Thursday, June 30, 2005

Frank Kelly's Lamp

Isn't gossip great? You drop a little grain of sand, next thing you
know you've got a whopping pearl necklace of an anecdote. Like someone says you're a provincial playwright, when in fact your show is currently and undeniably playing in the metropolis. That’s what may have happened to playwright, Tom Murphy recently.

At least that’s the way I heard it. Frank Kelly seems to have heard even less about the writer’s travails.

“I’m really not at all interested in the petty politics of Irish theatre,” says Kelly, closing off that particular avenue. As it happens, he has been talking to Murphy the previous night, but their conversation centred on The Sanctuary Lamp.

Before getting involved with the role of the world-weary priest in Gallowglass’s latest production, Kelly says he had not read Murphy’s play. “I like it that way. I love it when you can arrive at a play with no preconceptions.”

The current tour – which features a thoroughly intimidating number of dates all over Ireland – is hard work. “When there is so much travelling to do it can get very stressful. You’re moving around so much and you keeping having those little heart attacks, ‘where have I left my wallet, my phone. And then, all the town around Ireland have changed so much, with ring roads and bypasses and roundabouts…”

After which, it takes a little work to get into the correct state of mind each evening. “I’m kind of going into meditation by about five o’clock. The way Murphy writes – with lots of unfinished sentences – is harder to act than when a writer writes in complete sentences all the time. But it’s good writing for the mind. It makes you keep focused and sharp all of the time.”

Kelly turns out to be unexpectedly tetchy when the subject of Father Ted, and more importantly, Father Jack Hackett comes up. Ok, his character from the comedy TV series doesn’t really come up until I mention it, but I’m still surprised that Kelly reacts so strongly.

“That series was really a long time ago…but still people want to put a mad photograph of Father Jack up every time I’m interviewed.” But isn’t that also a sign that you’ve done good work? “Sure.”

“A long time ago, I played a lot of guards and people used to say to me do you think you’ll get stuck with playing guards. But now people don’t remember that: now it’s priests…”

Lately, however, Kelly seems to be batting for the other side. In his spare time, he has written a novel and is in the process of polishing off. This time, rather than holy orders, he has been taking order from below, writing a Gothic horror novel tentatively titled, Satanic Bargain.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

REVIEW: Perchance to Dream (George's Dock, Dublin)

George’s Dock may be the new site for the National Theatre if the current front-runner for a new location finally wins out. And if future activity is of the same standard offered here by Footsbarn Travelling Theatre Company, the Abbey would be off to a good start.

Reborn from the ashes of a post-sixties theatrical experiment, Footsbarn are by now a venerable institution, celebrated for their vivid, back-to-the-roots approach to making theatre. And while the company’s roots are long, they have also being renewing themselves, husbanding fresh talent and even incorporating a little bit of new-fangled technology into their medieval-inspired style.

The company has made something of a specialty of Shakespearean shows and their latest brings together various tales from the bard – Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and Romeo and Juliet – blending the stories together, and having the actors quit one scene from Romeo and Juliet, only to reappear in Hamlet.

The transitions are impressively fluid, highly inventive and often gorgeously executed. The company’s use of projected images – from fake antique newsreels, to brilliant use of an overhead projector – gives extra power and smoothly enhances the work of the actors.

This company, however, does not put too much emphasis on the text, and the multinational accents tend to fog the verse somewhat. But then, Footsbarn’s Shakespeare (more of which is will be on offer later in the month at the same venue, with their production of The Tempest) offers substantial other rewards.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

REVIEW: A Cry from Heaven, The Abbey

Ancient Irish myth is given a distinctly Greek overhaul in Vincent Woods’ A Cry from Heaven, a version of the Deirdre saga with Pimp My Ride style tricking up applied liberally to the story’s ancient chassis.

French director, Oliver Py and his designer Pierre-Andre Weitz, have worked with Woods on the production, giving the show a forceful visual style, overwhelmingly black and white, with rare touches of “sudden” red and gold.

The style, which seems to own a deal to Patrice Chereau’s celebrated post-industrial Phedre, is gloomy in the extreme, and, at its worst, rather adolescent in its gothy self-seriousness.

Certainly, the story of Deirdre and the war and death that results from her dalliance with Naoise, is a tragic tale, but in Wood’s version, there is not a glimmer of lightness or humour, just a relentless (and unduly protracted) shuffling towards its sad conclusion.

The cast respond to the bleakness with a succession of glowering performances, some steady and admirable, such as Denis Coway’s dependable stirrer, Fergus, others rather confused and unfocussed, such as Ciaran Taylor’s Conor, who seemed sometimes to be channelling the spirit of Dylan Moran.

There are bright flashes of power in Wood’s writing, but often the words feel half-buried in the dark fuzz of this production. The ending in particular – full of thwarted climaxes – cries out for more decisive, clearer handling.


Paul Mercier's Breaking Ball

“We all had GAA rammed into down our throats,” says Paul Mercier, the director of a new play that promises to serve Gaelic games in a slightly less intrusive fashion.

“We were taught to see other games as a pollutant, polluting the pure sport that was GAA,” he says. “And people responded to it the same way they responded to having religion rammed down their throats.”

But now Mercier and playwright Alan Archbold think the time is ripe to redress the balance and offer a vision of the GAA as positive force it is in many Dublin fans lives.

“The play is about reflecting a whole experience that needs to be dealt with,” says Mercier. “It’s something that you never see on the stage. There is a richness in the sporting experience of the GAA that is just impossible to ignore.”

This is not, of course, the first time that Mercier has been involved in celebrating an under-appreciated sport on stage. Soccer in the Ireland was nowhere near the sacred cow it has now become when, of the 1980s, The Passion Machine premiered Studs, for many years the ultimate Irish football show (until, of course, the advent of I, Keano.).

Mercier has recently finished work on the film version of that theatrical smash, in which he directs Brendan Gleeson.

“It was actually harder to make a film version of that play than it might have been just to write a brand new film,” says Mercier. “On the stage we never had a football, which meant that in your imagination we could make it go anywhere. But in a film, you have to start doing that for real…”

And how did they achieve that, how did they make the ball go where they wanted?

“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it… We spent a lot of time running into the bushes getting it back…”

Mercier’s film version of Studs was produced, as it happens, by Cúán Mac Conghail and his brother, Fiach. Fiach, the more astute readers will have noticed, is the new director of the National Theatre. Mac Conghail’s appointment, which unites the theatre’s two previous top jobs, makes a great deal of sense to Mercier.

“The Abbey now has a producer who will be able to produce, and not have to keep running downstairs to direct play. The Abbey should have done this a long time ago. The previous way made no sense in this day and age, with all the financial, marketing and administration responsibilities, it really made no sense to expect one man to do all that and then run down and direct plays…The Abbey can only get better now…”

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

REVIEW: The Ha’penny Bridge (The Point, Dublin)

You know you’re dealing with a class show when the writer’s program biog boasts The Production and Marketing of Beef in Europe among his previous works. And it is no joke: Alastair McGuckian, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for The Ha’penny Bridge spent most of his life in the cattle trade and currently owns the biggest dairy heard in the world. Now, can Andrew Lloyd Webber claim that?

McGuckian’s mega-musical seems to have been coming down the tracks for so many months now, it is hard to believe it’s only having its first night. Any show would have difficulty living up to that much marketing, but The Ha’penny Bridge is so obviously determined not to short-change anyone that it seems -- almost -- to justify the palaver. This is a big show.

Where recent Irish musical endeavours, such as Shay Healey’s The Wiremen, have been apt to look a little cash-strapped, The Ha’penny Bridge goes the whole hog – offering a whopping great orchestra with a stonking percussion section, thundering chorus, epic dance numbers, big sets and slightly bigger emotions. With that kind of bill of fare, is it surprising if there is very little room for subtlety?

The Ha’penny Bridge is also distinguished by a coherent (though hardly innovative) storyline, something that just about gives the show enough drive to keep going for its near three hours length.

In Civil War-torn Dublin, the feckless natives are busy drinking and ‘hooring, while their more engagé brethren are busy shooting each other. So far, so Plough and the Stars. One fine daughter of Monto, Molly (Annalene Beechey) gets mixed up with an English bloke who is attempting to buy her father greyhound, Fair City. Trouble and strife ensue.

McGuckian’s story has the clean lines that allow several characters to develop, but it is the staging and the music that remain in charge here, with some fine orchestral manoeuvres (directed by Gearoid Grant) and winning vocal work from Beechey and Flo McSweeney among others.

Various actors – including Aidan Kelly, Mark Lambert and Mark O’Regan – keep the dirty Dublin quotient high, despite some rather odd accents emanating from the international chorus.

There are, all the same, moments of dullness and paddywhackery that are hard to stomach. The particularly grating use of the world “macushla” was symptomatic of larger issues with the show. Scenes regularly lurched into excruciating stage Irishisms and demented blarney. Dub Dub Dub, for example, a song extolling the virtues of porter, is nothing short of hokum. A bit of a trimming of the otherwise strong herd might benefit here.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Joe Roch Gets Inch Perfect

“I think it is a play that anybody who has felt outside the mainstream for one reason or another will immediately identify with,” says Joe Roch about his role in the Dublin premier of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

And given that Hedwig tells the story of an East German child of a GI father who loses all but one of the inches of his manhood (wouldn’t you know it, the angry one!) in a botched gender re-assignment operation, lets hope that all identification is strictly on a metaphorical level.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch was originally a cult New York rock ‘n’ drag musical which ran for two years Off Broadway, and was later turned into a film by its author and original star, John Cameron Mitchell. But it was never quite just another musical. As well telling the tragic tale of a transgender rock and roller, the show also contains songs based on (among other things) Plato’s Symposium.

Roch counts himself as a “big fan” of that production, having seen it during his time in New York. “But I think we offer our own distinctive version of the show.” Which is only right and proper, as Mitchell’s original script was full of topical – and indeed topographical – references that new productions are advised to dispense with in favour of their own localisation efforts.

“In our version, Hedwig is in Dublin looking for Romanian boys for the band, which allows us to look at the way Ireland is dealing with the influx of people from all over the world,” says Roch.

Another aspect of the localisation process involved commission costumes from Caoimhe Derwin from Dublin prank rockers, The Chalets, themselves no strangers to the dressing up box.

The show will be the first production from Roch and Megan Riordan, who first met at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, before teaming up in Dublin. “We were two American no-names living in Dublin,” says Roch. “We realised nobody was going to cast us in anything unless we did it ourselves.” And so Making Strange Theatre company was born.

“It can be difficult getting Dublin audiences to something that is not quite theatre, not quite a rock show,” says Roch. “In New York, for example, you would have venues where you would expect to find that sort of thing – like Joe’s Pub or The Fez – places where you expect to see something beyond traditional theatre. But that hasn’t really exist here…”

The solution this time is to take Hedwig to the tiny Focus theatre, quickly becoming synonymous with cabaret-style shows, thank for the Fallen Angels Cabaret. Although there is no bar (which would have been ideal for Roch) the intimacy of the venue, and the proximity of audience and performer, according to Roch, provides proceedings with a certain desirable charge. “It’s all just a little more “dangerous” in that type of venue…”

Focus Theatre, Dublin, 8 June, 2005

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

George Seremba caught in the rain

“The year was 1980, December,” says George Seremba, remembering back to the time he was forced, near death, to flee his home in Uganda.

As an opponent of Milton Obote, twice president of Uganda, Seremba had begun noticing that his country’s secret police were taking a keen interest in his activities.

“I didn’t realise was how far up the list of enemies I was,” says Seremba until, one day, he was abducted from the university campus, tortured, sentenced to death and driven at night to a forest on the edge of the Kampala, a spot notorious as the location for summary executions.

“I was taken and shot and after the firth bullet one of the soldiers shot a rocket propelled grenade which exploded into my thigh. I rolled into a marsh. Bullets whizzed by me. But it was dark. And the bullets whizzed by and missed me.

“In the end, the gunmen left to pick up two of my friends. I crawled away and lost consciousness. When I regained consciousness I could not walk, so I began crawling slowly to the road...”

Eventually, and after a few more close calls, Seremba escaped and finally made a new life for himself in Canada, where he is now based working as a writer and actor. He has, all the same, had a long-standing relationship with Ireland.

“In my undergraduate days in Uganda, I was exposed to plays by Synge and Lady Gregory, O’Casey…I was hooked on these plays. I was very curious about doing a comparative study of Irish and African theatre,” he says.

He first came to Ireland to the 1994 Galway Arts Festival to perform his own play, Come Good Rain, and returned to tour Ireland with that play, eventually fulfilling an ambition study at TCD, like his hero, Ugandan playwright, Robert Serumaga (on whom Seremba is now researching a PhD).

For the moment, however, he is being distracted from academic work by a revival of Calypso Theatre Company’s hit Dublin Fringe Festival production of Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys.

“I’d probably enjoy this play as much just watching. To begin with it is one of the best plays ever written. So as an actor it is a tremendous joy and responsibility. It is the kind of thing that as actor you don’t want to sit down, you want to read it on your feet.”

One of Fugard’s most personal plays, Master Harold and the Boys tells the story of a white youth who is offered the choice between doing what he knows is right and rejecting bigotry, or taking the easy and comfortable route.

“Of course it’s about South Africa and Apartheid,” says Seremba. “But it is also about much more. Because bigotry and prejudice are not confined to one place or one time. In Ireland now we are all wrestling with this. In the Ireland of today people are there to remind themselves that we are all in this together and there is a big journey for Ireland to make now”…

Come Good Rain, Sam Beckett Theatre, TCD, Dublin, June 2005.

Mark O'Halloran fills Dublin with Lamplight

“I’m middle class and I’m a middle class culchie at that -- the worst sort of middle class person,” says Mark O’Halloran in partial explanation of how he came to write the script for the Dublin junkie film, Adam and Paul. Being a middle class culchie, it seems, has some distinct benefits.

“I’m from Ennis,” says O’Halloran “so when I came to Dublin I saw something different from Dubliners, they almost couldn’t see the junkies on the streets, whereas I would notice them. We didn’t have junkies in Ennis…”

The actor has already two further scriptwriting commissions underway (both for Adam and Paul director, Lenny Abrahamson) but now O’Halloran is taking the time to work once more with perhaps Ireland’s most innovative theatre companies, Corn Exchange. The subject, however, remains rather similar: Dublin lowlife, although this time the ne’er-do-wells are from 1904.

Dublin by Lamplight, which chronicles the efforts of an imaginary theatre company to stage a play in turn of the century Dublin, has, according to O’Halloran, its fair share of scangers. The capital was, according to O’Halloran, still a location of a grubbiness familiar to those who have seen Adam and Paul. And them some.

O’Halloran plays a fading English actor in the piece, but some other opening available at the time were, apparently, even less desirable. “We came across some really odd jobs when we are researching Dublin at the time, like the Dung Dodgers, whose job was literally to shovel shit from the tenements.”

Part of Corn Exchange’s raison d’etre has long been the workshops the company ran for actors, inculcating local performers in the traditions of company director, Annie Ryan’s native Chicago.

The techniques Ryan brings into play include everything from improvisation, to an updated version of the version of the Italian commedia del’arte technique, complete with garish whiteface make-up, live music and an interesting habit of turning and staring hard out into the crowd when delivering a speech. The technique can be decidedly unnerving for anyone sitting in the auditorium but, according to O’Halloran, has a very significant effect.

“Those stares out at the audience when you are speaking are extremely cinematic,” says O’Halloran of the show’s style. “They are the closest you’ll come in theatre to a close up.”

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Adrian Nobel does Friel

“I’ve only done one other interview in Ireland this time and the words never even cropped up,” says Adrian Noble, speaking about the Royal Shakespeare Company, of which he was director for several tempestuous years. Not speaking about his controversial times as head of the theatre are, of course, not an option when it comes the British press. In Ireland, however, we’re all apparently much more interested in the latest from Brian Friel, The Home Place.

The English director says he jumped at the chance of directing the Home Place. “It’s not just a Friel play, it’s a big, new, major Friel…It would be impossible to say no to directing such a play.”

Noble suggests that the play has very particular resonances given the changes in Dublin he notices since his previous visit here, to direct. “In 1990, I did not see a single black face on the streets, didn’t here one voice that wasn’t speaking Irish or English. Well, all that has clearly changed…”

The remark is spurred by the central scenes in The Home Place, in which a Richard, gentleman-scientist, who is staying in the local big house in Balybeg, sets about scientifically measuring the local population as though they were nothing more than a herd a unusual cattle. Accidental or not, the scene recalls the images of Sadam Hussein being prodded by American surgeons.

“It was the beginning of the science of genetics. After that would come Darwin and the Nazis…but for Richard is about trying to understand. He has a kind of confidence in what he is doing that can be oppressive,”

The character is required to go the journey, to be on the brink. Tom has the sensitivity to bring it off.

Has the gloss disappeared for Irish playwrighting? “I suppose that writers like McPherson and McDonagh have been doing it for quite a few years now, so that initial flush of vitality is over. But they are both major talents…”

As it happens, McPherson’s latest, Shining City, found a warmer reception from English critics than it did from some Irish ones, something I mention to Noble, who it turns out, is clearly a fan of the play.

“Well, then they were wrong, weren’t they…”

The Home Place, The Gate, Dublin

Pat Kinevan gets the Keane nod

“I went to see him when he was playing for Cobh Ramblers in about 1989,” says the Cobh-born actor and playwright, Pat Kinevane, of Roy Keane, the legend he will portray when I, Keano returns to the Olympia later this month.

“I wasn’t even a huge football fan, but you could see then he was something very special,” says Kinevane, on a break from rehearsals. “It’s funny, when I moved to Dublin after that people would be saying, ‘oh, Cobh, that’s where Roy Keane’s from’. And I knew he wasn’t, he just played for Cobb. He was from the city.”

Kinevane says the fifteen odd miles between the city and his own birthplace makes for quite a different variety of Cork accent. “Mine is country. He definitely has a city accent, it’s a bit more pronounced, a bit more guttural. It’s the kind of accent I’ve been known to get after a few pints…”

Imitation is not, however, the name of the game according to Kinevane. “I didn’t see the original production and I’m delighted about that. There wouldn’t be any point in tying to recreate that. It’s much more interesting to arrive fresh and create something fresh from scratch.”

After Saipanistic disagreements among the first cast, Kinevane will be doing his creating alongside Conor Delaney, who takes over the part of Quinnus from Risteárd Cooper and Susannah de Wrixon, who plays Quinnus’ wife, Surfia (that joke has to go!). Gary Cooke’s epileptically funny Dunphia, happily, survives into this production, as does Dessie Gallagher’s extravagant assassination of Mick McCarthy.

Should things among the cast and crew get fraught this time, Kinevane seems unlikely to indulge in any Keano-styled rebellion: “I tend not to get involved in rows. I just go away and have a cup of tea if things are getting tense…”

Part of the reason, perhaps, that Kinevane missed the first run of I, Keano, was that he was busy rehearing and performing at the Gate, where he played the spookily camp manservant of an English gentleman in Brian Friel’s The Home Place.

“I just finished up in the Gate in the Friel and they are heading off to the West End with that, but I just didn’t want to go away for the Summer. I’ve a four and a half year old son, Kez, and I wanted to stay around with him this summer…I really hadn’t anything, and then I got this phonecall…”

The call could scarcely have come at a better time, not simply because it allowed Kinevane to stay in Dublin, but also because he was more than usual primed to take on the role of a sporting hero.

“As it happens, I’m very fit now. I put a lot of effort into getting myself fit before and after Christmas, doing a lot of yoga, just because I wanted to…And I’ve got good legs. I was filming King Arthur last year, playing a Roman so I was sure I was going to get to wear a tunic, but I had to wear a long, flowing gown and I was jealous of the rest of them. But, now I’ll get to wear it. Funny how things work…”

So did he like his “I, Keano” Photoshop job in last week’s Herald? “Sure them weren’t my legs at all, boy, though he has good legs too…”

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REVIEW: Just for Show, O'Reilly Theatre

It has taken the British dance company DV8 nearly twenty years to make their first appearance in Ireland, but we’re hardly going to hold that against them are we?

The company was founded in London in 1986, and over the intervening years has become one of the most important experimental performance groups at work, mentioned in the same breath with Germany’s legendary, Pina Bausch.

As if to make up for all that lost time, DV8’s latest show, Just For Show, will receive its European premier in Ireland, at Dublin’s O’Reilly Theatre. The show opened last month in Taiwan, and later this month moves to England.

So what is it that this much celebrated and occasionally derided company do? And, perhaps slightly more pressingly: what is it all about? Australian-born Lloyd Newson, who founded the company, may be in charge of one of the avant garde's most cherished troupes, but he is certainly not disconnected from the sort of questions that occur every night to audiences. “For a lot of people who go and see dance it is not about anything,” he once told a British newspaper. “DV8 is about something...” What?

The magic in a DV8 show, like the magic in a Pina Bausch show is that although it is created by a choreographer and often performed by dancers, it doesn't require a dance critic to explain what is happening. Dance at this level can have an ability to communicate with any audience that theatre can only wish for. Sidestepping language, this kind of performance can talk about what it is like to own a body, by putting own stage some people who own bodies.

A recent DV8 show took place at the Tate Modern, for which the audience was lead all over the massive gallery, pausing to get an eyeful of dance and circus performances, alongside video and sound installations. A previous show required an X-certificate in Britain, as it involved the projection of pornographic movies onto the performers' bodies as they danced.

Newson struggles against what he has described as the “fascism” of the dance world, the idea that there is nothing a dancer over 35 could possibly do on stage to interest anyone. Until relatively recently, DV8 had a 78-year old dancer, and have also worked with disabled dancers, including one who dances despite having no legs.

Shay Healey's Irish Musical

He’s was 62 last month but songwriter-cum- novelist-cum-director-cum-children author-cum-tv presenter (a non-exhaustive list, BTW) Shay Healy doesn’t care who knows -- even if he himself has not totally adjusted. “I feel like a 29 year old boy, which is why I sometimes get a shock when I pass a shop window and realise that ugly old fucker is me…”

As it happens, the multi-hyphenated Healey is slightly more concerned with his latest scheme – his musical, The Wireman – than mere surface appearance right now. Rehearsals are underway for a show that has been in gestation for several years, since he first began researching the story of Irish rural electrification for a tv documentary.

“I was really snagged by the magnitude and the scale of what it was about,” says Healey. “It is a period in our history that hasn’t really been covered, even though it is a rich part of our heritage.”

The effect of the arrival of electric light (though not to rural Ireland) on one Irish boy was, of course, a central image in Seamus Heaney’s 2001 collection, Electric Light. Like the little boy in Heaney’s poem, Healy is concerned with “the journey from darkness into light…electrification is really the metaphor for a lot of things, a journey from backwardness into light. And it's a kind of universal story, because every country went through the same transformation”

The story at the heart of Healy’s musical concerns a young farmer who feels he and his way of life are threatened by the advent of this new-fangled, high-technology. The young farmer was forced by the death of his father “behind the plough” to take over the farm and give up his own ambitions. But now it seems that his hard work tending to the fields was somehow in vain.

“There were very mixed feelings about the electricity and the men who brought it to the communities. There were stories of farmers who would have the electricity brought into the farmer yards, but not up to the kitchen.”

For the show, the company had to find a vintage plough. When they finally tracked on down – in Tiperary -- the apparatus arrived with a story very similar to that of the Wireman’s central character. “It turned out that the girl who found the plough, her grandfather had died behind it…” Spooky.

“Yes, I like it when you feel it's all connecting like that,” says Healey, “like it’s getting the full 220…”

Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, April 2005

And finally...

It's Tommy Tiernan
If you thought it just felt like Tommy Tiernan had played in Vicar
Street about 100 times – then you were wrong. Tommy Tiernan has indeed played vicar street 100 times. Or at least he will have it he makes it
on stage on Saturday 14 May. Now, I hope nobody is thinking of
preventing him in any way, from completing his century, are they? Just leave it, right!

Edward Albee's The Goat

“Did someone walk out?” asked Michael Caven, with something that looked a tad like glee tugging about his lips. The director is quizzing the stars of The Goat Or Who is Sylvia, who are on stage again, minutes after finishing tonight’s performance, for a “post-show discussion the play, which concerns a successful architect whose family life is – perhaps understandably – rocked by the revelation that he is having a carnal affair. With a goat.

I’m usually the first scrambling for the exit at the announcement of a post-show talk. Having just given up two hours of my life to a play, it seldom seems that enticing to volunteer for more. But Edward Albee’s bizarre and confrontational 2002 drama, here given a fantastically limpid and extremely funny production by Landmark, is just too overwhelming to leave without a little extra debrief.

As ever, questions were frequently of the “how are you able to be so brilliant?” variety. But also among the mixed bag was a question concerning the numbers of people who had walked out on the show, which, after all, gives Martin (portrayed with vim by Bryan Murray) most of the evening to explain his love for Sylvia, a goat with whom he is experiencing a grand passion. Just the one it seems. “It only opened last night,” came a heckle from the audience.

But it was when one earnest questioner seemed to ask Murray – ever so tactfully – what his sexual experiences with animals might be (bet he didn’t get that at the RSC!) that things turned slightly madder. Murray carefully and rather articulately explained that as he saw it, the relationship with the goat was an image of all those things that our society finds beyond the pale. “And,” piped up Phillip O’Sullivan (who plays Martin’s best friend) “he’s not a Method actor…”

Project Space Upstairs, Dublin, May 2005.

Coming Up Roses? What, in Finland?

The clichés of Irish theatre are presented to us (it sometimes seems) on a daily basis, but when it comes to slightly more remote theatrical traditions, even the everyday stuff can be mysterious. For example, despite all our International theatre festivals over the years it will not be until this week that Ireland will see its first ever Finnish theatre premiere.

But rather surprisingly, the show in question, Coming Up Roses, by the Finnish playwright-director-translator, Juha Siltanen, is set in Dublin, in Bewley’s Café, no less.

“The reason I decided to set the play in Bewley's was simply that I fell in love with the place,” says Siltanen. “Not only because it really is a lovely room but also because it's a theatre in the deepest sense of the word, a place where something - maybe something historical - might happen.”

His previous experience of Irish drama, as a translator of Marie Jones’ "Women at the verge of HRT" into Finnish had already convinced him that Ireland could be counted on to throw up the expected. He found, for example, translating that play rather tricky.

“…not because of the language but because of the strange feeling of nostalgia that was woven into the structure of the play - a feeling I sensed but couldn't imitate. I think I understood it only in last February when I asked the reception of the Fitzsimons Hotel to tell me the way to the nearest bookshop. I followed the instructions but found nothing but pubs and garages. I was simply fascinated.”

Continuing the trend, the unexpected has also dogged his first ever Bewley’s show. Top of the shocks was discovering that with the premises’ renovation work behind schedule, he was faced more with a building site, than a theatre. So instead of beginning performances at the Grafton Street venue, Siltanen and company were forced to find an alternative venue for the show’s previews.

The Gaiety Theatre stepped in and obliged with a home for the initial performances, before cast and crew, and hopefully audience, finally get to see the play in its proper location.

Finalising those arrangement allowed Siltanen, who is also directing his own play, to concentrate once more on the show, which although it is set in that little part of Dublin that will be forever Bewley’s has concerns that reach out across the continent.

“Coming Up Roses is a play about trying not to remember and having to deal with one's reluctance to go to the very end, a play about pretending, that is,” he says.

“Europe, to my mind, is a fruitful entity based on strangeness and fear, not on the overwhelming feeling of togetherness we are forced to simulate. Humiliation is a great source of self-confidence, and that's what every dream of ultra-unity is trying to deprive of us.”

But while he is busy trying to find theatrical forms for questions about the new Europe, Siltanen has also been pondering the idea of the “lunchtime theatre” tradition into which Coming Up Roses takes him and his Pori-based, Rakastajat Theatre Company

“What I like in the idea of "lunchtime" theatre is that you can always be happy with the soup, and then there's a bonus,” says Siltanen.

“If the soup is bad, you can always hope that the play's ok. And vice versa. If the play's not, for the writer it means that there's going to be no lunch for the next three months.”

Bewley’s Café Theatre, Grafton Street, Dublin, Monday 30th, 2005