usual list of New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve looked to some classic characters from the stage to guide us through the next few months. As you return to your home working set up, bake your fourteenth banana bread, mask up to deliver vaccinations, or lie on the couch ensconced in lockdown boredom, bring the following into 2021 with you:

The patience of…Vladimir and Estragon, in Waiting for Godot

In lockdown no-one expects the silent, obliging patience of a character like Patient Griselda. Rather let’s look to the real active, impatient patience of Beckett’s iconic characters, Vladimir and Estragon, as they wait for the elusive Godot. Known to each other as Didi and Gogo, they sing, joke, ponder, argue and insult each other for entertainment as they wait by the tree. They are strikingly human characters, that could easily be compared to many of us in lockdown.

Estragon: What’ll we do, what’ll we do!

Vladimir: There’s nothing we can do.

Estragon: But I can’t go on like this!

Vladimir: Would you like a radish?.”

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, Act 2

The imagination of… Maria, in The Sound of Music

I’m sure plenty of us caught the film version of the musical over the Christmas break – it is the perfect lazy lockdown afternoon film. In fact, at the time of The Cold War the BBC even included The Sound of Music in their programme for emergency broadcasting in the event of nuclear attack.  After all, is there anything better to curl up and watch in times of crisis than Maria and the Von Trapps making clothes from curtains, putting on yodelling puppet shows and singing about their favourite things? We all need a bit of Maria’s resourceful, cheerful imagination in lockdown.

“When the dog bites, when the bee stings

When I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favourite things

And then I don’t feel so bad.”

My Favourite Things, Oscar Hammerstein II & Richard Rodgers

The optimism of… Arthur Kipps, in Half a Sixpence

Originally played by Tommy Steele and recently revived by Charlie Stemp in a new stage version of Half a Sixpence, the character of Arthur Kipps is a force of irrepressible optimism. Despite the rollercoaster of rising and falling fortunes that Kipps finds himself on, he always finds the positive in any situation.

“Still, half a sixpence

Is better than a half a penny

Is better than a half a farthing

Is better than none.”

Half A Sixpence, David Heneker

The tenacity of…Jean Valjean, in Les Misérables

A former convict, who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean strives to lead a life devoted to the good of others, despite the burden of a ‘yellow passport’ which marks him as a criminal and of Javert’s repeated attempts to arrest him throughout the musical. His determination to remain kind and caring despite his challenges is something we should all remember.


“There lived a man whose name was Jean Valjean

He stole some bread to save his sister’s son.

For nineteen winters served his time

In sweat he washed away his crime.”

Valjean’s Confession, Claude Michel Schönberg & Herbert Kretzmer

The good humour of…Matilde, in The Clean House

Though she is working as a housekeeper Matilde is an aspiring comedian, determined to find the perfect joke. Humour is in her blood, her parents were both comedians, and even in the most difficult moments she finds life and comfort in humour.  Remember to find the light and laughter, especially in tough times.

“A good joke cleans your insides out. If I don’t laugh for a week, I feel dirty”

Sarah Ruhl, The Clean House, 1:10

The kindness of….Miss Honey, in Matilda

Ok yes, she began in a book, but considering the fact that Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s award-winning musical adaptation of this Roald Dahl classic has found its way onto many of the lists of the best productions of the 21st century, I think Miss Honey deserves a place in our list. Everyone’s favourite fictional teacher, Miss Honey is kind and caring to everyone, despite being brought up by the villainous Miss Trunchbull. In the midst of this pandemic, we should follow Miss Honey’s example and spread kindness wherever we can.

“And what sort of teacher would I be

If I let this little girl fall through the cracks I can see,

This little girl needs somebody strong

To fight by her side.”

This Little Girl, Tim Minchin

As Shakespeare said, all the world’s a stage, so bring the best of these characters along as you tread the boards and play your role in 2021. Happy New Year!

The Twelve Theatrical Days of Christmas

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie on 05/12/2020.

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler from Pexels

We’re hitting the home stretch on 2020. Lockdown restrictions have eased this week, Covid-19 vaccines are in the final stages of approval, Christmas is around the corner and 2021 holds hope for a better year than this one.

However, at this time of year I find myself missing live theatre all the more. Normally I would be enjoying Christmas treats like ballets, pantomimes and Christmas carol concerts, but with the restrictions still in place for live performance in Ireland, that isn’t the case this year. I miss the hush between the house lights dimming and the first note of the overture, the feeling of laughing or crying together with a hundred other people, interval chatting, rounds of applause, curtain calls, an audience spilling out of the theatre and into the crisp December darkness, to walk home under twinkling Christmas lights, discussing what they’ve just seen. I miss it all.

Our theatres can’t open their auditorium doors to us this December, but we can still capture some of the joy of the theatre this festive season. I can never remember the right words for the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, so here is my version, The Twelve Theatrical Days of Christmas. Just don’t try to sing it out loud, it won’t scan.

The Twelve Theatrical Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my columnist said to me, try a panto on your TV (or laptop).

For many of us, the panto is a Christmas staple. Since they can’t take to the stage, many pantomimes are going online, from the Adult Pan-demic-to on takeyourseats.ie, to Nanny Nelly’s Panto Tellyfrom the Cork Opera House, and Once Upon a Pantofrom the Olympia, there is plenty of pantomime fun to be streamed straight to your sitting room. Oh yes there is!

On the second day of Christmas my columnist said to me, read a play you love.

As the weather gets colder, curl up by the fire in your favourite chair, grab yourself a cup of cocoa and dive into your favourite play on the page instead of the stage.

On the third day of Christmas my columnist said to me, listen to a play.

Many theatre-makers are turning to radio and podcasts to share their work while live performance isn’t possible. Whether it’s listening to an adaptation of a classic on BorrowBox with your local library subscription, or a family audio adventure with Tailtiu Theatre’s new podcast, B.U.D.S – An Intergalactic Audio Adventure,” released by Droichead Arts Centre.

On the fourth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, try something different.

Moving online, short form work has been booming; perfect for trying out something new. Test the theatrical waters with the Abbey Theatre’s latest instalment in their Dear Irelandseries, or dip a toe into dance with SpringMoves Festival’s programme of short dance films.

 On the fifth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, the theatre phone rings.

Check out the Abbey Theatre’s newly announced project, Abbey Calling,where audience members can sign up to receive a phone-call performance of a poem, monologue or song and a chat with the artist who performed it.

On the sixth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, enjoy some festive singing.

You might not get to go to a Christmas carol concert this year, or enjoy a sing-along at the Christmas party, but grab your household and belt out a tune or two – you’ll feel all the more festive for it.

On the seventh day of Christmas my columnist said to me, grab a pen and get writing.

Blustery December evenings are the perfect time to settle down in a quiet spot, pick up a pen and give your own writing a go. Who knows, perhaps this time next year I’ll be recommending your play!

On the eighth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, discover the next generation.

The Lir Academy are bringing their student productions online, and Trinity College Dublin’s drama department is streaming work from their Debut Festival.

On the ninth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, think theatrical in your gifting.

Whether it’s a subscription to The Stage and other publications,the National Theatre’s new streaming service, or a stack of play-texts.

On the tenth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, tune into some literary readings.

Dublin Book Festival is well underway with a smorgasbord of literary delights to choose from, Five Lamps Festival has online offerings from poets and playwrights, and Fane Onlinehas added more events in its A Night in With… series, including delectable evenings with Yotam Ottolenghi and Nadiya Hussain.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my columnist said to me, I forgot it was such a long song…

*takes a deep breath*

On the twelfth day of Christmas my columnist said to me, support your local venues!

It’s been a tough year. Spread some Christmas cheer and generosity by supporting your local venue in any way you can so that 2021 can see a joyful return to stages across the country.

Fight Back 2020 Festival – Week 2

For thoughts from the first week of Fight Back 2020 Festival, click here.

Fight+Back+2020+Festival+Poster

I’m used to theatre festivals meaning a few weeks of running around, subsisting on sandwiches slightly squashed in pockets as I clock up the kilometres between venues, and taking up residence in corner seats of theatre or near-the-theatre cafés imbibing coffee and probably crisps as I type up my reviews in the brief gaps between shows. It has felt a little strange to travel no further than the distance between the back garden where I lazed in the sun watching the first two of this week’s performances, to the couch in the sitting room where I watched the second two performances after the breeze outside threatened to steal the pages I was writing on. However, though Fight Back 2020 Festival is not a normal theatre festival, it has still brought the work of some of Ireland’s talented writers and performers to the fore.

The second week of the festival opened with a delightful monologue written by Ultan Pringle. Toffee, performed by Clelia Murphy, tells the story of a Aisling, who is going on a first date with a woman at the National Gallery Café. While she waits for her date to arrive, she tells the audience about her experience of going to university in her mid-40s, after a divorce, and raising her two grown up children. There are no major twists or surprises in the 15-minute monologue, but none are needed. Exactly the sort of heart-warming story that is called for in these trying times, Toffee is as sweet as its title.

Day six of the festival brings another love story, but not such a straightforward one. A hilarious and slightly bizarre lockdown story, Ali Hardiman’s Hug takes the form of a lockdown diary inspired by Matt Damon’s video diaries in The Martian. As she grumbles about her neighbours, reminisces about her childhood friend Jack, and reveals the difficulties in her family. Bringing an interesting twist to escapism, Clíodhna, played by Madi O’Carroll, will certainly make you laugh but will also make you pause and think.

Ella Skolimowski’s monologue Pandemic Panic, tells the story of a very different reaction to the Covid-19 lockdown. Aneta Dina Kedar plays a very stressed character who is struggling to manage her OCD while in lockdown. Though the monologue is funny in moments, it is also a tense watch which clearly conveys the fear and panic that the character is feeling.

The final day of Week 2 brought a comic story of a time machine in a wardrobe. Written by David Halpin and performed by Jed Murray, Backwards and Forwards takes the form of a FaceTime call, in which the main character is excitedly discussing the dilemma of whether to go backwards or forwards in time with his newly constructed wardrobe time machine in order to save the world. Though it is light-hearted and funny on the surface, Backwards and Forwards, like many of the other monologues this week, also conveys the frustration and uncertainty of a character in lockdown.

Fight Back 2020 Festival continues until 24th April.

Cupid Enters Stage Left

Originally published on takeyourseats.ie

Cupid’s bow is strung, florists are awash with red roses, and primary school students up and down the country are painstakingly gluing heart-shaped confetti to elaborate cards – yes, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

I’m sure that, on Friday night, auditoriums will be full of couples contentedly fed by special pre-theatre menus and complimentary chocolates, enjoying a date in honour of St Valentine. While a trip to the theatre can undoubtedly be a romantic evening (provided you don’t go for something like Prometheus Bound or 4.48 Psychosis), and anyone who knows me is well aware that theatre trips are a clear route to my heart, but the romance of theatre does not only unfold on one side of the fourth wall.

From the enduring tales of romance in Japanese Kabuki Theatre, and courtly love of Medieval European stages, to the turbulent relationships of Tennessee Williams’ characters and the chaos that invariably ensues whenever love is invoked by Shakespeare’s pen, love in all of its forms has graced our stages for millennia. As the Bard of Avon himself wrote in As You Like It, “the sight of lovers feedeth those in love,” and romance on our stages is not simply a diet of saccharine coconut-ice representations of love, but the mundane Monday-morning toast type and the unripe-apple sharpness of the unrequited sort too.

My favourite story of love in theatre is the madcap tale of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As Puck and his motley crew create a theatrical chaos, and the faeries and lovers create a muddle of their own, the realities of theatre and those of love are married in hilarity. Theseus puts it best when he says “the lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact.” There are few other places where we can let go of reason in the same way as we do when we tumble into love, but theatre is certainly one of them. The highs, lows, laughs and tears of the theatre, are also those of love.

As theatre holds a mirror up to our society, each and every one of us can find a tale of romance that speaks to our hearts. Whether you want to get lost in a flurry of feathers and heartache with the Moscow City Ballet’s Swan Lake at the Bord Gáis, indulge in a smorgasbord of romantic tales at Scene + Heard festival in Smock Alley, split your sides laughing with a loved one at Dirty Dusting in Visual, Carlow or enjoy some Cole Porter classics as Lili and Fred feud in Kiss Me Kate at the Lyric Theatre, there is a Valentine’s day theatrical treat for everyone.