Two Irish Plays

Last month I saw two plays about life in Ireland, and the effect of the IRA. Both were written by English men, both were about things I didn’t know that much about. I saw Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman on a wet afternoon in London at the Gielgud Theatre where it transfer to from the Royal Court. A couple of weeks later I saw Jimmy’s Hall in the Abbey. Both are period pieces set in Ireland but they are very different plays, in their treatment of the IRA and Irish history, and in the way they were staged.

JimmysHallPoster

Jimmy’s Hall is based on the Ken Loach film of the same name, and they are both based on the true story of Jimmy Galvin and the community hall he built and managed in Leitrim in the 1930s. It’s about the opposition he encountered when he organised community art classes, poetry performances and dances. This opposition originated from the Catholic Church but ultimately it was the Irish government who had him deported; the only Irish man to ever be deported from the State.

The Abbey’s production emphasises the real-life aspects of the story, with direct addresses to the audience that includes Church directives on what women could and couldn’t wear, descriptions of the court scenes at Jimmy’s trial and a recent speech by President Higgins where he called out the shameful behaviour of the State. This opens the show and of course made me teary-eyed. There are few things as effecting as the rightous anger of our magnificent president.

The production is also lushly visual and includes lots of live music. This is performed by the cast who also perform wonderful dance sequences. We get the impression of a community that is lively and connected, despite being ground down by poverty. The characters talk about the broken promises of the 1916 Rising, about how the bubble burst, about the uselessness of politicians and how living should be about need, not greed. Their concerns and difficulties resonance with the present day, with characters facing homelessness and even the Church’s insistence on controlling education is similar to their Sisters of Charity’s attempt to hold on to control of the new maternity hospital earlier this year. We continue to fight the same battles. Our hero, Mr. Jimmy Galvin is a proud communist, working for the betterment of all. In contrast the clear villain of the piece is the parish priest, Fr. Sheridan who was almost booed like a pantomime villain when he first appeared on stage. It was an interesting experience to feel that distaste for the church in the Abbey Theatre on a Saturday lunchtime from an Abbey audience. The off-stage villain was the IRA who it was felt had let down the people by getting into bed with the Church.

FerrymanPoster

The priest in The Ferryman is a more pathetic character as he is forced to act as messenger boy for the IRA, sent to deliver information about a man, missing for the last 10 years has been found dead. It’s 1981, Maggie Thatcher is letting the hunger strikers die in prison and the Carney family are getting ready for the harvest. The Ferryman is strongly grounded in that time and place, there are no present day echos here. The set and costumes are impressive with a strong attention to detail. This set quickly fills with members of the Carney family.

From the beginning, the audience knows that this happy, busy, family day is going to interrupted with the news that a body has been discovered. It is skillfully told, and there’s a lot to tell in this 3 hour production, and very enjoyable. The Carneys are a good Catholic family with seven children, though when one of the younger girls is told her future by her clairvoyant grandmother, she baulks at the idea of triplets. They don’t see motherhood as their only option. It feels like a time teetering on the cusp of modernity. The Undertones make an appearance on the soundtrack and the clothes are relatively modern, but the work of bringing in the harvest is left to the men. The female children busy themselves with kitchen chores and childcare while male cousins are bussed in to help with the farm work. The IRA are glorified and the Rising has already become a glorious myth in a way that is not felt in Jimmy’s Hall when all the bloodshed and friends and family lost are still fresh wounds.

Patrick Lonergan has written a post called “Is Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman an Irish Play?” where he talks about the various echos of many plays from the Irish canon, among other things. I found The Ferryman a more traditionally Irish play than the first in-house production from the new Abbey directors. There are aspects of post-dramatic theatre in Jimmy’s Hall and the use of dance and music feels modern. Even the soundtrack is modern – the audience enter the auditorium to trad covers of Whitney Houston among others. The Ireland depicted in The Ferryman is gone, and it’s depicted with a certain nostalgia. The Ireland in Jimmy’s Hall on the other hand – an Ireland still struggling out from under the long shadow of the Church’s control, an Ireland that doesn’t protect or support it’s most vulnerable citizens – that feels very current.

The Ferryman is the bigger production of the two, with a long running time, a big cast, including lots of young children and live animals and a violent, dramatic ending. However it is Jimmy’s Hall that I would love to see again. It felt more moving, more engaging and more relevant than a lot of things I’ve seen lately. It reminded me of Riot, which is one of my favourite shows from the last year. The inclusion of The Parting Glass in both shows makes me think I may not have been the only one to link the two.

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Katie Roche and the new guys at the Abbey

Have you seen Katie Roche at the Abbey yet? It’s very good. I recommend it. It feels very modern. I don’t know if it’s the writing or the production; probably a bit of both. The character of Katie feels modern, she is opinionated and ambitious and fun. The play shows that modern, free woman trying to fit into the restrictive, hyper-patriarchal Ireland of the 1930s, a time that had very set ideas about how women should be. Katie Roche illustrates how harmful those ideas were, and how harmful it can be to be a round peg trying to fix into a square hole. It’s also a wonderful visual show, with a magnificent performance by Caoilfhionn Dunne.

Katie Roche was the sixth show I’ve seen in the Abbey so far this year and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely. I loved revisiting old favourites such as Dublin by Lamplight (which was so beautiful on that stage) and Ballyturk (where I enjoyed the addition of Olwen Fouéré), I loved getting a chance to see Druid’s magnificent production of Waiting for Godot after I missed it in Galway. I enjoyed Room which was a very different show for the Abbey, and I adored Jimmy’s Hall. I have more to say about Jimmy’s Hall but I will save it for another post!

I like what the new guys at the Abbey have done so far. I haven’t been organised enough to get to one of the free previews yet, but I think it’s a great idea. I also went to a couple of the Peacock work in progresses – A Whisper Anywhere Else by Jimmy Fay and Not A Funny Word by Tara Flynn. Plays that take a clear stand against the church, the police force, the state – things that feel a little subversive to be discussing in the Abbey Theatre. I love that Jimmy’s Hall opened in Leitrim and that Two Pints toured to pubs around the country. I think the new directors are doing what they set out to do by taking the Abbey out of Dublin and making it a nationwide National Theatre. There have also been day-long working sessions on gender and new writing and I’m interested to see what comes out of those.

FreePreview

So get to Katie Roche if you can. It closes on Saturday so there are only three shows left and I know it’s hard to ignore all the Fringe goodies, but try and make some time to see this show too, if you get a change.

Currently reading: feminist literature

Over the last year and a bit I’ve been reading a lot of books about feminism. Partly as research for a thing I’m writing but mostly just because I’m interested. (This is also why I’m writing about it!)

Here is a short round-up of my feminist reading list.

The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer

FemaleEunchGermaine Greer’s feminist manifesto seems to me to be the grandmother of all feminist texts, the one that started the second wave of feminism. First published in 1970, it attempts to cover all aspects of being a woman under the headings Body, Soul and Love. This edition was published in 2006 and includes a new foreword by Greer about what the world is like for women at the beginning of the 21st century.

I didn’t find the book as informative or as an inspiring as I’d hoped. The second wave of feminism is a movement that I’m very familiar with which meant it felt more dated than revolutionary. It’s very much one-woman’s view of the world and how women should think and behave, it’s a bit too academic and a bit too bossy for my tastes.

The added extras at the back include a essay by Elizabeth Wurtzel called The New C-Word, which I did find interesting. It condemns the notion that feminism is all about choice; that anything a woman chooses to do is a feminist action. She writes “To say anything goes, feminism is whatever you believe it is, not only renders the movement meaningless but also amounts to a demand for rights without responsibility…We don’t have to respect everyone’s choices and we do have to say to certain women that they are behaving like idiots, that their choices are not good enough for a feminist world.”

The Guardian recently listed The Female Eunuch as one of it’s 100 best nonfiction books, they obviously liked it more than I did!

The Feminine Mystic, Betty Friedan

FeminineMystiqueThe Feminine Mystic was first published in the 1963 but to me, it felt more relevant and contemporary than The Female Eunuch. I liked the fact that there was so much research behind it. Fifteen years after they graduated, Friedan sent an intensive questionnaire to her college classmates. She got responses from 200 women. She also interviewed 80 women and analysed popular media, namely women’s magazines. She looked at how women are described in these magazines, in articles and in fiction, and what that says about how women are perceived by society. Similar studies done today look at female roles in tv and film, such as the fascinating Largest Ever Analysis of Film Dialogue by Gender.

Frieden coined the phrase “the problem that has no name” for the yearning and dissatisfaction that American housewives felt in the 1950s and 1960s. This problem often manifested itself in physical as well as psychological symptoms. These women got married in their early twenties and were constantly told, particularly by advertisers, that being a wife and mother was the most worthwhile thing they could possibly aspire to. Friedan’s descriptions of how home-making was marketed to women in the 1950s reminded me of the early Noughties when domesticity was very much back in fashion. Women were sold an idealised cupcakes-and-crafts version of femininity and the Domestic Goddess was (re)born. The battle for equality seems to be circular. American women found a place outside the home during WW II but afterwards they were aggressively encouraged to go back to being a housewife. The cult of domestic goddess was a reaction to the 80s Career Women and the Ladette of the 90s. Even in the early Irish State, after women played key roles in the trade union movement, the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, once freedom was achieved De Valera’s government sent them swiftly back into the home, literally writing it into Article 41.2 of the constitution. A lot of work has gone into keeping women in the home over the years.

Girls Will Be Girls, Emer O’Toole

GirlsWillBeGirlsAt last, a book that’s about my own country written during the present century! After reading books about feminism in different countries and different times in the past, it was wonderful to read about an Irish woman’s experience, particularly someone around the same age as me, who has had similar experiences. This really is unusual and revelatory. Women are uniquely skilled at putting them into the place of the person they are reading about – even if they are very different. We’re good at it because books are mostly written about people who aren’t like us. It’s a much more satisfying experience to see your own experiences reflected back at you through someone else’s eyes. For any Irish woman, this book is work reading for that alone.

There are lots of other great reasons to read this book. It’s written in a more populist way than the more academic texts on this list. In a way it’s a beginners guide because it charts someone coming out as a feminist and realising the need for feminism, which the other books don’t really do.

It’s also very very funny. There aren’t a lot of laughs in the two previous books but O’Toole will have you snorting with laughter and at the most inappropriate things. For a little taster, read her piece about not shaving. But between the laughs there’s also some excellent information, such as also this mind-blowing bit of info about the clitoris.

ClitIgnorance

“Shockingly, the clitoris remains either misrepresented or omitted in much contemporary medical literature, including many of the anatomy textbooks used to train doctors. In spite of the pioneering work of the urologist Helen O’Connell in the nineties and early noughties, the first 3D model of the clitoris wasn’t made until 2009. So, to put that in some kind of perspective: modern science authoritatively mapped and made models of the human genome before it adequately described or modelled the clitoris.”

It angers me that science and medicine plays so little attention to the female body. To the extent that car test-dummies are always male so they only examine what happens to the male body in a collision (and extrapolate that the same would happen to a woman. It wouldn’t. Our bodies are different.). I think it is shameful that women’s bodies are treated like this. Doctors still don’t really know what causes endometriosis even though 1 in 10 women suffer from it and there is still a lot unknown about the menopause, which all women will go through.

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay
BadFeministThis is not really a book about feminism. It’s a book of personal essays with a provocative title but it certainly delivers on that title. Elizabeth Wurtzel’s essay on The New C-Word was about calling out women who’s “choices are not good enough for a feminist world”. Gay’s book gives you permission to be that person. Nobody is perfect and everyone makes bad choices now and again.

Roxane Gay is a great writer and here she writes persuasively and engagingly about a host of different topics including gender, race, rape culture, women in popular culture and competitive scrabble tournaments. I found her writing about race and popular culture particularly enlightening. This book should be required reading for Gerry Adams and his ilk. It’s book that made me see the world differently, and while Gay writes critically about popular culture, she is also very enthusiastic about the things she loves. I find her very likeable from her writing. She’s also good fun on twitter. It is one woman’s view of the world, but instead of attempting to say that this is the way it should be for all women, these are personal essays that only aim to show one person’s experience of the world. It’s a more inclusive way of writing.

That’s some of the books I’ve been reading in the last year. Some upcoming feminist books that I am looking forward to include Lindy West’s Shrill and Laura Bates’ Girl Up. Both women are in Dublin this month to talk about their books and I’m looking forward to seeing them live as well. I’m always interested in recommendations of good nerdy, feminist books so if you have suggestions, please let me know!

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert at Liberty Hall

Liz&Roisin
Sorry for the blurriness, I’m not very good at taking photos. I was too busy soaking up the creative wisdom!

“Stop pretending that you are not powerful.”

This is one of my favourite lines from the author Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw her in Liberty Hall last month. It was in response to an a question from the audience about what to do if someone is afraid to show their work to the world. Her response, to the predominately female audience, was that for most of human history, women were not allowed to have a voice. In many parts of the world, women are still silenced in many ways. We are lucky enough to be born in a time and place where we are allowed to express ourselves which means we have a responsibility to all those silenced women. There are enough powerless people in the world, stop pretending that you are not powerful.

Another line (borrowed, I think from Brene Brown) was that courage is contagious; by speaking up, you will encourage others to do the same. I really liked both these sentiments. They made me think about #WakingTheFeminists where the courage to speak up was most definitely contagious, it ran like a virus through the theatre community and made things happen.

The event in Liberty Hall – Elizabeth Gilbert in conversation with Rosin Ingle – was very enjoyable. As a big fan of Gilbert’s new book Big Magic, Roisin Ingle was an enthusiastic interviewer and Elizabeth Gilbert was a generous interviewee. She was happy to talk about the book, happy to tell stories from it and to make fun of herself a little bit. She seems to be a chatty person in general – she talks to her creativity, she talks to her fears, she talks to her ideas and her characters; it seems to works for her.

The main thrust of the book is that creativity is for everybody; everyone has the ability to be creative. Gilbert’s describes creativity as being close to curiosity and makes the point that asking yourself what are you curious about is a less stressful question than trying to “be creative”. Instead, just follow your curiosity. She stresses that creativity is healthy, it’s natural and it shouldn’t be the domain of a chosen few.

I also like her idea of creativity being a little bit magic. Gilbert personifies ideas as living things looking for the right collaborator. If an idea decides that you are that collaborator and you don’t show up and show the idea that you are serious about bringing it into the world, it will go off and find someone else to work with it. This appeals to me because I am a fan of collaboration and because it injects a sense of urgency to any creative work. You have a responsibility to the idea, you owe it a daily word-count or regular work hours because it picked you.

Other creative tips from the evening that resonated with me:

Take the day job.
When she was 16, Gilbert made a solemn vow to live a creative life; but she didn’t expect creativity to provide for her, part of the vow was that she would provide for both of them. She says that this was because it was something that meant too much to her and something that she enjoyed too much to put under that sort of pressure. As someone who recently started a non-creative job, this pragmatic pledge stuck a cord with me. It also reminded me of Sara Benincasa’s essay Real Artists Have Day Jobs.

Do it even when it’s boring, because that’s when things get interesting. 
There’s a feeling that creation should be all about finding your flow and then it’s all magic and easy. The reality of making something from nothing is not like that. It can be difficult and it can be boring, but you have to get through the dull parts to make it to the fun stuff. Gilbert listed other things that contain a lot of boredom before the pay-off; these included meditation, sex and raising children!

Treat your art like someone you’re having an affair with.
Be excited by it, be in love with it, spend every spare minute with it. Instead of waiting until you have enough time and the right environment to work, do it every chance you get! Something happens when you work on an idea everyday. Gilbert said that this was the idea trusting you to show up, so the creativity shows up as well. When you do this, things start getting serious.

My signed copy of Big Magic is currently sitting in a large pile of books beside my bed and I’m looking forward to reading it in the new year.

B.J. Novak at Project Arts Centre

– Do you want to go see BJ Novak in the Project?
– Is he doing stand-up?
– No, I think it’s a book reading?
– Reading from the kids book?
– No, I think it’s a book of essays, like Mindy Kaling’s.
– No, I think it’s short stories.
– Sure we’ll go and find out.

We didn’t really know what we were going to when we booked tickets to BJ Novak at the Project Arts Centre a couple of Sundays ago. As it turned out, he was readings from his book of short stories One More Thing.

One More Thing is a collection of over 60 stories of various lengths. Some are eleven pages long, some might be only eleven lines. As we learnt on the night, the version published in the UK has 2 fewer pieces than when it was published in the US. The stories that were removed both feature real people and were excluded because the laws relating to real people in fiction are different in the UK and the US. One of these was “The Something by John Grisham”, about what happens when John Grisham finds out that his latest novel has been published as The Something because that was what he scribbled on the front page and never got round to changing it. The other, which Novak managed to smuggle into the country and read to us in Project, is called “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela”. It was very very funny. He also read a couple of stories about the trials of dating – “All You Have to Do” and “Missed Connection: Grocery spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 pm on Wednesday” and a wonderful imagining of the after-life in “No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg”, as well as “Julie and the Warlord” which was done as a radio play for This American Life. I haven’t heard that version but I doubt it could be as much fun as the author reading it aloud and doing all the voices.

It was an interesting experience hearing stories read aloud with other people and experiencing the anticipation, the pay-offs and the laughs as a group. Most writer events that I’ve been to include a reading, but it’s only ever a small part of it. The focus is really on the interview and the Q&A. Here there was no interviewer and it all about the stories. There was even a request section. There were a few questions at the end, and a brief discussion about where to go for live music in Dublin on a Sunday night. The event ended, as all literary events do, with a book-signing. I didn’t buy a book on the night because I want to get my hands on a American version. I really want to read “The Something by John Grisham”.

And according to Twitter, BJ Novak ended up in the Workmans. Nights out in Dublin always end up at the Workmans.

BJ

Snow Angels at Project Arts Centre

Snow Angels
Snow Angels
For Snow Angels, in the Cube at Project Arts Centre, the audience sit on three sides around a set that combines realistic, solid structures – walls with light fittings and doors that opened – and more abstract design – the floor and sofa are made from wooden pallets and there is a door lying on the ground. An image of falling snow is projected onto to a screen tilted like a ceiling and suspended above the stage. The wide configuration lets us think we are seeing more than we are; a lot of the action happens off stage.

When the play begins we are introduced one-by-one to the three characters. They have just moved in together and this is the first morning they have woken up in their new home. We get to know them and their relationships to each other slowly. We learn a lot about Sebastian (Michael Hough) from his younger brother Oscar (Ger Hough), who mocks Sebastian’s “gritty, inner city novel” but also seems afraid to knock on his door and wake him. Later Sebastian quizzes Oscar about Jim (Des Hickey). Oscar doesn’t say much other than “he’s my friend”. The way he says it however, suggests that Oscar doesn’t have a lot of friends. As a result, the audience are given a number of different versions of each character. There’s the way they are talked about by the others, the way they see themselves and the way they really are in front of us. Everyone is telling stories about themselves but as it becomes clear that they are trapped in the house with no means of escape, these different versions are slowly stripped back and we see the characters at their most base and most vulnerable. While it is intriguing to learn about the characters and watch the relationships between them develop, it doesn’t take us anywhere new. While I was interested in the characters, I never got enough information to really feel for them. There were too many false leads and basic questions left unanswered. I never understood why they had decided to live together.

The ending was also unsatisfactory, so much so that I felt like maybe I had missing something. Maybe I did, but it could also have been purposely left open-ended. There was an air of mystery about the play – the mysteriously locked doors, the characters that are spoken about but never appear, the discovery of a rabbit in the bread bin.

Christine Dwyer Hickey can write great dialogue and she has created three interesting characters. It’s a shame that they so little happened to them over the course of the play.

A very female Fringe

Half-way through the Dublin Fringe Festival, having already seen six shows (Break, WAGE, Way Back Home, Pondling, You Remember The Stories You Wish Were True and Exit Strategy) I realised that I had yet to see a production that was written or devised by a man. This is partly my own prejudice – though I wasn’t actively avoiding shows by men, I am often more interested in seeing shows by women – but it’s also a credit to the Fringe that there were so many excellent productions by female theatre-makers to choose from. And they really were excellent shows – Way Back Home won the Spirit of the Fringe Award and I’m interested in seeing what Louise White does next. Pondling won the Best Female Performer Award for Genevieve Humle-Beaman and was also nominated for the Fishamble Award for Best New Writing.

Pondling by Genevieve Humle-Beaman
Pondling by Genevieve Humle-Beaman

At the Fringe Awards, the judges said that Best Female Performer was the most difficult categories to decide on because there was such a host of talent on display. I certainly saw some wonderful performances in lots of very different plays but I think the winner was a worthy one. In Pondling, which she wrote and performed, Genevieve Humle-Beaman created a character that was both terrifying and heart-breaking.

Female performers also did very well in Edinburgh this year – particularly when it came to the Foster’s Edinburgh comedy award; Bridget Christie won the overall prize and Adrienne Truscott won the panel prize. Both of their shows had a very strong feminist position. Christie’s show A Bic For Her was described as an hour of feminist comedy…as full of imaginative jokes as it is of righteous anger. Truscott’s show Asking for it took on rape culture and the rape joke. She performed the show naked from the waist down with video installations projected on to her lower body. These triumphs are particularly note-worthy as stand-up comedy is such a male-dominated medium.

Bryony Kimmings and her niece Taylor in Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model
Bryony Kimmings and her niece Taylor in Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model

On the theatre side of the Edinburgh Fringe, Bryony Kimmings’ Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model went down very well, winning a Fringe First Award, a Fringe Review Outstanding Theatre Award and the Arches Brick Award. It is currently running at the Soho Theatre in London. The show was devised by Kimmings and her nine-year-old niece Taylor, as a response to, and fight against, the sexualisation of young girls. Together they created Catherine Bennett, a pop-star who is also an expert on dinosaurs and loves riding her bike. She also has her own songs, complete with music videos and Facebook page. Lynn Gardner described the show as “a call to arms against those who profit from selling thongs to children.”

In the Dublin Fringe Festival, I only saw a couple of shows that were overtly feminist. One of which, WAGE by Fitzgerald and Stapleton, offered discounted tickets for female audience members in recognition of the 13.9% gender pay gap in Ireland. It was a dance piece performed by two naked female performers, who were very comfortable and non-sexual about their nakedness. Even the masturbation sequence was laugh-out-loud funny rather than sexy. I’m not entirely sure what it was about but it was fun and silly and joyful in its incomprehensiveness. I was baffled but I’d had a good time. There was a slightly jarring section at the end when the dancers, now fully clothed, were joined on stage by Justine Reilly, a former prostitute who spoke about her own experiences. There was no room left for audience interpretation here – it was very didactic and a bit preach-y. Suddenly the piece went from incomprehensible fun to unambiguous lecturing and this took away from what had gone before.

While WAGE was alternatively incomprehensible and blatantly obvious, I still felt like it was doing something different in an enjoyable way. DOLLS on the other hand, had nothing new to say. I left the Sunday night performance feeling slightly angry because my time had been wasted. It didn’t say anything new about the female condition and there were sections of the piece that I found boring. With its heavy reliance on lip-synching, DOLLS made its performers nothing more than ciphers to be imprinted on. Perhaps that was the point since the piece was about woman as objects but it failed to move beyond that and just showed me something I already knew, over and over again. I seem to be in the minority though as a lot of people seemed to really enjoy the piece. It won the inaugural First Fortnight award which means you can see it in January and make up your own mine.

I would like to see more feminist theatre, made by men and women. I’m a native optimist who believes that art can change the world (or at least change a few minds), and while women are still being treating as being worth less than men, whether it’s how much they are paid or how much they are listened to, then we need to keep shouting about it. But it helps to build a strong platform to shout from and the Dublin Fringe Festival does contribute to that. It seems like it has always been very female, certainly in the last five years under Roise Goan’s directorship, and that’s a very good thing. I would like to think that hearing women’s voices and women’s stories onstage moves us a step closer to smashing the patriarchy and making a fairer society for all.

All That Fall by Pan Pan

Samuel Beckett is well-known for his very exact set and stage directions. This article about Lisa Dwan’s experience performing Not I at the Royal Court earlier this year, shows how meticulous his stage directions are. Pan Pan are a theatre company who are known for re-interpreting classic texts and making you see them in a new light. The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane, their re-imagined Hamlet included a Great Dane and three actors auditioning for the role of Hamlet, with the audience making the final decision. Their production of A Doll House last year included a Batman costume and a game of Hide & Seek between Nora and her maid. It is surprising then to see that they have chosen to do a Beckett play where re-interpretation is surely off the cards due to strict rules regarding how it is performed. Then the ingeniousness that I have come to expect and enjoy in Pan Pan productions becomes clear – All That Fall is a radio play, so those strict stage directions don’t exist and the company are free to decide how you experience this play.

All That Fall
All That Fall

And as theatrical experiences go, All That Fall is a special one. It is unlike anything I’ve “seen” in the theatre before. Firstly, the idea of going to the theatre to listen to a radio play can be hard to get your head around. It feels like a slightly absurd thing to do and there is a certain anticipation in the foyer beforehand; we are all unsure what to except. When the audience is finally admitted to the theatre, we go into a large room, full of identical wooden rocking chairs. On the seat of each chair is a cushion with a skull on the cushion cover. At the front of the room where the stage should be, is a tall bank of lights. There seems to be hundreds of bare light bulbs above us, glowing dimly in the darkened room. The audience settle into the comfortable rocking chairs, looking around nervously, unsure how or when the play will start.

The play is a sort of “day in the life” and the first half is concerned with a wife’s trip to the train station to meet her husband. She finds the journey a terrible ordeal and her experience is filled with fear and anxiety. We hear her inner monologue as she makes her way along the country roads towards the train station. When she gets there and discovers that the train hasn’t arrived, her worry and confusion increase. It’s a sad story, brought beautifully to life by Áine Ní Mhuirí and Andrew Bennett. The light-bulbs dangling overhead are pretty and other worldly while the lights at the front can be suddenly blinding and completely over-whelming. The lighting and the strange sounds that fill the auditorium are assaults to the senses, separate to the script but complimentary to it. The script itself is engaging and sad but there are jokes and clever word-plays in it too. There are also wonderful images in the text which you are free to focus on because you don’t have a stage full of actors to distract you.

There is something soothing about this piece of theatre. Perhaps it is the rocking chairs or the pretty lights or the disembodied voices. It’s like being a small child again, listening to a story being read to you before bed. It’s also rejuvenating. Unlike most theatre experiences, where you are part of the crowd that makes up an “audience”, sitting in a long rows of seats all facing the same direction, here you are in your own rocking chair, separate from everybody else. It is a more personal experience and that’s part of what makes it so special. At the end of the play, when the lights come up, it’s almost a surprise to find yourself back in the room surrounded by other people.

I enjoyed it very much and I’m really looking forward to Embers, another Beckett radio play performed by Ní Mhuirí and Bennett, which is on in the Samuel Beckett Theatre from the beginning of August. (Tickets available here.) And if you are in Edinburgh during the festival, you can catch Embers on the 24th and 25th August and All That Fall on the 25th and 26th. More details here.

Shakespeare at the Abbey

Shakespeare Season at the Abbey
Shakespeare Season at the Abbey

I am really enjoying the Abbey’s Shakespeare Season at the moment. On Wednesday evening, I watched Marty Rea and Derbhle Crotty play various Shakespearean characters under the direction of Abbey Voice Director Andrea Ainsworth. There was a bit of Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; we saw Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plotting to kill the king and Beatrice and Benedict trading insults. It was a very enjoyable hour on the impressive King Lear set that is currently occupying the Abbey stage.

The production that goes along with the set is also a treat. It’s a great cast; Owen Roe is a wonderful Lear in kinglyness and madness, while Beth Cooke demonstrates Cordelia’s strength and tenacity despite her slight frame. I also enjoyed Ciarán McMenamin as the scheming Edward and Aaron Monaghan as his betrayed brother. The production is visually rich and suitably dramatic. It’s a very enjoyable show. There are lots of strong, bossy characters in this one. It’s worth catching before it ends on March 23.

Meanwhile, the Peacock is playing host to writer and performer Tim Crouch and his plays I, Malvolio and I, Peaseblossom. I’ve only seen I, Malovolio so far and enjoyed it immensely. Tim Crouch tell the story of Twelfth Night from the perspective of poor, woe-begotten Malvolio, a minor character in Shakespeare’s play. It’s a show that’s funny and sad and will make you feel guilty and uncomfortable. Go see it – you will not regret. Even if you don’t like Shakespeare or are unfamiliar with Twelfth Night, it doesn’t matter – you will still laugh yourself silly at this show.

I, Peaseblossom is the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as told by one of the fairies. It’s aimed at audience members from 6 years upwards. Both are running until the end of next week and there are evening and afternoon performances.

Treat yourself to some Shakespeare at the Abbey. There really is something for everybody. Book here.

KATIE/MAG

KATIE/MAG begins with a smartly-dressed young woman, laden down with shopping bags frantically pacing the floor. As she forces herself to carry out simple instructions – “Put down the bags. Slowly.”, “Ask for a glass of water.” we get the feeling that something has gone badly wrong.

Over the next hour the young woman, Katie (Amy O’Dwyer) walks us though her life, with help and prompts from Mags (Kelly McAuley), who played a vital role in it. We begin with Katie as a babe in arms and works our way forwards to the harrassed woman at the beginning of the play. As the play zips us past various moments, we see Katie at an unsure four year old, an easily embarrassed 13 year old and moody, rebellious 17 year old. The two actresses inhabit each moment beautifully. They transform fluidly into the different characters. O’Dwyer shows us Katie at all the different ages and moods while McAuley plays all the supporting characters – from the worried Mam to the boring lecturer and lots more inbetween. Often she manages to convey Mags attitude towards these people while she is bringing them to life.

The play gives you a brief snapshot of what’s it’s like to dumped by your best friend in primary school, or to finally start university and discover exactly how far the reality is from your expectations. These snapshots are so true and so well-realised that they leave you reeling with the remembrance of your own adolescent.

The play focuses on the close relationship between Katie and Mags but it also says a lot about women’s relationships with food, sex and ambition. None of these relationships are particularly healthy, but neither is Katie and Mags. And it only grows more destructive as the years go on.

Jennifer Rogers enjoyable script is really brought to life by the wonderful performances by the two actors. This tight two-hander asks a lot of it’s performers and they definitely deliver the goods. The set and props are kept minimal so that the focus is on the actors. They bring emotion and great story-telling to the piece, which is both funny and moving.

It’s great to see women’s stories being told on stage, especially when it is done this well.

KATIE/MAG is part of the Collaborations festival and is on in the Boy’s School in Smock Alley tonight (February 28) and Saturday at 9pm. Tickets are €10/12 and available here.