Danse, Morob – Review

Project Arts Centre

17/1/17

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

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The daughter of Morob is trying to find him. Upon learning that his body is missing from its grave, she sets out with her pack of dogs to find the Long Kesh ex-political prisoner.  However, it soon transpires that this magic-realist play is about much more than just the recovery of the corpse, it is about a woman coming to an understanding of the death of her father and finding Morob, the person rather than Morob, the corpse.

The piece opens with a strong physical segment, moving quickly from the slow pre-set movement around the set and building to an intense combat between performers in which words and movement clash with breathtaking results. However, this level of interplay between text and physicality is not sustained and such choreography is used less as the text takes over.  This detracts somewhat from the energy and power of the piece, as lengthy monologues lose themselves at points and go for more where less may have been more effective. The repeated motifs in the text, a technique that one would recognise from other Emergency Room works such as riverrrun, do not carry the text forward in the way one might expect, instead slowing the pacing and giving the text a static quality at times. Even though the lead role is powerfully performed by Olwen Fouéré, whose voice could command the attention of a theatre even if she was only reading a shopping list or telephone directory, the text seems to weigh the performance down.

Despite this, there were many interesting questions raised alongside the central father/daughter story. There were questions of connection and communication brought to the fore in interactions between the characters during the seated monologues, and in the sense of self interrogation in many of Fouéré’s pieces. This also leads to contemplation of questions of identity – to what extent is the lead character defined in relationship to Morob? How much does she define herself along that plane? This is developed as the narration moves from first person to second and third. The detachment of the use of the third person towards the end conveys a strong message about Fouéré’s character’s identity as the Daughter of Morob.

The daughter of Morob appears to be a prisoner herself (though why or to whom we cannot be sure), and this is conveyed effectively through Molly O’Cathain’s costumes which are created with an excellently balanced colour-palette that compliments and is complimented by Sinéad Wallace’s striking lighting design. Wallace’s design subtly suggests the opposition between the clear-cut lines of the place versus the hazy or murky internal experience of Fouéré’s character. José Miguel Jimenez and Luca Truffarelli’s AV elements create intense experiences of the search for Morob, but the fact that they are projected behind the characters and, along with Wallace’s lighting design, disrupts the sense of space and gives the audience the impression that they are experiencing the internal world of Fouéré’s character. One gets the impression that the daughter’s search for Morob may actually have taken place in one room, in one space.  It is, as mentioned before, not just a physical search, but journey to finding an understanding of Morob and his death.

Danse, Morob is a visually stunning production that is hindered by a stilted text.

Danse, Morob runs at Project Arts Centre until January 28th 2017.

 

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Butterflies and Bones – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Butterflies and Bones

Project Arts Centre, Dublin

20/10/16

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In recent months, Irish stages have been awash with productions exploring 1916 and where we stand on the events of that year now, in 2016, a hundred years later. There have been productions about the Easter Rising, productions about the creation of the state we live in now, and productions about Roger Casement. As one might imagine, after nine months of this, the theme is getting worn and fewer avenues are left to be discovered. However, Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project, created by Fearghus Ó Conchúir as part of Project Arts Centre’s 50th anniversary programme, puts paid to any such ideas of staleness. An electric and insightful work, Butterflies and Bones conveys the human behind the history with skill and passion.

Roger Casement (formerly Sir Roger Casement; he was stripped of his title before his execution for his involvement in Irish revolutionary activity, including the 1916 Rising) was a British peer, and Irish nationalist figure and all-round enigmatic historical figure. However, alongside his political life, there is his personal life. As a gay man in early 20th century Ireland, Casement had a carefully hidden portion of himself that was only later discovered in a number of diaries. Butterflies and Bones effectively reminds the audience of this; that Casement was not just a political or revolutionary figure, but a person too.

Ó Conchúir’s choreography (created in conjunction with the performers) is evocative and intense, conveying the formal public Roger Casement, and the raw, open private Casement. Introducing strong elements of each performer’s personal dance style into the performance, and then creating segments in which they adopt each others’ movements, the choreography creates a strong ensemble that portrays Roger Casement as a multi-faceted character. One of the most powerful elements of this, when combined with Alma Kelliher’s expressive sound design, comes through in the undercurrent of fear and threat portrayed almost throughout the performance. Even in moments of heady ecstasy, there is a threat lingering in the atmosphere, whether of being discovered in his republican activities or in his personal life.

Working with dance styles reminiscent of those such as Lucinda Childs’ 1970s/1980s postmodern choreography, The Casement Project takes the theme of 1916/2016 far from any danger of nostalgia or stasis and injects it with a revolutionary quality of its own. As it breaks down, reforms and plays with a tower of speakers and two large metallic cloths (the only props), this production breaks down and represents a well known historical figure in a new and insightful light. Complimenting this performance and direction style, Ciaran O’Melia’s skilful design, both in terms of lighting and set, takes the piece far from the reach of realism and into an exciting, open and productive space.

Butterflies and Bones: The Casement Project takes a well-worn topic and re-invigorates it in innovative and engaging ways. With a wealth of dramatic, political and social history to absorb and re-invent with ingenuity and fervour, this production takes a truly new approach to the story of Roger Casement and 1916.

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Glowworm – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Project Arts Centre

Tiger Dublin Fringe

11/09/16

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Zelle De Brulle is different, she knows that, and for the most part she is happy as she is. She contentedly catches and studies her insects, follows in the footsteps of her eccentric uncle William Charles Bugboy De Brulle, and is rarely ever noticed by her Oxborough schoolmates. However one evening, upon catching a glow-worm in the Oxborough gardens, Zelle is reminded of part herself that she had forgotten or pushed away and a new realm of discovery is opened to her.

In the charming setting of William Charles Bugboy De Brulle’s laboratory (brilliantly created under production designer Hannah Bowe) the three actors, Julie Maguire, Conor O’Riordan and Maria Guliver, adeptly bring a host of vibrant characters to life as they try to understand why Zelle does not put the Glowworm in “the killing jar” and pin it to her corkboard like all of her other specimens. As they do so, the audience is guided through Zelle’s experiences of growing up in a reserved Victorian household, her friendship with her uncle, her solitary schooldays, a bizarre encounter in an elderflower thicket, and the other joys and difficulties she found in growing up.

Through a miscellany of music, puppetry and storytelling, this delightful piece is perfectly paced and well-rounded. Kellegher’s sharp, insightful direction provides a balance between sweetness and satire that places this as a family show, neither just for adults, nor just for children.  Also deserving of praise is Dylan Tonge Jones’ composition and sound design, which he performs live during the show. It is not just music, it is a whole layer to the story-telling with every quick musical reaction conveying as much information and emotion as a whole other character could.

Glowworm is a charming, multi-faceted production that blends insightful storytelling with beautiful design to create a true theatrical delight.

Glowworm runs in Project Arts Centre until September 17th.

Northern Star – Review

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Rough Magic

Project Arts Centre

27/04/16

“We botched the birth,” says Henry Joy McCracken, speaking of his and his fellow “Mudlers’” attempt to bring their idea of Irish independence to fruition. The same phrase could be applied to describe Stewart Parker’s Northern Star. Rough Magic’s production is a good production grappling with an unwieldy play.

Northern Star tells the story of the seven ages of Henry Joy McCracken, as he reflects on the past seven years while hiding in a safe house with his partner and child on the run from the Yeomanry. Parker writes each age of McCracken in the style of a different writer, working his way through the Irish canon from Sheridan to Beckett. This ode to the canon, and examination of the theatricality of the rebellion and representations of it, seems a clever device. However, the changes between the writing styles, and the emphasis put on them means that the plot is often smothered in Wildean foppery or Beckettian linguistic play and patter. This issue is compounded by a lack of finesse in reproduction of many of the writers’ styles, leaving the watcher with a sense of having seen an empty, superficial imitation. While the performers and audience are caught up in this romp through the many styles of the Irish canon, it seems that the plot sometimes puts its feet up and dozes off.

This production does, however, deal well with the script. The suggested doubling of characters is well executed, with the changes to the actor playing McCracken in each age effective in allowing the “main” McCracken (played by Paul Mallon) to observe and reflect on the memories, as well as keeping a freshness in each segment. The performances were, on the whole, impressive, with Charlotte McCurry and Ali White delivering particularly good turns as Mary Bodle and Mary-Ann McCracken. Zia Holly’s set, based in the wings of a theatre, was cleverly conceived to compliment the conscious theatricality of Parker’s writing. This did, however mean that it did, at times, fall into the same trap as Parker’s writing in that it distracted overly from the plot and action. The solemn tenderness of Mary Bodle singing a heartbreaking song about McCracken to their son is somewhat distracted from by a large plush shark sitting just behind McCurry.

Northern Star is a play which tells a compelling story, and which employs and explores interesting theatrical styles and devices. Both are positive features, but unfortunately in this situation neither compliments the other, leaving both falling short.  Though Rough Magic bring high quality performances and design to the production, they still fail to provide the clarity this play needs.

Northern Star runs at Project Arts Centre until 7th May before touring.

Review – Luck Just Kissed You Hello

Dublin Theatre Festival

Project Arts Centre

02/10/15

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Big Ted is dying and Sullivan, Gary and Mark have come together to make final arrangements and farewells, but despite the constant beeping of hospital equipment in the background, this piece quickly reveals itself to be about much more than just the difficulties of composing a eulogy and making practical arrangements. Sullivan sees Ted as a father figure though he isn’t his biological son, Gary and Mark are estranged from Ted, their father, Gary is gay, Mark’s birth name was Laura; in short, there is a simmering tumult that the death of Ted is bringing to a head.

This tumult shines through in Conroy’s writing, with sharply insightful, carefully crafted dialogue running throughout the piece. This is punctuated with stirring and unsettling scenes of reminiscence that consume the stage and audience and envelop them in a chilling wave of memory and mis-memory. However, watching this piece I found there to be an imbalance of focus in the script between the characters. The writing (and partly direction) of the hierarchy of characters in this piece created too great of a division between the character of Mark (Amy Conroy) and those of Gary and Sullivan. Had the focus been somewhat more balanced, rather than being so strongly centred on Mark, each character, Mark included, could have brought more strength to the story.

In terms of design this performance was very impressive, with John Crudden’s lighting design deserving of particular mention. Aedín Cosgrove’s minimal set provided the perfect blank canvas for Crudden’s dynamic and evocative design.

Moving beyond the execution of this piece, Conroy’s treatment of the subject must be commended. Similarly to some of her other work, Luck Just Kissed You Hello brings subjects often swept under the carpet to the fore through a recognisable story or setting. In blending the story of the family and Big Ted with Mark’s experience of transition, Conroy makes both stories accessible and engaging.

With its blend of comedy, insight and harrowing truths, Luck Just Kissed You Hello is an exploration of family relationships, acceptance and identity that entertains and informs in equal measure.

Review – I Heart Alice Heart I

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Project Arts Centre

18/3/15

Photo by Emma Burke Kennedy

Photo by Emma Burke Kennedy

       In going to see HotForTheatre’s production of “I Heart Alice Heart I,” the audience are not told a story, they do not simply watch a show; they are invited into the lives of Alice Slattery (Clare Barrett) and Alice Kinsella (Amy Conroy). From the moment Barrett and Conroy step nervously onto the stage, tugging anxiously at cardigan pockets, wringing their hands and breathlessly telling themselves and each other what to do; they bring us into the welcoming, moving and very real world of the two Alices. Presenting a fictional story in a documentary theatre style, Conroy conveys the tale of these two women’s lives, and on a broader scale, elements of the lives of many people around the world with a beautiful honesty and openness.

        This show was a simply told, stunningly moving piece of theatre. As Barrett and Conroy bounced the story back and forth between them, taking it in turns to tell the audience part of their tale or comment on what the other said, they created a perfectly paced and balanced mix of humour and seriousness throughout. Even as they said comic lines and pointed out each others’ amusing flaws, the audience never laughed at the characters, always with them. From their nervousness and the heart-warming story they told, came a sense of not only them supporting each other, but of everyone in the auditorium, both on and offstage alike, bolstering and supporting each other.

       Helping bring Conroy’s excellent writing and her and Barrett’s superb performances to life was the detailed and interesting design of the stage, with the whole play mapped out within the set through posters, charts, post-its and postcards. John Crudden’s lighting design and Ciaran Omelia’s set complimented the scripting and performances, capturing the feeling behind the piece, the setting of the story, and the audience’s imaginations perfectly.

       Finally, at the end of the show there was a “Call to Conscience,” where a number of well-known Irish citizens give a small talk on the subject of the upcoming marriage referendum. At last night’s performance the speaker was Ailbhe Smyth, feminist and lesbian activist, who gave an insightful and interesting discussion of the upcoming referendum and a call for people to vote. This addition to the show, reminiscent of the Abbey Theatre’s Noble Call after performances of The Risen People last year, bridges the gap between the stage and the lives of the audiences, and brings the message of this fictional story firmly into the reality that informed it.

       In short, this is a heart-warming love story which, through sparkling comedy, emotive storytelling, and touching honesty, brings a powerful message to the audience and teaches about love, life and equality.

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“Riverrun”- Review

Project Arts Centre

29/1/15

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I surprised myself by loving Olwen Fouéré’s Riverrun; had someone described the piece to me I would have been sceptical. A flowing stream of interlinking sense and senselessness, the script and Fouéré’s delivery of it was both natural, distinctly unsettling and peculiar. The simple set, with white powder or sand scattered along a curved path echoing the banks of a river, and the incorporation of the microphone, stand and lead into this created a simple yet atmospheric image that complimented but never distracted from the raw beauty of Fouéré’s words and performance.

This piece surrounds the senses, with the words filtering through the consciousness swimming between brief moments of clarity and of dancing, flowing confusion, the underlying sounds of the river and the simple yet powerful lighting complimenting the tone of the script. Riverrun is a captivatingly beautiful and intriguing piece that interests and delights throughout.