American Buffalo (and the Mamets)

I went to see American Buffalo by local theatre company, Magic Roundabout, on February 13 in The Loft and reviewed it for Irish Theatre Magazine. David Mamet’s work—particularly his edgy dialogue—never fails to entertain. Read my take on it here.

On a vaguely related matter, his daughter, Zosia Mamet, is one of the leads in Girls. Girls is HBO’s inspired comedy written by the outrageously talented, Lena Dunham. Like Mamet, she is something of a “profane poet” in her own way! Girls—which is in season two at present—is like the opposite of Sex and the City. It still focuses on four women living in New York, albeit in their early twenties, but deals with everything that is not glamorous about the situation.

It reminds me a lot of The Inbetweeners but better and instead of teenage boys, it’s all about women. There are some horrifically cringe-worthy scenes (some graphic; you have been warned!) and brilliant lines. Dunham’s willingness to embarass herself is truly admirable. It’s worth checking out.

Review: Freud’s Last Session

freud-sometimes-a-cigar-is-just-a-cigarI went to see this in the Belltable on November 28 and reviewed it for Irish Theatre Magazine. Read all about it here.

The play is touring further in 2013 and I would urge people to go and check it out. More information is available here.

Orchard TC has done some sterling work since its foundation. It has an exciting schedule of workshops, a schools programme and productions coming up in 2013.

Review: The Plough and the Stars

In the year 1916, the Abbey Theatre’s touring production of iconic play, Kathleen Ní Houlihán by WB Yeats, was staged in Limerick. Abbey Director, Fiach Mac Conghail, highlighted this fact at the opening night of The Plough and the Stars—a play set in that fateful year—on October 30 in Mary I’s new Lime Tree Theatre. I think everyone present was glad that this historic relationship between the national theatre and our city has now been renewed.

While there is perhaps a duty to produce classic plays, there is always a risk of being lazy and formulaic. When the play debuted in 1926, there were riots such was the strength of the reaction. This production of The Plough and the Stars seems to inject some of that fiery energy into the play—making the events of nearly a century ago fresh and vital. Director, Wayne Jordan, put a vibrant stamp on this timeless Irish play.

Transferring the focus of the birth of the nation from the bombed out GPO to a local tenement house must have been considered an unusual move by the playwright. Far removed from the glory of the urban battlefield, the poor struggle on regardless. This microcosm still focused on idealism, sacrifice and helplessness in various ways over the four acts, with politics coming in ebbs and flows throughout. I didn’t expect the amount of humour and music in the play either; that was a pleasant surprise.

Firstly, the set was excellent. It was very detailed; girders marked out the rooms and the scene changes had a great ceremony to them. Coupled with the rich sound, sound design and lighting, the actors marching and moving props etc around were a spectacle in themselves. The use of suspended flags was a lovely touch. The set’s versatility was put to good use with the bar in the pub scene doubling as a podium for the speaker at the army meeting (modeled on Pádraig Pearse), for example. Everything flowed well.

The acting from the ensemble cast was brilliant all round. Jack and Nora Clitheroe (Barry Ward and Kelly Campbell) are at the centre of the play. The couple—once like a pair of cooing doves—are torn apart when Jack rejoins the Irish Citizen Army. He eventually fights in the Easter Rising. He came across as a cold character overall in his anger at and his rejection of Nora; not quite idolised as a fallen hero. Nora’s fragile state of mind deteriorates throughout the play as she tries to make Jack choose between love for her and love for his country. Her hysteria verges on hyperbole but just about manages to be believable. The star-crossed lovers are both pitiable figures by the end.

Most of the other characters live in the tenement house. Nora’s sometimes pompous uncle, Peter (Frankie McCafferty) and Jack’s cousin and ardent socialist, The Young Covey (Laurence Kinlan) liven up proceedings with their comic rivalry. The latter’s politics gives food for thought as well as an insight into the trade union movement at the time too.

I thought Fluther Good (Joe Hanly), a witty and good-natured carpenter, was probably the most memorable character. He injected a lot of lively banter and fun into the play, but still managed a credible performance in the sadder moments. Mrs Burgess’s (Gabrielle Riedy), son is fighting in the Great War and she is opposed to the nationalist uprising. There is a very human side to her though, as she cares for Nora in her confused state at great cost. Gossipy Mrs Gogan (Deirdre Molloy) and her seriously ill daughter, Mollser (Roxanna Nic Liam); prostitute, Rosie (Kate Brennan) and a selection of military men feature too. The sense of community in the slum was admirable.

There were many striking scenes, particularly in the final ones as the suppression of the rebellion brings death and destruction to the residents. The portrayal of both literal and emotional conflict is masterful. There is a sense of chaos and uncertainty by the end and not freedom and hope as the uprising sought to achieve. It may be unflattering and bleak but it is realistic. The interaction of all these things makes The Plough and the Stars a very interesting play.

The Abbey brings quality to any production and it’s great that plays of this calibre are touring, and coming to Limerick. The Lime Tree’s state of the art set-up is ideal for theatre and it has several kiddie’s shows, musicals and pantomimes as well as comedy and music still to come in 2012. It will welcome more groundbreaking theatre in 2013 with DruidMurphy—the legendary Galway company’s take on a trilogy of plays by Tom Murphy.

More info at www.limetreetheatre.ie.

Unfringed Reviews: Bandit/The Wheelchair on my Face

Fishamble-The New Play Company is one of the most innovative collectives working in Ireland today and its ‘Show in a Bag’ initiative has spawned some excellent work since its foundation.

‘Show in a Bag’ is a collaboration with the Dublin Fringe Festival and the Irish Theatre Institute and gives actors the support and mentorship to come up with their own tourable productions. These plays debut in Bewley’s Café Theatre during the Dublin Fringe. Fortunately, our own Limerick Unfringed Festival was on just after that festival for the first time this year. Unfringed showed two 2012 ‘Show in a Bag’ plays and one from 2011.

I had the pleasure of seeing two of these…two out of three ain’t bad! Hopefully, I’ll see PAYBACK! at some later date.

Bandit

The first was Bandit—on in the Lunchtime Theatre at the Savoy slot on October 18—by Brian O’Riordan. The play followed a runner (O’Riordan himself) in the Dublin Marathon who is ‘a bandit’ and so is not officially registered in the race. He’s running away from his mistakes and grief; running toward an unlikely goal—all of which of is revealed as he navigates the grueling circuit.

He was literally running on the spot throughout and played three other characters at various points—a fellow female runner, his little sister and a rival from youth athletics. The use of subtle mannerisms and gestures was key for these segments. He packed a lot of information/story into 50 minutes and rather appropriately, the pace was perfect!

I really enjoyed it. There was a nice momentum to the play, probably down to the physical acting, which carries the audience along steadily but builds towards the end. The plot believability was a little stretched i.e. our hero lives a life of debauchery for years, goes back training for a few months and is miraculously superfit or the the fact that he stole a few grand with no consequences. The character is flawed but O’Riordan imbued him with some charm and wry humour that made you hopeful for him.

The minimalist format of ‘Show in a Bag’ meant that lighting, sound and a few props were used to maximum effect i.e. he would do a slight turn and the lighting would change when he was doing flashbacks and the beeps from his watch counted down the miles. Bandit reminded me a lot of Fight Night (yet another Show in a Bag focused on boxing) so it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel. That said, O’Riordan’s production and performance deserves praise, as does the mentorship and direction by Bryan Burroughs. I thought Bandit was affecting and energetic—enough to leave a pleasant adrenaline buzz.

The Wheelchair on my Face

This play was devised and performed by actress/comedienne, Sonya Kelly. It was also on in the Savoy, this time in the evening slot on October 26. The play—which won a Fringe First award at the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe—is a stand-up comedy style memoir of the writer’s “myopic childhood”.

She knows how to make an entrance—setting the scene to music, fumbling and bumbling around the stage to demonstrate what it’s like when a person can’t see properly. Then she continued recounting hilarious incidents from her home and school life including how everyone thought she just an affectionate child when she clambered up on their laps and put her face close to theirs and how her bad eyesight affected friendships and activities. She invented an elaborate fantasy world where ABBA lived in her wardrobe and these funny interludes with Swedish accents and the band’s music break up the stories nicely.

When she had her eye test at age seven, it was obvious to all that she needed heavy duty spectacles. She describes the test, the optometrist and the other patients in a very touching anecdote. Her joy at being able to see properly is short lived when the catcalls of “speccy fishy!” start and her angelic First Holy Communion appearance is under threat from her supersized glasses. Some of the material is sad but of course, there is a happy ending.

Director, Gina Moxley, gave Kelly free reign to create her childhood world. The whole show was beautifully structured and told. There was some audience interaction where she got someone to throw a prop ‘tennis ball’; the use of props in general was excellent, from the giant eye-test charts to the ABBA’s Greatest Hits record cover. Kelly’s confessional streak and good humour was endearing. The audience lapped it up.

I may be short-sighted but even I could see why this show is award-winning. It’s funny and warm—a genuine feel-good experience. It is currently touring so catch it if you can.