Review: Threesome

Almost Professional Productions

Brighton Fringe

03/03/21

The nerves of meeting a new potential housemate are an experience most of us can relate to. Will they be nice? Will they be messy? Will they be loud? Will they be a serial killer who eats small kittens on sandwiches?

This is the situation that Eve and Alex find themselves in at the start of Almost Professional’s debut show, Threesome, written by Eric Silver. The pair are housemates, living in London and looking for someone to fill the empty room in their house, before they have to pay the rent in it. Judging by their tumultuous argumentative friendship, in which Alex reverts to cynicism and sarcastic quips as his defensive default response, and Eve is loud, overbearing and impatient – they also need a third housemate to balance out their dynamic. Enter Evan, the prospective housemate who grew up in a cult, delivers his opinions with no filter…and is unlikely to bring balance to anything.

As the Zoom-call between the trio takes ever stranger twists and turns down tangents of religion, cults, homophobia, sex, rats and a wide range of other topics, there are some moments of sharp, witty writing and character. However, Threesome, which was originally conceived as a live, staged production, falls foul of the transfer to the digital medium. The at times over the top acting style may have added to the comedy on stage, but boxed into the restrictive format of Zoom, it comes across as strained and over-done. Similarly, moments in which characters break the fourth wall fall wide of the mark, lacking the definition they would have had on stage to make them effective interludes in the conversation between the trio of characters.

Zoom-transfer aside, the production felt underdeveloped. Though it included many funny moments and strong characters, there were several instances in which ideas were introduced into the script that felt out of place among the rest of the characters’ conversation. A discussion about the character of Eve considering sleeping with her boss to get ahead in her career veers towards a conversation around feminism but is cut short, and similarly the final moments of the play feel abrupt. There is no director listed in any credits, copy or press information, and that lack of a director with a view of how the performance works as whole may be the reason for these uneven patches in the show.  

Taking the familiar setting of meeting a prospective housemate, and exaggerating and playing with it to create a comic and entertaining play, Threesome is a promising production that leaves some key dramatic threads untied and finds itself frayed at the edges.

Threesome is available to stream as part of Brighton Fringe Festival until 27th June.

The Theatre of The Everyday

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

While I once again find myself writing a lockdown column, this month there is a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel with the most recent government announcement which suggests theatres may reopen in June.  Though they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras, good things come to those who wait…the waiting is still no fun. After months of darkened stages and empty auditorium seats, I know many of us are waiting with bated breath for the return of live theatre. Even with fantastic streamed plays, Zoom performances and other digital offerings, nothing quite matches the feeling of being present in a room with other people as a story unfurls on stage.  But, as the famous line from As You Like It goes, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” So this month, I invite you to look to the stage around us and find the theatre in everyday life.

We may not be able to come and meet those dancing feet at 42nd Street, or watch dancers pas de chat across a stage in the Dance of the Cygnets, but just step into your local supermarket and you will see a complicated new choreography that we have all learned over the past year – the Social Distancing Dance. You go to pick up a box of cornflakes, but as you do another shopper reaches for the box next to it; a quick chassé each and you have returned to your safe 2 metre distance, her by the Weetabix, you next to the Rice Krispies. Meanwhile, an unwitting corps de ballet of other shoppers steps cautiously in time with each other in their socially distanced queue at the checkouts.

Or if it’s music you’re missing, step outside your front door and hear the music that is being performed all around you. Following in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, and composers like John Cage, let the sounds around you become a performance. Imagine a dialogue between the ice-cream van’s jingle and the rattle of a train passing nearby, or between the car alarm that is wailing in the distance and the beep-beep-beep of the checkouts in a shop. Let the world’s overture entertain you as you wait for the curtain to rise in your favourite venue.

Finally, if you need some drama, look no further than the bird-feeder outside your back door. Watch the dynamic power-struggles unfold between a goldfinch and a starling over some sunflower hearts and peanuts. Act 1 opens as the goldfinch flies down and perches, ready for breakfast, but as the interloping starling swoops in, a drama to rival Ibsen or Sophocles begins. Or if you prefer a mystery like The Mousetrap, check out The Mystery of the Vanishing Parcel. You’ve been at home all day, the doorbell is working, and yet you spy the dreaded note below your letterbox – ‘We are sorry we missed you.’ You don’t know when it appeared, you never heard a thing, you can’t even remember what you ordered. As the curtain falls at the interval, the greatest mystery of our time leaves you wondering, where could the parcel be, and will it ever be seen again?

We have all been in lockdowns for longer than we care to remember; we have ordered all of the things we can order online, we have baked more banana bread than we could ever hope to eat, and we have re-watched our favourite sitcoms far too many times. But it won’t last forever – there is light at the end of the tunnel and that light will illuminate our stages again before too long. In the meantime, find the novelty in the normal, entertainment in the everyday, and let the curtain rise on the theatre of day-to-day life.

A Year of the Ghost Light

Originally published on http://www.takeyourseats.ie

To The Theatre,

It has been a whole year since the safety curtain fell. Four seasons, twelve months, almost fifty-two weeks to the day. When any of us sat down in an auditorium seat last March, did we know that it would be the last time for over a year that we would sit shoulder to shoulder with a stranger, united in the collective experience of a play?

It has been a difficult year of abrupt stops, false starts, and yet more stops. I ache to be back in an auditorium, and auditoriums remain achingly empty. But despite the sometimes seemingly constant barrage of bad news over the past twelve months, that is not what this letter is about. No, I am writing to celebrate the tenacity, solidarity and creativity that the theatre industry has shown since stages went dark last March.

Because, though doors closed, offices were swapped for kitchen tables, lights were switched off in venues, and Zoom with a capital Z was shoehorned into our vernacular, the ghost light never went out. I wrote in this column last March that “companies, venues and individual artists have had steam coming out of their ears with the speed at which they have been thinking up new ways to bring the joy of theatre to everyone in their homes,” and they haven’t stopped. From ballet performed at home in bath-tubs, to live streams of brilliant plays, and outdoor performances on greens and balconies, to new works created for new online platforms, people’s creativity and resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles has been incredible.

Though normal life as we knew it ground to a halt in March 2020, my colleagues in the industry refused to let that put the chocks under their wheels. With supportive hands and generous hearts, the theatre industry has kept creating, kept connecting. And so, this is my standing ovation for you all. No, it’s not the curtain call, but over the past year you have all performed a stand-out, showstopper of a number that deserves a round of applause all of its own.

None of us could have imagined we would still be in the midst of this pandemic a year later, but the show will always go on. I finished my March 2020 column with these words, and they still stand today, “let the glow of the ghost light remind us that when this passes, our auditoriums will be filled with the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd once more.”

Until opening night,

S

Review: Faith Healer

Photo by Ave Calvar on Unsplash

Old Vic In Camera: Playback

22/01/21

Part of the joy, the singularity, of theatre is its liveness and its sense of presence. In a theatre auditorium, nothing competes for your attention, everything about the space is designed to focus your attention on the performance and allow you to leave the distractions of the world outside behind. Streamed and broadcast theatre doesn’t have that luxury. However, despite competition from guinea pigs zooming around their pen and chowing down on some particularly crunchy lettuce, the strains of piano practice drifting through from the other room, and the general debris of day-to-day life around me, I found myself transported from my sitting room by the Old Vic In Camera: Playback broadcast of Faith Healer.

Opening with Michael Sheen, as the “Fantastic Francis Hardy, Faith Healer,” reciting a resonant roll call of the dying villages of Wales and Scotland, this production broadcast from an empty auditorium arrests the audience’s attention and draws them into the mythology of Friel’s haunting play.

And mythology it is, not of the valiant, ancient sort, but a mythology-by-necessity, as each character tells a mercurial, shifting story of touring parish halls of Wales and Scotland, offering hope of cures to others, but finding hurt themselves. Each omits, adds and alters the story; whether in deliberate acts of misdirection or genuine remembering and misremembering, we are never sure. Through this triptych of recollections, from Francis, Grace and Teddy, we build a picture of unhappy relationships, painful loss, equally painful love, and a trio grappling with faith and hope.

Under Matthew Warchus’ direction, Sheen deftly portrays the restlessness of Francis Hardy, the shifts in mood from a buoyant and charming performer, to the haunted uncertainty of a could-be-con-man, and Indira Varma’s Grace is a shaken, smarting character who feels achingly adrift. However, it is David Threlfall who steals the show as Hardy’s Cockney manager Teddy. His mastery of both comic and tragic timing is sublime, and the story comes vividly to life with a new spark as Threlfall flits between humorous tales of previous acts, including a difficult but brilliant bagpipe-playing whippet, and heart breaking moments of loss and love.

The design, with beautiful lighting by Tim Lutkin and Sarah Brown, and Rob Howell’s set design comprised of a small selection of objects, each of which serves a clear dramatic use, is inventive and makes use of the unusual setting of the empty auditorium. By setting the play with the broadcast audience situated upstage, looking out to the vacant seats behind the performers, this does not pretend to be a normal theatre experience. It is a, for the most part successful, experiment in lockdown theatre. At times, the camera is too present, with shaky close ups making you aware that you are watching a filmed version of a play and sitting in an awkward space between theatre and film. However, to capture even a portion of the magic of live theatre and broadcast that to people in lockdown across the world is a laudable feat.

Though faith is a troubling entity in Friel’s play, this production is a reassuring exercise of faith in trying times. Seizing a window of opportunity between lockdowns, the Old Vic has produced a work that reminds us of the ‘breathless charm’ of theatre, and provides sustenance while stages are dark.

To Those Who Have the Power to Make a Difference

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“Theatre is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

 

To Those Who Have the Power to Make a Difference,

I am writing this to add my voice to the many currently asking the Government to take notice and provide concrete support to the theatre sector in this incredibly difficult time.

Every morning lately, I look through The Stage newspaper and listen to the radio, and every morning I hear and read the too familiar refrain of redundancy, mothballing and closure announcements from venues and theatre companies across the UK and, this morning, from The Stage itself. The theatre sector has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Like other sectors, we closed our doors a few months ago, not knowing when or how we would reopen, but unlike other sectors, there is still little certainty for us on the horizon.

Our industry has been brought to its knees.

We need more than a vague roadmap. We need dates, even provisional ones. We need clear health guidance. We desperately need a commitment to additional investment from Government to get back on our feet.

And we do need to get back on our feet. The UK needs the theatre industry to get back on its feet because, as the great playwright Thornton Wilder once said “theatre is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” As we come together to find our way out of this pandemic, we need the community that theatre creates, we need the release that theatre provides, and we need the joy that theatre brings.

I could write about Shakespeare and  the grand history of theatre that we are continuing, but instead I want you to think about the technician who is looking towards September and wondering if she will be able to buy school supplies, the theatre manager who is lying awake at night wondering how to break it to her colleagues that she has to make them redundant, the newly graduated writer who doesn’t know if the industry he trained to work in will survive this, the little girl who watched the National Theatre Live production of Twelfth Night and is dreaming of building an incredible revolving set like that for her National Theatre one day. Will that little girl have a National Theatre to build her dream in when she grows up?

We have put years of our lives into bringing the magic of theatre alive for our audiences, often against the odds. We have kept going because we care and we keep going because we care. But now we need the Government to care and to help. Please be a voice for our industry in Government. We need you to. Please push for and provide the support that the theatre sector urgently needs to survive.

With hope,

Saoirse Anton

 

The Ghost Light Glows On

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Originally published on takeyourseats.ie.

Earlier this month, the safety curtain abruptly dropped and our stages went dark. Artists, company managers, box office staff, technicians, marketing teams and every other person in our industry scrambled to figure out the staging for this unexpected rewrite. An unwelcome rewrite.

Just as theatres closed their doors against the Plague in the 16th Century, today our auditoriums lie empty and our stages are silent due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept in and changed our lives more swiftly and thoroughly than a deus ex machine in the final act of a Greek tragedy.

As scripts are sadly consigned to desk drawers for the time being and sets sit gathering dust, things can feel a little hopeless. Simon Callow wrote in the New York Review’s “Pandemic Journal” last week, “The whole point of theatre, since the Greeks, at any rate, has been to gather the citizens together, to remind us, as Shakespeare so incomparably put it, that ‘we are not all alone unhappy.’” Though we cannot gather people as we usually do, we are all still doing what we do best – creating, inventing, imagining, connecting.

Since the theatres and other cultural institutions closed, there has been a wave of generous creativity. Companies, venues and individual artists have had steam coming out of their ears with the speed at which they have been thinking up new ways to bring the joy of theatre to everyone in their homes.

We may not be able to do what we do best, in the way we do it best, at the moment but with live streams, creative challenges, new online creations, and plenty more in the works, we are certainly doing the best we can.

Times are tough but every show, even the most painfully dull and lengthy ones, must come to an end, and so too will this. We will keep this imaginative generosity going, and let the glow of the ghost light remind us that when this passes our auditoriums will be filled with the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd once more.

Phenomenal Women

international-womens-day-4887650_1920Originally published on TakeYourSeats.ie.  

This Sunday, International Women’s Day, we celebrated all of the fantastic women who have shaped our history, made their mark on the present, and are crafting our future. For over a hundred years, International Women’s day has been a day for celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

Throughout their history, Ireland’s theatres have been home to myriad phenomenal women, from Lady Gregory pouring her energy into establishing our National Theatre, to the incredible women who took to the stage of that same theatre in 2015 to call out the gender inequality that is rife in our in our industry. This International Women’s Day, I want to look both backwards and forwards, remembering some of my favourite shows on Irish stages created by women in the last few years, and looking forwards to some of the exciting work that is on the horizon.

So without further ado, let’s take a journey back to some of the treasures of the recent past.

Asking For It

One of the most talked about productions of 2018, Asking For It, based on Louise O’Neill’s lauded 2015 novel of the same name and brought to the stage by writer Meadbh McHugh and director Annabelle Comyn, was a powerful, incisive and urgent piece of theatre. From Cork, to Dublin, to Birmingham, Asking for It has brought a vital message about rape culture to our stages, and has done so in a sharply crafted, memorable production.

Owing to the Failure of

Moving to a production smaller in scale but equal in quality, we come to Owing to the Failure of, presented at The Workman’s Club in Dublin as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2018. Written by Zoë Comyns and directed by Catríona McLaughlin, Owing to the Failure of was one of the best love stories I have seen on a stage in recent years.

Rosas Danst Rosas

There are not many shows that I would return to see two nights in a row, but Rosas Danst Rosas at Dublin Dance Festival 2019 was one of them. The power sustained by the four women on stage, through the intensity of Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s arresting choreography was a truly breathtaking thing to experience. A landmark piece of postmodern dance, the piece has not lost a joule of energy through its 37-year lifespan.

Anna Karenina

No list of brilliant women’s work on Irish stages would be complete without a mention for Marina Carr. Coming to the stage soon after the Waking the Feminists movement came to life, Carr’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel breathed new life into an old story, and tied the experiences of Tolstoy’s 19th century fictional women, to those of the women in the audience and on stage in 2016.

The Olive Tree

Written and performed by Katie O’Kelly, The Olive Tree is a magic realist adventure that delves deep into one of the most pertinent political issues of today. As a weary shop assistant peels a Boycott Israel sticker off of a bottle of olive oil, the tree on the label becomes real and takes her on a journey through the stories of Palestinian struggles past and present.

These are just a smattering of the excellence that has graced our stages from women’s pens and imaginations, but International Women’s Day is about looking forward, not just back. So let’s take a look at some of the exciting things that we have to look forward to on our stages.

The Red Book of Ossory

A deconstruction of several songs and poems written by 14th Century Kilkenny Bishop, Richard de Ledrede and included in the historic manuscript The Red Book of Ossory. With the famous witchcraft trial of Dame Alice Kylteler, for which de Ledrede was responsible, as a backdrop, The Red Book of Ossory at Project Arts Centre promises to be an enrapturing blend of the historical and contemporary created and performed by Anakronos, led by Catríona O’Leary.

This Beautiful Village

Returning to the Abbey Stage after a successful run last year and continuing onwards on a national tour, Lisa Tierney-Keogh’s This Beautiful Village is a piece that I am determined to catch in whatever corner of the country I can. Described by critic, Katy Hayes as ’utterly clued in to the zeitgeist,’ This Beautiful Village promises to sharply dissect privilege, power and prejudices.

The Boy

Indeed, no list of brilliant women’s work on Irish stages would be complete without a second mention for Marina Carr. Coming to the Abbey Theatre during the 2020 edition of Dublin Theatre Festival, The Boy is a new cycle of plays written by Marina Carr and directed by Catríona McLaughlin. It is loosely based on the three Theban Plays, continuing Carr’s exploration of Ancient Greek theatre, and asks questions about responsibility and complicity in cycles of violence. The Boy  looks set to be an ambitious durational theatrical work, and is one of the plays I am most excited to see this year.

Between this year’s International Women’s Day, and the next, seek out the work of brilliant women, and remember the final four points of Lian’s List, created by Lian Bell as part of the Waking the Feminists Campaign:

“67. Support women: celebrate their success, amplify

their voices, show your solidarity.

68. Take responsibility for making changes.

69. Yes you.

70. You have more power than you think.”

 

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.

Lovecraft (Not The Sex Shop in Cardiff) – Review

Ffresh, Wales Millenium Centre

Cardiff

29/11/19

Lovecraft credit Kirsten McTernan (1)

Credit: Kirsten McTernan

Self-professed international love-monger, Carys Eleri, takes to the stage in Ffresh to introduce the audience to Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff), her one-woman science comedy musical about the brilliant neurological nonsense that is love. In her hour on stage, Eleri takes a comprehensive, comic and considered look at the loneliness epidemic that is sneakily working its way through society, and at the importance of love in life to combat it.

Telling anecdotes of her past relationships (with the memorable characters, Eddie Pie-Hands and Bernie the Beautiful Shit) Eleri takes her audience on a journey through the chemical processes of falling in love, and reminds them of the importance of all sorts of love – romantic, platonic, familial. However, this is not just a science or sociology lecture. Throughout the show Eleri accents her point with howlingly funny stories and songs about rejection, jealousy, tinder, and cocaine-addicted mice among other topics. The musical numbers, produced by Branwen Munn, are welcome earworms that will stay in your mind and provide you with residual giggles well after you have left the theatre.

Not only are Eleri’s writing and performance excellent, the slideshow that accompanies her performance on screens at either side of the stage is the source of much hilarity. I know, a slideshow in a theatre show; it doesn’t sound like it will work, but with glitzy hormones and dancing rats, and a kaleidoscopic mammary montage, this is not your average PowerPoint presentation. Like the rest of this show, it is slightly mad, and yet catches the audience and draws out common experiences that make Eleri’s escapades easy for the audience to relate to.

From the moment she walks on stage, Eleri has the audience in the palm of her hand. Even I, an avowed avoider of audience interaction, was happy to join in the audience-wide cwtch (Welsh for cuddle), and sing-along songs. Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff) is an open, frank show that draws its audience in with ease as Carys Eleri not only reminds the audience that life is short and best spent in the company of others, she gives the audience a chance to enjoy the reality of it as they share an evening of laughter, chocolate and music with each other.

Review – The Kagools: Kula

Just the Tonic at the Caves

04/08/18

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Silent physical comedy duo, The Kagools, are on the hunt for a missing key. Blending video and live performance, the pair embark on a madcap hour’s search that involves a lot of audience interaction, slapstick humour, and water balloons.

The Kagools are adept physical comedians, creating a comic pair reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy. Neither character is sensible or particularly prone to getting things right, but one is clearly the leader and believes herself to be the brains and talent of the operation. This pairing of characters sets up a strong comic foundation as the performers exploit the imbalance between them for numerous gags, from jealous competition over a love interest, to a drawn out battle with a roll of sellotape.

However, the greatest imbalance in the show often lies between the performers and the audience rather than between the two characters. As I previously mentioned, there is a high level of audience interaction in the show, with audience members regularly being pulled up on stage to take part in various ridiculous scenarios.  Though many of these interactive moments delivered numerous laughs and gags, at times there was an uncomfortable sense to the interactions, as audience members were prompted to do things that they did not necessarily seem comfortable doing, including soaking other audience members with water balloons, unexpectedly playing a love interest, or having their handbag taken and rifled through on stage. These could all have been entertaining and positive interactions, but not without a sense of consent, which was sometimes sorely lacking in this production. Similarly, splashing the audience with water is one matter, but throwing clouds of talcum powder around the auditorium was a step too far; anyone with breathing difficulties would be wise to avoid this show.

Though The Kagools’ performances are strong, and their use of video to add layers to the production, and facilitate the portrayal of additional characters is ingenious and effective, Kula suffers from a lack of consideration of the welfare of their audience.

The Kagools: Kula runs at Just the Tonic at the Caves until  August 26th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.