Tuesday, May 22, 2007

REVIEW: Cruel and Tender (Project, Dublin)

There is something of an orgy of Martin Crimp plays going on at the moment, with Irish productions following the lead of recent English outings, which themselves were inspired, to some extent, by productions on continental Europe.

No sooner has Project said good-bye to the English playwright's Attempts on Her Life, than it says hello to his 2004 version of Sophocles story of the last misguided campaign of the great hero, Heracles, aka Hercules.

While the big guy, known in Crimp's version simply as the General (played by Robert O'Mahoney, who played Julius Caesar in the Abbey's recent production) has been away in African waging a bloody, disgusting and clearly illegal war, his wife Amelia (Andrea Irvine) has stayed home with her manicurist, her beautician and her housekeeper wondering if its all worth it.

We never see the two meet, but instead watch their effect on each other's lives, an strategy that makes sense given that Crimp's interests apparently lie in the knotty relationship between war and the construction gender. This dramatic hole in the piece – that so much action is simply reported -- underlines the classical origins of the story, but also, helps to give a kind of anti-dramatic flatness to the characters.

Sure there is an vulpine figure in a dark suit -- played up to a revolting tee by Owen McDonnell -- who is happy to stoke up death and destruction for some entirely opaque reasons, and Conrad Kemp's James is a well-organised performance. But even when a performance shines, it tends to disrupt the flow of things.

Crimp writes some powerful dialogue which reads very well, but his characters are far too post-modern to do much more than float through the action. So just when they are guiding us into their characters, the actors seem to find themselves like Wile E Coyote, trying to get a foothold in thin air. Cruel and Tender is clearly not an easy play to get right, but what is not clear from this production is why exactly everyone is trying.

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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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