Friday, December 14, 2007

Christman is coming and...yada yada yada

It's a very serious business, the panto. Choosing which of the myriad of Christmas shows should be the one for your offspring is a fraught matter. Should you be aiming for good old fashioned fun and damn the consequences? Or do you see this Christmas outing as part of your issue's ongoing sentimental education, a grand opportunity to demonstrate that there is life beyond TV and text messages? Whichever you opt for, you can pretty much guarantee that what they remember of the night will be something else entirely. So, don't sweat it. Use a pin, maybe. It's worked before.

The Recruiting Officer (Abbey Theatre)
The National Theatre has always taken a slightly oblique approach to Christmas theatre. Lets hope it stays that way – and when the All Bran Christmas Panto opens at the Abbey it will be a sign of that the Rapture is upon us. Till then, the follow up to last year's smashing, poppy take on Sheridan's The School for Scandal sees Farquhar's comedy get the seasonal treatment. Ferdia Murphy, who designed School for Scandal is back to give the production a festive swagger, while Rough Magic's Lynn Parker directs. Children too young to pronounce the word "recruiting" will probably be more entertained elsewhere. (Booking: 01 878 7222)

Alice in Wonderland (The Helix)
Not all Pantos are about pushing sugared water and crisps, you know. Landmark productions are aiming for that section of the market who might be just a little bit leery of bringing vulnerable and advertising sensitive young folks to a couple of hours worth of FMCG marketing – whether brashly promoted in the title or vaguely disguised in the plot. In any case, Alice in Wonderland is aiming higher, looking to create a theatrical experience with a bit of class. An impressive cast should keep a wide range of ages focused on the surreal action. (Booking: 01 700 7000)

Gerry and the Peace Process (Players Theatre, TCD)
And what, when you think about it, could be more Christmassy than a musical about the recent history of Republicanism? Absolutely nothing. Volta Theatre company opened their hilarious and surreal musical about Gerry, Martin and Big Ian at this year's Fringe Festival, impressively mixing satire and song to produce something that was trenchant, but also – even more surprisingly -- thoroughly charming. Now the company has refreshed things for a seasonal outing. Still in the starring roles are Liam Hourican as a very charming Adams and Sean Duggan as his odd buddy, Martin, with 'guest' appearances by David Trimble and his Dancing Orangemen. Anyone too young to define the expression "parity of esteem" won't get the most out of this. But they might still enjoy the songs. (Booking:

Can You Catch A Mermaid (Pavilion Theatre)
If you are in the market for a 5-10 year-olds show, the Pavilion may be the place for you – particularly if you have among your brood a mermaid fancier or two. Jane Ray's superb illustrated book for children has been adapted for the stage by Martin Murphy, while the nation's busiest director, David Horan takes charge. The show opens on Saturday (15 Dec) at 3pm, when Ray herself will be in attendance. (Booking: 01 231 2929)

Beauty and the Beast (Gaiety Theatre)
The grand dame, the Manchester United, the Ace of Clubs in Dublin's Christmas entertainment calendar this and every year. The quality (and indeed, the star quality) may vary considerably from year to year, but it's rare enough to find a dissatisfied customer among the glow stick waving masses that spill out onto South King Street of a Christmas evening. At least half the reason for that has to be the building itself – there is nothing like vast stucco ceilings, sweeping stairs, red plush seats and Maxi-Twists to get you in the mood for some blood-chilling audience participation. (Booking: 01 677 1717)

Aladdin (Lambert Puppet Theatre)
If you would like something on a smaller scale this Christmas, the country's only purpose-built puppet theatre, in Monkstown, should be your first stop. The Lambert family have been keeping the puppetry flame alive at the miniature venue for more than 30 years. The venue has an atmosphere like no other in town, like a cross between a temple and a creche. But in a good way, like. (Booking: 01 280 0974)

The Wizard of Oz (The Helix)
Not really possible to confuse this one with a panto, or even a theatre show. But definitely something with distinct possibilities…The RTÉ Concert Orchestra perform the live orchestral soundtrack (transcribed from the film's score by John Wilson) while from the screen will come all the dialogue, singing and effects. Some claim it is even better than watching the film while listening to Dark Side of the Moon. Fat chance. (Booking: 01 700 7000)

Dickens in Dublin (Bewley's Cafe Theatre)
Laurence Foster created and stars in his one man show recreating the Victorian writer's reading and performing tour to Dublin of 1858. (*see entry below) (Booking: 086 878 4001)

Jesus: The Guantanamo Years (Tripod)
The return of that timely Christmas show about a middle eastern revolutionary called Jesus Christ, who is arrested and detained in a certain American concentration camp at the Emperor's pleasure. A comedy, like, but not for the kids. And for one night only – 20th December)

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Laurence Foster's Dickens in Dublin

There's Dickens shows, and there's Dickens shows. And Laurence Foster's Dickens in Dublin is both. His one man show is, as far as possible, based on exactly the kind of one man show that Charles Dickens gave in Dublin exactly 150 years ago next year.

"Dickens got into the performing after he ended up with a million dollar tax bill from his first visit to the United States. So from 1858 until his death, he was always performing," says Foster. "He became a huge draw and earned up to £1000 week, which was a good deal of money at the time."

Dickens approach for these shows, which took place at the Rotunda, was to perform sections from his writings, which he had made into scenes with dialogue, for which the author would play all the parts.

He had entertained the idea of becoming an actor in his youth and developed his own style for conveying his stories, breaking with the strict elocution of his day, and bringing his own characters to life so forcefully that audiences would shriek, laugh and hisses at sections from A Christmas Carol or The Pickwick Papers.

The style of acting used to tell stories in the way Dickens did is one that has all but disappeared, according to Foster. "There was a tradition of this type of acting that runs back to Dickens own time, to people like Bramley Williams, who I saw on television, on the BBC in the 1950s. You can't just go using any modern style of acting to do Dickens, because it just won't work."

Foster's own show aims to reproduce that famous Rotunda show, including the writer's interactions with his Dublin audience, but also adding to it writings about Dublin that Dickens produced later.

"When he came to Dublin he did not just write travelogues. He wrote a great deal about the conditions that Irish people were suffering at the times, about the Coombe, and about Mountjoy Gaol and published what he wrote in his magazine, Household Words, which is also where his stories first appeared. He was the Veronica Guerin of his day."

Historical accuracy remains one of Foster's aims in Dickens in Dublin, but as new material comes to light, the actor continues to incorporate it into the show. "A pamphlet came to light in which Dickens talked about how much he appreciated the response he got from Dublin people and audience, so naturally I brought that in…"

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tenderfoot Young Playwrights

Get them while they are young, seems to be the principle of a pioneering playwrighting scheme, get them while they are very young. While the National Theatre, or initiatives like Rough Magic's Seeds project, are prepared to wait until writers are in the 20s and 30s before testing their metal, a scheme being run by a collection of south Dublin groups, intend to find the next generation of writers for the theatre before they even leave school.

Tenderfoot, as the scheme is called, began back in October, when 16 transition year students from schools around South Dublin were selected to attend a four-day workshop in Tallagh's Civic Theatre with playwright Gavin Kostick (he of the one man marathon Heart of Darkness reading) of Fishamble Theatre Company and Liam Halligan of Storytellers Theatre Company.

After this, students submitted finished plays, battling for the right to get a production of their show this month at the Civic Six plays were finally selected, and they go up next week in the theatre's Loose End space. (was someone filming this for a textvote-tastic TV series?) Along with the playwrights, another group of students has been given an introduction to aspects of theatre production, and have been helping get the new plays ready for their openings.

Tenderfoot, which is a collaboration between The Civic Theatre, South County Dublin Arts Office and Storytellers Theatre Company, has been developed by Barabbas' Veronica Coburn, who is currently artist in residence at the Civic.

So far, one thing is clear: if the champions of Tenderfoot are an indication of things to come, then there will be very few male playwrights on Irish stages in the future. The plays which have won through to the final six, as it happen, all written by girls.

And for anyone who want to keep a tabs over the next couple of decades, the winning plays are: Warming Ice by Eimear Bannister, from St. Paul's Secondary School, Greenhills; Fashion by Ellen Tannam from Sancta Maria College, Ballyroan; Pearls of Wisdom by Clare MacEntee, who is also from Sancta Maria College, Ballyroan; Nobody by Molly Sanderson, of St. Columba's College, Whitechurch; Monologue by Jade McDonnell of Collinstown Park Community College, Neilstown; and Trapped By Fear by Aisling O'Leary/Sancta Maria College, Ballyroan.

So there.