Wednesday, July 26, 2006

LISTEN! New series of Soundstories

er...em...er...now, I'm sure everybody knows this (or at least, everybody who reads the RTE Guide) but Soundstories in back! On the radio! Next Tuesday! August 1st! 2006! And for severel weeks thereafter!

This series we'll have some brand new sound-flavoured tall tales from Chris Watson, Dava "Longitude" Sobel will be telling us about the music of the spheres and there'll be new scary sound stories especially written for the radiobox by Gerry Stembridge, Michael West and a host of others. But really, if i was to fill up the whole of the world wide web telling you all the great things that are going to be on, it still wouldn't even come close to LISTENING!

As always the series will be produced by Kevin Brew and written and presented by yours truly. And, chances are it will be great fun.

The shows (old and new series) can always be caught here. And there's downloading too.

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/soundstories
Tuesday in August, 8pm.

Colman Higgins’ Tourist's Guide to Terrorism

God be with the days when our representatives at the Edinburgh festival were loveable dipso comics whose drunken lisps were often mistaken for a charming Irish brogue. In 2006, it’s all gone a bit serious.

Regular readers (and irregular, but lucky readers who happened to buy the Herald one Thursday a few weeks back) will recall that Abie Philbin Bowman is taking his yank-bating show, Jesus: The Guantanamo Years to the Scottish capital’s annual entertainment tsunami. But Philbin Bowman is certainly not the only one who can conjure up a good, selling title from Third World War through which we are living.

Colman Higgins’ contribution to this year’s fringe is called A Tourist's Guide to Terrorism (site here). That title alone should ensure that all email/texts/phone calls to/from the Irish writer will, in future, be monitored by the Department of Homeland Security. And, presumably, when that title shows up on your credit card bill, you can expect your own communications to get some close attention from one or more secret police organisation.

Not that I’m trying to put anybody off checking out the show, which tells the story of a chance meeting (yeah, right, try convincing the CIA interrogator that this one is just a coincidence…) between an ex-IRA man, an American born-again Christian and the son of a Pakistani army general at a campsite near Islamabad.

Higgins, who The Scotsman previously described as “a kind of poor man's Michael Palin” (in context it appears to be meant it as a compliment) says: “Last year at Edinburgh they had a show called Terrorism! The Musical…so, I don’t think this one will cause too much commotion. It’s not a flippant show anyway. It is really about individuals and their response to world events. It’s about the question of how ordinary people respond to violence…”

For those brave enough to be caught at the show, there was a sneak preview this month at Filmbase, before the production moves to Edinburgh in August.

And remember: only the guilty need fear.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Irvine Welsh's Babylon Heights

Whin yae gayta emiel fray Irvine Welsh, yey cane-da exspake it tae be written in the phonetic code his characters speak in Trainspotting and his other writings conducted through the Scottish demotic.

But, on the contrary, in text communication from Welsh (who now lives in Dublin), thoughts are clear, polite. And perfectly spelled for the most part (let them that is without sin in that department chuck the first stun!)

As it happens, there are no remnants of Welsh’s famous idiosyncratic spelling in Babylon Heights, his latest play. Hardly surprising either, since it is set in 1930s Hollywood, among a milieu of actors-of-small-stature employed to play Munchkins in the MGM film version of The Wizard of Oz.

Y’wha? How did the bard of Leith come to be writing on such a subject? Well, for one thing, he was living on the West Coast of the US, in San Francisco, where Babylon Heights was first produced (although the actors of Dublin’s Attic Studio regularly get big ups from Welsh for their workshopping of the play.)

But more importantly, perhaps, the writer has also maintained a lifelong interest in the film and the great tomes of urban legend and rumour that surrounded the 1939 production.

“[I’ve] Loved it since I was a kid. The film is irresistible,” types Welsh. “I think the cultural myths that something generates is as important as the thing itself.”

Some of the most intriguing of those myths surround the cast of small people who played the little people of Oz. But as much as he was attracted by the stories of Munchkin madness (their segregated hotel was said to be a party central of some renown, even by pre-war Hollywood standards) there were other elements that intrigued Welsh and his co-writer, Bradford-born, Dead Cavanagh.

“It seemed a strong story and ripe with potential for dramatic conflict,” says Welsh. “This was in 30's America where everybody was struggling, and it must have been even worse with the size disability.”

Prejudice against anybody without a standard body type was rife and the actors playing the muchkins got the full brunt of America’s casual discrimination.

“They were isolated from the other performers and paid less than Toto the dog,” says Welsh. “Things have improved, but the way small people are portrayed in the media as something to laugh at…look at Mini-Me in Austin Powers…shows there's still a lot to be done.”

Oddly, despite Welsh’s suggestions that one of the themes of his play is prejudice, news stories began appearing recently suggesting that small people’s groups objected to the play.

Were they perhaps objecting to the fact that the small people in Babylon Heights are not played by small actors (and instead, the script calls for everything in the set to be created three times its usual size)?

“I think the 'objections' are set-ups by the British newspapers. If you phone somebody up with loaded questions, they're going to give you the quotes you want.”

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Focus Theatre's new focus

Dublin smallest and perfectly-formedest little theatre, The Focus, is having a bit of a rest. The building that houses the micro-theatre, located on a choice noisette of prime city land, off Fitzwilliam Square, is in need of a little refurbishment.

So, the next two productions by the venerable company usually found in Pembroke Street, will take place “off site”. The company’s next production, Two Rooms, a 1980s play about middle east hostages, which promises to offer strong contemporary resonances, will open at Andrews Lane Theatre, while the show following that, Mother Teresa Is Dead, will open at Project.

“The building needs a bit of care and attention, the roof leaks and there are various things that need to be tidied up. And it needs to be made a bit more accessible,” says Focus administrator (and one half of the company’s staff of two) Cian O’Brien.

“We are committed to this size really,” says O’Brien. “I suppose in an ideal world we would be able to add a little, but we are committed to using a small space. Having your own venue is such a unique thing, and keeping that is a priority. We want to come back here.”

Focus has transferred shows – such as their long running version of Proof, directed by Joe Devlin – to Andrews Lane before. But the hook up with Project is something of a departure.

“We were very interested in finding out,” says O’Brien. “What would happen if we worked with someone with a bigger marketing profile. We wanted to see if that could help us build up audiences for the future.”

In the past, Focus has worked with companies such as Making Strange, who produced the long running and excellent hit production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “That appealed to our traditional audiences – which tends to be 40-plus,” says O’Brien. “But it also brought in a brand new audience. The thing was, we didn’t really hold onto them…”

Work is due to take around a year.

“Off site” productions are not, however, the only thing to keep the Focus busy in the coming year. The company, which specialises in keeping the flame of “the Method” alive and runs an actors’ studio (offering training to working actors) to that end, will be expanding its training wing, with the opening of an actors studio in Belfast, at Stranmillis University College.

And as for that for that lovely bit of land that must be the apple of many a Dublin property developers eye? Well, the land is owned by an Irish couple who now live in France, and whose advancing years mean that they do not get to the Focus much these days. The Focus, however, hold a long lease.

Monday, July 10, 2006

REVIEW: Queen at the Ballet

Well, it’s not quite as camp as you might imagine. Then again, you might easily have imagined that the Cape Town Ballet dancing to the music of Freddy Mercury might be as camp as a camping site on Mount Camp to which only members of the Camp family are ever admitted, and then only when dressed in nothing but a velvet and ermine robe. Falling short by that measure was always more than an outside chance.

Queen at the Ballet, the creation of choreographer, Sean Bovim, premiered in Cape Town several years ago and has been having regular seasons there ever since. It is – in African ballet terns – a big hit. Bovim’s recipe is certainly interesting enough, with the swooning theatricality of Mercury’s music almost demanding an energetic choreographic response. In Queen at the Ballet it gets that, but misses out on a degree of finesse that might also, oddly enough, have made it more enjoyably camp.

For the show, Mercury’s vocals are shared between two singers (helpful in reproducing some of the inhuman studio trickery that crops up in Queen records) while an electric guitar-assisted orchestra provides backing. As they march through the greatest hits, the dancers mix up the solos, the odd romantic pas de deux and plenty of big corps de ballet numbers, mashing together ballet and contemporary shapes, rocky poses and a touch of opera (Barcelona, as you might expect, gets a lavish treatment).

The music is almost always enjoyable, but the lines in the dancing are occasionally a little rough, with synchronisation somewhat intermittent. While the company has some good soloists, ability overall appeared unexpectedly mixed.

A giant radio wheeled on for Radio Ga-Ga, and a tamdem which appeared for Bicycle Race were, thankfully, two rare lurches into over-literalism. Everything worked best when the dancing moved – as it usually did – in abstract, parallel to Mercury’s very descriptive lyrics. And if sections of the choreography for Bohemian Rhapsody seemed to owe as much to Wayne’s World as to the world of ballet, that certainly kept things lively.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Simon Delaney's Full Monty

“They didn’t go “the full monty” in the film,” says Simon Delaney, star of the forthcoming Irish premier of The Full Monty: The Musical. “But we do. I swear...” Coming as it does from an actor beloved for his rounder, fuller figure, rather than his buff, toned abs, it is hard to know if this is a threat or a promise.

But the fraught area of male body image is not something that holds any fear for Delaney, whose face and voice have seldom been absent from Irish life since the cult RTE series, Bachelor’s Walk put a rocket under his career.

Right now his voice can be heard on RTE’s Chain Reaction series, he is filming a Christmas special of Bachelor’s Walk, rehearsing for The Full Monty, the run of which will see him straight back into a role in Stones In His Pockets at the Gaiety.

So is this the hardest working man in (Irish) showbiz? “I think I’m cheap, that’s what it is,” says Delaney. “It’s like my father says: “If you work for nothing, you’ll always find plenty of work.”

That Bachelor’s Walk Christmas special which has required, among other things, that Delaney spend portions of the summer walking around town days in a duffle coat, has helped with weight control. But it is a difficult balance, the actor suggests. While slimming down might be equivalent of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, “you don’t want to have a career as the leading man’s fat mate”

“But I generally consider myself pretty fit anyway. A play a lot of golf, even if I wouldn’t know what to do if I went to the gym. Shows like Stones in His Pockets, where you’re playing for two hours with no breaks and doing 36 characters between two of you...well, that kinda builds up stamina...”

But none of that Delaney’s over-employment can distract him from “keeping it real” musical theatre-wise. He has for many years been heavily involved with the Association of Irish Musical Societies (AIMS). “It is a huge culture in Ireland,” says the actor. “There are 75,000 people involved in amateur musical theatre in Ireland.” Delaney himself not only takes part in events such as AIMS annual awards ceremony, but also directs for amateur companies, such as the Malahide Musical Society .

“There really is a massive appetite for musical in Ireland,” he says. “You can see it from the shows that do come, like say Starlight Express, which will come to the Point and will sell out. But I really wish there were more musicals that began here, as well as the imported shows...sure there was The Wiremen and The Ha’Penny Bridge, but they were both historical musicals. What Ireland really needs is a contemporary Irish musical...”

Bachelor’s Walk auteur John Carney, says Delaney, has often threatened to fill the gap. So will that series be the next “musicalization” to hit the Irish stage?

“Oh, yes. Bachelor’s Walk...The Musical...On Ice...at the Point...”

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