Theatre review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dublin Castle Summer Seasons, Dublin, 23 July, 2014

In Dublin theatre company Mouth On Fire’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of The Bard’s most popular works is given a glam rock twist. It works, writes Philip Cummins

Left to Right: Fionn Foley (Puck) and Colm O'Brien (Demetrius)

Left to Right: Fionn Foley (Puck) and Colm O’Brien (Demetrius)

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

IN THE 450 YEARS since William Shakespeare’s birthday, it’s only really in the last 100 years that practitioner have  fused Shakespeare’s work with the contemporary culture of the day to give added context to the longevity of the themes and concerns of The Bard’s best work. The most popular example is, of course, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film version of Romeo & Juliet, though this reviewer has seen a version of Macbeth featuring a cast clad in military uniforms and firing AK- 47’s rather than wielding swords, as well as a version of Hamlet far removed from 16th century Denmark and, instead, set in 1950’s American suburbia.

It’s no surprise, then, that Irish theatre company Mouth On Fire have sound-tracked one of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays, a comedy featuring five interconnecting stories of love, decadence and identity, and fused Shakespeare’s work with the soundtrack of 1970’s glam rock; a genre of rock music characteristic of many of the play’s themes and, indeed, characters.

Dublin Castle’s Castle Gardens is an excellent space for the performance. On unusually balmy summer night in Dublin, the play’s surroundings are nothing short of majestic. Of course, the play’s surroundings also contrast starkly with the costumes and props of the cast, of which much emphasis is given: the costume designer seems to have raided Freddie Mercury’s wardrobe for leotards for the character of Lysander; Hermia is a 70’s era San Francisco folkie; Demetrius, the man whose feelings Hermia doesn’t return in favor of Lysander, is a 1950’s- era nerd that is the antithesis to Lysander; the chorus of the play is found strumming a Fender Stratocaster rather than a flute.

Left to Right: Colm O'Brien (Demetrius), Melanie Phillips (Helena) and Matthew O'Brien (Lysander)

Left to Right: Colm O’Brien (Demetrius), Melanie Phillips (Helena) and Matthew O’Brien (Lysander)

What makes the costumes work is the knowledge that basing the production on 70’s, glam rock- era costumes is no more and no less nostalgic than dressing the cast in Shakespearean-era clobber, which has its own nostalgia. While it’s true that nostalgia, or ‘Retromania’ as Simon Reynolds terms it, has the power to drown out everything, the production sets out its tone in the opening moments of the act one, scene one: T-Rex’s ‘20th Century Boy’ blares from the PA’s, the cast dancing together to establish the cultural tone of Mouth On Fire’s production. From then on, the play progresses at a steady, even pace, seamlessly seguing into the “play within the play” that the mechanicals rehearse and stage for the wedding of the Duke (Theseus) and the Queen (Hippolyta).

With all nine actors in the production juggling up to three characters each over 90 minutes, the play could seem too busy, at times, thought the cast pull it off with, seemingly, little effort:Matthew O’Brien’s Lysander has all the charisma necessary for the part, Sharon Mannionplays Hermia to her character’s naive and dilemma-stricken nature, Fionn Foley’s Puck is as jaunty and playful as expected, while Neill Fleming’s Egeus, Hermia’s disapproving father, is as shrewd and determined as expected and a lynchpin in terms of the play’s action.

Closing the performance with cast introductions performed against the soundtrack of Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’ and in a manner that can only be likened to hit TV series Glee, it becomes more apparent that Mouth On Fire’s production will either delight those who seek fresh productions of Shakespeare or disappoint purists who might find the coupling of Shakespeare and glam rock is nothing more than a gimmick. With a strong cast and an imaginative creative team, however, it’s hard to fault.

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Theatre review: Nirbhaya, Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, 22 July, 2014

Taking the form of personal testimonies, Yael Farber’s brave, vital and, sadly, relevant play Nirbhaya gives a voice to victims of sexual abuse, doing so in a production that is raw, slow- burning and, at times, difficult to watch, writes Philip Cummins

Actress Priyanka Bose in Nirbhaya

Actress Priyanka Bose in Nirbhaya

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

TAKING the form of personal testimonies, Yael Farber’s brave, vital and, sadly, relevant play Nirbhaya gives a voice to victims of sexual abuse, doing so in a production that is raw, slow- burning and, at times, difficult to watch.

Based solely on the horrific 2012 gang rape and fatal assault of 23 year- old physiotherapy intern Jyoti Singh Pandey in South Delhi, the sparseness of the stage and the plain, black costumes of the actors all give focus to extraordinary testimonies that are harrowing, eloquent and, at times, funny.

Subtle flourishes in the set design go a long way in a production that balances confessional utterance with stagecraft and a creative use of the space. Tattered, worn- out bus seats bunch together, downstage right. Hanging upstage centre, swinging like pendulums representing time, perception and, perhaps, a swinging blade representing death, are the windows of the bus in which the victim met her cruel fate.

The passengers on the bus.

The passengers on the bus.

Deeply embedded in Farber’s Nirbhaya (meaning, roughly, “fearless one”) is the idea that sexual desire and acts of self- satisfaction and violation bubble under the surface of our society, whether seemingly innocuous or menacing. In a brilliant scene underpinned with subtlety, a crowded bus journey into Delhi finds women groped by shameless male passengers, prompting us to ask just how accepting both the society and its culture are towards random acts of sexism and sexual assault in broad daylight.

Throughout the play, the audience is involved and challenged. Like Pat Kinevane’s excellent Silent, the play makes its demands of any audience, continually asking us how accepting any of us are towards acts casual sexism and misogyny. Farber’s depiction of the fatal gang rape of the victim fulfills its intention to shock. Much as attitudes towards sections in society inevitably swell with a watershed moment, the feeling is that the entire play and the ideas expressed within the play are leading to that shocking scene.

Finishing on a burial ritual focused around Pandey’s dead body, blue and yellow flower petals fall from the ceiling around both Pandey’s body and those in Pandey’s community, representing both the loss of innocence and, one hopes, change. It’s a stunning, slow- burning denoument to a play that, like the windows of the bus, swings in extremities: from innocence to violation, safety to menace, trauma to closure.


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Music interview: Peter Hook

A band ending under tragic circumstances only to be reborn and end again due to in- fighting within the band; record company collapses; financial ruin; writing and recording World Cup anthems; Blue Monday…there’s little Mancunian musician Peter Hook hasn’t experienced in music. Ahead of his appearance with his band Peter Hook & The Light at Live at Leopardstown on Thursday 10th July, Philip Cummins spoke to Hooky about playing previously unheard Joy Division songs on the road, band reunions in general, playing in a church in Ian Curtis’ hometown of Macclesfield and how Joy Division / New Order and Factory Records would have fared in the music industry under the current climate.

Peter Hook, centre stage.

Peter Hook, centre stage. Image: Facebook

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

Philip Cummins: With The Light, you’ve played every Joy Division song ever recorded and you’re working on every New Order song up to ‘True Faith’. Are you a completest, naturally, and what sparked your interest in revisiting these records?

Peter Hook: Well it all started back in May 2010 when I decided to get a band together and play Unknown Pleasures live and in full as a celebration of Ian Curtis and his life and work, as it had been 30 years since his death. It really was just supposed to be the one gig but that one gig quickly became two nights and then from there it just snowballed and we have been invited to come and play all around the world. It was at that point where once I realised that people were enjoying what we were doing I just thought well why not, and since then we have gone on a journey that has seen us play Unknown Pleasures and then move on to the other records Closer, Movement, Power, Corruption & Lies… and then coming up this September we’ll play Low-Life and Brotherhood live for the first time. I guess there must be a sense of being a completist, we played every single Joy Division song there is, and now we are unearthing some really great New Order ones that have been overlooked for so long. I am really enjoying it.

 

PC: What previously unperformed Joy Division songs surprised you when they were first played live with The Light?

PH: There are lots of Joy Division songs that are so powerful when played live, some of which we did either never play or played very rarely. Songs like ‘From Safety To Where’, ‘Glass’, ‘The Drawback’… these are quite obscure really when you look at the Joy Division catalogue but we have brought them all back and they all sound great, and I think the audiences really appreciate hearing them.

 

PCYou’ve been playing these “hybrid sets” of New Order and Joy Division for some time, now, with recent sets leaning heavily on Joy Division material. Despite the differences in sound and image that audiences associate between Joy Division and New Order, how well do you think that the songs from both outfits blend together and why?

PH: The idea behind these ‘hybrid’ sets was mainly just to do it for festivals. I’m not really into just “playing a set” because to me that means that you end up straying into tribute band territory. I am much happier playing records in full as we have been doing. But festival promoters don’t really want that, they want the hits, which is understandable because at festivals not everyone is there to see us so if we play a bunch of obscure tracks I guess we could end up losing the audience. If we play a mixed set it is much more suited to festivals and I must admit I am starting to enjoy them after finding it a bit strange at first. What we tend to do is open with a few electronic New Order songs, move into the rockier ones & then from there it is quite a nice flow into the Joy Division material. It’s also been nice to be able to play some Monaco songs which we have started to do recently.

 

PCYou’ve moved to the centre of the stage, singing Joy Division and New Order material, much as Bernard Sumner did when Ian Curtis passed on. What have you learned from that move and has it given you a better understanding of Bernard’s transition from guitarist to singer/guitarist?

PH: At first I found the transition very scary and for quite some time I was very nervous, because I had never done anything like that before. But now we are something like 230 gigs into this and I would like to think that I am much more comfortable in that role now and I have started to enjoy it a lot more. It has certainly made me understand that it must have been difficult for Bernard too back when he made the change. I still like to hide behind my guitar though as much as possible!

Peter Hook & The Light have been performing New Order albums Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies, in full. Image: Facebook

Peter Hook & The Light have been performing New Order albums Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies, in full. Image: Facebook

PCBernard Sumner and Ian Curtis sang very differently; Sumner being a natural tenor singing in higher octaves, Curtis singing in a deep, low baritone. Has that posed challenges for you as a singer?

PH: It’s a strange one really – singing the Joy Division material is naturally easier for me because my voice is more similar to Ian’s, but then it is anything but easy because when you start to sing those songs and those amazing words there really is so much pressure because Ian was that good, sometimes it is quite overpowering. I find that there is much less pressure on myself when I am singing the New Order songs, but then they are a lot harder to sing at times, so it’s a bit of a double edged sword. I am always looking to adapt and improve and I would like to think that I do a more than capable job of singing all of it now.
 

PCLast year, you played a set of Joy Division songs at a Church in Ian Curtis’ home town of Macclesfield, where both Joy Division and New Order were based and practised for many years. What was it like playing those songs in that particular setting and what closure, if any, did it bring you?

PH: It was an absolutely wonderful feeling to take the music home, as it were. After 30 plus years and despite being based in Macc a lot of the time we had never performed there, so it was wonderful to do it and the Barnaby Festival who put the gig on were great with us. The setting of the Church made it even more special, also because Ian had ties to that church and there were lots of people there who knew him. It was great to play there, I think Ian would be very proud that his music is still loved and listened to all around the world but especially proud that it was played in Macclesfield.

 

PCNew Order and Factory Records’ financial follies are well- documented: how do you think New Order, Happy Mondays, Factory et al would have fared in current climate facing the music industry and, particularly, new young bands?

PH: I don’t think it could happen now, I really don’t. The world is a very different to place to the one we knew back then, you simply would not be able to make the same mistakes now that we did then! It was all about circumstance really and at the time the circumstances allowed for us to be able to make mistakes but recover from them, learn from them and go on to make great music. Nowadays I think it would be very different indeed.
 

PCRobert Plant recently slammed a Led Zeppelin reunion tour claiming that in such tours “You’re going back to the same old shit” and asserting that he wasn’t part of a “jukebox”. What were your first thoughts when you decided to go out on the road with The Light to play Joy Division / New Order tunes and do you ever wish you were back in band that created new material?

PH: I get that thrown at me a lot that I don’t make new material any more, but it simply is not true. I am always working on new material with my production partner Phil Murphy in our guise as Man Ray, we do a lot of soundtrack work & some great collaborations. While I also collaborate a lot with other artists, for example on Low Ends by NovaNova which just came out on vinyl as part of this year’s record store day. So it’s wrong to say that I am not making anything new, but yes I am aware that people would like to hear new stuff from me & the lads as The Light and that is something that we are beginning to look into. But I must admit I really enjoy playing the old stuff, I am having more fun with this tour then I have ever had before. The others in New Order would simply not play any of this material, so in a way it all feels like new stuff too even though in some cases they are very old songs.

Peter Hook & the Light will play Live at Leopardstown on Thursday 10th July

Catching Up With…First Fornight’s J.P. Swaine

Tonight, First Fortnight and Bluestack Records launch There Is A Light, a compilation album featuring some of Ireland’s most exciting new acts, at Whelans, in aid of the Green Ribbon campaign, which is raising awareness of mental health issues. First Fortnight co- founder J.P. Swaine talks about growing up in Tallaght, his favorite and much- missed record shop and how looking forward to the next event is one way of winding down.

Image: Facebook

First Fortnight co- founder J.P. Swaine.

 

What’s been the highlight of your year so far?

Has to have been January and the 39 events First Fortnight produced. It has hectic, epic, amazing, exhausting. One moment that particularly stands out for em happened in the Project wathcing the audience reaction to Sorcha Kenny’s play DOLLS. An exquisite mix of wonder and discomfort.

 

When did you first realise you wanted to be involved in the arts / event management?

I didn’t /haven’t realised that; I keep waiting for it to stop!!! I’m driven by acts that lead to social change; I find myself in the arts because of that.


In three words, describe 
There Is A Light

Music for minds.

 

How do you wind down after a gig?

Start organising something else! I don’t know…I tend to operate in alternate cycles to the events themselves, usually by the time it starts my attention is on the next thing. My week has been totallly occupied by stuff thats happening in September, the event this week has to be sorted long before so I suppose im already wound down. I run and play sports is another way of answering also.


In three words, describe the live scene in Ireland.

Low cost excellence.

 

Whose career do you envy and why?

Bob Geldof: he has managed to stay relevant in so many fields for such a long time.


Vinyl or digital downloads?

Digital all the way.

 

What is your favourite record shop anywhere in the world?

The sadly departed Final Vinyl on Camden Street, Dublin 2.

 

Name one rare record you don’t own, but you want more than anything.

To have organised the worlds largest table quiz (I assume this what you meant?!).

 

Name one piece of music memorabilia that you wish you owned.

Gabriels Obo (the actual obo).

 

What is the one thing in your life that you couldn’t go without?

Coffee.

 

Name one record, one book and one film that everyone should hear / read / see.

The Wickerman; The Maribou Stalk Nightmares by Irvine Welsh; Massive Attack’s Blue Lines.

 

Name one overrated TV series and one underrated TV series.

Over rated: The West Wing. Under rated: repeats of The Crystal Maze.

 

Pick the director and lead actor for a biopic about your life.

Christopher Nolan and Channing Tatum (I have some secrets and surprising twists…)

 

Describe the perfect night in.

Watching The Sunday Game after watching Dublin win in Croke Park earlier that day.

 

Describe the perfect night out.

Sunny evening with pints and friends standing outside on Dame Lane.

 

Where did you grow up and what are the best and worst things about that place.

Tallaght. Best thing was friends, family and school. The single worse thing was the lack of a live music venue.

 

What is your biggest fear?

Hurting people I care about.

 

Who is the person in your life without whom your life wouldn’t be the same?

Paddy Swaine.

 

What is the most important lesson life has taught you, so far?

Not to fear death, welcome it with a belly full of experiences.


If you could give one piece of life advice it would be…

Home is the place you rest so you have energy for the wonders that lay outside, not a place to hide from them.

Paul Simon pays tribute to Seamus Heaney in Dublin

The late Seamus Heaney, whose life's work was celebrated, last night, by his devoted readership and by a cast of poets, musicians and friends.

The late Seamus Heaney, whose devoted readership and long list of fellow poets and friends celebrated his life’s work, last night, at Dublin’s National Concert Hall.

LEGENDARY singer- songwriter Paul Simon was among those paying tribute, last night, to the late Nobel Prize- winning poet Seamus Heaney at a celebratory event in Dublin’s National Concert Hall.

Others who paid tribute on the night, which Dublin City Council’s One City, One Book initiative as well as Poetry Ireland supported, included poets Paul Muldoon, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Michael Longley and Colette Bryce as well as musicians Lisa Hannigan, Martin Hayes and Paul Brady.

To read my piece, which the Irish Post commissionedclick here.