Reviewed: Gay Theatre Festival; The Countess and the Lesbians and Dave Binney Quartet

Reviewed: Gay Theatre Festival; The Countess and the Lesbiansand Dave Binney Quartet

Gay Theatre Festival: The Countess and the Lesbians

Liberty Hall, Dublin

The Countess and the Lesbians is a spirited, if slight, dramatisation of women's involvement in the Easter Rising. Writer Carolyn Gage structures the story as a play within a play, with an historical and a present-day drama unfolding simultaneously, as three women come together to stage a play about Countess Markievicz in the Connolly Room at Liberty Hall for the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival.


The unfolding action explores the relationship between the three actors, as well as the relationship between the historical characters: the countess, her sister, Eva Gore- Booth, and Eva's lover, Esther Roper.

The historical elements of the play are intriguing, the debate between the rehearsing actresses providing a contemporary context for interpreting the narrative of 1916, as well as a context for engaging with the broader narrative of feminist history.

Using excerpts from speeches, letters, and even a play (both the countess and Gore-Booth were heavily involved in the theatrical aspects of Cumann na mBan and had plays produced by the Abbey Theatre), the actresses' arguments encompass a re-reading of the very basis of social transformation: while the countess was off "fighting a revolution", as suffrage pioneers and lesbian lovers, Gore-Booth and Roper were "already absolutely living it".

However, the real issue in The Countess and the Lesbians is more universal than the competing queer and straight histories that the present-day characters provide us with, tapping into that age-old question of personal versus private politics. The 1916 revolutionaries may have been "figureheads at a crucial moment in history", but the real change was being fought for on the most basic levels of people's lives.

Under Sheila O'Reilly's direction, the present-day lovers spat threatens to become a pantomime, or worse, "another dyke drama"; cue sulking and seething from Lynn Rafferty as the spurned writer/director/ leading lady Markievicz.

However, there is enough depth in the historical material and the performances of Gina Costigan as Eva and Jill Mongey as Esther to keep an audience engaged for 50 minutes.

The erasure of their role - the erasure of feminist history entirely from the burgeoning nation's narrative - was surely one of 1916's greatest failures.

Ends Saturday - SARA KEATING

Dave Binney Quartet

Whelan's, Dublin

The Dave Binney Quartet's closing concert of their short Irish tour was not quite a game of two halves; this group - Binney (alto), Craig Taborn (piano), Scott Colley (bass) and Brian Blade (drums) - is far too good for that to happen. But there was, nevertheless, an appreciable difference between an engrossing second set and its predecessor.

The difference was in Binney's own performance. Though he played well enough throughout the first set, the main interest was provided by the superb Taborn and by the interaction between him and Blade, in particular, underpinned and engaged with by Colley's mobile and responsive bass lines.

Despite the (small) reservation, it remained quality stuff. The compositions (presumably Binney's, although he identified only two) seemed ideal for the way the group works.

Regardless of their length, they used relatively simple building blocks to create a framework for improvisation.

The sections of the opening Gesturecalm, for instance, rested on two repeated bass figures, yet the structure allowed considerable freedom.

Apart from the rhythmic liberties, which included rubato, each soloist was allowed to stay with one section as long as he wished. It made for a wonderfully flexible approach of which the best use, as a soloist, was made by Taborn, despite a harsh-sounding piano.

Taborn's work on the second piece, Toronto, initially over a bass pedal and then over a running bass line, was also more sustaining than his leader's.

But Binney showed more indication of his capabilities on the set closer, London, with a well-shaped and inventive solo.

In the second set, Binney moved up a gear. The opening Breach!, an intriguing line over a kind of shuffle that was treated with considerable structural freedom, gave us the best alto solo so far.

The sombre Formay continued the raised level with some edge- of-risk moments and superb bass, alto and drum solos, while the closing Ah was perhaps the finest of the evening, with marvellous solos all round. - RAY COMISKEY