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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 5, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

    Dublin Theatre Festival – Phaedra and Polish family values

    Laurence Mackin

    After the rough and tumble of the Fringe, it’s something of a shock to roll straight into the Dublin Theatre Festival (DTF), and there is little doubting the difference between the two. Whereas the Fringe is a whirlwind of shows, plucking your sleeve for attention, and half the time you could be forgiven for not being sure what you are going to see, the DTF is that bit more composed and confident. There are less shows, the sense of chaos is a little less potent, and the reviews are longer, which makes our lives a bit easier.

    I was very much aware of this when I went to see Phaedra. This is a production that has set its bar high: the cast is quality, a mix of familiar faces and Rough Magic debutantes; the lighting and staging are superb, all ghostly, haunting colours and bursts of colour; and the music is woven into the text with some impressive flair. The whole show spoke of ambition and adventure, and it was thrilling to watch.
    In this paper, Peter Crawley applauded the acid humour of this new version, by Hilary Fannin and Ellen Cranitch. “This may be the first adaptation of Phaedra to open with an involved discourse on cosmetic surgery for sex organs,” he opined, tongue firmly in cheek. He applauded the “ often-scabrous text, lapping at the action with dark wit and elemental imagery”, but felt that at times it undercut the tragedy of the characters.

    I felt the show thundered from the off, with brilliant set pieces and some excellent performances. Catherine Walker is almost ravenous in her desire in the lead role, and Sarah Greene as Ismene threatens to steal the show – she gets all the best lines, and delivers them with perfect comic timing, making it all seem easy, which it most definitely isn’t. However, many of the characters earn little or no sympathy from the audience, and when they are left in the final scenes, stumbling amid their misery, there is little reason to feel sorry for them, and the finale is robbed of the huge energy it has fought so hard to build up. This though is an excellent play, and certain to be a highlight of the festival.

    You can read Peter Crawley’s review in full here, and Sinead Fitzpatrick and myself discussing it on RTE’s Arena show here. And when you’ve decided that we’re all talking nonsense, you can let us know why in the comments section below.

    Peter Crawley also made it along to T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T., part of the Polish strand at this year’s festival. Polish theatre is one of the most inventive theatrical traditions in Europe, and writer/director Grzegorz Jarzyna is one of its leading lights. This production is an adaptation of a Pier Paulo Pasolini film from 1968, in which a guest arrives in a stately family home and “proceeds to seduce each family member in turn – maid, brother, mother, sister and father – converting everyone to new beliefs, like a sexualised Christ”.

    Crawley reckons this production “retains the spirit of the 1960s counter-culture: the implausibly hollow bourgeoisie; a faith in mind-expanding libertinism; and a puckish messenger figure who seems to know the real deal, daddio. But it presents them with such bold, precise theatricality and nerveless performances, that the gestures become more potently symbolic.”

    A potent, visceral mix then, that is representing its home country’s theatrical traditions with style and energy.

    Tonight sees the opening of Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie in the Gaiety, hot on the heels of the excellent Plough and the Stars production that has been bringing a smile to the Abbey box-office manager’s face throughout the summer. This particular Tassie is from Druid, and has been touring the country before arriving in the capital. You can read the Irish Times review of its opening night in Galway at the end of August here. I think we’re in for a treat.

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