Irish Timeswriters review a selection of this week's performances


Siamsa Tíre

Moriartyopens with the lone, solemn wail of the uileann pipes; a mournful meditation on the human spirit and the singular drift of all life towards death. The austere beauty of the plaintive lament sets just one of the themes in this theatrical tribute to the late philosopher and poet John Moriarty, as a quintet of live musicians make sure to elicit the passion of life in Tom Hanafin’s score too.

Diego Pitarch’s set draws its influence from the natural world that Moriarty devoted his life to contemplating. The physical structure on stage recalls both a tree trunk and a tree house, opening up to allow symbolic expression of the different phases in Moriarty’s life: his childhood, the awakening of his spiritual consciousness, his education, his migration to the city and his ultimate rejection of modern life. A simple abstracted backdrop, superbly lit by John Comiskey, becomes an extension of the natural environment, as well as an expression of Moriarty’s consciousness. In the closing scene of the play it is the barren mountain-scape of south Kerry where Moriarty’s life came to an untimely close last year.

Writer Michael Harding provides shape to the piece by invoking the natural cycle of life and death. An ensemble of dancers from the Siamsa Tíre troupe provide symbolic expression of the themes, in choreographic sequences devised with traditional Irish dance with the best of contemporary modern dance. Pitarch’s costumes, made from natural fibres in a muted palette of dusky pinks and greys and blues, aid their transformation from curlews into schoolchildren into the harried office workers of an urban nightmare.

Harding himself, an expressive performer even in silence, stands in for Moriarty, and as the piece of dance-theatre unfolds he is gradually drawn into the dance of life; his tentative steps echoing Moriarty’s searching contemplation of what it means to be alive. The symbolic, almost expressionistic, construction of the piece reaches beyond the individual, however, and Moriarty becomes an everyman; his life an archetype of human nature, as every life might be.

However, in the last third of the performance, a series of monologues drawn from Moriarty’s own writing drags the piece back into the literal realm. And as Harding recites texts drawn from Moriarty’s interviews and writings, Moriarty becomes a tribute again; worthy in its own way of course, but somehow less successful as a piece of theatre. Until tomorrow. SARA KEATING

Boy with a Suitcase

Civic Theatre, Tallaght

Barnstorm Theatre Company’s new show, Boy with a Suitcase, gives children a glimpse of how dangerous life can be for children who must flee their homeland. The parents of 12-year-old Naz (enthusiastically played by Paul Curley) pay for his safe passage from his war-torn country to join his brother in Dublin. However, to get there, Naz must cross treacherous mountains, spend time working in a sweat shop in a city slum and face a stormy sea voyage. It’s a lot for a young audience (the show is aimed at 8-12 year olds) to take on board, yet writer Mike Kenny infuses the story with wit and charm to ease their journey.

The friendship that Naz builds up with co-refugee, Krysia (convincingly played by Céire O’Donoghue) is a cornerstone of the production. And the use of live music – superbly performed by Ben Samuels – sets the tone for each scene, as does the simple yet versatile set, designed by Carol Betera. And even if Naz’s fascination with Sinbad the Sailor may be a bit dated for children of the noughties, they understand how the bedtime stories his father told him helped Naz cope with his difficult journey and homesickness.

When Naz finally arrives in Dublin, his brother (Donncha O’Dea, in one of his impressive multiple roles) doesn’t seem to be as happy as he presented himself in the cheerful postcards he had sent home. So, as Naz joins his brother in his menial work washing windscreens on the city’s motorways, we are left with the strong message that life is not better or worse on the other side of the world. Ultimately, Boy with a Suitcase is a call to children to think about what life can be like for children who must leave everything familiar behind and start a new life elsewhere.

Boy with a Suitcase will tour to other venues in the autumn SYLVIA THOMPSON

Lyle Lovett

Olympia Theatre

It’s been a long time since Lyle stopped by, but boy, was the wait worth it. Disconcertingly though, that trademark vocal chink of his was more than a little croaky. Possibly a sign of the wear and tear of the road, it stymied some of his finer efforts to bleed even more pathos from his music. But with a magnificent four piece by his side and the finest south Texas manners imaginable, he charmed his rapt audience within moments of his parched opener, Home is Where My Horse is. Lovett may not have set the world on fire with his last studio CD, My Baby Don’t Tolerate, but the man’s got such a vast repertoire of (new) country, blues, swing, jazz and gospel that grubby matters such as commercial success barely get a peep past his mesmerising set list and magnificent band. Long time compadres, Viktor Krauss and John Hagen bring a scintillating mix of electric double bass and cello to Lovett’s songs. Krauss (a brother of Alison) lets his bass lines underscore and shadow box, while Hagen engages in a freewheeling cello improvisation on My Baby Don’t Toleratethat’d surely bring a smile to Jimi Hendrix – and every axeman who ever chased that elusive chord sequence across the high plains of a great song.

Drummer Russ Kunkel (a veteran of Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Rodney Crowell, BB King and countless others) brought a certain sanguine wisdom to the gathering, sweeping beneath Krauss’s bass lines on She’s No Lady and leading the playful surge on Private Conversation. Guitarist and mandolin player Keith Sewell is an extraordinary addition to what was already an enviably gifted band: his finger picking, rhythm making, melody-binding dexterity a joy to bask in, from the playful double entendres of Keep it in Your Pantryto the Annie Proulx-tinged closer, North Dakota.

With more wit and erudition in his little finger than many artists can ever hope to encounter in a lifetime, and his endearing pigeon-toed stance, Lyle Lovett’s gracious genius was a joy. Fingers crossed he’ll be back sooner next time. SIOBHÁN LONG

Steinbacher, Philharmonia Orchestra/Maazel

NCH, Dublin

Fauré – Pelléas et Mélisande Suite. Bruch – Violin Concerto No 1. Sibelius – Symphony No 2.

Lorin Maazel is a virtuoso among conductors. He began early, creating a sensation as a boy, when he appeared with Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra at the age of 11 in 1941. Today, he’s one of those conductors who gives the impression of effortless mastery. His gestural manner is often minimally interventionist, yet he always seems capable of a maximally impactive result.

Virtuoso skills, of course, don’t cut much ice in the refined world of Gabriel Fauré. Maazel’s opening account of the composer’s Pelléas et Mélisande Suite with the Philharmonia Orchestra at the National Concert Hall was one of those performances in which nothing very much happened, but what did happen happened very, very nicely. The surface appeal was high, but was not matched by the inner glow which is so essential to this music.

Moment by moment, there was a lot to admire in Maazel’s handling of Sibelius’s Second Symphony. Everything was laid out with exceptional clarity, and there were moments of magical observation, especially when it came to the creation of oases of sudden softness. But there was also a sense of almost detached calculation so that, in spite of all the tension, all of the intelligence of the detailing, there was not always the requisite musical momentum. For all it’s stoking of climactic fire, the heat of this performance was to be experienced as from a distance.

In the evening’s concerto, with Arabella Steinbacher and Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G minor replacing the advertised Julia Fischer and Maazel’s own music for violin and orchestra, everything was entirely different.

Steinbacher’s was the kind of performance which had her audience hanging on her every note. She played like someone with the most urgent of messages to communicate, and all the skills necessary for that communication. She was as happy to take her listeners by the scruff of the neck as to woo them with heart-melting tenderness. And Bruch’s most famous work gives ample opportunity for both.

Maazel, himself an accomplished violinist, matched her every step of the way. It wasn’t just that he was exceptionally attentive to the tiniest of nuances. He also swelled and shrank the nature of the orchestral presence, so that everything his remarkable violinist was doing could be experienced in the best possible light.

With soloist, conductor and orchestra all on top form, the effect was to make the Bruch sound like the perfect romantic violin concerto. The audience, naturally, wanted more. Steinbacher obliged, with a performance of Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice that was simply dazzling. MICHAEL DERVAN