Thursday, November 30, 2006

Paul Walker's (and God's) Grace

“I don’t want to sound like a mystic,” says Paul Walker, one of the writers behind a new show set for the former home of The Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers Society, at the Gates of Dublin Castle. “But I do believe that rooms retain some sort of residue of the things that happened there.”

God’s Grace, which Walker describes as “a Christmas fable” is the latest show from Semper Fi, the innovative theatre company, whose show have previously brought their audiences to unexpected venues from an abandoned warehouse in the docklands, to a public convenience on Stephens Green.

The show’s origins are every bit as unconventional as its staging. It began life as a series of emails between Walker and co-writer, Eugene O’Brien (best know as the author of the award-winning, Eden). “I’d write two or three pages and then email them off to Eugene and he’d write two or three back, letting the characters tell me where he wanted it to go. And we carried on like that…”

Finally, however, when The Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers Society premises was chosen for the show, things began to take shape. Scouting the house, the writers found that as they walked about, certain rooms contained certain “atmospheres,” suggesting themselves for scenes in the show.

“We are rehearsing somewhere else at the moment,” says Walker, “and you are really aware that one of the characters is missing. Because until we all get into the house, we won’t have all the atmospheres right.” Not that he want to appear mystical about the whole thing…

“But everyone has felt that kind of thing. Say, you know, you go househunting and you’re in a house and it seems very nice. And then, you walk into one room and something there feels a bit off, a bit cold and odd…I don’t know the physics of it, but it certainly happens.”

The play, which features Andrew Bennett among other, centres on the way in which one family’s carefully hidden secrets – despite steady efforts at suppression -- bubble to the surface amongst the Christmas festivities.

Similar spooky goings on appear to be at the heart of the writer’s other current project. After writing on RTE’s two-part Stardust drama earlier this year, Walker is currently developing a new drama on the subject of the American government’s “extraordinary rendition” flights through Shannon airport.

“It is based on hearsay and rumour, rather than facts,” says Walker. None the less, his experience writing the piece, which delves into the frightening world of what exactly went on inside the secret American planes that landed at Shannon, has left him with a strong impression of fabrication and cover-up. And even of being personally under surveillance.

“You wouldn’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to notice some of the odd things that have happen. Information that’s on a web site one day and is removed the day after you look at it…sometimes you feel that they are right inside your computer…”

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Monday, October 16, 2006

REVIEW: Everyday (Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin)

Have you see this man? You’re bound to remember if you have. Strange fright wig, face painted all over in white, maniac grin carved out in shades of blue and red?

The Corn Exchange theatre company theatre company’s latest production in the trademark style – a hybrid of commedia del’arte, steeped in Chicago improv -- is set in a contemporary city rather like Dublin, and features a set of urban nomads who might just turn out to be me and you, and everyone we know.

There’s the abandoned starter wife of the successful property developer, drunk in city centre hotel: hasn’t she noticed she’s surplus to requirements? Get a load of the Bowie-loving muso who forgot to learn to play an instrument. He really should know better than to start teaching Lolita to his uncomprehending TEFL class. Look out for the Aussie office bitch terrorising her simpering staff: she’ll do the same for you if you come across her, four sheets to the wind in a snazzy bar. And – a word to the wise -- beware that new mother: there’s cocaine in the breast milk around here.

This fine set of characters roam the stage, sometimes performing little solos, sometimes miming in silhouette, sometimes stumbling across each other as they go about their business, in a series of short, sweetly interlocking scenes. At times, it can call to mind the Fast Show, or indeed Little Britain, with sadly human characters only partially obscured by the grotesque comic ticks and monstrous makeup.

Everyday is not, all the same, as deeply rewarding as some of the company’s previous shows. The contemporary setting accounts for part of this. For the first time since Carshow, the dramas, little triumphs and abject failures are rooted in a world around us, something that ends up grounding the excitement a little. Perhaps the grotesques are simply a little more familiar than is useful: after all, the gap between Rosaleen Lenihan or Twink at their worst and these cartoon exaggerations is not all that large.

All the same, performances from the ensemble cast (Corn Exchange first timers Derbhle Crotty, Louise Lewis and Simon Rice, along with old hands and true believers, Andrews Bennett, Janet Moran, Mark O’Halloran and Tom Murphy) are crisp and inventive, by turns poignant and very funny. And unfair as it is to single anyone out, O’Halloran’s big, head-to-toe performance may leave you with an grin on your face that just won’t wash off.

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