The Irish Timesreviews the arts world

Poet Laureate of the Peoples Republic of Cork

Everyman Palace, Cork

THERE IS a distinctly Mao-like image of poet Gerry Murphy in the programme for the Cork Jazz week-end run of Poet Laureate of the People's Republic of Cork, if Mao Zedong can be imagined with a wide and mischievous grin. It is this enigmatic and possibly dangerous humour characterising Murphy's work which is captured by Crazy Dog Audio Theatre and Tinpot Productions in their collaboration of jazz music and vocals free-wheeling through the collected poems.

Anchored in the written word, the basic idea uses the writing as the narrative for which the arrangements for a wide variety of predictable and unpredictable instruments, tools and utensils are created. Almost line by line the verses are scored into layered orchestrations in ways that are predominantly and hilariously comic. Composer and playwright Roger Gregg and his sextet, with three additional performers, have compiled the material as a live radio production, an event into which the audience was willingly integrated.

Mining the Murphy portfolio from as far back as A Small Fat Boy Walking Backwardsto End of Part One; New and Selected Poems 2006Gregg offers rhythms which carry the poetry through a Cork landscape, from the South Mall to the South Douglas Road with a halt at the by now iconic Long Valley Bar on Winthrop Street. But Murphy isn't just about geography, although he can excavate a love song from Armageddon. His is an intelligent as well as an intuitive voice, and his suggestion that the evisceration of a live monkey makes a suitable bed-time story for infants of the Khmer Rouge isn't just satire for the sake of it.

Notes on Taxidermy for Pinochet, for example, is built on a core of outrage. His anger may be hinted, or lilted, in a light tone but it is there, and although some of Gregg's scoring is edgy it doesn't always manage to catch what lies beneath Murphy's irresistible intransigence.

Roger Gregg and his crew are exceptional instrumentalists and singers who relish the harmonies which translate lines as both theme and counterpoint and who are also capable of the restraint required to do justice to Poem in One Breath; they have served Gerry Murphy, his readers and his audiences very well.



Waterfront, Belfast

A LONG war has ended with the mother of all battles, leaving the Theban royal palace in ruins and precious artefacts reduced to shattered remnants.

The human cost is enormous, as witnessed by the pile of body bags dumped in a corner of the palace's Great Hall, which is being used as a makeshift morgue. Owen McCafferty's new version of Sophocles's Antigone for Prime Cut Productions kicks off with the gut-wrenching sounds of a massive bombing raid, recalling the terrible night-time assault on Baghdad in March 2003. Its echo, in the opening words of the Old Man/Chorus, sets this 2,000-year-old play firmly in the context of modern day warfare and civil unrest, a transition not wasted on a first night audience in Belfast.

McCafferty has said publicly that he almost retitled the play "Creon" and one wonders why he did not, as this muscular, tender, pragmatic retelling focuses relentlessly on the dilemma of a man whose blinkered military discipline has ill prepared him for the multilayered political demands that come with the assumed mantle of monarchy. That shift of emphasis proves to be both an irresistible driving force and a diversion, skewing the balance of the original and removing from the spotlight the all-consuming determination of Antigone to give her brother Polyneices the royal burial ordained by the gods, in defiance of Creon's order that the young man's corpse shall be left untouched, so that birds and dogs may fight over his bones.

As writer and director, McCafferty is splendidly served by Ian McElhinney and Walter McMongagle in his forensic examination of the motivations and internal conflicts of a soldier turned king.

Upright, determined, unyielding and hell-bent on doing what he deems to be the right thing, McElhinney takes Creon from the role of traditional bad guy to something approaching tragic hero, his strong, authoritarian voice and bearing gradually cracking under the strain of a sequence of events and a divine order that destroy his family and over which he has no control. This scorchingly credible performance propels us into an entirely different play from the one we think we know, but, in the process, the characters of Antigone and her law-abiding sister Ismene are diminished into incidental figures, unconvincingly and dispassionately played by Katy Ducker and Rosie McClelland respectively. While it is Creon's struggle which exercises our minds, it is McMonagle's Old Man, the play's conscience, who captures our hearts.

Against the backdrop of Lorna Ritchie's majestic set, which seems to double the height and width of the Waterfront Studio stage, this grizzled figure provides the play with its moral compass, as he goes about his job of sorting and arranging in dignified fashion the random heap of corpses. Ally or enemy, he treats each with equal respect. But he is unable to overcome the natural temptation to glance into their faces, in the vain hope of finding his own son amongst them, thereby underlining the long line of individual tragedies that constitutes the reality of war.

Runs until November 1st.


A Compás,

Gaiety, Dublin

MAYBE IT was the red velvet and chandeliers, but the audience for Paco Peña's troupe of musicians and dancers took a while to loosen up. The Gaiety's plushness doesn't particularly encourage the informality needed for flamenco, but such was the group's charisma that by the end it was as if the action had transferred to a cafe cantante in deepest Andalucia. And the flamenco guitar legend's compatriots in the audience certainly helped, with shouts of appreciation increasingly punctuating the dancing as the night went on.

There was plenty to cheer. Firstly, Peña's solo guitar playing, which combined an energetic expressiveness with an introverted melancholy.

However rooted in vigorous rhythm, the lilting phrases still had a plasticity, so melody was never a slave to the beat but rather a soaring imperative voice. Although flamenco is as much about storytelling as rhythmic dialogue between music and dance, the latter is what Peña focuses on in this show: A Compás means "to the rhythm".

Rhythmic clarity was at the heart of the dancing by María Franco, Ángel Muñoz and Ramón Martínez.

The male strutting and preening of Muñoz and Martínez, combined with bursts of machine-gun footwork, certainly got the crowd going, although at times things got a bit Flatleyesque as the outward virtuosity got the better of the inward impulse. Never so with the beautifully eloquent Franco, whose every movement came from deep inside her soul.

With arched back, jutted chin and whirling wrists, she was constantly aware of the emotion in the music, and in a seated duet with Peña she displayed her virtuosity on the castanets.

Plays tonight at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast



Vicar Street, Dublin

THE ORGANISERS of Dublin Electronic Arts Festival, now in its seventh year, have again worked tirelessly to deliver a programme of rule-bending local and international acts.

At first glance, French band M83 might not seem like an obvious choice to fall into that category.

Since the two-piece became a one-piece four years ago, the remaining member, Anthony Gonzalez, has followed a steady course of 1980s pop exploration.

Letting go of the shoegaze influences that defined the band's original sound, his last two albums have seen a growing development of the Antibes native's love affair with the decade that good taste forgot.

Considering that Gonzalez, now 27, was a mere whippersnapper for most of that era, he has had the luxury of picking and choosing the more enduring elements and propagating the sounds he most admires. In other words, for every discarded Kajagoogoo or Wham album, he has diligently embraced the ideas of Kate Bush or Cocteau Twins.

M83 tours as four members with a traditional drums, guitars and keyboards set-up.

Canadian musician Morgan Kibby is a vital part of this, her vocals providing the ideal amount of ethereal moodiness to complement the music.

This Vicar Street set veered from atmospheric soundtrack numbers such as Moonchild, with a power ballad beat the Cadbury's drumming gorilla would relish, to the decadent dream pop of Kim Jessie and Graveyard Girl.

Occasionally, Gonzalez could be accused of relying on the same trick a few too many times but when he combines the throwaway pop elements with his more genre-expanding ideas, on Teen Angstor Highway Of Endless Dreams, for example, the resulting pop and electronica mash-ups are incandescently sublime.