Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dublin Theatre Festival Reviews

Gaiety Theatre
And so the Theatre Festival begins, with the most exotic of shows. Chances are you have never experienced anything like this – 40 traditional musicians all singing and playing the ancient songs of their native India. But it’s not just about the sound, there is much to catch the eye as well. The set, a cylindrical semi-circle, reaches nearly the full height of the Gaiety stage. Four stories high, red velvet cubicle upon red velvet cubicle like some giant kalaidescope, and within each one a unique musician. One by one the curtain of each cubicle is drawn back to reveal some new treasure, cross-legged, be-turbaned and dressed in white, sometimes adding to the ensemble, sometimes performing alone, but always part of something greater. All male, they range in age from the very old to the very young – the latter quite captivating. Clearly the songs, performed with elaborate hand gestures, are telling a story, but there’s no surtitles so read your programme beforehand if you want to know what they’re about, though that’s not really the point. The music comes from the soul, and has a genuine feeling of authenticity – no concessions to the western ear – and the presentation is intrinsically dramatic, though the presence of an almost dancing conductor seemed a bit unnecessary, and his relentless underscoring of the rhythmic sections with the hard sound of kharthals (castanets) became a bit grating. Nonetheless a brilliant glimpse of something totally different.

Oh to be a teenager… The intro to this visceral, multi-award winning Flemish show features a perfect specimen of teenhood, all shiny leggings, denim and bouncy ponytail. With a spot-on mixture of gaucheness, supreme confidence and pity she warns us that watching them will make us feel old (it does) and fill us with envy (it does). Then she and her 12 noisy mates embark on a chaotic routine of crazy horseplay – teen spirit personified – repeated, often to quite hilarious effect, to different soundtracks. So we have the ballet version, the script version, the loved-up, male-only, props-only, stoner, mommy and daddy and finally the side-splitting supersized version. Performed with terrific energy by the edgy young cast, very astute and at times very very funny.

Ionad an Phiarsaigh
This is a great venue for this entertaining promenade show, where the audience follows the action from room to room of an atmospheric Georgian house – there’s even a courtyard and mini theatre out back. Billed as a historical romp, it does exactly what is says on the tin, as the eponymous (and pompous) magistrate Buck Jones pits himself against the heinous bodysnatchers, led by the notorious Larry Clinch. More panto than play, it abounds with double entendres, silly names and sillier disguises. Subplot piles upon subplot, with the busy cast double-jobbing with gusto. Enjoyable, undemanding fare from the pen of Ken Bourke, and tho the links between the scenes could have been stronger and the setting could have been exploited a bit more, the novelty value carries it along.

Gate Theatre
Everyone knows something of the story of The Birds: the strange gathering of large flocks that gradually start turning on people, attacking and ultimately killing them. In Conor McPherson’s version the unthinkable has already happened and we are left with the aftermath, a sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare inhabited by three strangers as the outside world disappears into oblivion. Some opening nighters were complaining about the slow pace and the lack of dramatics, but as someone who has neither seen the Hitchcock movie nor read the Daphne du Maurier story, I was fascinated by the whole thing. Instead of milking this fantastical premise for all its melodramatic possibilities, the playwright has chosen to largely forgo the fireworks and the histrionics and focus instead on what becomes of us when the extraordinary becomes the norm, how people thrown together in a desperate bid for survival become a sort of surrogate family, and how tensions and jealousies still seep through. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of high drama – there are, particularly in the second act – and even some light relief, but the overall feeling is one of mood and atmosphere and the dark inner workings of the soul. The lighting is murky and the fluttering soundscape is menacing and oppressive and at times quite scary. With actors of the calibre of Sinead Cusack and Ciaran Hinds, expectations are bound to be high, but the performances are so fine that the next day I found myself thinking about these characters as though I actually knew them.

There’s a Hansel and Gretel for kids at The Ark; Pan Pan’s The Crumb Trail is the adult version. It’s already played to rave reviews in New York and Dusseldorf, and we’re treated to excerpts of said reviews before the cast introduce themselves – no illusions there, then, as we are led into the dark heart of the Brothers Grimm. Post-modern and deconstruction are words that have become increasingly clich├ęd, but they’re hard to avoid around Pan Pan, as this fairytale of abandonment is cracked open to reveal an even murkier agenda, interspersed with moments of utter frivolity. Snatches of Hamlet and a particularly queasy dose of skype sex vie with mad dancing, discourses on intelligent tights or the notion of transforming a discarded womb into a dreamcatcher. A clever mix of hi-tech and lo-tech combines live music with the shadow-like filmed version, You Tube out-takes and video, while old-fashioned overhead projectors, framed by dried grass or bits of coloured paper, provide a very effective lighting design.

This could almost be seen as a companion piece to Enda Walsh’s other play for Druid, The Walworth Farce: the intense claustrophobia, the incessant acting out of old history, a family locked in time, an outsider providing just the briefest possibility of change. But where The Walworth Farce was largely male, all vengeful anger and dirty chaos, this is female territory, all sponge cakes, pink shoes and backstabbing jealousy. And where The Walworth Farce was set in a dingy flat where the outside never seeped in, here a little fishing town exists beyond the sittingroom, where Ada heads off to her job in the cannery each day, Patsy the fishman stops compulsively at the front door with his box of fish and his garbled tidings, and the narrow streets with the houses leaning in on you become part of the collective imagery. But the rituals follow the same ordered precision, in this case the events of that fateful night some 40 years ago at the New Electric Ballroom, mecca for dreams and despair, and haunt of the Roller Royle with his gravity-defying quiff and the loaded promise of ‘you meet me after’. Donning the gaudy costumes of their long-lost youth, Breda and Clara relive their stories turn by turn, word for word, with their younger sister Ada torn between orchestrating and escaping.
Brilliant writing as always from Walsh, capturing the rhythms and poetics and dark humour of a strangely recognisable hyper-reality, and terrific acting, particularly from Rosaleen Linehan as the elderly Breda, who conveys all the yearnings and arrogance and sexual longings of a hot-blooded teenager with a simple shrug of the shoulder or curl of the lip.

Samuel Beckett Theatre
This is a strange kettle of fish. Another slice of eastern promise, it couldn’t be more different from The Manganiyar Seduction. Billed as documentary theatre, the emphasis is very much on the documentary side – which might work fine on the telly but makes for quite a dry piece of theatre. It is interesting though; the performers are part of the large community of Cairo Muezzins, who lead the Muslim call to prayer throughout the many mosques, and whose presence is regarded as one of the defining elements of the city. They’re under the spotlight because the government wants to streamline their activities, replacing the thousands of very individual voices with just 30 chosen Muezzins, whose sung prayers will be delivered by simultaneous broadcast – changing an entire way of life in one fell swoop. The three performers, one of whom is blind, tell us something of their history and take us through their daily rountine, while jumbled images of the city play on video screens behind them. The most affecting moments are when they sing the prayers, their voices fluctuating and diverging. And the most telling moments are the cultural differences – no women to be seen, and everything officially overseen by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Abbey Theatre
Sebastian Barry’s new play certainly looks pretty and sounds lovely, but apart from that there’s not too much going on. We’re greeted by an unseasonal sweep of daffodils, and then the curtain rises to reveal – more daffodils. In fact, so many that there’s not much space left for performing. That’s part of the problem, in a play that hovers between ghostly apparitions and the clouded reality of some lost corner of south Wicklow, forever caught in some kind of time warp. At the centre is Nicholas, a lonely Protestant bachelor farmer – we know he’s Protestant because he gives out about Catholics – whose innocent relationship with young neighbour Evans is thrown into question when Evans is found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The opening scene, where Nicholas and Evans chat around the kitchen table, Nicholas giving advice and telling stories, is full of promise, but what then evolves is just too unlikely to be in any way convincing. Through a series of short scenes we meet some of the other characters in Nicholas’s life – his sister Tania, Evans’ father Andrew, but it’s as if they just don’t make a connection (with each other or with the audience) in any meaningful way. Some of the dialogue is quite beautiful, poetic and evocative, but it’s more like speeches than conversation, and the language is definitely from another era. In fact everything about the play feels old-fashioned, including the directing. In spite of valiant efforts from Stephen Rea as Nicholas and Aaron Monaghan as Evans, the best thing about this production – possibly because he has the best lines – is Liam Carney’s Andrew, a late addition to the cast.

There’s terrific attention to detail in this latest show from The Corn Exchange. Taking a step back from the noisy boisterousness of their trademark commedia style, Freefall is a thoughtful, funny and moving piece of theatre which sees a middle aged man struggling to make sense of his disintegrating life through the fog of memory and an imperfectly working brain. It’s the morning after the night before, with a vengeance – his marriage has just ended, his body has given up on him, and we view his imploding situation through the bewildered eyes of someone who can no longer communicate with the outside world. The narrow focus of a tiny video camera cleverly recreates his new reality, while scenes from his past, both recent and long gone, show the shaping of his life. The very effective use of simple props – plastic curtains and hospital trolleys – and sound effects performed live by the cast, even down to the warbled whistling of a mobile phone, gives the show an added dimension, but there’s definitely room for cutting some of the more superfluous scenes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Culture Night

Fancy a slice of culture but you haven’t got the cash? Check out Culture Night next Friday (25 Sept) when you can stay out late, travel around the city on special buses and get all the culture that you want – and it’s all free. Co-ordinated by Temple Bar Cultural Trust, this year over 120 cultural venues are opening their doors to one and all, some until midnight, with dollops of visual art, architecture, dancing, family activities, music, poetry, street performance, painting, talks, walks, theatre and traditional culture.

To make things more accessible, the city has been divided into various quarters. Highlights of the Heuston/Museum Quarter include the Guinness Storehouse, the James Joyce House of The Dead and the National Museum at Collins Barracks, where the Dead Zoo will come to life. Lots of galleries in the Historic Quarter are open til midnight and there’s a fair bit of music as well, notably in Christ Church and St Patrick’s Cathedrals, with sound installations and performances at the Contemporary Music Centre. At Dublin Castle you can visit the exotic Chester Beatty Library and be intrigued by the Revenue Museum and Garda Museum (did you even know they existed?).

Oxfam Books, Connolly Books and the Winding Stair (Temple Bar & North of Liffey area) have music and readings, there’s animation workshops in Filmbase, drama workshops in the Gaiety School of Acting, and Seamus Nolan is in Project with his Corrib Gas exhibition. And there’s some great stuff happening in Meeting House Square, including a screening of This Other Eden (1958), a midnight Voyage to the Stars featuring images from the Hubble Space Telescope, and a short CoisCeim-led dance show Night of the Living Debs.

There’s more music in the North Georgian Quarter – you can hear some of Ireland’s leading pipers in Na Piobairi Uilleann; a sprinkling of Joyce and John McCormack at the Teachers Club (they both took singing lessons there); choral music in the Pro-Cathedral; a preview of the Hugh Lane Gallery’s Sunday concerts; Conor McPherson at the Gate; readings at the Irish Writers Centre and Dublin Writers Museum; and free postage at the GPO. In the Trinity College/Docklands area there’s a chance for free tickets for Enda Walsh's play at the Peacock – available from 10.30am. In Trinity you can see Ireland’s Last Great Auk at the Zoological Museum and the Book of Kells in the Library. The Bubbles exhibition is in the Science Gallery, there’s experimental music videos in the Instituto Cervantes and you can hear everything from Bach to the Beatles at the RIAM.

Finally, in the South Georgian Quarter you can take part in an instant orchestra at the NCH, and you can also get free tickets to two RTE concerts ( Cor na nOg are at the National Gallery, there’s an open-mic session at Poetry Ireland, Sean McSweeney at the Taylor Galleries, Yeats at the National Library, wine-tasting at the Alliance Francaise and an Antiques Roadshow for Books at the RDS. And as if that wasn’t enough Astronomy Ireland are in Phoenix Park, there’s a Giant Whale and a Climbing Wall in Wolfe Tone Park, and 3epkano accompany a live screening of Nosferatu in Dartmouth Square.

Pick up a brochure@ Temple Bar Info Centre or find out more@

Saturday, September 19, 2009

New Music

New music from the Irish Composers Collective at the NCH on Tue 22 Sept. David Bremner on piano and electronics and Maeve O’Hara on percussion play music by Michael Gallen, Natasa Paterson, Laura Kilty, Ian McDonnell, Louise Harte, Amanda Feery, Shane McKenna and the world premiere of D E McCarthy’s Electronics Sonata. And on Wed 23 Ergodos present the well-known duo of Maya Homburger on baroque violin and Barry Guy on double bass at St Audoen’s Church, playing music by Bach, Biber, Guy, Simon O’Connor, Garret Sholdice and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fringe Reviews

One Penny Operas
6 dancers and a one man band – double bass, guitar, electronics, saws and bowls of various sizes – get together for this playful piece of dance improv. At first there’s a lot of walking about but when the performers find their feet, so to speak, what evolves is an engaging 30 minutes of individual and interactive dance coupled with some very interesting sounds. The location, on the top floor of DanceHouse with its big walls of glass high above the trees, gives it an exotic feel. What a great way to spend your lunch hour. The show alas is finished, but DanceHouse is worth a visit any time.

Power Point (Camden Court Hotel)
Name-tagged and system dairy in hand, you find yourself in an anonymous boardroom, waiting for who knows what. Mary Point, overweight and sweaty in her ill-fitting suit, introduces her heroes; the evangelical Jack and Jill Power descend on you like locusts and WHAM - there you are, in corporate motivational hell. Cliches have never sounded so scary nor exhortations so empty – Hands Up! they yell as they bombard you with questions, twisting metaphors and logic as they go. But then the cracks appear and their perfectly coiffed surfaces begin to implode, with Mary like a little piggy in the middle, torn between adoration and terror. This is fast and furious stuff, very funny and cleverly written, though it does meander a bit when the long lost son turns up. There’s a nice touch of humanity at the end.

A Useful Play (Project)
Conceived as a working model for a film he might make, Gerardo Naumann’s play is like a prolonged rehearsal, with all the minutia involved in such a project – shooting the lead parts from different angles, using printed t-shirts or slices of (increasingly burnt) toast as storyboards and generally employing the cast of nearly 20 extras as props. Based on an unknown woman’s discarded diary, the story itself is mildly interesting but what tends to hold the attention is the way the extras reveal something of their personalities in the process. Punctuated by occasional live shots from the street, it’s quite clever and at times quite funny, but it’s also a tad self-indulgent and in the end it doesn’t add up to very much. Naumann himself wonders whether it should have in fact been called A Useless Play – draw your own conclusions.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's the Fringe

Can’t make the Picnic? Pick a Fringe show instead. There’s lots of free stuff, like French choreographer David Rolland’s The Readers at St Patricks Park on Sat 12; Jago Ni Murchu’s Meadow beside City Hall this Sunday; Bedrock’s Garage in Arnott’s window; the Monumental Gathering in Smithfield on Sun 19; the ever resourceful Whiplash with Spartacus: To Hell and Back at the Civic Offices on Sun 13; and the Gorilla Chorus popping up where you least expect them.

Taking a stroll through the Fringe programme, the new satirical show from the excellent Volta, All of Human Life is Here could well be referring to what’s on offer. Die Roten Punkte showcase their lipstick-smeared sonic collisions; The Lost Pirates seduce with their campaign of musical debauchery; and Nico Muhly bedazzles with his eclectic creativity. Waterworn invites you to step onboard a barge; Wondermart gets you stepping out in a supermarket; Basin brings you the hidden mysteries of the Blessington Street Basin; One Penny Operas give you instant dance composition from the likes of former Fringe director Wolfgang Hoffman, while other dance includes an Aerowaves double bill with shows from Germany and Belgium. Cirque de Legume conjure up the excitement, danger and sensuality of cast-off vegetables; The Blanch brings you the contemporary shopping experience in all its gory glory, and in complete contrast, Beckett’s Act Without Words II takes to the streets, directed by Sarah Jane Scaife and designed by Aedin Cosgrove.

Chilean director Jose Miguel Jiminez attempts to rewrite history in Who is Fergus Kilpatrick? and, in one of the main international contributions, Argentinean director and filmmaker Gerardo Naumann experiments with his new film on stage in A Useful Play. The Angry School lets you get angry; The Enemies explores Jorge Luis Borges’ sublime short story ‘The Secret Miracle’; and cultural paranoia is alive and well in the provocative juxtapositions of Terror of Living. Shows from a trio of Fringe regulars include Power Point, the Performance Corporation’s stylish take on corporate deviousness; Loose Canon’s Anatomy of a Seagull, dissecting the cruel essence of Chekhov; and Semper Fi’s site-specific Black Bessie, exploring the rituals of a homeless woman.