Saturday, November 17, 2007

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, October 09, 2003

REVIEW: Kevin McAleer's Chalk and Cheese (Project, Dublin)

How anyone would choose to spend their time this Festival in the company of Brian Friel, Tom Kilroy, or almost anybody other than Kevin McAleer is a mystery.

The Omagh comic’s one-man comedy, Chalk and Cheese, is the definitive highlight of either of this year’s Festivals, one of those events recommended only to those content to find themselves rolling on the floor, breathless and speechless with delirious laughter.

On the face of it, Chalk and Cheese is the diary of a madman, a tour of some brand of paranoid psychosis narrated from the inside by Kevin (or at least by McAleer’s Kevin character.)

If we stop and look around for a moment, the subject matter of the show never strays far from insanity, murder and confinement. Stick with this extraordinary guide, however, and you’ll experience instead a glittering universe of ricocheting references, sudden reversals of logic, flickering verbal tricks, dizzying rocket trips of the imagination and sweet, fairytale surrealism.

All of the above is delivered with nanosecond perfect timing - if you want to see what dramatic shape is all about, check out McAleer’s pauses, not Kilroy’s plays. So even a momentary lapse in concentration can leave you lost down a sidestreet when the guide is back on the main thoroughfare of his wit.

It might be easy enough to transcribe fragments of that wit, but that would be depriving you of the chance to hear it directly from the mouth of a writer and performer of unique skills and rare, rare quality. You have until Saturday.

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