Theatre review: The Vortex | The Gate Theatre

Originally published by Entertainment Ireland. To read the original, please click here

Noel Coward's The Vortex will run at The Gate Theatre until 22nd March

Noel Coward’s The Vortex will run at The Gate Theatre until 22nd March

RECEIVING its first production on an Irish stage in what we now recognise as post- Celtic Tiger Ireland, Noël Coward’s breakthrough work encapsulates the fall from dizzying heights of London’s bohemian set. While the play strives for the drama that defines a work such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Coward’s play is laced with his savage wit, taking the form of catty dismissals of characters (“Poor Clara: she eternally labours under the delusion that she really matters”) courtesy of Pauncefort “Pawnie” Quentin (played by Mark O’Reagan).

There is, of course, the obligatory, fabulous dance sequence- jazz hands and all- choreographed by Philip Connaughton, though, in a twist, the drug- addled anti- hero of The Vortex, Nicky Lancaster (played by Rory Fleck Byrne) dances manically and out of time with the rest of the party, which tells its own story.

Set designer Paul O’Mahony’s round set is symmetrical with all of the images and the themes that Coward’s play raises: the play’s title, of course; the social circle of London’s elite; the glasses in which cocktails and wine are swirled; the meeting, again, of the Tom and Bunty; the circle of substance abuse and addiction.

Adding to the visual aesthetics of this complete production is Philip Stewart’s sound design and Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting design, both of which provide added punch to the production. Cutting each scene are flashbulbs- effects, which attempt to summon the nostalgic charm inherent in any jazz age- era production, but also to give the effect that the moments in the play are frozen in time, much like the play itself.

Just as the success or failure of a production such as A Streetcar Named Desire hinges on the quality of the performance of the actress playing Blanch Du Bois, a play like The Vortex will always be judged on the strength of the performance by the actor playing Nicky Lancaster; in this respect, The Gate’s production of The Vortex is success. Rory Fleck Byrne’s compelling performance as Nicky Lancaster is well- paced and nuanced, the subtext beneath Nicky’s neediness towards his mother and his sham engagement towards Bunty clear to the uniformed audience member (“I’ve grown up all wrong”, utters Nicky, in one of the play’s more memorable scenes).

Following on from The Gate’s successful runs of The Threepenny Opera and Pride and Prejudice was never going to be easy, but this production of Coward’s great play feels definitive and precise, lifting its audience up into the dizzying heights only to be brought back down through the crashing lows, much like Cowards anti- hero.

Star rating: 4 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: The Gate Theatre

Written by: Noël Coward
Directed by: Annabelle Comyn
Cast: Fiona Bell, Rory Fleck Byrne, Simon Coury, Peter Gaynor, Mark O’Regan, Susannah Harker, Andrea Kelly

Theatre review: Sive | The Abbey Theatre

Originally published by Entertainment Ireland. To read the original, please click here

John B. Keane's Sive is currently running at The Abbey Theatre

John B. Keane’s Sive is currently running at The Abbey Theatre

SPEAKING of his late father’s ear for language and his ability to connect with ordinary folk, Billy Keane often reminds people of an apocryphal story of when a journalist once asked a regular patron of John B’s pub in Listowel what exactly it was that made John B. Keane a great writer. With typically Kerry wit, the old codger replied, “Wasn’t he the smartest man of them all; he took down everything we said and then he charged us to read it.”

Sometimes dismissed as a “popular” playwright and a “stage Irish” playwright at that, John B. Keane’s plays have hidden depths and dimensions beneath their pure entertainment value and Sive is no exception.

While the plot might seem elementary and borderline farcical- a story of an aunt and uncle arranging a marriage for their niece for a healthy commission- the themes that John B. Keane’s Sive affirm are those of lust, greed and ambition at any cost.

Sive Large

Thematically, such tragic themes could describe many plays, though the brilliance behind the Abbey’s programming of Keane’s Sive is how it reflects Irish society past and present as unflinchingly as the best Abbey plays often do. In recent years, barstool sociologists have proclaimed that “we lost our soul” during the Celtic Tiger; that during the boom years we became greedy, lustful and animals of excess. Through Keane’s Sive- as with The Field- we learn that we have always been greedy, ambitious, ruthless and lustful; that these qualities existed in Irish society long before Church and State separation and long before the prosperity and pluralism of the Celtic Tiger.

While Sabine Dargent’s set might seem too impressive and overwhelming for a play and a playwright that function best when at their most intimate and inclusive, the contorted plaster on the upper end of the cottage gives the effect of a dark, stormy cloud, which becomes all the more obvious during changeovers between scenes and acts when the lighting focuses on the top of the set.

And then there are the performances: Bríd Ní Neachtain’s turn as Nanna Glavin is the emotional dynamo behind the entire play, her character ranging from mischievous charm to tragic utterance, while Simon O’Gorman’s Thomasheen Seán Rua is masterful, adding to both the humor and the dramatic action of Keane’s play.

Range, indeed, wins out in this enjoyable play in which elegiac weight and side- splitting humor are mere scenes away from each other; no better example than the chorus of the traveler poets- played by Frank O’Sullivan and Muiris Crowley- who energise each humorous scene with rhymes and, during the play’s dénouement, deliver an elegy to an age that is gone, though feels strangely vital in this faithful production.

Sive runs until 12th April.

Star rating: 4 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: The Abbey Theatre

Written by: John B. Keane
Directed by: Conall Morrison
Cast: Ian Lloyd Anderson, Barry Barnes, Derbhle Crotty, Muiris Crowley, Bríd Ní Neachtain, Simon O’Gorman, Róisín O’Neill, Frank O’Sulliavan, Daniel Reardon.