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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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Paul Walker's (and God's) Grace

“I don’t want to sound like a mystic,” says Paul Walker, one of the writers behind a new show set for the former home of The Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers Society, at the Gates of Dublin Castle. “But I do believe that rooms retain some sort of residue of the things that happened there.”

God’s Grace, which Walker describes as “a Christmas fable” is the latest show from Semper Fi, the innovative theatre company, whose show have previously brought their audiences to unexpected venues from an abandoned warehouse in the docklands, to a public convenience on Stephens Green.

The show’s origins are every bit as unconventional as its staging. It began life as a series of emails between Walker and co-writer, Eugene O’Brien (best know as the author of the award-winning, Eden). “I’d write two or three pages and then email them off to Eugene and he’d write two or three back, letting the characters tell me where he wanted it to go. And we carried on like that…”

Finally, however, when The Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers Society premises was chosen for the show, things began to take shape. Scouting the house, the writers found that as they walked about, certain rooms contained certain “atmospheres,” suggesting themselves for scenes in the show.

“We are rehearsing somewhere else at the moment,” says Walker, “and you are really aware that one of the characters is missing. Because until we all get into the house, we won’t have all the atmospheres right.” Not that he want to appear mystical about the whole thing…

“But everyone has felt that kind of thing. Say, you know, you go househunting and you’re in a house and it seems very nice. And then, you walk into one room and something there feels a bit off, a bit cold and odd…I don’t know the physics of it, but it certainly happens.”

The play, which features Andrew Bennett among other, centres on the way in which one family’s carefully hidden secrets – despite steady efforts at suppression -- bubble to the surface amongst the Christmas festivities.

Similar spooky goings on appear to be at the heart of the writer’s other current project. After writing on RTE’s two-part Stardust drama earlier this year, Walker is currently developing a new drama on the subject of the American government’s “extraordinary rendition” flights through Shannon airport.

“It is based on hearsay and rumour, rather than facts,” says Walker. None the less, his experience writing the piece, which delves into the frightening world of what exactly went on inside the secret American planes that landed at Shannon, has left him with a strong impression of fabrication and cover-up. And even of being personally under surveillance.

“You wouldn’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to notice some of the odd things that have happen. Information that’s on a web site one day and is removed the day after you look at it…sometimes you feel that they are right inside your computer…”

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