Monday, April 30, 2007

REVIEW: The Cavalcaders (The Abbey, Dublin)

Nobody could accuse Billy Roche of chasing the hipster audience in The Cavalcaders. In fact, the Wexford playwright's period piece about the failed lives of a barbershop quartet, set in a scruffy small town cobblers has "granny" written all over it. First performed at the Abbey in 1993, after Roche had made a name for himself in England, the play looks back at the betrayals -- small and large, real and imagined -- that have shaped a group of souls trapped in a drab kind of nowhere.

The shoe repair business run by Terry (Stephen Brennan) has closed down, and a heel bar, with its while-u-wait fixes, is on its way. There'll be no more attention to detail, Terry suggests, before being reminded that there never was any. Even the soulless march of faceless capital seems like a reasonable alternative to the status quo around here. Terry is sad which we should know because Brennan stares at the ground a good deal. But to make it absolutely clear, he's written a song for the quartet that makes mention of staring at your shoes with tears in your eyes.

Roche's play then flits backwards and forwards in time until we finally know who betrayed who, with whom, and in what location: everyone with everyone else, everywhere, if you're curious. The various denouements are broken up with occasional close-harmony singing in the manner that Denis Potter made voguish in the 1980s, and in the end nobody lives happily ever after -- except in their dreams and memories.

Robin Lefèvre's direction look a little flat at times, with the more mechanical moments of Roche's play showing through. Brennan's Terry, for example, comes across too often as simply mopey. Support from John Kavanagh (as the moribund celibate, Josie) is springy and entertaining, as is Garrett Lombard's Rory, even if the senior actor gives a better indication that something is going on beneath the surface. Bad poetry aside, Simone Kirby's Nuala is detailed and consistent enough to make you wonder why everybody keeps calling her mad.

And the star of the show? The Abbey auditorium refit makes the place look good, and helps a member of the audience feel just that -- a member of something. Sadly, the seats aren't particularly comfortable, and the unbroken runs of the front few rows mean that plenty of thank yous and sorrys will be required to get to yours. Well, it's one way of making friends.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

REVIEW: Attempts on Her Life (Project Cube, Dublin)

Ten years after it first hit the British stage, Martin's Crimp's scrapbook of a drama is getting a revival, not only at the National Theatre in London, but also in Rough Magic's production at Project.

The London version comes completely with a with a snazzy web site, full of blogs and video clips and other self-conscious attempts to make sure everybody notices just how, like, relevant the playwright's take on refugees, violence, terrorism and social disintegration remains.

Rough Magic's production, directed by Tom Creed, doesn't seem nearly so certain. Indeed, the whole endeavour has a nagging lack of conviction, from the cramped stage and timorous dancing, to the uncertain line readings, and the frankly daft costumes in lurid colours.

The piece is written in 17 shortish scenes, each helpfully advertised via electronic signage. Through these we gather scraps about a mysterious off-stage character. Sometimes this woman is called Anne, sometimes Anouska. Sometimes we learn about her through two characters pitching a movie, sometimes through a rock song, an answering machine message, or a snippet from an interrogation. In one scene, which takes the form of a foreign language ad, it seems this Anne is not a woman all, but a nice car.

The feel is of a devised piece, like something you might imagine had been conjured up by Forced Entertainment with an eye to offering the actors a chance to show off those unexpected skills, like drumming and playing electric guitar. But Crimp's drive here is more towards creating a sense of fragmented characters, jostling surfaces incapable of acting or feeling without reference to a tabloid cliché or a scene from a movie.

The mistake in this production is to assume that in order to portray Crimp's post-everything cyphers the performers themselves need to disengage and not get bogged down in creating characters. Quite the opposite is true. No amount snappy lighting and music (and this production has both) can make a show appear crisp and decisive if the flesh and blood work is a little bit fuzzy.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Wednesdays


Well, here it is. Wednesdays. So, if you recall, what happened was i wrote a short story called Wednesdays; then me and conor ferguson wrote a screenplay for a short film called Wednesdays; then film base gave some money; millions of interns were contacted; they wandered around a bit; i did my 'cameo' (in the difficult zone between 'extra' and 'cameo' to be honest); then the film was finished; it seems to have got called The Wednesdays, for some reason. And now it's getting screened. In Odessa. I'd say everyone is welcome, but who knows...

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We, Keano

As Roy Keane's star seems to be rising once more, it only makes sense that his doppelgangers too are encountering a new purple patch. Not only is the touring version of I, Keano currently criss-crossing the land, taking in dates in Derry, Belfast, Limerick and, of course, Cork, a new theatre production based on the earlier life and times of the Sunderland manager is also warming up on the touchline.

Roy: A Footballer's Tale is a new one-man show written by journalist-turned-playwright, Alec McAllister and directed by Red Kettle's Jim Nolan. It stars Myles Horgan, the Rochestown-born actor, perhaps best known from Ken Loach's Irish civil war drama, The Wind The Shakes The Barley.

"Anyone who has seen me knows I'm not a Keano lookalike. I'm blonde-haired and blue-eyed," says Horgan. "So it was never going to be about doing an impersonation. There would be very little margin in an impersonation to put over the stuff we are interested in. It's about a very serious moment in his life, not setting him up for gag after."

McAllister's version of the Keano myth is set in the dressing room as Roy, having left Manchester United under a cloud, is about to take the field for Celtic. Saipan is part of Keano's past, but like many other episodes from that past, it refuses to stay in its place. So, Horgan not only plays the man himself, but also the myriad of ghosts that continue to haunt him, from Brian Clough, to Alex Ferguson and Mick McCarthy.

All these characters help to unpick the central enigma of Irish life, according to Horgan: "What nobody knows except those who were actually there, what never came out in the press, or in the books, is exactly what happened in that dressing room in Saipan. And that is what we are interested in…"

Ok, that's a mystery. But an equally intriguing mystery is why exactly so many people think that the best way to explore that mystery is in the theatre.

"Well, people are interested in that question: was he a hero or not? Was he stubborn or very brave? People like to see brave people. As I researched the play, I become more on his side." Which is presumably the only place to be if you are about to tour he country, playing Keane.

Roy: A Footballer's Tale had a short run in Wexford (where playwright McAllister is from) but is now getting ready for a national tour, which kick off in Cork next month. "yes, I suppose it will be different doing it in Cork, with people who knew him, or know him there. They'll have a completely different take on the accent…"

How good is your Keano accent? Would you ever do a little bit for me?

"What! So that you can say 'I heard the accent and it's shite. No way. Come and see the show if you want to hear it…"

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"blue mime artist in stephen green dublin 2 2007"

See that title there? Somebody just searched for it on Google and ended up at the loy.

I wonder what can it mean?

I think it means that a member of the Blue Man Group somehow or other found themselves in Stephens Green, where they were spotted by someone who, intensely curious and mystified, took their head out of their copy of the Evening Herald and started typing on their laptop connected to the yet to be initiated metropolitan wifi service.

My guess is that the group are going to "do" one of the festivals this year. And my further guess is that it'll be the Electric Picnic, because the electric picnic slavishly copies everything the Big Chill does, only a few years later.

Anyways, presumably now that i actually have a title "blue mime artist in stephen green dublin 2 2007" there will be many more of the same heading my way.

All non-made-up information welcome, like.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

REVIEW: Joanna Newsom (The Olympia, Dublin)

If you should be judged by your heroes, Joanna Newsom's shout outs to Beach Boy's collaborator, Van Dyke Parks, and trad harpist, Derek Bell, only begin to suggest quite how enigmatic the Californian's music is.

Even when you know that Van Dyke Parks provided the orchestral arrangements for her latest album, Ys, and Chieftain Bell once gave her a harp lesson, you are only at the gates of the weird world of the smiling figure about to shake out her long, blonde ringlets and begin strumming her golden harp.

Her experimental folk songs seem to encompass - sometimes rather inscrutably - an almost Dylanesque plenitude. Like Bob, if it occurs to her that a song requires more than ten minutes to find its way home, she gives it enough rope.

And also like Dylan (who, of course, she sounds nothing like) she isn't prepared to waste the symphonic stretches on solos: there is clearly far too much to say to leave the air to the instruments. Almost constantly, her high, chirpy voice sows a long, shiny thread that tweets snatches of fairytale simplicity, before hopping along to mysterious philosophical speculation and apocalyptic soothsaying.

For the most part, the great swells of Newsom's music are as dense and rapid and full of pileup possibilities as the grid at a grand prix. The sweep of Emily seems to demand as much concentration to listen to as it does to play; even in moments of jollity, such as the cowboy zen of Inflammatory Writ, or the verbal prism of This Side of the Blue, there is always a sense of a duty to pay attention amid the striding complexity.

Her current touring show strips away the orchestral backing that helped her concerts late last year make such a big splash. For this tour, she will offer instead minute gilding touches from backing vocalist, violinist and sliding tambura player (i was behind him -- in Box No.1 -- and couldn't quite see: if this guy was in Horslips, I'd have said it was an electric bouzouki, but the guy from Pitchfork thinks tambura) Best of all, though, is the stripped down (and barefoot) percussion section - never, I'm guessing, has a bass drum played so exquisitely, nor turned into such a colourful, expressive instrument.

The songs are long and complex with tiny rhythmic variations turning up after endless stretches of rapid fire lyrics. The band are all good players versed in the dark art of sitting still and listening carefully for bar 137 where their 3 notes are required to decorate Jo's headlong storm of harp notes. (Classical training, I guess.)

The thing is that although this music is beautiful, demanding, sharp, funny, and as ambitiously conceived and played as anything in popular music, the gorgeousness of it all eventually becomes kind of exhausting. Who'd have thought that the woman who sings

Never get so attached to a poem,
you forget truth that lacks lyricism


would forget the value of the few flaws.

There is a throb of expectation accompanying Newsom now that must have surrounded Dylan by the mid-sixties. Having so pointedly raised the bar, who could resist asking: "but what now?" So sure are we that Newsom is saying something portentous, and saying it with fierce drive, that we're prepared to hang on a little longer to work out what exactly it is.

If I had to guess, I think it's something about starting all over again; not from the beginning, but from some point in the best future we can imagine. All rather American, in the end.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Garrett Lombard's Cavalcade

"Yes, I've been waiting for someone to give me the magic call. And he we are…," says Wexford-born actor, Garrett Lombard, about finally getting to perform in a play by the poet-laureate of his county, Billy Roche.

Lombard had never seen the Roche play in which he makes his Abbey debut, The Cavalcaders -- though he'd read it more than once. But he was already a confirmed Roche fan, catching other episodes of the Wexford's playwright oeuvre, both in Dublin and on the Amateur drama circuit.

Naturally enough, seeing all those good, chunky roles calling for the casting a head from Wexford got him thinking. After all, he could do the accent. Or could he? For the play he is having to find his way back into the Wexford accent that, he admits, has softened a great deal since he left Gorey.

"When I was 12 or 13, we had really strong Wexford accents, but it's faded a lot now. But it is easy enough to get it back," says Lombard, drifting into something twangy and entirely convincing: "It's kinda nasal. And singy-songy, you know. They also put on extra words at the end of the sentences, you know, like. Lots of extra words."

He stops and adds in a more drama school tone: "It's a bit odd; like revisiting my childhood in a way."

Though he's best known as Scobie in RTE's Pure Mule (another challenging accent!) his acting career began with Gorey Little Theatre Group, where he first began performing in a production of Our Town at the age of 12. It would have been a surprise if he had done anything else. His parents were deeply involved with amateur drama, organising, performing and directing "on the circuit".

"They met on the stage – a long time ago – in a cabaret-type night in Kilkenny Castle that Tomas MacAnna directed," says Lombard. His mother, Veronica, continues to direct, while his father, Gary Snr., runs the South Leinster Drama Festival, as well as travelling the country adjudicating.

His own swansong on the amateur circuit, was when he (appropriately enough) starred in Friel's drama of hellos and goodbyes, Philadelphia Here I Come! But by then he had "got the taste."

Having signed up for Drama Studies at TCD, he transferred to the University's now defunct acting degree, which provided something he considers essential, no matter how great the experience in Amateur drama.

"It's a great shame that it is gone. It is a hard enough profession to get started in and the degree gives you a springboard, gives you some fundamental training. Without it there will be a void there..."

His first Abbey appearance comes – happily it might seem – too late for him to enjoy the idiosyncrasies of the Abbey auditorium that generations of actors have bemoaned. Lombard has been checking out the Abbey's new auditorium configuration and deems the seating: "brilliant".

"Yes, I missed out on all the problems. Now the place is fantastic they've really changed it. Changed the whole feel of the place, it's really amazing…"

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

REVIEW: Talking to Terrorist (Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin)

The big question that hangs over verbatim theatre – theatre in which the words spoken on stage were all first spoken by real people – is why work this way? What more is achieved when the words don't come from the playwright's memory and imagination, but instead from the lips of real historical and contemporary figures?

The question is posed in an acute form by Robin Soans' latest foray into verbatim theatre, a rapid fire exploration of terrorism and its effects on both perpetrators and victims, using a range of testimonies from everybody from a former African child soldier to Norman Tebbit.

Soans has woven the testimony into short, pointed scenes, which are here sharply delivered by an expert cast of storytellers, including Helen Norton (who does nice Mo) and Michael Grennell, who adroitly leaps from an ex-member of the Al Asqua Matyrs Brigade to a well-starched British colonel, and David Pearse, who provides a couple of nice turns, particularly as the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

The problems here do not stem from the cast, Moggie Douglas' design or Bairbre Ni Chaoimh's direction, all of which skilfully mix panache and passion. Less sure-footed is Soans' play, in which the quest for truth seldom really moves beyond a liberal-ish received opinion.

The triumph of the best of verbatim theatre – let's say Richard Norton-Taylor's Scenes from the Saville Enquiry – is that it sifted and organised in dramatic form information that was originally (probably) intentionally dense and opaquely presented.

Because Talking to Terrorist assumes a more general job for itself, it is not nearly as powerful and corrosive a piece of work. Several of the people represented, for instance, are already media figures, which somewhat distorts matters.

And there is an argument, even, that to link violence is so many different global conflicts -- from Palestine, to Sierra Leone, Belfast to Uzbekistan -- is to foster a Bushist agenda, to see all conflicts, no matter how different their origins, as the actions of a homogenised enemy that must be annihilated.

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REVIEW: Snoop / P Diddy (The Point, Dublin)

Do you know what Sean John Combs aka Puff Daddy, aka P Diddy, aka Diddy wants (besides a name he can hold onto for more than a week)?

What he really, really wants is for everybody to put their hands up in the air. And, if everybody could do so in a nonchalant manner, suggesting, perhaps, that they just don't care, well, so much the better.

Round here, of course, what Diddy wants, Diddy gets: suddenly the Point is an endless forest of pale, waving arms.

The One Love Peace tour is in town, fronted by East Coast rap's most dapper mogul, three-piece suited, P Diddy, alongside his suitably lugubrious West Coast counterpart, Snoop Dogg. And Dublin is clearly at their command.

By now these guys have more than 50 years in the business between them, and the fundamentals of the earliest hiphop shows and still here: every call and response, shouted out and hollered back as though they were written in a book of common prayer.

The two headliners perform an alternating series of mini-sets, marathon bouts of world class working the crowd. Puffy in particular is in MC, rather than rapper mode, at times quite literally taking control of the jammed Point audience like a conductor in front of his orchestra: crisp suit, music stand and baton in hand.

During a hugely extended version of his Sting-sampling, I'll be Missing You, P Diddy invokes (not for the first time in the evening) the ghosts of Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac, but also, rather more unexpectedly, all the men and women who died for Irish freedom.

Snoop seems less interested in grunt work of bandleading, and relies instead on a few localisation tricks – replacing his trademark call and response 'what's my name' with the crowd pleasing "cad is anam dom?" and delivering a version of House of Pain's hiberno hiphop classic, Jump Around.

Finally – and inevitably – Snoop, Puff, and their considerable entourages unite on-stage for the big finale: a birthday party for P Diddy's 9-year-old son, Christian, at which we all sing Happy Birthday and the nipper, dressed in full Bad Boy regalia, blows out the candles and wishes that when he grows up he'll be a rapper, just like his daddy and Snoop.

That's hiphop for ya: adorable, wholesome, family entertainment.