Friday, February 24, 2006

Aidan Dooley's Crean

Aidan Dooley is certainly best known round these parts for his blockbusting show, Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer. But the actor’s repertoire of historical characters extends far beyond that, from the greats of science to, well, “Thomas Crapper…he invented the siphonic flushing toilet. Or at least, he is credited with inventing it. It was, in fact, possibly invented by a man called Giblin. But Crapper’s name stuck…” So to speak.

With his own company and the British group, Spectrum Theatre Projects, Dooley (who was born in Galway) creates historical characters for museums all around Britain, adding a touch of live storytelling to museum visits.

It was in the course of one of these commissions that Dooley first came to create his Crean show. “In Greenwich in 2000 they were having a big exhibition and they wanted a character from the Antarctic expeditions. They wanted an ordinary person, because the British are not really all that happy with those upper class characters, like Scott and Shackleton, who were a bit aloof. And so the idea of basing the story on this Irish sailor who was with them came about.”

Soon afterwards Michael Smith’s book on Crean appeared and Dooley worked up his Greenwich character into a full evening’s theatre, which has since toured widely and even inspired a celebrated commercial. Dooley, as it happens, was not selected for the role of Crean in the commercial – “I’m too ugly for that” – but is grateful for the marketing job the spot performed.

“The ad really took Crean from the broadsheets and into public knowledge. Which in turn encouraged lots of people to come along and see the show,” says Dooley.

After his new run as Crean, Dooley will be back on the trail of another currently little known Irishman who may yet become rather famous:

“I’m looking at a character called “Melville of the Yard”: an Irishman from Sneem who became head of the British secret service and became known as…M.”

Credit Card Crisis

I just need to put this phrase (that i have to admit came to me in a dream) somewhere before some morphogenetic field effect kicks in and somebody else writes it somewhere else.

We are all subject to what James Joyce might have called the ineluctable modality of the visa bill.

There. That's a weight off my mind.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

REVIEW:Twink's Dirty Dusting

Dirty Dusting sets its stall out early on: if, for some inexplicable reason, you are not reduced to helpless tears of laughter by Twink's announcement that she loves ‘a good ride,’ then the chances are you may be left a cold by Adele King’s latest vehicle.

On the other hand, if have an insatiable appetite for tired gags involving housework or sex (and preferable both) you will probably find Dirty Dusting very heaven.

The show provides plenty of opportunities for Twink’s brassy single entendre smut, as the ‘plot’ of Dirty Dusting centres on talking dirty. Threatened with redundancy, three sixtysomething female office cleaners (King, alongside Eileen Colgan and Aine Ni Mhuiri) decide they will set up a telephone sexline.

This setup provides the apparently irresistible opportunity to have the ladies discuss – and discover – a range of sexual practices that they have somehow missed out on during their most sexually active years. Beyond this, there is little story, and though Steve Blout comes on as a comedy turn, the script is easily lame enough to take the shine off even his normally charming comic style.

The production is a revival of an English provincial ‘comedy’ written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood, and somebody has taken the trouble to rework the script with plenty of local references. For many people, the effort was clearly worth it.

Even discounting the presence of some designated laughers – the high-decibel tenor guffaws of one in particular are becoming a familiar feature on Dublin opening nights – the audience largely appeared to be laughing when required to do so. As the gags here are more signals to laugh than actual jokes, the product seemed to be working as intended.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds

When Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera took the record for the longest running Broadway musical ever from the same composer's Cats, you might imagine that pretty much sealed his status as the king of the musicals. But you be wrong. So wrong. In fact, the award as the biggest selling musical of all time goes to...Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the Worlds. Yep, Lloyd Webber may have some kind of hold over Broadway, but Jeff Wayne is yer man when it comes to selling units.

Back in the summer of 1978 (they had summer's back then, you know) Jeff Wayne released a double album musical version of HG Wells' classic scifi shocker about an alien invasion of the home counties. (Apparently an American actor recently starred in a film version of the story, with the setting transported to the New World.)

In any case, Wayne gathered up a few showbiz chums, including heavyweight acting talent, such as Richard Burton (not at the height of his powers, but hey, Burton's off years knock the spots off most of his colleagues) and musical turns from the likes of Phil Lynott, as well as two lads who've been a bit quiet of late, David Essex (whose Rock On album Wayne produced) and Justin Hayward, formerly of the Moody Blues (please try and keep up there down the back). Together they waded through Well's story -- sometimes rather well, as in Burton's case, sometimes with a kind of twee awfulness that became somehow rather attractive, as in the case of Hayward's perennial, Forever Autumn.

The album mixed Pink Floydy farout-osity with truckloads of noodly pop and some teeteringly pretentious spoken word to create one of the most extravagant pieces of aural kitsch the world has ever known.

But as if selling 13 million copies of the original album weren't enough for Wayne, he is now taking the show on the road in a son et lumiere extravaganza which fetches up at the Point Theatre on 30 April. Although neither Philo nor Burton are with us any longer, the later at least will show up on stage, in what Wayne describes as "Sight and Sound" (which we can translate as 'on tape'). On the plus side (possibly) Justin Hayward is part of the live cast.

After the April tour, there are plans for a spin off TV Series and indeed (quite logically) a Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds Theme Park. Everybody say UUUU-LAAAA!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Gerry Stembridge's New Voice

A new regime, a new voice. Or preferably, lots of them. Isn’t that what’s required from the change of management at the Abbey? While the old guard of Irish theatre – everyone from Brian Friel to Marian Carr and Conor McPherson – will presumably always find a home at say, The Gate, the National Theatre cries out for fresh voices to shake the institution awake.

The Abbey’s last offering – Paul Mercier’s Homeland – certainly takes a squint at the New Ireland, but Mercier has been squinting at Ireland for many years now without the Abbey’s help. However, according to Gerry Stembridge, a new hero has now arisen, if not in the west, at least from that general direction. Nicholas Kelly, whose The Grown Ups is directed by Stembridge at the Peacock, is that figure.

“He is clearly writing about Dublin – but he doesn’t mentioned Dublin once,” says Stembridge, on his lunch break from directing rehearsals. “But the city undergoing this Dionysian transformation is clearly Dublin.”

As it happens, that transformation was threatening the show somewhat until this very lunchtime. “You got me at a good time,” says Stembridge, “We just had a good, quiet runthrough. Up until now, every time we set to work the sounds of construction all around us kept getting into the space. But now I’ve really heard it, I think we’ve got something here.”

And what’s that?

“Well, there’s the sensation of a new theatrical voice coming onto the scene…a sense that he is moving things on.”

Thirty-three year old Kelly, Stembridge suggests, has a world view substantially different from his predecessors. Although it is not easy to pin down exactly what this entails (particularly without seeing a script) Stembridge contrast his own generation with a younger lot.

“I think he is looking at the spiritual harm that is coming to us. We read about it in the rising suicide rates and the binge drinking…I suppose the real differences lie in things like the desire to be pain free, to live the happy life. All the time.”

Taking on this kind of play – and taking it on quickly: it is only two months since Stembridge brought the play to the Abbey – may be part of the answer to national theatre’s woes. According to Stembridge “there is a real chance now that people might start going to the Abbey.” Eeek!

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

“It’s a very rare thing, a professional music theatre company in Ireland,” says David Wray of the rather explanatorily named Music Theatre Ireland. “Sure, you get visiting musicals and there are occasionally other shows, but nothing as consistent as a dedicated company.”

Music Theatre Ireland, which was co-founded by Wray in 1999, has been working to fill that particular gap in the market, creating their own song-based shows, as well as bringing into Ireland a type of theatre that is largely unknown outside its home in the United States.

“We are not talking at all about the big blockbusters, we’er not interested in Oklahoma or whatever. We’re talking about another type of show altogether. Something much smaller and more intimate,” says Wray.

Previously the company has been responsible for bringing their revue of Cole Porter songs, Red Hot and Cole to the National Concert Hall, as well shows like A New York Songbook, which was created by the company. “We basically went around New York knocking on composers’ doors looking for new songs.”

When he isn’t directing show for Music Theatre Ireland, Wray, who trained Guildhall School of Music in London, works as a musical director for The Three Irish Tenors and is currently working with a new act, apparently cut from similar cloth, called Druid. “All of these sorts of acts are cross-over hybrids of one sort or another. Druid will be five guys singing in a classical style, but with an Irish flavour to the repertoire.

Wray’s latest venture with Music Theatre Ireland is a show in the small-scale musical style in which the company specialises. I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change by New York writer, Joe DiPietro. “It definitely has a very New York sense of humour” says Wray. “It has been described as Seinfeld with songs. Which I think is pretty true.”