Theatre review: A Tender Thing

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 29th January, 2014. To read the original please click here

A Tender Thing, Ben Power’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

In his essay ‘Reimagining Shakespeare’, featured in the program for A Tender Thing, Patrick Lonergan states, quite rightly, that “…every generation of theatre-makers and audiences feel the need to reinvent Shakespeare”. The impulse to visually contemporise Shakespeare in theatre and in film – be it West Side Story, or Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet – is testament to the longevity of Shakespeare’s themes: be they love unfulfilled, the downfall of powerful leaders, or health and social issues that remain, in the news, to this day, such as dementia and euthanasia.

The success of A Tender Thing, Ben Power’s daring and visionary adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most popular and enduring tragedies, is that it somehow manages to remain true to the muscular, romantic and poetic intensity of Shakespeare’s original text, while feeling truly original and fresh with subtle visual dimensions that shine through in Selina Cartmell’s direction and Monica Frawley’s set design.

The set – a bedroom with symmetrical wall lamps and bedside lockers, an en suite, featured upstage left, as well as featuring the central characters dressed in bedclothes – immediately recalls Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce, particularly the bedroom of Ayckbourn’s ageing married couple, Ernest and Delia, albeit without the hilarity of Ayckbourn’s comedy. While Ayckbourn’s ageing couple spend most of their time delivering their lines from their bed, however, Owen Roe (Romeo) delivers his soliloquies with his back turned to a bed-ridden Juliet (Olwen Fouéré).

Olwen Fouéré as Juliet

At the centre of Power’s adaptation are two very contrasting performances that encapsulate the central dichotomies of Power’s adaptation. Owen Roe is, quite simply, Romeo as you’ve never seen him: Roe delivers soliloquies in a manner that is unexpectedly natural and less laboured. Much of the verbal force and energy of Power’s adaptation comes through in Roe’s predominantly verbal performance. The opening moments in which Roe bellows “Give me the light!”, downstage left, grabs the audience’s attention; once gained, Roe’s performance relaxes into natural, unforced tones that reflect the stripped down nature Power’s adaptation.

Contrasting sharply with Roe’s nuanced performance is a magnificent and startling performance from Olwen Fouéré. A master-class in physical acting, Fouéré’s brave performance brilliantly articulates Juliet’s terminal decline, while at the same time working closely with Sinéád Wallace’s subtle use of light, which is true to the mostly- silent nature of Fouéré’s performance. Wallace’s lighting, at times, almost feels like another character in the adaptation.

Featured on back on the play’s program is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, in which The Great Bard writes “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, / But bears it out even to the edge of doom”. In Ben Power’s slow-burning adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, we get a sense, over 90 minutes, of that doom through a compressed and consistent adaptation, full of imagination and, most of all, heart.

A Tender Thing runs at the Project Arts Centre until 15th February.

Star rating: 4 / 5
Venue: Project Arts Centre

Written by: Ben Power (adapted from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet)
Directed by: Selina Cartmell
Cast: Olwen Fouéré (Juliet), Owen Roe (Romeo)

Theatre Review: ‘The Boys’ by Gerard Humphreys, The New Theatre, Tuesday 24th September, 2013

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 25th September, 2013. To read the original, please click here

Gerard Humphreys’ ‘The Boys’.

Gerard Humphrey’s The Boys- the latest in a list of plays performed at The New Theatre that carry a sociopolitical punch tells the story of Michael Connors, a young Traveller who finds himself marooned between the fraught tensions erupting within his extended family and the failure and shortcomings of the Irish judicial system and social services.

Opening, as it does, during a seisiún ceol in the aftermath of a Traveller’s funeral, The Boys – somewhat dangerously – aligns itself to Stage Irish perceptions of Irish life and, well, Irish theatre. Even an impassioned monologue from actor Michael Collins struggles to distance the opening scene from the jaded clichés that have, through the years, riddled otherwise good productions.

What one eventually realizes, however, is that the tired traditionalism of the opening scene is merely a starting point for a play that explores one young man’s quest for liberation from what the late Liam Clancy once termed “bad tradition”. Playing Michael Connors, the play’s protagonist, Drogheda native Barry Morgan shines in an understated and well-crafted performance, which works beautifully against Conall Keating’s operatic and accomplished performance as his violent, menacing and increasingly unpredictable nephew; a character pitched somewhere between The Playboy of the Western World’s Christy Mahon and The Godfather’s Sonny Carleone. Interestingly, Morgan is almost always center stage, further emphasizing his being stuck between the central dilemmas of the play.

Hovering over both men is The Don (Séamus Moran), who, in a sense, represents the loss of tradition towards a more materialistic, pseudo American and feckless being. The Don is a wayward devil and the architect of the nightmarish world inhabited by the Connors family, always leading the boys of the play’s title down a slippery slope of violence, recklessness and alcoholism.

In its weaker moments, however, The Boys plays subserviently to the expectations of Official Ireland. During the play, Barry Morgan’s Michael finds himself at the mercy of social workers (played by David O’Meara and Róisín O’Neill), one of whom offers Michael marijuana and later defends him from a violent priest who beats him, promising the priest that he- the social worker- will report the priest to members of An Garda Síochána. It’s a contrived scene that seeks to pit the left against the right; progressive attitudes against outmoded views of “the plain people of Ireland” that lacks any subtly or surprise and spoils a production that works best when it capitalizes on its well-written characters.

For all the lack of subtlety in key scenes, however, The Boys ends on a dénouement that is utterly unforgettable; Barry Morgan brilliantly delivers the play’s final line of dialogue, which, like all great final lines, echoes the thematic concerns threaded throughout the play and leaves audience members with a sense that they have seen the ending of an age and a way of living.

Star rating: 4 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: The New Theatre
Written by: Gerard Humphreys

Directed by: Patrick Joseph Byrnes
Cast: Michael Collins, Seamus Moran, Barry Morgan, Conall Keating, Kate Gilmore, Róisín O’Neill

The Boys will be showing at The New Theatre, East Essex St., Temple Bar, Dublin, from September 23rd to September 28th. 

Interview with Joey Kavanagh, Director of Whelp

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 11th September, 2013. To read the original, please click here

WHELP!: Mary Conroy (Left) and Lola White (Right)

BILLED as ”a new show about extended adolescence and protracted parenthood”Whelp, from Dublin company Come As Soon As You Hear explores Ireland’s ”Boomerang Babies” in a quirky and irreverent style.

We chatted to director Joey Kavanagh about Irish adolescence, the vibrant theatre scene in Ireland and how Margaret Atwood inspired Dublin’s latest recession-era play.

What attracted you to write and direct a play about Irish adolescence?

It was inspired by own experiences and those experiences of those involved in the show. At the time, all of three of us were living in our family homes, at an age where we felt that maybe we should be living independently. I had just finished a masters in college and I was just completely broke and I couldn’t afford to live on my own, so I ended up having to move back in with my parents. The other guys involved in the production, too, had to move in with their parents.

Interestingly enough, one of the guys who originally inspired the show – though is no longer involved in the show because they moved to Berlin – has now found his dream job in London as a designer for Generator hostels, so things worked out well for him. He’s no longer involved in the Fringe show as he’s gone on to bigger and brighter things. Our show is only for people who haven’t fulfilled their potential! So it’s based on our own experiences, really.

The tone of the play seems to be quite quirky, quite irreverent, in spite of the crime times we live in…

I think that’s a fair assessment. The stuff we do is generally a bit whacky, but also we don’t want to be feeling too sorry for ourselves. We’ve had to constantly remind ourselves during the rehearsal process and during the development of the show of the Twitter hashtag that seems to be doing the rounds quite a bit lately: #firstworldproblems. We don’t want to be moaning about or playing it like a sob story, because, at the end of the day, we’re very lucky and grateful that when things don’t go right, or don’t go our way, that we do have an opportunity to move home and we are all very fortunate to have our families.

The central message of the show is that you can either get caught up in these things and make them out to be bigger than they are or you can get frustrated by it all. At the end of the day, though, if we’re failing, at least we’re failing together and that’s something. So the show, in that respect, could be considered quite off-kilter; it doesn’t really follow much in the way of a conventional narrative. There’s going to be installations, different episodes where whacky things will happy on stage. I don’t want to give too much away! What I can tell you, though, is that it’s going to be a little bit hysterical, a little bit over the top… but hopefully good fun. We’ll be in Smock Alley, so the space is perfect for audience participation and interaction, which is always fun.

Smock Alley is a fantastic space. I saw Pat Kinevane’s Silent in Smock Alley and there was certainly a lot of participation. Is that what attracts you to the stage? That in the era of video uploading, the spontaneity and adrenaline of the stage can’t be matched?

What we really love is feeding off the live energy of people. We’ve done a few shows now and one show is never the same as the next: they’re all different. We always try and bring an interactive element to the shows, so that the audience can feed off the performer and the performers can feed off the audience and together we can make a show and we can make a performance. So that’s where the thrill in theatre is for us. It’s from the danger and the risk that things could go horribly wrong at any point in the performance, but also for the potential for things to get elevated to the next level and to become more than we originally set out to do, so that’s, I suppose, what the draw is for us. We try to involve the audience in a way that isn’t uncomfortable for them or for us.

WHELP!: Mary Conroy (Left) and Lola White (Right)

How long have you been involved in Come As Soon As You Hear?

I’ve been involved in Come As Soon As You Hear, the company behind Whelp, since 2009 and it’s very loose; the way we work is very loose. So while I have the title of director, it’s actually much more democratic than it seems and we do take each other’s suggestions and opinions on board. And we are blessed with a fantastic group of people: we’ve got a fantastic designer, we just drafted in a choreographer, an assistant director… so it is quite democratic and we do try and bring our own experiences and opinions to the thing. I’m not ruling with an iron fist! I don’t tell people to do things that aren’t coming naturally.

The last performance I did was a show in the 10 Days in Dublin festival and it was one it was called ”Lovely Girls Guide to Lovely Living”, which, again, was quite tongue-in-cheek and it was like this one woman crusade against 21st irony and sarcasm and it went down quite well and we’ve since performed it in Cork and we’ll hopefully stage it again. The main focus at the moment, though, is Whelp.

Who would you rate as writing or directing influences? The work seems to be laden with no small amount of social satire. Neil LaBute is a name that springs to mind…

It’s interesting that you would say that about one of my favourite ever playwrights. One of my favourite plays is LaBute’s ”Bash”, which i did in college. In Yer Face theatre is certainly an influence: something that gets under your skin and provokes a reaction. One of the lynchpins in Whelp is Karl Watson, who is really influenced by German theatre. In general, there is a sense that the Berlin theatre is really exciting. But I think there’s also so much going on in Dublin, too. Dublin has really become a really interesting hotbed, especially for scratch pieces and works-in-development. There’s so many opportunities now for up and coming theatre makers and we’re really encouraged by all that.

From looking at the Fringe program, this year, do you think that the goal posts have moved in Irish theatre since, say, ten years?

I think we did see a lot of shows – and Whelp may well fall into this category – that were directly inspired by the recession. I do feel like the playing field has leveled out quite a bit: that there aren’t as many plays about the recession and that we were looking beyond the everyday realities for inspiration. There’s such a variety of things on. If you look at what the Paperdolls Performance Company are doing… just fantastic. There’s also quite a lot of spoken word events, such as Oisin McKenna’s ”Grinder: A Love Story”, which I think is one of the highlights. There’s also a lot of whacky stuff; stuff that quirky and there is, I hope enough variety for everyone on the program: that theatre can be a lot of things.

Can you tell me about the cast?

The cast is just two people: Lola White and Mary Conroy. Lola had been with the show from day one and Mary came on board when we performed it first in Cork. Mary, at the time, was in UCC. That was really fun, because we got to perform it in a house, which is obviously the most natural found space for the play.

What’s it like when a new cast member comes into a production when existing cast members and crew may have already got comfortable and found their rhythm? Does it affect the dynamics of the production?

Well when Mary came in, the show was still very much sketch-based and episodic. It was far from a finished piece. And even when we performed it the first time with Mary in Cork, it still wasn’t finished. It is always great to have another perspective; it worked so smoothly for us, which is why we immediately asked Mary to come on board for the Fringe production because she just did a fantastic job. She’s a wonderful performer and I’m in awe of both of them. Mary brought in fresh ideas and new energy to the mix. Mary and Lola do make a good double act and we did consider expanding the cast for the show – perhaps adding a third person – but we figured that it might be enough to have just Mary and Lola, because they’re more than up for the job.

In Irish theatre, childhood, adolescence and friendship are becoming recurring themes and settings for plays – whether it’s the recent production of ”Disco Pigs” or Declan Hughes’ ”The Last Summer”. What do you think that’s down to?

I guess they’re themes that will never go away; that will never really be irrelevant to people’s lives. There was a poster that we put up on our Facebook page, the other day, and it was a quote from Margaret Atwood, which is ”everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” I think that’s definitely something that everyone feels, now and again, if you have those moments where you remind yourself of your responsibilities as an adult.

I do think that this idea of living at home and the fact that people are a little bit stuck at home and feeling as if they’re not moving forward at the pace that they would like to… it does bring to mind a feeling of prolonged adolescence: a feeling that you’re still waiting to grow up. No one I know, my age, is buying a house in the current climate. All these things that we expected we would be beginning to do in our lives – mortgages, marriage, children – they all seem much further away than we ever really though they would be. The recession kicked in while I was in college, so I guess, like many Irish people my age, there was a sense that we had been working towards prosperity and, all of a sudden, the rug was pulled out from under my feet. So, in a way, there are many, many people who feel like they are in limbo. All that said, I think what the Fringe program reflects is that there are people out there making things happen for themselves and making lemonade from the lemons.

Whelp runs in Smock Alley Theatre until 13th September at 6.30pm. Tickets: €11 – €13. For more information and to book tickets go to: www.fringefest.com/programme/whelp

Theatre Review: Scabs by Naomi Elster, Theatre Upstairs, Tuesday 13th August, 2013

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 21st August, 2013. To read the original, please click here

Big Jim on a plate: Naomi Elster’s Scabs is the latest Irish play set during the 1913 Dublin Lock- out.

In the year of its centenary, the portrayal of the 1913 Dublin Lock-out on the Irish stage continues in a way in which the historic industrial dispute draws an inescapable allegory with recent events in Irish history. Having previously featured as part of 10 Days in DublinNaomi Elster’s Scabs is given another staging in Theatre Upstairs.

While Anne Matthews’ monologue driven Lockout thoroughly explored the role of women during the 1913 Lockout and the courageous leadership shown by both James Larkin and James Connolly, Naomi Elster’s Scabs is, by comparison, a one-act play in which loyalties are tested and eventually, severed in the most cruel and brutal fashion imaginable. The action focuses on the Casey-O’Kelly’s, a young Dublin couple with one young child of ill-health, and their uncompromising stance against Audeon Kelly’s (Rob Harrington) employer.

The play begins quite similarly to Matthews’ Lockout, by immediately revising the role of women during the lockout of August 1913 – January 1914. The play’s feminist subtext is distinct from outset and offered during a spirited and impassioned monologue by Nora Casey (Áine de Siún). This feminist subtext is further strengthened Audeon and Nora’s daughter, played by nine-year-old Sarah Ninto, whose ill-health effectively forces Audeon to compromise his position as a striking worker.

Cast of Scabs, L-R: Sarah Minto, Séamus Whelan, Rob Harrington, Conor Scott

If there is one playwright who looms large in Elster’s one-act tragedy, it is Shakespeare; Elster’s laces her play with The Bard of Avon’s tragic characters. Audeon’s ambition and determination, coupled with Nora’s cold vitriol, create a vivid parallel with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It is, however, a nuanced performance by Seamus Whelan that impresses most: channeling both Shakespeare’s Polonius and the late, great David Kelly, Whelan’s Doyler seems, at first, a peripheral, harmless character who is only active in the play to add color. His character develops unexpectedly and it’s how Whelan negotiates the transition that impresses most.

For all of its well-drawn, fully- developed characters, however, Scabs is thin on language. At times, it feels as if Elster hasn’t taken full advantage of the language of the era. A play set in Dublin during the early 20th century, surely, should have been an opportunity for the playwright to raid Terry Dolan’s Dictionary of Hiberno- English, or Bernard Share’s Slanguage. Instead, jaded clichés, in the context of Irish literature and Irish history, such as ”informer” and ”the cause” are trotted out. One doesn’t really get a sense that Elster, as a playwright, loves language: there’s little musicality in the dialogue of a play set in working-class Dublin in 1913.

Though very much a play of two halves, Scabs ultimately satisfies our continuing fascination with the 1913 Lock- out.

Star rating: 3 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: Theatre Upstairs

Wrtitten by: Naomi Elster
Directed by: Liam Halligan
Cast: Robert Harrington, Áine de Siún, Seamus Whelan, Conor Scott, Sarah Minto.

Scabs runs in The Theatre Upstairs until 24 August. 1pm performances: 20th – 24th August. 7pm performances: 22nd – 24th August. to book contact: 085 7727375 or tupstairsbookings@gmail.com

The Silhouettes, ‘The Journey of Love’, The Olympia Theatre, Saturday 3rd August, 2013

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Monday 5th August, 2013. To read the original, please click here

The Silhouettes’ ‘Journey of Love’

Primarily known in the US as runners-up in the sixth season of America’s Got Talent, Denver’sThe Silhouettes comprises of 42 dancers, aged between 4 – 18, all performing in – you’ve guessed it – silhouette. Entitled “The Journey of Love”The Silhouettes’ Olympia show tells the story of two children, Annie and Johnny, and their respective journeys through life and their own, unique bond.

Making versatile use of visuals, dialogue and a song – driven soundtrack push the narrative along, which is also complemented by screen visuals of locations as diverse as Paris, Arizona, Ireland and the Middle East. Flexible and resourceful as only the best dancers and performers are, the cast members transform themselves in silhouette to rocking chairs, trees, desks and animals, all of which perfectly integrate with the narrative.

The story of Johnny, in particular, is one of a young man growing up on the road: wandering across America and, eventually, the wider world, his whole life in a backpack. In an age where 93% of Leaving Cert. students have Facebook accounts, it’s a refreshing call for young people to embrace the outdoors and, in its better moments, almost resembles a children’s version of Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild”.

Heart- shaped dance: A picture- perfect example of The Silhouettes’ boundless creativity.

Annie, the female character in the story, leaves Johnny on the road and goes to Hollywood to pursue a career as a dancer. After a 15 minute interval, an obligatory R&B / hip-hop performance ensues, flagging Annie’s move to Hollywood. It’s with Annie’s character that the production takes the most risks, whether it’s the story of Annie’s drink being spiked at a Hollywood party or her being groomed by a Broadway director while trying to make her name on the New York stage, all which stretch the interest of the production to an older, mid-to-late teens audience.

It is, however, an ill-judged flirtation with American patriotism that taints the production. Mid-way through Act Two, a Christina Aguilera-ised version of “God Bless America” is performed against a visual of the Stars and Stripes. This irony-free performance elicits cynical laughter from the older members of the audience. Certainly, the “God Bless America” segment sets up Johnny’s enlisting in the army, but it unnecessarily overshadows the story.

Injured in combat and subsequently shipped back home, Johnny is treated in a veteran’s hospital back home in America. The staff at the hospital contacts Annie to inform her that Johnny is confined to a wheelchair. When Annie visit’s a wheelchair-bound and stunned Johnny, he emerges from the wheelchair, walking again, which makes one wonder why there isn’t a Televangelist on stage declaring “God Bless, Hallelujah! It’s a miracle!’

All that said, The Silhouettes’ “The Journey of Love” is, for sheer originality and pure innovation, worth the price of admission alone: a unique live performance that must be seen live. While it doesn’t do enough to reach out to an older audience, such as, for example, the Shrek series did, it serves its children’s audience more than well.

Star rating: 3 / 5
Venue: The Olympia Theatre
Written by: Lynne Waggoner-Patton
Directed by: Lynne Waggoner-Patton
Cast: The Silhouettes

The Silhouettes “The Journey Of Love” runs in The Olympia Theatre from 2nd – 18th August at 7.30pm. Tickets on sale now from €19.50. For more information and to book tickets go to www.olympia.ie

Dublin in Silhouette