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, February 20, 2007

REVIEW: Julius Caesar (The Abbey, Dublin)

It is startling to notice – after a decade's worth of TV phorensic drama – how the conventions of the CSI/Bones axis get an early outing in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. As he leans over the dead body of Ceasar (…oops, is that a spoiler..?) Mark Anthony leads us, and the good people of Rome, through his reconstruction of that most celebrated of literary crime scenes, offering us his specialist appraisal of the motives, the weapons, the wounds, even the blood-splatter evidence:


"As he pluck'd his cursed Steel away
Mark how the Blood of Cæsar follow'd it!"


instructs Dr. Mark Anthony.

But then, of course, the interesting question here is not so much whether the material is as good as you might find on a good episode of Bones (er, it is) but whether it might compete in the same world. Does Jason Byrne's chunky new Abbey production, which offers an extraordinarily dense catalogue of murders, suicides and bloody deaths, also offer an experience that is more marking, more communicative, more resonant than an evening in front of the telly.

Julius Caesar, particularly in Byrne's vision, is an ensemble piece, with formidable roles for Robert O'Mahoney, as the essentially frail Caesar; Frank McCusker as a fractious and frankly psychotic, Cassius; Declan Conlon, as a particularly unforgivable Brutus; and Aidan Kelly, as a Marc Anthony who is as unattractive as any of the conspirators. There may be winners and losers here, but there are no heroes.

Byrne's chunky [you've said that already...if you mean "long" say it --Schizoed] production has so much swagger its style, that is seems quite often to swamp the work of the actors, no more so than in the crowd scenes, which can have more than a whiff of a 80s Duran Duran video.

Jon Bausor's set is ambitious, but its grandeur does not always seem to be pitching in and helping out. It freely mixes style – togas and trousers, breastplates and jack boots, armies of swordsmen and gramophone discs – in a post-modern mash-up, but the effort does not, in the end, amplify the meanings or drive the momentum of the piece.

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