Thursday, June 21, 2007

REVIEW: Terminus (The Peacock, Dublin)

It is as easy to imagine someone walking out on Terminus as to imagine them loving the show with a passion. Everyone has their breaking point, and it’s quite possible that among the lovingly told beatings, garrottings and backstreet abortions in Mark O’Rowe’s new show, you might find yours.

But equally plausibly, you might find the writing here has the sort of explosion of imagination, sparks, muscle and purpose that keeps you drinking in the experience with wonder.

Once again using the monologue form from which he rarely departs, O’Rowe offers us a story of nighttown, of mutilation, of murder, of crazed, and orgiastic sex involving devilish flying creatures with bodies made entirely of worms.

While the Tallaght playwright’s previous works always had the glint of cinematic fantasy, his writing now fully welcomes the mythological, the supernatural and a whole pantheon of unearthly entities. And the effect proves liberating.

A serial killer (luciferianly charming, Aidan Kelly) who has – and we’re talking literally, here – sold his soul to the devil, a lonely spinster (Eileen Walsh) saved from death by that very soul, and a telephone counsellor (a slightly miscast, Andrea Irvine) take it in turns to speak. Each offers (in loose, bubbling verse) their take on one tumultuous night of mayhem. As these things should, their stories mesh in the most unexpected – and unearthly – ways.

Jon Bausor's design, with its black plinth for each actor, looks very like the set for an Olympic medal presentation – in Hell. Instead of a proscenium there is the suggestion of an enormous framed mirror which has been smashed to let us see the performers within. Some loud, glass-shattering type noises that announce the start of the show re-enforce the idea, as do jagged reflective shards hanging above the actors.

None of this, however, is particularly clever or interesting. But as the plan is to light each of the actors only when they are speaking, and to leave them -- and the rest of the stage -- semi-visible in the darkness, when they are not, it’s not all that important either. But even the lighting exists largely to manage our attention. This is a show about words, and the voices that speak them.

If this were an awards ceremony, then Eileen Walsh would be nabbing the gold. Her storytelling is so completely absorbing it feels like hypnotism, so completely embodied that you’ll feel vertigo as she talks about walking out on a crane high above twinkling Dublin.

Milton’s Paradise Lost (of all things) hovers around the edges of this punch-up between evil and more evil, but it is the spirit of that other English dissenter poet, Mike Skinner, that comes most forcefully to mind. All the same, O’Rowe’s flow – as adventurous, flippant, and mordant as the best freestyle -- doesn’t need a beatbox to shake the floor.

So, right now, the National Theatre has up and running two stellar productions. How long since that could be said?

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

REVIEW: Cruel and Tender (Project, Dublin)

There is something of an orgy of Martin Crimp plays going on at the moment, with Irish productions following the lead of recent English outings, which themselves were inspired, to some extent, by productions on continental Europe.

No sooner has Project said good-bye to the English playwright's Attempts on Her Life, than it says hello to his 2004 version of Sophocles story of the last misguided campaign of the great hero, Heracles, aka Hercules.

While the big guy, known in Crimp's version simply as the General (played by Robert O'Mahoney, who played Julius Caesar in the Abbey's recent production) has been away in African waging a bloody, disgusting and clearly illegal war, his wife Amelia (Andrea Irvine) has stayed home with her manicurist, her beautician and her housekeeper wondering if its all worth it.

We never see the two meet, but instead watch their effect on each other's lives, an strategy that makes sense given that Crimp's interests apparently lie in the knotty relationship between war and the construction gender. This dramatic hole in the piece – that so much action is simply reported -- underlines the classical origins of the story, but also, helps to give a kind of anti-dramatic flatness to the characters.

Sure there is an vulpine figure in a dark suit -- played up to a revolting tee by Owen McDonnell -- who is happy to stoke up death and destruction for some entirely opaque reasons, and Conrad Kemp's James is a well-organised performance. But even when a performance shines, it tends to disrupt the flow of things.

Crimp writes some powerful dialogue which reads very well, but his characters are far too post-modern to do much more than float through the action. So just when they are guiding us into their characters, the actors seem to find themselves like Wile E Coyote, trying to get a foothold in thin air. Cruel and Tender is clearly not an easy play to get right, but what is not clear from this production is why exactly everyone is trying.

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