Monday, 22 June 2015

All That Fall Review

Published in The Irish World newspaper 17/06/2015

It is impossible to compare All that Fall to any other production. Not only is it unique as a radio drama, but the over all delivery and theatrical experience as a whole is an awakening to the senses.

All that Fall forms part of the Barbican’s International Beckett season, and exudes all things Beckett by leaving the audience bewildered yet amused by its stylised approach to theatre.

The production felt dynamic and fresh however it stayed true to Beckett’s original wishes. The audience was first lead into a large darkened room lit only by hanging bulbs and a wall of dimmed spotlights. Each audience member sat on a rocking chair, which were all facing different directions in the room. Being a radio play, there was no stage, no live actors, no curtain and no sense of familiarity.

It seems Beckett likes his audiences to feel slightly uncomfortable in anticipation of his productions, and without any clues as to what they are about to experience.

When the spotlights finally darkened the room was plunged into darkness and the radio play began. All of a sudden you felt as if you were on the road with the lead character, as even the scratching of her walking stick against the stony ground could be heard and felt.

The radio play centres around Maddy Rooney. Rooney is an old over weight woman in bad health who has decided to surprise her husband Dan by meeting him off the 12:30 train. The play begins with her slowly drudging up Boghill Road. The characters and setting are all inspired by Beckett own childhood in Foxrock in Dublin.

During her laborious walk up the road she comes across three men, each character seems to have stared death in the face, either through their own experience or that of another.

Voiced by, Aine Ni Mhuiri, Maddy is a difficult and short tempered old woman but remains likeable through her wit and turn of phrase, a trait many of Beckett’s characters share.

Each character bring their own blend of audacity and intrigue to the story and allows you to ponder on Maddy and Dan relationship and the true meaning behind her sense of loss.

Although it was quite funny at times, it was peppered quite heavily with references to death, however these seem to be viewed with humour by Beckett who often diminishes the seriousness surrounding the subject.

Written in 1957 but only reaching audiences in 1986, All that Fall is comedy and tragedy diluted together to make a concoction only Beckett could produce.

The darkness of the room and glimmer of light to reflect the characters words or feelings transform your surroundings and leave you also sheltering from the rain which falls in Maddy and Dan at the end.

It transcends any singular genre and dips its toe into a bit of each leaving the audiences fully involved and emotionally stimulated.

All in all this is a complex radio drama but an experience to not to be missed.  If you were not sure about Beckett before now, this may be the play that changes your mind


All that Fall plays at the Barbican Theatre until June 21st.


Beckett on Screen: Love, Loss and Laughter

Published in The Irish World newspaper 17/06/2015

Many stage plays  which have been converted to the screen have often fallen flat on impact. Beckett’s work however, transcribes perfectly and allows for a more visual experience for the audience.

Beckett himself, adapted certain plays for the screen, and each of piece in this screening explore the theme of relationships in a riot of vivid costuming and make up.

Broken into three parts, the Love, Loss and Laughter screening featured  Ohio Impromptu starring Jeremy Irons, Play starring Alan Rickman, Kristen Scott Thomas and Juliet Stevenson and Happy Days starring ,the much celebrated Irish actress, Rosaleen Linehan.

Screened in Cinema 3 as part of the Barbican’s Beckett season this full course of cinematic artistry was a visual feast for the eyes.

Ohio Impromtu stars a sullen Jeremy Irons reading an extract from a book to another, more distressed, version of himself. His other self seems anxious as he reads and often interrupts the recital with an abrupt bang on the table from his fist. Both versions seem weary of each other and uncomfortable with the words being read. Beckett explores ones relationship with one’s own demons in this piece and the effect the mind and memories can play on a person’s own well being.

Play is a more obscure piece, set in a graveyard type scene with only the heads of its three main characters visible as they monologue about an adulterous experience shared between them. Each seem to be concealed from the neck down in giant urns with scorched and rotting skin, raising the question as to whether they are indeed speaking from the grave. This piece was skilful and effectual as each character tells their own version of the tale.

Happy Days was the longest film of the three. The play opens with Rosaleen Linehan immersed up to the waist in a mound of sand as she awakens to an unnerving bell sound. She makes the most of her desperate situation by taking out all of her belongings from her bag and occasionally trying to get her husband to engage with her, who is mainly absent from view as he bathes in the sun behind the mound. This was a powerful piece and truly displayed Linehan’s talents at their best.

Each piece was very different yet loyal to the theme of relationships and the complications they can bring. The cinematography, make up and costumes made for exciting viewing and

each actor’s delivery was haunting, disturbing but ultimately humane which Beckett seemed to influence through his unique way with words.

Beckett on Screen: Love, Loss and Laughter plays at Cinema 3 in Barbican until June 14th.



Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Portia Coughlan Review

Published online for The Irish World newspaper 20/05/2015

It is rare that a play can resurface triumphantly after 20 years away from the stage. Marina Carr’s play  Portia Coughlan has emerged from such an absence at The Old Red Lion Theatre under the direction of Bronagh Lagan.

The story of Portia Coughlan is a heavy one, laden with emotions and idealised memories of the past.  Set in the Irish midlands, Portia seems to have what many would assume to be the perfect family life. As a mother to three children and a well-kept wife to a loving and wealthy husband, it seems that Portia should be more than elated on her 30th birthday. However her overly romanticised recollections of the suicide of her twin brother Gabriel still constantly haunt her and dominate both her thoughts and actions.

Portia fantasises about death and her reunion with her twin. The audience is made aware of her many moments of deep  despair by the accompaniment of her deceased brother’s version of “She Moved Through the Fair ” delivered by a haunting young man behind a darkened curtain.
Portia is an Ophelia-type character, beautiful yet classically tragic. Her intimate obsession with the Belmont River, the place of her brother’s demise, becomes uncontrollable and manic which in turn affects her relationships with those around her.

Portia is played by Susan Stanley, whose piercing blue eyes and willowy mannerisms add to both the beauty and frenzy of the character.

The play deals with depression and hopelessness and so it is hard not to become somewhat drained as an audience member in such a small theatre. The constant heated arguments between Portia and her family can, at times, be both exciting and exhausting. This is softened occasionally by some very witty one-liners from her bitter Grandmother, played excellently by Anne Kent.

With it’s dark themes, Portia Coughlan is not for everyone but it does provoke thought
The stage was small and simple, comprising of a kitchen setting and a small square filled with water-signifying the river. This worked well, given the limited space and the actors manoeuvred themselves skilfully around both sides, allowing the audience to truly imagine each contrasting setting.
However, it does not seem that Carr was ever setting out to create a fun-packed evening of theatre when writing this play. Her work raises the important question of why it is that we go to the theatre? Is it with the intention of improving our mood and to leave feeling entertained or does it take a more powerful play to teach us lessons and unmask harsh social realities we might usually avoid?

As plays go, this is certainly not one that everyone will enjoy. It’s script is littered with aggressive arguments, often with colourful language, and it’s characters are dark and past hope. This play will suit theatre-goers who enjoy being challenged, pushed to the limits and who have a taste for the dark and romantic.
Portia Coughlan plays at The Red Lion Theatre in Angel until May 23rd.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Review of Death of a Comedian

Published in The Irish World Newspaper 06/05/2015

It is commonly assumed that the test of a comedian is in his skill for comedic timing. Belfast born Owen McCafferty’s play Death of a Comedian, challenges this assumption and focuses more on the moral importance of their content rather than their style of delivery.

The play centres around a struggling Irish comedian called Steve Johnston, who is repeatedly questioning his ability when the stage first lights up- “What if I’m not funny? What if I’m just not funny?”

His girlfriend Maggie, whose job it is to reassure and guide him in his chosen career, tries to keep him calm before he’s called on stage to perform.  McCafferty immediately opens us up to the fragility of the performer and the contrasting character of confident comedian we are so often used to seeing on stage.

The role of self- conscious comedian is played brilliantly by Brian Doherty, who has the range to stretch easily between boisterous performer and self-doubting fool.

Steven Johnston’s troubles begin when an obnoxious and fast talking agent, named Doug Wright, enters his life and feeds his ego with a vernacular of showbiz lingo and ambiguous promises of fame.

McCafferty’s honestly written play shows us how a mix of self-doubt and hunger for fame can be a lethal concoction as it creates vulnerability in the performer and leads them to a tormented battle between their own success and morality.

Gradually we begin to see Johnston change as a performer and morph into a different type of comedian from that with which we were first presented. His material is heavily affected, his set is safe and unimaginative and his accent becomes more anglicised.

Johnston’s original material focused more on social and political views as he monologued about corrupt politicians and the insincerity of television hosts. This honesty in performance is diluted later in the show by both Johnston’s own vulnerability and his agent’s dismissal of the importance of identity and individualism in performance- “A good comic can make anything funny.”

A joke which is heavily altered as his comedic set evolves is that of one about a racehorse galloping ferociously across a field until it hits an oak tree and knocks itself out. It may be that McCafferty is likening the evolution of this final joke to that of Johnston as a performer, galloping unwittingly fast into a life of fame that he doesn’t realise is actually his demise.

The message this play has to make is clear and requires no unpicking on the part of the audience, so its 80 minute duration seemed perfectly fitting.

Although the repetition of certain jokes might test some people’s patience, essentially, Death of a Comedian is a play that will get you thinking. The mixture of McCafferty’s honest script, Steve Marmion’s punchy direction and a well-chosen cast makes for a refreshingly humane piece of theatre.Overall it is a cynical yet justifiably critical portrayal of fame and those who offer it.

Death of a Comedian, which is presented in association with Lyric Belfast and The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, plays at the Soho Theatre in London until Saturday 16th May.