Rise Productions Podcasts

If you haven’t already done so, you should really check out the Rise Productions Podcast. Aonghus Óg McAnally started doing them last November and they are basically hour long chats with theatre people from around Ireland. There’s actors, writers, directors, theatre critics, designers; basically theatre makers of every sort. The format is pretty informal but Aonghus is good at getting people to tell stories.

I’ve used a couple of them as research for my last couple of MA essays and they are great for that. They are easy to listen to and a great way to learn about the different routes people on their way to being very successful in their field.

Rise Productions Podcast. Also available on iTunes

Alice in Funderland at the Abbey

I’m at the Abbey Theatre to see Alice in Funderland. Finally. I’ve been looking forward to this since I saw Thisispopbaby‘s work-in-progress at the Project Arts Centre in January 2011. Even without props or set, it was a spectacular show and a wonderful night’s entertainment. I couldn’t wait to share this funny, clever show and it’s glorious songs with as many people as possible. And now fifteen months later, here we are. The entire auditorium is twinkling in the light of three spinning disco balls and a hot-pink chaise lounge sits on stage in front of a wall of gaudy blue and white wallpaper. This is the sitting room of a well-to-do Cork family. We know it’s Cork because of the framed, carefully lit photograph of Michael Collins on the wall. (Though I had to ask my Mammy who he was!) The bright, candy colours are a long way from the squalor of Juno and the Paycock‘s tenement home, which was the last show I saw on the Abbey stage.

Susannah de Wrixon as Susan in Alice in Funderland by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. Photography Richard Gilligan.
Susannah de Wrixon as Susan in Alice in Funderland by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. Photography Richard Gilligan.

I was delighted when it was announced that Alice in Funderland would be on at the Abbey. It needed a big stage and a big budget to really reach it’s full potential. It was great as a rehearsed reading at the Project but as a full-scale musical, with a full band and spectacular costumes, it would be even better. It also meant lots of people would get to see the show. The full production was shiny and sparklier and with more crazy costumes and impressive dance moves than I could have possibly imagined.

When we meet Alice (Sarah Greene), she is arguing with her Dad, who has deemed her a bad investment and is refusing to lend her any more money. Her sister Susan (Susannah de Wrixon) is preparing for her wedding and being a bit of a bridezilla. When Alice loses Susan in a Dublin night-club during her hen party, Alice suddenly find herself lost in and alone in the Big Smoke. She latches on the first familiar face she sees – a delivery boy called Warren. They share a snog on the dance floor and when he is summoned to Hartstown by someone called The Duchess, she decides to follow him.

Ian Lloyd Anderson as Taxi Driver and Sarah Greene as Alice in Alice in Funderland by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. Photography Richard Gilligan.
Ian Lloyd Anderson as Taxi Driver and Sarah Greene as Alice in Alice in Funderland by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. Photography Richard Gilligan.

Alice follows Warren and we follow Alice on her adventures through Dublin as she tries to make her way to Hartstown. Along the way she meets a patriotic Taxi Driver (Ian Lloyd Anderson, doing his best Damien Dempsey impression), The Duchess (the divine Ruth McGill) and the Minister for All Your Needs (Mark O’Regan with a bad wig and a Cheshire Cat grin). There is also a wonderful scene set on the top of Liberty Hall when Alice saves the life of The Gay (the wonderful Paul Reid on roller skates). It’s a very funny scene but also one of the most touching in the play, and finishes with a beautiful and poignant duet – We’re all on the Edge.

Despite the many clever one-liners and sly little quips to the audience, this is a show with a whole lot of heart. It’s never cynical and is as feel-good as a musical should be! There also loads of big, spectacular song-and-dance numbers, such as We’re All Going to Hartstown, which closes the first act which ends with Alice doing the splits in the centre of the stage.

But the quieter, gentler songs are also incredibly beautiful.  Hopefully writer Phillip McMahon and composer Raymond Scannell make the soundtrack available to buy as some stage in the near future. Ruth McGill and Susannah de Wrixon perform another of my favourite songs, and one that has been stuck in my head for the last 15 months, Toros in the Banal.

It’s a show that you want to send all of your friends to because it is so enjoyable. Book your tickets immediately – there’s only three weeks left and I suspect it will start selling out very soon. And once you have seen it, you’ll want to go again and again – I know I do!

Monster/Clock at Smock Alley

Irish Theatre is having a bit of a musical moment right now. Alice in Funderland opened at the Abbey last night, the gang from Avenue Q have taken over the Grand Canal Theatre and in Monster/Clock is playing in Smock Alley.

Monster/Clock is about a monster called Toby and the story is told through music puppetry. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet but from the trailer it looks like a beautiful show.

Meadhbh McHugh is a mezzo-soprano and part of the four part harmony chorus that act as the narrators of the show. I asked her to share her thoughts on the show and how she is enjoying being part of it.

Grainne: Tell me a little bit about the play and your role in it.

Meadhbh: Monster/ Clock is the first production by Collapsing Horse Theatre Company and it expounds the life of Toby (Jack Gleeson), a castigated monster and apprentice watchmaker who must flee his workshop in pursuit of his kidnapped guardian and the show follows his various encounters and escapades using puppetry, comedy and music.It’s an adventure story and it has a lovely philosophical moral to the tale. I sing mezzo-soprano in the four part harmony chorus. It’s such a fun show to be involved in!

Grainne: How has the audience response been?

Meadhbh: They are loving it, I think! The feedback has been so positive, it’s brilliant! We’ve got some great reviews and quite a lot of people are now coming to see the show twice and even three times! Word-of-mouth is also huge and it seems to be appealing to people right across the board. I think Monster/Clock has something very different in that it’s a very unique blend of many elements and therefore it’s inventive and very theatrical. The Smock Alley Boys School Theatre is also a beautiful space and an experience in itself.

Grainne: How did you get involved in singing and acting?

Meadhbh: I just recently graduated from Trinity with a degree in Drama and English. I’ve always loved theatre since as far back as I can remember, and particularly musicals. I was involved with lots of musical societies and stage schools growing up in Galway and hence I’m a big fan of the old razzle dazzle! Musicals seem to be having a real moment in Irish theatre right now, which is great! Monster/Clock is not a traditional style musical but the music element is a big part of the show. It’s an original choral score for four voices by the incredibly talented Dan Forde. It’s very different to what you will hear anywhere else. As regards the future, who knows?! I’m really enjoying this show, I’d love to continue performing and combining singing and theatre.

Grainne: How do you find working with puppets? Is it easier or harder than working with real live actors?

Meadhbh: It is so much easier working with puppets than actors! I’m joking, obviously the actors are operating the puppets (what, you say? Those weren’t real swans?!) and in Monster/Clock we don’t try and conceal that. Part of the joy for the audience is watching both the actor and puppet, and still investing in the puppet. As Raymond Keane of Barabbas told us, the puppet will always win an argument. People love the puppets, they want to get on side with them. Puppetry is a brilliant way to enchance storytelling and Aaron Heffernan’s puppets in Monster/Clock are really beautiful. We don’t operate puppets in the chorus, but act as a link between the audience and the imaginative puppet-world. I sort of believe they are all real now too!

Monster/Clock has added three extra performances next week due to popular demand. It’s on in the Boy’s School at Smock Alley and there are two shows on Friday and Saturday (Friday at 5pm and 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm). Next week there are evening performances on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. You can book tickets here.