Thursday, January 26, 2006

Robert Massey’s Deadline

“Only about 20% of those in sales should be in sales. Only 20% are the type that will succeed there: comfortable, confident people,” says Robert Massey, as though briefing potential candidates for his sales force. “And the rest: they’re just are not suited to the job.”

Happily for Massey the “hobbyist” playwright – though not for his alter ego whose day job is managing sales at a Dublin “DIY hardware” business – those statistics show that plenty of the wrong sort of people end up in sales. “Sometimes it’s even more complicated than that. There are some people who are suited to it at one point in there life, but then find as they grow older they’re not.”

Massey’s first play, set among the salesmen (and their female boss) explores the corrosive effects a peculiar mixture of hardcore affability and macho posturing, alongside the tyranny of sales targets, can have on the lives of all those involved. American dramatists from Arthur Miller, all the way to David Mamet (Deadline has a distinct savour of Glengarry Glen Ross to it) have patrolled this territory before. Massey acknowledges their influence – along with that of Patrick Marber – but feels his show has particularly things to say to the Ireland of today, a country in which huge shifts are taking place in our philosophies of work.

“The work environment here has changed tremendously. We’ve become very serious about being the best, about coming out on top. And that has changed work for everyone…I think that there are a lot of people hitting an age when they have worked very hard for a number of years and they are asking: what did we get?”

For his own part Massey, clearly a born salesman, a limber conversationalist, has no intention of quitting his line of work. After all, he suggests, the struggles and the pressures that we see in Deadline are common to most lines of work.

“Give me an hour and I could write the play about buyers,” he says. “Give me two hours and I could make it about journalists. It is really about the working world, and the struggle there, and the pressure that people are under there. I happened to write about sales because that is where I come from.”

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sophie Calle's Exquisite Pain

The British theatre company Forced Entertainment are not too keen on performing plays. Instead, they tend to devise their brand of experimental, confrontational entertainment from the most unexpected sources. Their 1999 show, Quizoola!, for example, featured three actors who made their way through 2000 quiz questions for an audience who were “free to leave” and, indeed, to come back during the piece’s 6-hour duration.

So when the company, after twenty years in existence, finally decided to perform a text it is not surprising that it wasn’t Hamlet. Instead, artistic director, Tim Etchells and his company have chosen to create a stage version of something that began life as an exhibition of photographs from French artist, Sophie Calle.

Calle, a photographer who has made spying and the surveillance of strangers a mainstay of her work, has also carved a substantial reputation in the art world, not least for pre-empting Big Brother by a couple of decades.

One of her most famously audacious works involved an account of her stalking a handsome man she met at a party halfway across Europe. But chances are she would not be half as well-know if she hadn’t permitted herself (and her work) to be blended into the American writer, Paul Auster’s novel, Leviathan.

Calle and Sheffield-based Forced Entertainment have now come together in a performance that those who have seen it on the British and German legs of its tour, suggest is anything but easy going, but undeniably rewarding.

In 2004, Calle published a book of photographs and texts from an exhibition she had stage centring on a particularly traumatic break-up she had endured 20 years earlier, which she describes as “the time that they suffered the most.”

Together with her own reminiscences on the affair, she mixed in other people’s similar accounts of heartbreak and suffering, to create what Etchells describes as a sort of pub conversation, with everybody attempting to out-do each other with their stories of exquisite pain. Now, with the help of two actors, all those stories of love, loss and carrying on are told over the course of a two-hour performance. Chances are, it probably won’t be competing for its audience with I, Keano. But then again, that’s hardly its job.

REVIEW:Homeland (The Abbey, Dublin)

Paul Mercier’s great strength as a writer and director is an ability to keep an eye on the entertainment value of his offerings, however strident their social critique. A Mercier play these days, like his latest, Homeland, seldom arrives without a fervent analysis of ‘where we are now’ – particularly when that we refers to ‘Dubliners’ – but also exhibits a humane attitude to the simple needs of an audience.

Like his previous show, Diarmuid and Grainne, Homeland takes a Celtic tale – this time the story of Oisin’s return from Tir na nog – and translates it to modern Ireland. In this case, the character of Oisin re-appears in the form of Gerry Newman (Liam Carney) a Dunlopian spin doctor-cum-lifecoach who has played (he keeps telling us) a big part in laying the foundations for the New Ireland.

Newman has been away and returns to a land of fellas keen to show you photos on their Motorola’s and wans who like nothing better than to bump ‘n’ grind with a shiny pole. When a flaxen-headed temptress robs him of every penny he owns, he is forced to get to know other strata of the country he helped to create, from its vast community of caricature comedy immigrants, to its junkies, nouveaus and born-agains.

There is plenty of good material scattered around Newman’s journey though his transformed homeland, and the tour is conducted with pace and energy. Things come alive particularly when fate transforms Gerry into a street preacher, bothering shopping centre patrons (with the help of the ever-ripening comic nous of David Pearse) calling everyone to join him on the road to salvation through a rasping battery amplifier.

The frenetic nature of the show sometimes appears to expose shortcomings in technique -- when it comes to moonwalking, Liam Carney is no Michael Jackson – with some performers appearing occasionally non-plussed by the physical style of acting the piece uses.

Homeland’s persistent flaw, however, is an unevenness which forces surprising images and ideas to rub shoulders too often with duller material. More than once in this road movie of a show a great image – such as the Night of the Living Dead-esque scene in which hoodied junkies surround the hero’s car – is pulled up short by the lifeless material that follows. Luckily enough, there is usually something better just around the next bend.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Keano III (and other news)

Well, another year, another Keano. This time Denis Foley dons the ceremonial white kacks, replacing Pat Kinevan, who, of course, took over the role from Mario Rosenstock.

But this time around, the question is not how much Foley’s version of Roy Keane will differ from that of his predecessors. Instead, the real debate is around how much the Roy Keane of the present day resembles the figure portrayed in the musical. After all, Arthur Matthews and Co’s Keano is based on the heroic figure of the midfield general of Manchester United, a footballing warrior, a loyal and obedient servant of the great chieftain-god-dolphin, Alex Fergusson.

But that Keane doesn’t exist anymore. Instead, we have a heretic Keano, one who has denied the great god, Fergie, a fallen idol whose feet of clay are now all too visible. The sort of athlete, in short, who’d play for a team that gets knocked out of the Scottish Cup by lowly Clyde.

According to a spokesperson for the latest production, there are indeed some script changes in the latest instalment of the story. With previews starting next week, however, details are still sketchy. We know, however, that one Brian Kerrus has been airbrushed out of the story, while a new character, resurrected from the mist of footballing prehistory, will once more stalk the land, or at least the stage at the Olympia. This time around the dramatis personae for I, Keano will be swollen by the addition of the towering figure of somebody called “Big Jack”.

It was a long time coming, this one. Paul Mercier, whose stage productions have been one of the most enduring features of the capital’s theatre life, ever since the foundation of his Passion Machine theatre company in 1984, is finally opening a play on the National Theatre main stage. That company states its mission as creating “wholly indigenous populist theatre that depicts, challenges and celebrates the contemporary Irish experience” which might be a good aim for the new Abbey administration.

As it happens, the new director at the National Theatre, Fiach MacConghail, will most likely be familiar with Mercier’s views on Irish culture, having produced several films with the Dublin writer, including a version of the Passion Machine’s landmark production, Studs, which will be released later this year with Brendan Gleeson in the lead.

There will be Irish interest at a challenging-sounding opening night when a stage version of the JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings opens in Canada in March this year. The show is produced by Dublin-born impresario, Kevin Wallace, a protégée of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful organisation, as well the producer of Dublin shows, such as the Abbey’s revival of Eugene O’Brien’s Eden. The stage version of LOTR has a budget of C$27m (just over €19m) and modestly bills itself as “most ambitious theatrical event ever staged” No word yet on the running time…but it’s bound to fly by in any case.

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