A couple of weeks ago, Smock Alley Theatre celebrated it’s 3rd birthday, or it’s 303rd birthday depending on when you start counting from. The refurbished theatre as it is today, opened in 2012. The first play I saw in the newly opened Main Space was Pan Pan’s A Doll House. I loved the show and I also loved the new theatre with it’s long, green seats and it’s smell of new wood. During the long years of transformation, Smock was often used during the festivals, so I had visited the space a few times over the years. The Belgium company Ontroerend Goed made great use of the Main Space for The Smile Off Your Face in 2010, when it was still an empty cavern and only recently excavated, ideal for being pushed around in a wheelchair while blindfolded! The Boys School was the Fringe Festival bar in 2009, when I did most of my volunteer shifts in Smock Alley and hung around the theatre for a week. Four years later, I spent both weeks of the Fringe Festival in Smock Alley, first with Come As Soon As You Hear’s Whelp (my first ever job as producer) and then working on Moving City. Most of the shows I’ve produced have been in Smock Alley and I’ve spent a lot of time in the theatre over the years. I was very proud to see my first play performed in the Main Space in February. On the night there was a lovely exhibition set up all around the walls of the Boys School as you walked up the spiral rams – posters and programmes from all the shows that had graced the stages of the Smock Alley over the years. It was lovely to be reminded of the many great shows I’ve seen there, as well as spotting a couple of productions that I worked on! It’s a theatre that’s close to my heart. I am always happy to pop in and see what’s happening. All of which is to say that I am very fond of the place and was delighted to have the opportunity to celebrate their success. As well as being a great place for theatre, Smock Alley is also very good at food and drink. On the birthday night they were serving a new Smocktail – a pale green concoction with elderflower cordial, vodka and cucumber syrup. It was very tasty, very summer-y and went down far too easily! I also had delicious sausage rolls and a couple of tiny, boozy brownies. So if you haven’t yet been to Smock Alley, or you just haven’t been there in a while – go! There’s loads of Writers Festival events there over the next week, as well as lots of other things.
After two very successful runs at the Dublin Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, and a nomination for Best Play in the Irish Theatre Awards at the weekend, The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle begins a two week run in Smock Alley this week.
I recently spoke to Rachel Gleeson, one of the eight ensemble cast members, about the play. Rachel describes the play as “a moving piece of theatre that is sentimental without being overly sweet.” It examines regrets and what you can get out of life, as a group of twenty-somethings assess a man’s life.
Rachel, who is rehearsing the play for the third time, says that there are still new things to discover in the text and there are still revelations everyday in rehearsals. This is a credit to what Rachel describes as a “dense script” by Ross Dungan, which has lots to offer both the actors and the audience. There have been cast changes each time the play has been produced, and bringing in new cast members has brought a different energy to the show each time. Everyone has their own reactions to the script and each time they start to rehearse the play, director Dan Herd encourages the cast to approach it as if it is a new show. He is working with the actors that he has in the room to produce something fresh each time.
Rachel studied drama at Trinity College, and feels that this was an excellent education for her because it exposed her to loads of different aspects of theatre. Her involvement with Players directly led to this show. The production company 15th Oak are a group of people who have known each other for a long time and have worked together before. The result of this is a strong and supportive group.
Rachel describes The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle as an epic show that really touches people. The reactions from the audience in Edinburgh were particularly emotional. However there are also funny moments in the script, which is very active and demands a lot from its ensemble cast. Talking to Rachel it is obvious that she really enjoys working on this play and is looking forward to performing it in Dublin and taking it to the Soho Theatre in London next April. It sounds like a very enjoyable night of theatre from an audience’s point of view as well. It will be on in Smock Alley, 14 – 26 January at 7.30pm. Tickets are available here.
There’s also a post show discussion on Tuesday 22 January called Bringing a show to Edinburgh and beyond. It will be moderated by Peter Crawley, with Róise Goan (Fringe Festival), Ross Dungan (15th Oak) , Jim Culleton (Fishamble: The New Play Company) and Theatre Lovett talking about the opportunities and the pitfalls of making work to go on the road.
The blurb for Do You Read Me? suggests it’s a state-of-nation sort of play; what do we believe in when we have been let down by the church, by the State and by all those in authority? Who do we look to for comfort? It didn’t really fulfil that brief but it is still a very enjoyable show.
The production uses the space in Smock Alley to great effect. The show takes place in the area of the Boys School that was used as the Fringe bar two years ago. It’s a fantastic space – a tall room where the ceiling is three floors above you with lots of old, exposed brick walls. It’s a spooky place to watch a show about communicating with the dead. When Shaun Dunne asks for a sign from the spirit world and we sat in silence waiting for this sign, there was a sense of anticipation in the air. Even I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck start to rise and I’m a confirmed sceptic!
It’s a fun show with lots of nice moments but the thing that makes this show so enjoyable is the great performances from the engaging, young cast. They provide good company for the hour while you learn a little bit about mediums and the effect they can have on people.
It closes tomorrow so you have two more chances to see it. Book your tickets here.