Top 5 Matthew McConaughey Performances

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Monday 13th May, 2013. To read the original, please click here.

No longer taking the backseat: In recent years, Matthew McConaughey has proved himself to be one of America’s finest leading men.

IT’S a comeback that none of us saw coming and of which Lazarus would be proud.

With the recent release of Mud, a cinematic slice of timeless, golden Americana from director Jeff Nichols, Matthew McConaughey continues his newly earned reputation as one of the finest and most exciting American actors working in film today.

McConaughey has left his rom- com days as the delectable, though, ultimately, clichéd, prince charming behind him and chosen to play chilling and disturbing characters that would leave any member of his devoted fan base of adorning teenage girls positively squeamish. The square- jawed Texan, who boasts features so chiseled that Michelangelo would throw his hammer and pick down in shame, was previously dubbed “Matthew Mahogany” by noted BBC film critic Mark Kermode in relation to what Kermode saw as McConaughey’s wooden performances in any number of vacuous rom coms. Kermode, however, has since done a U- turn and dubbed now refers to McConaughey as “Matthew McConaissance”.

In recent years, McConaughey has gone Method. Anyone see those pictures of an almost- anorexic McConaughey? The 43-year- old 6ft tall, 13 Stone 7 lbs actor starved himself down to 9 Stone 7lbs to play AIDS sufferer Ron Woodroof in upcoming flick, Dallas Buyers Club, surviving on nothing but a daily diet of diet coca cola, egg whites and a piece of chicken. It may very well prove to the role that earns McConaughey his first Academy Award nomination; he may even walk home with the Oscar for Best Actor. Rumors of McConaughey changing his surname to Day- Lewis are exaggerated.

McConaughey also joined the cast of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which is due in late 2013 / early 2014. The truth is that while some of McConaughey’s previous choices have been pretty damn awful by anyone’s standards, he’s made up for it with his recent turns. Let’s hope for his sakes and ours that it doesn’t go all Nic Cage. For now, here’s a top 5 of his best performances to date. If we’ve left any out, do let us know.

5. Roger Sherman Baldwin – Amistad

Cast as a lawyer (what is with this guy and lawyers? I reckon he wanted to go to law school before making it as an actor), McConaughey’s nuanced turn in Spielberg’s Amistad, a film that received a lukewarm reception on release but is definitely worth re- investigating, is something to behold. Acting alongside a fine cast that included Morgan “the voice” Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Pete Postlethwaite and Stellan Skarsgård, he plays a young property lawyer who works under Theodore Johnson (Freeman) and Lewis Tappan (Skarsgård). Relatively young and inexperienced and the time of filming, he holds is own well and, like Tommy Lee Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, he’s a very effective supporting actor who gains the audiences’ support and sympathy.


4. Mick Haller – The Lincoln Lawyer

Some distance from his turn as a laywer in A Time to Kill, McConaughey’s performance as Mick Haller, a sometime successful, sometime not- so- successful criminal defense lawyer who operates in and around Los Angeles county out of a black Lincoln Town Car. His client (Ryan Philippe) is the subject of what could be a career- defining case. McConaughey’s performance is a perfect example of how he has gone for a less- is- more approach, using his matinee idol looks and charisma to build a character that is flawed and in search of success.


3. Dallas – Magic Mike

An excellent performance that should have resulted in an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. McConaughey’s devilish Dallas, a shrewd, manipulative strip- bar owner is central to the action of the movie and leads him to manipulate and groom the other characters as only a villain can. Tyler Durden, but with less clothes.


2. Mud – Mud

Playing a sweet- talking fugitive on the run after killing the man who beat up the woman he loves (played by Reese Witherspoon), McConaughey’s Mud is a mix between Martin Sheen’s character, Kit, in Badlands and Kevin Costner’s Butch Haynes from A Perfect World. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with two young boys who provide him with food and deliver it to the boat on the Mississippi river, where he’s hiding out in a boat. Armed with only a pistol and a “lucky shirt” which he uses for protection; ironic giving that McConaughey has had trouble keeping his shirt on in previous films- see Matt Damon’s hilarious impression of the Texan actor after the #1 spot.


1. Joe Cooper – Killer Joe

It was a performance that nobody- myself included- thought that McConaughey had in him. Playing the suave, dirty cop who moonlights as a contract killer, McConaughey uses his natural charisma and charm to chilling effect in this darkly comic thriller from William Friedkin, which is sure to gain cult status over the coming years. It may very well be the defining role of his career re- vamp and the yardstick by which all subsequent performances from the Texan may be measured. And the chicken bone scene…the chicken bone scene. Enough to put you off chicken for a month.


And here’s something else you won’t forget: Matt Damon’s now legendary impression of Matthew McConaughey:

The View by Philip Rademeyer, The Teacher’s Club, Dublin, May 13th, 2013

The View from inside: Philip Rademeyer’s The View

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 15th May, 2013. To read the original, please click here. 

Written by: Philip Rademeyer
Directed by: Philip Rademeyer
Cast: Ella Gabriel, Roelof Storm

Part of Dublin’s 10th Annual Gay Theatre Festival, the European premiere of Philip Rademeyer’s The View, which is largely set in confines of a prison cell, found itself the perfect venue in the basement of Parnell Square’s Teacher’s Club.

Told from the perspective of a young, imprisoned, gay man, who sits, center stage, watching a video of messages from those he has known in his life outside the prison walls, the play centers around the young man and yet features many perspectives from a multitude of characters, played with great energy from actress Ella Gabriel. The Cape Town actress plays everyone from the prison’s gatekeeper, to his mother, to a peeping neighbor. Her greatest triumph however, is as a cynical news reporter reporting on the man’s trial and imprisonment; downstage center and stood up on a chair, she immediately brings to mind Tilda Swinton; particularly the Tilda Swinton that we see in Michael Clayton.

The story of the young man’s imprisonment and the nature of his relationship with those characters played by Gabriel, the story is told with great originality and creativity. After playing each part, Gabriel hangs an item of clothing or an accessory from each character, which over the course of the play build up to create a vivid image of the young man’s past of his relationship to the characters played by Gabriel.

What pulls the play back however, is its forays into “In- yer- face” theatre; that now much dated trend from the 1990s that sought to teach us that shouting as loud as one possibly can, howling profanities from across the stage and uttering abstract, idiosyncratic language is theatre at its most vital. It isn’t. The effect, unfortunately, that this has on The View is a play that struggles to keep the dynamics fresh and exciting for the audience and, instead, the play resorts to the cheap hallmarks of “In- yer- face” theatre as a way of keeping the structure of the play interesting and engaging for the audience. The play also struggles, at times with its own limitations and it doesn’t stretch out the possibilities as much as it possibly could; there is, for example, little humor in the play, which if there was more, would play off quite colorfully against the monologue from the imprisoned young man.

The play also isn’t served well by an ending that is as portentous as it is labored; the young man rising out of his chair and assuming a Christ-like pose. The physical dynamics of the central character are not fully explored: at times, he is too still and, again, the limitations of sitting on the chair do more to hinder the production rather than anything else.

Patchy, though boasting a brilliant performance from actress Ella Gabriel and featuring creative and well thought-out lighting, The View, unfortunately, doesn’t look far enough into it’s own possibilities.

The View runs in The Teacher’s Club until the 18th may at 9.30pm. Matinee: 18th May at 4.30pm. Tickets: €10 – €15. For more information go to: www.gaytheatre.ie

For the full International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival programme click here.

Feature: Behind the scenes with The Lion King at The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

Originally published on Entertainment.ie. To read the original, please click here.

I never did do musicals. While I can play any number of songs from many musicals on guitar and piano, I’ve often found musical productions themselves – on film and on stage – to be overblown, mawkish, portentous and, sometimes, pretentious affairs. My tastes across the performing arts have always leaned towards performers and performances that take a “less is more” approach rather than “everything but the kitchen sink”, be it Beckett or Bob Dylan. Similarly, while music remains my first love, I’ve never once wanted song, as a form, to be a vehicle for dramatic narrative. My favorite music – again, on film and on stage – is twisted and bended out of language; give me Mamet Speak over ‘Maria’, give me Pinter’s Pause over ‘The Sound of Music’.

Yet, here I am at a media call for The Lion King, the biggest theatre production ever to come to Ireland. Requiring 23 giant trucks to haul it from Manchester to Dublin, it’s a production on a scale that few venues around the globe can accommodate. Throughout the day, press releases, PR people and, not least, Stephen Crocker – Disney Theatrical’s Director of Marketing and Creative Services – are all giving The Lion King the hard sell to those members of the media assembled atThe Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.

Of course, they don’t need to sell anything. Over the next eight weeks, 85,000 people will flock toThe Bord Gáis Energy Theatre to watch this lavish production, complete with 50 actors, singers and dancers from 17 different countries. Already, 70 million people have watched the show in 15 different countries across 5 continents, since it was first performed on Broadway in 1997. The tour of Ireland and the UK has been four years in the making. Crocker, however, seems unfazed by the enormity of the production. He knew that expectations from audiences outside of Broadway and the West End were high.

“One of the assumptions when we were going on tour was that the show would be somehow shrunken down and not be the London version, or the Broadway version. I think a lot of people assumed that it would be a smaller version of what had gone before, because it’s such a huge production that it didn’t look as if it could be brought on tour without any sort of compromise. But there was never any intention to do that, because Julie Taymor’s vision deserves to be seen in full. Similarly, why does an audience in Dublin deserve to see a lesser version of the show than an audience in New York? It’s crazy. So we had to find a way to bring the full scale of it, because that’s just what the show is.”

The affection for The Lion King is not just held by the tens of millions who have seen the production since 1997, but also by cast members. Actor Stephen Carlile beams when speaking of the effect the show has on audiences. “I love seeing what this show does to people: it really makes people very, very happy”, claims Carlile, who plays Scar, the show’s villain. Described by Carlile as “bonkers…a nasty piece of work”, the actor never felt any creative limitations in building the character. “I can have a lot of fun with the role: anything goes.” Jeremy Irons originally voiced Scar in the 1994 animated movie version of The Lion King. Carlile, however, never once considered aping the distinctive voice given to his character by the Oscar-winning Cork resident. “I never really thought about it. I just played the part as I wanted to in rehearsals. This production is very fresh and we didn’t feel we had to adhere to anything that had been done before.”

The cast also includes South African Nicholas Nkuna, who plays Simba. The seasoned actor, who is the youngest actor ever to perform the role of The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera discusses the difference between those two roles. “Huge difference. The Phantom, though I see him as a good guy, is obviously considered the bad guy. Simba is obviously the king, the good guy. With emotions, it’s so different and it was challenging coming from a very dark character to a very light, though still strong character. He’s a good guy, but he’s lost. He struggles to find his way.”

For Carole Stennett, the Londoner who plays Nala, the biggest challenge was mask work, which is featured heavily in the production. “It was a nice, new element that I had to explore and develop.”

Though all professionals and, clearly, not short of any confidence or self-belief, Gugwana Dlamini, who plays storyteller Rafiki, the “heartbeat” of the show, as she puts it, has at times allowed the weight and the enormity of the production to get to her. As the performer who utters the first notes on stage each night, she does worry, at times, that she may make a hames of it.“Every night, for real, every night. I do get scared every night. Trust me. It’s the first note the audience hears every night. I’m not getting the opening note from the orchestra, so it has to be exact. Energy wise, if I’m flat at the beginning, I’m going to be flat throughout the whole number. So the energy – physically and vocally – has to be there. Meditation helps me. I pray. I pace up and down the corridor, every night, thinking about my notes.”

Watching sections from songs performed during a run-through for the press, it’s hard not to be impressed by the scale of it all. Percussionists are fully set-up in the boxes of the wings of the theatre. The operatic splendor of the costumes and choreography is something that Dublin has possibly never seen quite at this level. And as a city that boasts world-class theatres that stage world- class performances, 52 weeks of the year; that consistently brings through writers, directors and actors, though lacks a Broadway / West End-type hub for musical theatre, it’s feels like a refreshing development for the arts in Ireland.

And while Disney’s The Lion King doesn’t appeal to me now quite as the animated film did in 1994, I can appreciate the production in the context of Paul Simon’s Graceland and that classic 1986 record’s accompanying documentary, last year’s Under African Skies. The songwriting genius behind a countless amount of great songs was one of the first western artists to bring a full, uncompromised vision and representation of African culture – music, particularly – to the west. With his Mali Music project, Blur front man Damon Albarn also immersed himself in the music and culture of the continent, which he further explored on Blur’s 2002 album, Think Tank.

So while I remain a spectator not fully converted to the form, though fully appreciative of the collective effort and co-ordination that goes into an event on such an unparalleled scale, The Lion King’s roar shows no sign of quieting any time soon.

The Lion King will play the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin from: Saturday 27th April – Saturday 22nd June 2013. For more information go to www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie

Lockout by Ann Matthews, The New Theatre, Dublin, April 16th, 2013

Ann Matthews’ Lockout: Now running at The New Theatre from the 15th – 20th April at 7.30pm.

Originally featured on Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 17th April, 2013.

Set during a time when Dublin’s working class were ensnared by chronic poverty, Ann Matthews’ Lockout offers a revisionist perspective on the role of women during the 1913 Dublin Lockout. Like the Abbey Theatre’s 2010 production of John Gabriel Borkman- Frank McGuinness’ version of Ibsen’s play about a corrupt and ruthless banker- Lockout also presents an allegory for events in contemporary Ireland.
Right from the opening, the tone and mood of Lockout is distinctly macabre and elegiac, made all the more so by a melancholic overture, performed live, downstage left, by a violinist. Standing, down centre, by a candle- lit table, we are introduced to Ellen Byrne, played by Alison Fitzpatrick, who is grieving the recent loss of a loved one, whose presence is marked by a coffin that lies, up centre, across a row of chairs.

Monologue- driven, the character of Ellen is the personification of the hearty, inner city Dub and dweller of- in her words- a “respectable tenement”. Writer Ann Matthews understands that in order to have darkness a play must also have light and Ellen’s monologue is peppered with witty turns of phrase (“A penny lookin’ down on two ha’pennys”) that are uniquely Dublinesque. Unfortunately, some- though not all- of these crafty witticisms are lost on an audience that has been strongly impressed by the overpowering atmosphere of grief and mortality that hangs in the air, stifling any comedic possibilities. Soon after, however, the audience moves on from their initial response to the gloomy stage atmosphere and the dimensions to Ellen’s character begin to seem more rounded and defined.

Further putting the social and political strife of the period in context, Liverpool- born James Larkin (Ian Meehan) and Glasgow- born James Connolly (Patrick O’Donnell) stand on stage left and stage right, respectively, at varying times throughout the 50 minute production. The strong accents of both Larkin and Connolly- two thirds of the co- founders of the Labour Party- neutralize the setting, mildly, their forceful rhetoric and leadership working well in contrast with Ellen’s warm, inviting tone. The role of women, however, is still pushed in the monologues of Connolly and Larkin, the latter making direct reference to the efforts of his sister, Delia Larkin.

Both Larkin and Connolly’s legacies are held in almost- unanimous high regard across political divides and, perhaps, by Lockout’s audience members. What, then, can we learn from Lockout about Larkin and Connolly that we don’t already know? The answer is little, frankly, and Matthews, clearly, understands this limitation. Instead, she presents us with two courageous, charismatic leaders whose virtues of character are matched by the unwavering strength of a well- written central character, brought to life by an eqaully nuanced central performance.

In the aftermath of The McAleese Report on The Magdalene Laundries and with growing discontent among disenfranchised Labour Party voters, Lockout is Irish theatre at its most vital.

Playwright: Ann Matthews

Director: Anthony Fox

Cast: Alison Fitzpatrick (Ellen Byrne), Ian Meehan (James Larkin), Patrick O’Donnell (James Connolly)

Lockout runs in The New Theatre from the 15th – 20th April at 7.30pm. tickets: €12 / €15. For more information go to www.thenewtheatre.com

‘Lockout’ is part of Dublin: One City One Book and is presented with the assistance of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature.

Aimee Mann – Live at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, January 31st, 2013

It’s a Mann’s world: Singer- songwriter Aimee Mann

Originally featured in the online edition of the Irish Post.

Clad in chic leather jacket and dark rimmed glasses and swinging her hips down stage right to bassist and collaborator Paul Bryan’s down stage left, Aimee Mann betrays her 52 years. Youthful and sprightly, she appears like a cross between the ethereal, angelic Emmylou Harris and the geeky charm of Elvis Costello; like the former, she posses a strong, commanding voice; like the latter her work, unfortunately, ranges from the remarkable to the forgettable.

In what is a fully seated show, Mann has her loyal and devoted fan base- who have, no doubt, journeyed with Mann through her eight albums of output, including 2012’s patchy release,  Charmer- in the palm of her hand from opener ‘Disappeared’. In what is very much a show of two halves, Mann’s set is divided. The first half draws largely from Charmer and 1995’s I’m With Stupid, including the latter’s ‘You Could Make A Killing’, which Mann has previously claimed was written about her one- time infatuation with Noel Gallagher.

While it’s clearly evident that Mann knows her way with  the fundamentals of Power Pop; that is, 4/4, mid- tempo, major key, blues- pop that owes much to the classic I-IV-V major progression, it all feels slightly samey: the song arrangements are too similar to each other and Mann’s unremarkable tunes bleed into one another. There is also a distinct lack of surprise and both Mann and her band look very much on auto pilot.

True, Mann is a crafty wordsmith, so it’s unfortunate that her literate lyrics, including much of her narrative- driven tunes from her concept album about a journey man boxer, The Forgotten Arm, are drowned out in the mix by two keyboard players, particularly Charmer’s title track, which is laden in Moog synthesizer sounds. Indeed, the selections from Charmer are full of the kind of sneering, self- deprecating cynicism that defined the best songs of Soft Rock and New Wave, but which is distinctly lacking in pop songs today. That said, however, there are sloppy, hackneyed metaphors and clichés abound, such as ‘Labrador’ and the album’s title track. Clearly, quality control is an issue and one gets the feeling that a writer of Mann’s calibre and experience should know better.

All is not lost, however. When Mann’s backing band leave the stage, Mann performs selections from her soundtrack to Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2000 masterpiece, and the soundtrack’s companion album, 2000’s Bachelor No. 2. During the descending G minor / G minor seventh introduction to ‘Save Me’- Mann’s Oscar nominated song and, arguably, her best known song- Mann indulges her audience in a spot of light- hearted jibes aimed at Phil Collins, who beat her to the Oscar. Rivaled only by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Mann makes an excellent raconteur. A craft in itself, Mann’s on- stage banter between songs diffuses the intensity of her tunes, allowing her to present and perform her songs in a way that is inclusive and, above all, entertaining.

Not only is it refreshing at this point of the set that Mann’s lyrics can finally come through in the mix, but the stripped down and sonically arresting arrangements of the Magnolia and  material open up an infinitely more interesting dimension to Mann’s material. Indeed, ‘Wise Up’, a seminal, solo- piano song, which was an integral soundtrack to a defining sequence in P.T. Anderson’s sprawling movie, has Mann’s Dublin audience spellbound and in awe. Finally, the gravitas of Mann’s mature and oaky voice is able to take centre stage.

After what can only be the most resounding round of applause of the night, Mann’s band once again grace the stage for Mann’s cover version of Harry Nilsson’s ‘One’, which features in the opening credits of Magnolia. As the lush harmonies, tremolo- heavy guitar, swelling organ and crashing symbols all work together to build during the song’s chorus, one can’t help but feel that this is the band at their most interesting, exciting, suspenseful and less predictable. It is this kind of sweeping, sonically diverse material that is lacking in Mann’s catalogue.

Gamely taking requests from audience members, Mann’s audience of die- hards call out songs so obscure that Mann no longer knows how to play them. Eventually, Mann settles on ‘Invisible Ink’ from 2002’s Lost in Space. Keeping feel- good vibe of the night alive, she recalls her trip earlier in the day to the statue of Phil Lynott outside Bruxelles on Dublin’s Harry Street before launching into a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Honesty is No Excuse’ with support act Ted Leo playing Eric Bell’s audacious lead guitar parts. Earlier in the night, Leo had provided backing vocals on Charmer’s ‘Living a Lie’, which, on record, features backing vocals by The Shins’ James Mercer.

Closing on a dizzying high with Bachelor No. 2 highlight ‘Deathly’, complete with one of the best opening lines ever written in song (Now that I’ve met you / Would you object to / Never Seeing each other again),  Mann makes up for the lyrical shortcomings of recent material.

Fans may not have long to wait until Mann’s work graces the Grand Canal Theatre again: a stage musical, adapted from her 2005 album The Forgotten Arm and written in collaboration with heavily in- demand Hollywood screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), might be with us soon. And while Charmer may not be enough to win Mann new admirers, the savvy Virginian certainly has the songs and stagecraft to remind those who take her granted of her mercurial talent.