Friday, December 14, 2007

Christman is coming and...yada yada yada

It's a very serious business, the panto. Choosing which of the myriad of Christmas shows should be the one for your offspring is a fraught matter. Should you be aiming for good old fashioned fun and damn the consequences? Or do you see this Christmas outing as part of your issue's ongoing sentimental education, a grand opportunity to demonstrate that there is life beyond TV and text messages? Whichever you opt for, you can pretty much guarantee that what they remember of the night will be something else entirely. So, don't sweat it. Use a pin, maybe. It's worked before.

The Recruiting Officer (Abbey Theatre)
The National Theatre has always taken a slightly oblique approach to Christmas theatre. Lets hope it stays that way – and when the All Bran Christmas Panto opens at the Abbey it will be a sign of that the Rapture is upon us. Till then, the follow up to last year's smashing, poppy take on Sheridan's The School for Scandal sees Farquhar's comedy get the seasonal treatment. Ferdia Murphy, who designed School for Scandal is back to give the production a festive swagger, while Rough Magic's Lynn Parker directs. Children too young to pronounce the word "recruiting" will probably be more entertained elsewhere. (Booking: 01 878 7222)

Alice in Wonderland (The Helix)
Not all Pantos are about pushing sugared water and crisps, you know. Landmark productions are aiming for that section of the market who might be just a little bit leery of bringing vulnerable and advertising sensitive young folks to a couple of hours worth of FMCG marketing – whether brashly promoted in the title or vaguely disguised in the plot. In any case, Alice in Wonderland is aiming higher, looking to create a theatrical experience with a bit of class. An impressive cast should keep a wide range of ages focused on the surreal action. (Booking: 01 700 7000)

Gerry and the Peace Process (Players Theatre, TCD)
And what, when you think about it, could be more Christmassy than a musical about the recent history of Republicanism? Absolutely nothing. Volta Theatre company opened their hilarious and surreal musical about Gerry, Martin and Big Ian at this year's Fringe Festival, impressively mixing satire and song to produce something that was trenchant, but also – even more surprisingly -- thoroughly charming. Now the company has refreshed things for a seasonal outing. Still in the starring roles are Liam Hourican as a very charming Adams and Sean Duggan as his odd buddy, Martin, with 'guest' appearances by David Trimble and his Dancing Orangemen. Anyone too young to define the expression "parity of esteem" won't get the most out of this. But they might still enjoy the songs. (Booking: www.tickemaster.ie)

Can You Catch A Mermaid (Pavilion Theatre)
If you are in the market for a 5-10 year-olds show, the Pavilion may be the place for you – particularly if you have among your brood a mermaid fancier or two. Jane Ray's superb illustrated book for children has been adapted for the stage by Martin Murphy, while the nation's busiest director, David Horan takes charge. The show opens on Saturday (15 Dec) at 3pm, when Ray herself will be in attendance. (Booking: 01 231 2929)

Beauty and the Beast (Gaiety Theatre)
The grand dame, the Manchester United, the Ace of Clubs in Dublin's Christmas entertainment calendar this and every year. The quality (and indeed, the star quality) may vary considerably from year to year, but it's rare enough to find a dissatisfied customer among the glow stick waving masses that spill out onto South King Street of a Christmas evening. At least half the reason for that has to be the building itself – there is nothing like vast stucco ceilings, sweeping stairs, red plush seats and Maxi-Twists to get you in the mood for some blood-chilling audience participation. (Booking: 01 677 1717)

Aladdin (Lambert Puppet Theatre)
If you would like something on a smaller scale this Christmas, the country's only purpose-built puppet theatre, in Monkstown, should be your first stop. The Lambert family have been keeping the puppetry flame alive at the miniature venue for more than 30 years. The venue has an atmosphere like no other in town, like a cross between a temple and a creche. But in a good way, like. (Booking: 01 280 0974)

The Wizard of Oz (The Helix)
Not really possible to confuse this one with a panto, or even a theatre show. But definitely something with distinct possibilities…The RTÉ Concert Orchestra perform the live orchestral soundtrack (transcribed from the film's score by John Wilson) while from the screen will come all the dialogue, singing and effects. Some claim it is even better than watching the film while listening to Dark Side of the Moon. Fat chance. (Booking: 01 700 7000)

Dickens in Dublin (Bewley's Cafe Theatre)
Laurence Foster created and stars in his one man show recreating the Victorian writer's reading and performing tour to Dublin of 1858. (*see entry below) (Booking: 086 878 4001)

Jesus: The Guantanamo Years (Tripod)
The return of that timely Christmas show about a middle eastern revolutionary called Jesus Christ, who is arrested and detained in a certain American concentration camp at the Emperor's pleasure. A comedy, like, but not for the kids. And for one night only – 20th December)

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

REVIEW: Gerry and The Peace Process (Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin)

For a fine example of what the Fringe can do, look no further than Volta Theatre's contribution this year. The company's hilarious cheap shot of a musical uses vast resources of wit and imagination to over minimal means, delivering as funny a show about the past, present and future of Republicanism as you are likely to see.

Gerry and The Peace Process takes a radical approach to the business of writing a musical, combining the easy influence of the jukebox musical (re-workings of song from everything from Grease to Motzart's Don Giovanni supply the melodies) with barefaced pilfering (that endless resource for re-imagining, The Wizard of Oz gets mugged by Scooby Doo for one of the show's multiple endings). But the result, somehow, is both original and refreshing.

There is a whiff of undergraduate 'revue' to the proceedings, but that seems more a budgetary, rather than an aesthetic issue. Almost all the performances have a distinct dazzle, an intelligence that carries even the show's broadest moments, as Gerry set off on the long road to peace.

There is a parity of esteem when it comes to pillorying, with the surreal uptightness of David Trimbal (Jim Roche) and his dancing Orangemen, nicely contrasted with the equally psychically disturbed Adams (Liam Hourican, winningly giving the Adams we know a new, boyish playfulness) and McGuinness (a cuddly, grey granny of a performance from Sean Duggan) -- those double lives are clearly inflicting a psychic toll.

Roche is back again as Aonghus O'Snódaigh, a veritable Noel Coward of fey, Anglo pretensions, while Emily Kelly offers a ditzy Mary-Lou McDonnell, a neophyte Republican aroused by Gerry speaking "in Gaelic".

The show undeniably tows the acceptable line on Republicanism in the Pale, but despite such conservatism, there are enough good gags and surprises here to make sure the overall effect is wildly entertaining.

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