DTF 2014 and other festivals

DTF2014

I really enjoyed this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival. I saw great Irish and international shows over the two and a bit weeks. Here is a handful of my favourite things.

1. A German Hamlet that reminded me of Rik Mayall. Schaubühne’s Hamlet was modern and contemporary and very, very German. It looked amazing with a wet, mucky set and a giant curtain of chains that doubled up as a projection screen. This Hamlet was allowed be funny and silly, particularly when he addressed the audience directly but within the play’s text as well. The show created a very clear world for these characters and the costumes worked supplement that and to help the six actors portray the twenty plus characters in the play! The last Hamlet I saw was also in the Dublin Theatre Festival – the Wooster Group’s Hamlet in 2012. (I also saw Playing the Dane in the festival in 2010. It’s a popular play!) Now I’m ready to take a break from this tragic hero for a while!

2. So many female stories. The festival were awash with magnificent female performers. From the incredible talents of Marie Mullen, Catherine Walsh and Aisling O’Sullivan in Druid’s production of Bailegangaire at the Gaiety, to Aoife Dunffin’s spell-binding performance in A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, to the wonderful cast of Vardo to the grumpiest Masha I’ve ever seen in Pan Pan’s The Seagull and Other Birds. Lots of different women, telling lots of different stories.

3. The internationality of it. In the O’Reilly Theatre I saw an Australian show about an Indian elephant god who travels to Germany to rescue the Swastika from the Nazi’s. Ganesh Versus The Third Reich was a wonderful show crammed full of ethical and dramatic questions, as well as fantastic performances. I feel lucky to have seen a show that was made on the other side of the world. Another show in the Australian Season, Jack Charles V The Crown also looked at persecution but was much more about Australian life.

4. Two wonderful days with ANU talking and thinking about the Monto Cycle. As well as being lucky enough to get a ticket for Vardo, I also attended the two-day conference NOW-THEN-NOW, presented by ANU Productions and Create. It was a fascinating two days hearing about the five-year project, and it managed a good balance between academic views on the work and the cast and audience’s experiences from inside the work. We also had the chance to experience a condensed version of all four pieces (World’s Ends Lane, Laundry, Boys of Foley Street and Vardo) on the streets around the Lab. It was a very enjoyable couple of days.

5. Talking theatre with people, at the conference, before shows and in the bar afterwards. I volunteered with the festival again this year. I think it’s my third or fourth year doing it and I keep coming back because I really enjoy it. It’s a great way to see lots of shows in the festival and you also meet people who are really enthusiastic about theatre and I love talking theatre with people.

That’s a condensed version of my festival. If I included everything I saw and loved, this post would be very long and I want to write a little bit of two festivals starting today. Just in case you were feeling festival withdrawal!

Prototype is a festival of play and interaction and it’s happening in Project Arts Centre today and tomorrow. It’s run by the same people who brought you Journey to the End of the Night and it features talks and workshops as well as lots of games. Tickets for the Playground and access to all the games are €10 for one night and €15 for both nights, and there are different games available on each night. You can book tickets and get more information on Project’s website.

Also starting today is the spoken word festival Lingo. It’s happening Friday to Sunday in Smock Alley Theatre,The Workman’s Club and The Liquor Rooms.

And for something completely different – the Dublin Cocktail Festival is also on at the moment and finished tomorrow.

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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.

Talking Texts

A couple of weeks ago I went to my second ‘Talking Texts’ workshop at the Abbey. The Abbey runs these voice workshops every now and again, always in connection with whatever play is on the main stage. The first one I went to, about a year ago, was based around Measure for Measure. The more recent one was another Shakespearean text – Macbeth. The workshop involves three hours doing voice work on the Abbey stage with Andrea Ainsworth, Voice Director at the Abbey, then there’s a break for lunch (tea and sandwiches are provided in the bar upstairs) and in the afternoon you go and see the play. It’s a really nice way to spend the day and I’ve enjoy the two workshops I’ve done.

It’s a big group (about 20 – 30 people) and there is no experience necessary so you get a wide range of abilities amoung the attendees, so the workshop is very much a basic introduction. Andrea leads a vocal warm-up and then goes through different exercises using a piece of text from the play. For the Macbeth workshop, we used Macbeth’s soliloquy from Act 3, scene 1, where he is about to send a couple of hit-man after Banquo and his son. (See the text here) It’s a nice meaty piece of text and it was useful to go through it in detail with the group and talk about what each line means and what sort of images the words bring to mind.

Thw workshop combines the two types of voice workshops that an actors requires -physically warming up the voice to get it ready to work, and the more intellectual side of unlocking the text and finding a way to make it make sense.

After the vocal warm-up, Andrea does a couple of these exercises with the text. Not all of them will work for everybody and not all of them would be suitable for every piece of text but they are a good starting point. It’s useful to try out the different ideas and exercises from her, and pick and choose what might be useful in the future.

In the Macbeth workshop, we were told to pick out all the people mentioned in the text – the witches, Duncan, Banquo, Banquo’s son – and imagine them standing around you as you say the text. When they are mentioned in the text, you have to point to them; and when Macbeth is speaking of himself, you point to yourself. It was an interesting exercise because you start identifying the feelings you have about each person. It’s also interesting to note how often each person appears in the text, Macbeth refers to himself a lot and gradually becomes more obsessed with Banquo’s sons.

After lunch and a bit of a chat with the other workshop participants, we headed back into the theatre for the matinee performance. I did Macbeth for my Leaving Cert (way back in 1999) so I am intimiately familiar with the play. It was a good show – the usual mad women but not too much blood and gore. There was a nice bit of lighting used for the ‘Is this a dagger that I see before me’ scene and I really enjoyed the Porter’s scene.

The next Talking Text workshop is on Saturday 4 September, and the text is The Plough and the Stars.

And, in case you were wondering, I didn’t notice anyone shying away from saying the dreaded ‘Macbeth’ word inside the theatre. And nothing bad happened!