Monday, November 26, 2007

John Breen's Falling out of Love

No amount of applause really tells you how well a play has gone, according to playwright, John Breen. "But when you've got them laughing, you've got them."

Breen should be in a better position to know than most Irish playwrights. His breakthrough show, Alone It Stands, left audiences all over the world breathless with laughter. So who better to try and breath some life into that most undernourished of genre in Irish theatre: the romcom.

"It was a very deliberate decision to write a romantic comedy," says Breen. "As a genre it tends to be very undertreated in Ireland. Certainly Tom Murphy hasn't been writing many of them lately…"

But for the man who had 62 characters played by a handful of actors in Alone It Stands, no simple romcom would do. Falling Out of Love is perhaps the world's first bungee jumping romantic comedy.

Set in contemporary Ireland, the play tells the story of three couples, in various stages of break up, who all happen to live in the same building, and on one particular night find their lives intertwined with a bungee chord.

"The image comes from the experience of trying to make someone love you, or trying to make yourself love someone," says Breen. "It has that terrible quality, like falling off a building and trying to grab the air to stop yourself falling. That and Wile e Coyote…"


"…well, your original influences are always things like the cartoons, which I grew up watching and loving. And those cartoons, of course, were influenced by silent stars like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, except the animation let them take the whole slapstick thing that bit further…"

And so Breen's little comedy calls for the contents of a small apartment to fly through the air, as well as for the mid-air, bungee-jumping rescue of a woman falling from a tower block.

"I'm interested in doing things on stage that you don't expect…like in Alone it Stands I could see it all in my head: the job was getting it into someone else's head."

And that somebody was uber-clown and Barrabas founder, Mikel Murfi, who these days is most often found directing shows for the likes of Druid.

"Mike was somebody I knew from college and somebody I knew believes in comedy as something important, something he rated. And I knew he would be able to make these things happen."

After the current Irish tour, Breen intends give the play a little oil-change and then take it back on the road, perhaps to Edinburgh the following year. So it is possible, then, to know that a show will still have life in a year or two?

"You can't know that it will still be alive, but you just act as though it will be," says Breen. "And it is a lot easier to know with a comedy, because, like I said, if they're laughing, you know it is working…"


REVIEW: The Last of the Celtic Tigers (The Olympia, Dublin)

You couldn't help thinking of that climatic scene from Spartacus as he crowd gathered for the opening night of The Last of the Celtic Tigers. So many young men in pricey jeans, so many odd tans, so much pectoral definition. At any moment, you might imagine, the lads were going to jump to their feet and roar with pride: "I'm Ross O'Carroll-Kelly" "I'm Ross O'Carroll-Kelly," "No, I'm Ross O'Carroll-Kelly."

Paul Howard's creation was so exquisitely poised in its relationship with the zeitgeist, that it was never certain whether the writer simply spotted a type, or whether his writing somehow created these folks.

In either case, few people will arrive at the Olympia over the next few weeks knowing nothing about Ross O'Carroll-Kelly. Thanks to the newspaper columns, books, CDs and other manifestations of Howard's local media empire, anyone who hasn't consciously avoided the tale of Ross will be familiar with its cast of characters and the special little city in which they live. And so now, there's a chance to enjoy all that in the flesh.

The Last of The Celtic Tigers will not disappoint its audience much, but it is equally hard to imagine it exciting them too much either. The play is almost exactly what could be expected of it. It's a fairly well put together show, with very good performances -- Rory Nolan is desperately on the money in the title role, and gets solid support all around, with Rory Keenan's Ronan particularly enjoyable -- and it possesses just about enough gags to sustain its two and a half hours on the stage.

Howard writes some damn good lines – a riff about the effects of too many visits to Avoca Handweavers is priceless. But the writer (and to give him his due, his audience) often seems just as happy with slightly shop-soiled gags that spoil the stats. But this, after all, is boulevard comedy, (even if the boulevard in question is the Rock Road) so achieving the status of mildly entertaining, which the show is, must be deemed a success.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Loy's sister publication, Big In Japan

If you been wondering where you could see lots and lots of photos of interesting Japanesey things for the next fortnight, then Big In Japan is just for you. Step this way, madame:

The Abbey's New Year

It is not easy to get a grip on the Abbey's program for next year, which was announced this week. There is a liberal dose of the old guard at its mustiest, but some new faces, particularly in the playwrights' stable, as well as a significant number of imported shows.

If this is the real flavour of Fiach MacConghail's ideal national theatre, it's one that keeps the definition of what might be performed on the Abbey stage appealingly wide – including as it does, contemporary dance and circus. But it doesn't quite break with the bad old days either – someday soon, hopefully, staging a Brian Friel 'version' of a play by Chekov will be as unacceptable as it is unimaginative. But for now, that's what will hold the Abbey stage for the Summer months in 2008.

Elsewhere, there is an unashamedly American flavour to the program. A least part of the reason for this is the Abbey's new relationship with the New York Public theatre, designed see a procession of American works fetch up in Dublin, and a corresponding raft of Irish dramas wash ashore in New York. The first fruits of that exchange will drop when Mark O'Rowe's brilliant verbal fireworks display, Terminus, opens in New York next January.

British production outfit Crying Out Loud, who supplied circus-inspired shows to the Abbey over the past couple of years – including last year's delightful acrobatic show from the Hammichs family, Taoub – are back again with another 'new' circus presentation, Circo De la Sombra, an pan-European acrobatic show performed to the music of a Neapolitan band.

The big local show of the year will quite possibly be Conor McPherson's belated arrival on the Abbey stage with The Seafarer, due to dock next April. McPherson's absence from the Abbey over the last decade was perhaps one of the most obvious indicators that the theatre had lost touch.

But McPherson isn't the only newcomer to the National Theatre this year. One of the most promising sections of the program for the coming year is a season of short commissioned work from writers making their debut at the theatre. Called 20:Love, the season will feature rehearsed readings of plays by younger talents, all 20-minutes long and all on the theme of love.

Among those making the jump to the big league via this route will be Gary Duggan, best known for Monged, his elegiac rendering of a debauched night of necking yokes around boomtime Dublin, and Philip McMahon, best known for Danny and Chantelle (Still Here), his elegiac rendering of a debauched night of necking yokes around boomtime Dublin. Spot the connection?

Duggan and McMahon are also, to the best of our knowledge, the first Abbey playwrights to be on Facebook. But maybe I'm wrong there. Maybe Brian Friel is lurking there somewhere too.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Theatrical Facebook

Now i may need a week or two to workshop this up into a notion, but here is what i think i noticed...the first theatre people onto Falsebook were from the PR end, they were quick out of the blocks, and friendly with it. Then some techies and admins. Then came the playwrights, the younger ones mind. The odd thing is, that it seems to be that only when this lot has secured the space that the actors showed up. Interesting if it's true...

Monday, November 05, 2007


You know what a conference is, don't ya? Well, how about an unconference? Mashup Camp is in Dublin next week, and swears that it is an unconference. It's clearly time for the Chatter's brief history of unconferencing.

+++Listen to Audio Here+++


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ken Fanning's Circus(es)

Isn't it about time you knew your silks from your corde lisse? Your Chinese pole from your Danish one? With every other week seeming to bring a circus crossover act to town (check out for a hint at the range of current circus activity in Ireland) a little familiarity with the terminology is bound to help.

Or is it? As a new show suggests, it's the emotional power of the circus skills that matter, not the techniques.

This week Barabbas open their new latest theatre piece, Circus, made in collaboration with the founders of the Tumble Circus, Tina Segner, from Sweden, and Balbriggan's own, Ken Fanning.

Fanning and Segner has been running their circus company since the Spring day in 1997 when the two met, accidentally, like the pair in John Kearney's film, Once, while busking on Grafton Street.

"I knew Tina was a juggler because I could see juggling clubs sticking out of her bag, and literally within 5 minutes we were passing clubs on South Anne street," says Ken.

Together the pair formed Tumble Circus, one of the very few "new" circus troupes in Ireland. Perhaps the only one. While they have so far specialised in street shows, they are now moving indoors for their collaboration with Raymond Keane and Barabbas, a love story loosely based on the one in director, Fellini's cinematic hymn to the rough life of Italian travelling performers, La Strada.

"As a company, we have a lot in common with Barabbas whose work is based in clown," says Ken. "Although I think that, for instance, that Raymond is interested in the beauty of the clown, whereas we use the slapstick element more."

The intention in Circus is to use the skills of the Tumble Circus pair to tell a story without even resorting to words. This is possible, Ken suggest, because the skills of the circus always carry with them distinct emotional charges.

"Each act has a different emotional layer to it. For example, when we are doing a trapeze scene, for instance, it's very floating and slow, but quite dangerous. And it really evokes falling in love."

And while Barabbas show is one place to use those skills, as soon as the production finishes, Tumble Circus will be back to work. And to the tricky question of what the company growing profile should mean for its future.

"Right now, Tumble Circus is about the right size," says Ken. "You look at those companies like Cirque De Soleil, with 14 shows running around the world, and doing the same thing they've been doing since they started -- they're just soulless corporations. Who would want to become one of those?"

"All the big companies are just basing their ideas on what they find in the smaller companies anyway. The smaller companies are where the real innovations are coming from. That where the real creativity is. That's where we want to be."

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