Thursday, December 07, 2006

In the future...

...all theatre shows in Dublin will feature Joe Roch & Megan Riordan.
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REVIEW: The School For Scandal (Abbey Theatre, Dublin)

When Lady Sneerwell and the other gossips of her school for scandal swing into action, it takes a few moments to adjust to the highfalutin buzz of eighteenth century English in the Abbey’s Christmas show. Or perhaps, the slight delay is just a moment of confused recovery from staring at the retina-zapping red set that strafes the audience before the actors arrive.

Luckily enough, when the cast set to work the performances have the kind of torrential flow that soon enough makes you feel as at home with Lady Candour, Joseph Surface and Sir Benajmin Backbite as you might be in the company of Felicity Shagwell.

Sheridan’s vicious comedy was first staged in 1777, but here gets the kind of ridiculously ramped up production that makes it look like, if not a teenager, at least as sprightly a 223-year-old as you are likely to meet. The plan here is clearly seasonal fun – and seasonal colour. But the quality of the material means the show refuses to lie down and simply entertain. Jimmy Fay, not a director you might immediately associate with rollicking good fun, gives the production the shape and momentum it needs to capture both the farce and the frightening viciousness of it all.

The ensemble cast is pretty much uniformedly on the money. So it is entirely unfair to single out some top quality mincing from David Pearse, whose grandiloquent clown, Sir Benjamin Backbite is timelessly grotesque, or Mark Lambert’s dry old stick, Sir Peter Teazle, or the crowd-pleasing Rory Keenan, with his Colin Farrell badboy act as the wastrel, Charles Surface.

Ferdia Murphy’s set (a half sister to the one for Emilia Galloti at this year’s theatre festival) is an startling white, cartoon box decorated with simple graphics, providing a clever ground for Paul Keogan’s scene-setting lighting and the multicar pile-up of Leonore McDonagh’s ever more nauseously clashing costumes. Nicely done.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Joe Roch Gets Inch Perfect

“I think it is a play that anybody who has felt outside the mainstream for one reason or another will immediately identify with,” says Joe Roch about his role in the Dublin premier of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

And given that Hedwig tells the story of an East German child of a GI father who loses all but one of the inches of his manhood (wouldn’t you know it, the angry one!) in a botched gender re-assignment operation, lets hope that all identification is strictly on a metaphorical level.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch was originally a cult New York rock ‘n’ drag musical which ran for two years Off Broadway, and was later turned into a film by its author and original star, John Cameron Mitchell. But it was never quite just another musical. As well telling the tragic tale of a transgender rock and roller, the show also contains songs based on (among other things) Plato’s Symposium.

Roch counts himself as a “big fan” of that production, having seen it during his time in New York. “But I think we offer our own distinctive version of the show.” Which is only right and proper, as Mitchell’s original script was full of topical – and indeed topographical – references that new productions are advised to dispense with in favour of their own localisation efforts.

“In our version, Hedwig is in Dublin looking for Romanian boys for the band, which allows us to look at the way Ireland is dealing with the influx of people from all over the world,” says Roch.

Another aspect of the localisation process involved commission costumes from Caoimhe Derwin from Dublin prank rockers, The Chalets, themselves no strangers to the dressing up box.

The show will be the first production from Roch and Megan Riordan, who first met at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, before teaming up in Dublin. “We were two American no-names living in Dublin,” says Roch. “We realised nobody was going to cast us in anything unless we did it ourselves.” And so Making Strange Theatre company was born.

“It can be difficult getting Dublin audiences to something that is not quite theatre, not quite a rock show,” says Roch. “In New York, for example, you would have venues where you would expect to find that sort of thing – like Joe’s Pub or The Fez – places where you expect to see something beyond traditional theatre. But that hasn’t really exist here…”

The solution this time is to take Hedwig to the tiny Focus theatre, quickly becoming synonymous with cabaret-style shows, thank for the Fallen Angels Cabaret. Although there is no bar (which would have been ideal for Roch) the intimacy of the venue, and the proximity of audience and performer, according to Roch, provides proceedings with a certain desirable charge. “It’s all just a little more “dangerous” in that type of venue…”

Focus Theatre, Dublin, 8 June, 2005

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