Thursday, September 20, 2007

Aidan Kelly's mini-marathon

“It’s a bit like a marathon,” says Aidan Kelly about preparing for his festival show this year, Druid’s epic production of A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. “It’s not like you start out running 26 miles on the first day. You get one scene together, then two. And then you start running them together, and next thing you know…right now I’d say we’re match fit.”

Eugene O’Neil’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, is undoubtedly one of the biggies of the American theatre – in artistic stature, but also when judged by its running of around four hours. It ought to be, you might imagine, a pretty intimidating play to perform. While Kelly doesn’t spend quite as much time on stage over the course of the evening as James Cromwell, who plays the patriarch of a dysfunctional Irish American family, as Jamie, the most prodigal of sons, he is taking on the role that has made some notable careers.

“There have been so many great actors who have taken the part, Jason Robards was in the original, Kevin Spacey played Jamie, and Phillip Seamore Hoffman. Some really amazing actors…” Not that Kelly is intimidated. The actor, who is on something of a roll, after a barnstorming performance in Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus, figures any actor’s confidence would get a tremendous boost simply by getting cast in Druid’s production. “When someone like Gary Hynes offers you a part, that all the running start you need…”

Kelly’s experience with other festivals, such as at Edinburgh, where he has been with (among other things) the Abbey’s infamous production of The Barbaric Comedies, is that how ever impressive the bill of international theatre on offer, it’s still pretty unlikely he will be seeing very much of it. “It’s hard to imagine even. When you’re in the theatre all night, the last place you want to be, if you get any time off, is another theatre…”

Labels: , ,

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?

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, June 21, 2003

REVIEW: Crestfall (The Gate, Dublin)

It’s your business to duck if things get messy in Mark O’Rowe’s fierce dramas of underclass Irish life, because this author certainly won’t be watching out for the sensibilities of the squeamish element. O’Rowe cannot – constitutionally it seems – offer his audience anything but blood, sweat and whatever other bodily fluids happen to spill, seep, bubble and gush from his stories.

All the same, he might expect to sidestep characterisation as a macho writer in this drama told via monologues by three women, with no male help. The monologues wind around each other much in the manner of the monologues in O’Rowe’s calling card show, Howie The Rookie. A tiny detail in one becomes a focal point in the next, until the story of one bloody day in the town of Crestfall crawls into view from just outside our peripheral vision.

The sub-bass rumbles a warning and the lights come up on Francis O’Connor’s strange, splattered mirror-box of a stage to reveal Olive (Aisling O’Sullivan) who begins to speak in a strange, heavily accented patter, unfurling a life of cold sex and brutality.

Soon afterwards, she is replaced by Alison (Marie Mullen) who witnesses many of the same events, though with a little more distance, before giving up the stage to the tale of Tilly (Eileen Walsh) who has had a bad day, even by the standards of a penniless, heroin-addicted prostitute.

The writing has a poetic bent that ought to sound self-conscious, but in these sure hands nothing of the sort occurs. It comes across, however, vaguely like what might result if Dylan Thomas were to land a screenwriting job on a remake of The Wild Bunch. Language is clipped. Two-word sentences. One even. Skips the pronouns. Timewasting.

O’Rowe’s women have the curt morality of Hemmingway big game hunters. In the end, everything is about stepping up, or wimping out and living life as the omega male. Animal metaphors, indeed, dominate: sometimes Crestfall seems more like a game reserve than a housing estate.

Garry Hynes production is one of the director’s more elliptical, plush in certain aspects (such as Paul Arditti’s brilliantly limpid electro-soundscapes) and almost evasive in others. It leaves the words and the performances to do all the work -- and nowhere for the actors to hide if things get shaky.

O’Sullivan meets the challenge with an outstanding performance, ricocheting dangerously around on her stilettos. Mullen’s work is mildly blunted by a sense that her character is not bound to the story tightly enough, while Walsh’s Tilly is a destabilising, but fully realised heart of this uncomfortable and grimly fascinating piece.

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, July 09, 1997

REVIEW: From Both Hips (Project at the Mint, Dublin)

Mark O'Rowe has a taste for blood. Whether as a means of adding intensity to his narratives, or simply establishing his hard-boiled Dublin milieu, the young playwright is quick to reach for the deadly weapon, to deal the brutal blow and then watch the consequences unfold as they will.

For Paul (Ger Carey), the man at the centre of O'Rowe's From Both Hips (Project at the Mint, Dublin), the consequences have been severe. He has accidentally been shot by Willy (Sean Rocks), a far too green recruit to the drugs squad, in a botched raid, and now returns home to a life that may not, it appears, have been perfect even before the incident that crippled him.

Like Harold Pinter, one of his obvious godfathers, O'Rowe likes to confuse his audience's easy notions of location and milieu, luring them in with suggestions of working-class Dublin, and then slamming and bolting the door behind them with self-consciously theatrical patterns of dialogue and plot.

From Both Hips has ambition, but is short on perseverance. Although it is peppered with enough wriggling absurdity and pointed comedy to intrigue, the play, in a rather curt production from Jim Culleton, loses its way. Tight narrative criss-crosses, fuzzy nuances and surreal details give way to a chest-beating contest with rules as dense as a samurai ritual.

Labels: ,