Thursday, June 21, 2007

David Horan's Hue and Cry

“My English teacher told me something in school about short stories that’s true about short plays too: unless you feel at the end you’ve seen a whole life, then it’s not working…”

The Gospel according to David Horan, director of – wouldn’t you know it – a new short play, Hue and Cry, written by Deirdre Kinahan.

Currently weighing in at around 42 minutes, Hue and Cry is part of Tall Tales Theatre company’s season of short plays by women writers, Txt, which will run lunchtimes at Bewley’s Café Theatre this summer.

As well as Kinahan’s show, there will be new work from Iseult Golden and TIC by Elizabeth Moynihan, both of whom are debuting their first full plays. None of these dramas will run to more than an hour.

Hue and Cry concerns a pair of cousins who meet at a funeral. One is a world-worn junky and Shamrock Rovers fan (Karl Shiels, of Semper Fi), the other a choreographer (Will O’Connell, last seen playing a rake of parts in the Abbey’s Julius Caesar). Different worlds, they agree, linked by the fact that neither contemporary dance nor the Hoops pull much of a crowd.

The script for their encounter reads almost like a comedy sketch it is so spare. And short.

“Yes,” says Horan. “The thing is when you leave plenty of space around the writing, you get to create everything else physically, through looks and gestures…”

Horan, director in residence at Inis, the theatre company that brought the world Tick My Box, is a master at making sure the maxim “less is more” holds true. That small comedy also started off in Bewley’s Café Theatre, but subsequently toured extensively for nearly three years.

“Touring for that long means you get into an awful lot of the administration that goes with it,” says Horan. “So, we decided that we would only write this year.”

First fruits of that approach should be the TV version of Tick My Box. The original production had Inis founders, Iseult Golden and Carmel Stephens, playing all the characters at a speed dating event, shapeshifting to hilarious effect between desperate punters and their dates.

The television version has been expanded to a four-parter during which we see the events of the night from the point of view of four different characters. “…”

So does Tick My Box the television show keep the theatre version’s magic trick, of having the two women play all the characters. “No, they won’t be playing them all. We thought about it doing it that way, but no: Iseult and Carmel have sort of chosen their favourite characters and we stick with them through the night.”

Next up for Inis at the theatre, however, is – you guessed again – another program of short plays, this time from the master of the miniature, David Ives, one of the few playwright’s who writes works so short you could catch a handful of them at lunchtime.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

REVIEW: Gagarin Way (Andrews Lane Studio, Dublin)

Just who are the bad guys here? Gregory Burke’s breakthrough play concerns the midnight heist of computer chips from a grim Scottish factory. Or does it? Certainly the boot boys running the operation, Eddie (Ronan Leahy) and Gary (Jimmy Watson) look mad-eyed and menacing enough to put the boot in without too much pause for thought.

But still, there’s something here that doesn’t quite add up. Take Eddie, the bearer of the kind of smile that just screams “steer well clear”. He seems to know a surprising amount about the life and times of Jean-Paul Sartre, the alienation of the proletariat and the sociology of violence. Is he a gangster, a terrorist or just a keen reader? And who on earth does his mate in the leather coat think he is?

Burke’s sharply cut drama flirts with a host of genres, only steering totally clear of romance. The all-male show is predictably boisterous, with slaps (and whatever else is required) administered at will. As befits a Scottish take on Martin McDonagh, or indeed, Quentin Tarantino, violence is at the heart of the drama: the threat of it, constantly, the fact of it, eventually.

All of this proves to be a sleek vehicle for re-examining Scotland’s -- and indeed the rest of the world’s -- socialist history, as the certainties of comrades and party are ditched in favour of the alienated despondency of the depoliticised present.

The writing is the kind of stuff that sounds like a pleasure to act – even given the stretch of a stageful of Fife accents. The actors rise to the occasion with a succession of vivid and gruffly entertaining characterisations. Leahy’s wiry bruiser is a nasty treat, while Watson, as his deluded sidekick, squeezes some melancholia out of the would be killer. Gary Murphy as a “suit” mixed up in the mayhem, and Domhnall O’Donoghue, as an equally unfortunate security, guard offer able support.

Karl Shiels, whose productions with his own company, Semper Fi, have never shown much inclination to avoid violence and its aftermaths, guides Burke’s bloodbath expertly towards its predictably unpredictable conclusion.

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Saturday, October 02, 1999

Trevor Griffiths' Comedians

How could Trevor Griffiths have known what he was creating when his play, Comedians opened in 1975? How could he have known that his drama about a group of hopeful entertainers in a Manchester bingo hall, would steer the course of his life in one way or another?

The play's many productions saw Griffiths fetch up in Chicago for an all-black version, and in Liverpool, where an all-female cast performed the play. It also lead, says Manchester-born Griffiths, to a number of productions "far too painful to remember". Before the latest production of the play, directed by Jimmy Fay as Bickerstaffe's contribution to the eircom Dublin Theatre Festival, Griffiths had already made a new rule: "Don't bugger around with it."

The new cast includes something of a cracking selection box of Irish acting talent, including Brian de Salvo, Dan Gordon from A Night in November and two Irish actors just returned from Edinburgh covered in glory, Karl Shiels and Aidan Kelly, the fast-talking stars of Howie the Rookie.

None of these people, as far as Griffiths can tell, have any intention of "buggering around" with the play. Indeed, when he first sat in on a rehearsal for the new show, Griffiths had only the vaguest inkling that not all the Mancunian accents he heard were real.

If the author exhibits an almost protective attitude towards Comedians, it is hardly surprising given the influence it has had on his working life. It was for example, his meeting with the young Stephen Rea, who appeared in the original production, that lead him many years later to direct the same actor in Field Day's Saint Oscar.

It was also Comedians that lead Griffiths to Broadway, where Mike Nichols directed the first American production. It was through Nichols that Griffiths became involved with Warren Beatty. "Nichols brought me to a wedding where I met Warren Beatty under a tree and it started there." That meeting resulting in Beatty asking Griffiths to write the script for Reds.

In the end, Griffiths says he accepted his screenplay credit only because there remained some fragments of his original script with which he was still happy. These days, Griffiths seems pretty sanguine about the experience. "I was always aware of the ironies of trying to make socialist art in that sess pit. But it's like Brecht says: You can't work in a sewer and refuse to handle shit."

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Friday, April 23, 1999

Howie The Rookie (Andrews Lane Theatre, Dublin)

I can't find the original review for Howie, but i thought i'd just post this short version...


If the Dublin stage ever saw a more gruesome and graphic description of violence than the one to which audiences of Mark O’Rowe’s Howie the Rookie have been treated, then few can have left the theatre that night with their dinners in their stomachs.

O’Rowe’s hyperviolent pair of linked monologues uses the burgeoning new town of Tallaght as its backdrop, and does absolutely nothing to defeat the location’s reputation for hardcore lifestyles.

Aidan Kelly and Karl Shiels develop an image of weekend of partying and mindless brutality with great finesse, with Shiels in particular turning in a hugely absorbing and charismatic performance as a handsome fool with a bad case of scabies.

As with that other young purveyor of monologues, Conor MacPherson, O’Rowe’s success is in simply telling a story, rather than in orchestrating complex on-stage relationships; that, however, hardly detracts from what is an exceptional – and exceptionally entertaining – night at the theatre.

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