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  • Irish Times Theatre Awards Part Deux (et Trois, et Quatre, etc)

    March 3, 2009 @ 1:10 pm | by Fiona McCann

    I am too tired to post having spent all of yesterday writing this and this, oh and this. That’s it for the Theatre Awards for another year at least, which usually serves as a reminder (to me at least) not to miss all the good stuff this year. Recommendations for plays to watch out for in 2009 will be gratefully received.

  • Irish Times Theatre Awards

    March 2, 2009 @ 10:28 am | by Fiona McCann

    Back in the Burlo after a sojourn in Santry, the Irish Times Theatre Awards had it all last night: liquor,  Lanvin and lots of luvvies. For a full list of winners, see here.

  • Bearing Words: The National Theatre talks

    February 19, 2009 @ 1:12 pm | by Fiona McCann

    The Abbey Theatre has announced a new series of free talks “designed to challenge and respond to the work on stage,” entitled Bearing Words. The first event, ‘The Eye of a Dream’: Dr Melissa Sihra considers the work of Marina Carr, takes place next Thursday (26th) from 6 p.m. to 6.45. This is followed by a talk by the Abbey’s New Playwrights Programme Manager Christine Madden on the Power of the Written Word on March 5th, and a panel discussion with the Abbey’s Literary Director Aideen Howard, theatre director Selina Cartmell, writer and director of the Irish Playography Project Caroline Williams and Chair in Drama at Queens University, Belfast Anna McMullan on the question ‘Where are Ireland’s women playwrights?’ While admission is free – FREE! – booking is essential so skip on over to www.abbeytheatre.ie and snap up a seat. As long as it’s not mine.

  • The Death of Harry Leon

    February 3, 2009 @ 11:17 am | by Fiona McCann

    There was something particularly special about last night’s performance of The Death of Harry Leon to a dozen or so die-hard luvvies who braved the dire weather forecasts to witness something new in Irish theatre. Against an expertly understated stage design by Liam Doona, a strong cast played out the story of Harry Leon, a Dublin poet for whom a self-identification as Irish comes easier than absorbing his Jewish heritage. Conall Quinn rewrites Irish history in this beautifully nuanced work, with Portobello becoming a Jewish ghetto as the Blueshirts take over and friendly neutrality is abandoned for fascism. This is gripping, well-executed theatre that explores themes of belonging, memory and heritage without heavy-handedness, in a way that feels timely and relevant. We walked out into a snowy landscape and trudged home through the slush with whirring heads and a sense of excitement about the arts in Ireland where small venues with small audiences can still produce big, important work. For Peter Crawley’s review of the same play, click here. If you haven’t been, go see it. If you have, well, what did you think?  

  • Reviews: Lay Me Down Softly – Peacock Theatre, Dublin

    November 21, 2008 @ 9:22 am | by Fiona McCann

    In the way of most boxing stories, Billy Roche’s new play features strutting contenders, washed-up coaches and injured kids with something to prove. Set in the early 1960s, but located less specifically “somewhere in Ireland”, it retains Roche’s warm, gently forlorn depictions of small-town lovers, dreamers and losers, but loosens his usually rooted sense of place and sets the characters adrift as members of a travelling roadshow. (more…)

  • Reviews: The Dresser – Everyman Palace, Cork

    November 14, 2008 @ 3:45 pm | by Fiona McCann

    There are two enormous and intertwined conflicts in Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser . The second World War is the almost overwhelming background to the battle being waged within and about Sir, an ageing actor- manager discovering that, while the show must go on, he doesn’t understand any longer why he has to be the one to keep it going. Or so he says, and perhaps so he believes.Máirin Prendergast’s direction for Skylight Productions strongly establishes the play’s context, like a globe in which the two chief characters, Sir, and his dresser, Norman, are captured in a blizzard of air raids.

    They are preparing for a performance of King Lear by Sir’s tired and understaffed company on a provincial tour, with England itself storm-beaten, anguished, frightened and confused. This is exactly how Sir feels, and it is from a state of explosive despair that Norman must rescue him, making sure he is costumed for the right play and reminding him, once again, of his opening phrases.

    The fact that these two leading roles have all the best lines doesn’t diminish the quality of the playing from the rest of a very competent cast, not least Martina Carroll as Her Ladyship (these are spurious titles, achieved through the nobility of make-believe). But the fact that these two parts interlock as the fulcrum of the play, carrying its defiant message of Lear-like constancy and bewilderment, brings them, and all about them, into the brightest spotlight.

    Both Conor Dwane as Norman and Alf McCarthy as Sir sink their teeth into Harwood’s writing. This is more subtle than perhaps either man has time to convey, and Dwane especially is hampered by an accent which he sustains gallantly even when the vocal pitch, set at crescendo, makes it impenetrable. As Sir, McCarthy uses a fuller tonal range, so that his swoops from physical and mental agony to the soaring elation of performance are entirely plausible.

    Although he has to struggle with a costume which, while consistent with the period, makes him look like a demented Father Christmas, both he and Dwane convey the equivocal nature of their relationship and the tension of a dressing room besieged by uncertainty and terror.

    With such a terrific writer as Harwood, there are scenes within scenes and meanings beyond the obvious. While these are all succinctly realised by a clear- speaking and disciplined cast, a little more attention to production details would have brought this credo to the transformational power of the theatre close to perfection.  MARY LELAND

  • Reviews: The Nose – Project Arts Centre

    November 12, 2008 @ 9:21 am | by Fiona McCann

    What’s missing from the Tom Swift’s new adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s mesmerically absurd short story, The Nose ? It isn’t the status-hungry civil servant Kovalyov, who is still there somewhere under Aongus Óg McAnally’s thick layer of white make-up and hair dye. Nor is it the febrile imagination of the original, in which

    Kovalyov’s nose mysteriously departs his face and is discovered first in a bread roll, then walking the streets of St Petersburg in the uniform of a State Councillor.

    No, the strange absence in Performance Corporation’s handsome but muddled production is The Nose itself, a schnoz so prominent in Gogol’s fiction that it engages in conversation, fakes its own passport and even goes on the run. Here, though, the title character is largely an invisible presence, signified by chasing lights.

    It’s a disappointing omission, partly because there is precious little in the original to omit, but mainly because if any theatre company could get a talking nose onstage, it’s the dependably adventurous Performance Corporation. Sadly, without such animation, Swift and director Jo Mangan have further difficulties in fleshing out The Nose.

    Where Swift has previously compressed Voltaire’s Candide into a wild ride of playful invention for the company, this literary adaptation seems to stretch Gogol thin. The ludic conceit is neatly embellished with some good contemporary gags (and every conceivable pun) but suffers from an unusually slack pace and an unsuitably conventional narrative structure. Major Kovalyov is now a low-status official on the make, contending with a senile father (Alan Howley) and juggling two prospective wives – the penurious but virtuous Olga (Lisa Lambe) and the rich but monstrous Katerina (a ferociously funny creation from the excellent Conan Sweeney). He needs that nose back in order to attend the Civil Servants’ Ball.

    Beyond the Cinderella riff, Mangan’s production is a cocktail of allusions.

    Dream sequences performed between the warped mirrors and tapered ladder of Ciaran Bagnall’s traverse set suggest a monochrome Wonderland, while Kevin Treacy’s ominous splinters of light seem determined to inject some Kafka into the mix. Fluctuating between prolonged comic exchanges and more effective dance sequences, the production never finds a centre. Tellingly, one bravura scene has Lisa Lambe returning as a TV news presenter, archly sending up empty media conventions, but the words are self-defeating: the story so far, she reports, is “a farce or a satire on something or other”.

    Gogol himself is similarly equivocal (“There is much that is improbable in it,” his narrator dismisses). But while the production makes acerbic swipes at property, status, corruption and power, ultimately it doesn’t seem to have sniffed out the meaning either. Settling instead for an ending of pure sentimentality, its pat resolution suggests this gleeful effort to hunt for the elusive significance of Gogol’s fable has finally lost the scent. PETER CRAWLEY

  • Cat minus Commedia

    October 16, 2008 @ 11:55 am | by Fiona McCann

    “Corn Exchange has developed a physically playful aesthetic, modelled, it seems, as much on Looney Tunes as Commedia dell’arte. Although that style is curiously subdued here (no mask-like make-up or punctuating drumbeats), the acolytes will know why Rory Nolan’s distant, alcoholic Brick and Simone Kirby’s sexually over-ripe Maggie are whipping their heads towards the audience but never meeting each other’s gaze. The uninitiated will just feel bewildered.”

     Since Peter Crawley’s review in this newspaper, Corn Exchange have made some modifications to their production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, taking the Commedia out of their production of the Tennessee Williams classic and allowing Maggie to at least look at her beloved husband, even if he refuses to return the gaze. Does it work?

    Having seen only the after without the before, it’s impossible to compare but exaggerated eyebrows and accentuated expressions showed traces of what had been taken away, only serving to stifle rather than remove the original stylistic overlay.

     The one thing that did become clear in all this confusion is that Andrew Bennett, Commedia or no, is one of the finest Irish actors around, his turn as Big Daddy as human and compelling as this character can become. Anyone else seen this production?

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