Tuesday 25 July 2017

A star is Dwan...

Review: No’s Knife, Abbey Theatre

Star: Lisa Dwan in No's Knife
Star: Lisa Dwan in No's Knife

Katy Hayes

Lisa Dwan brings her stage adaptation of Samuel Beckett's prose, Texts for Nothing, to the Abbey stage. She is a stunning performer: versatile, physically possessed and totally compelling. The show has run in New York and London, and finally it comes to be performed in front of an Irish audience.

The evening opens with a blurred image of what might be a caterpillar, but could also be a closed eye. It is projected on to a huge, white screen. The focus tightens, and yes, it is an eye. The eye opens and the camera dives into the blackness of the pupil. Now we see pictures of a woman drowning. We are inside that drowning woman. The screen falls away and reveals the woman trapped on a cliff face, gasping desperately for breath.

The 70-minute show is divided into four parts, separated by blackouts. For the first part, Dwan remains trapped on the cliff. "How long have I been here," she asks. "Depends on what I mean by here, and been, and me," she answers herself. We get no backstory or curriculum vitae.

Part two occurs in a landscape of rock pools, but sometimes the rocks look eerily like dead bodies. Dwan moves about, skipping in water.

In the third part, the actress is suspended above the stage, seated in a frame. There is a legal quality to the material during this session.

And in part four she returns to the rock-pool landscape, but at a later stage she walks down steps to penetrate the auditorium. The house lights come on a little to draw the audience in, then fade back down imperceptibly. For a dramatic moment, the audience has been enveloped in her world.

Co-directed by Dwan and Joe Murphy, Dwan's performance is breathtakingly good. She switches between male and female personae, makes forays into Cockney accents and Irish accents. Occasionally sulky, occasionally playful, always technically perfect. There is a delicate augmentation of audio, created by sound designer Mic Pool, using some reverb and amplification of the voice. The blackouts are accompanied by sounds of difficult breathing, and the drumming of a heartbeat which is simultaneously ominous and comforting.

The original texts were written in the 1950s. The prose work has been interpreted as a reflection of the aftershock of World War II. The writing now seems deeply personal: the woman is hearing voices, her experience is fragmented, she is enduring a psychic breakdown.

This is difficult material. There is no narrative as such, the value is in the moment. Having originated as a series of prose texts, the show doesn't have the dramatic finesse of Beckett's writing for the stage. His plays do not have conventional plots, obviously, but they do have a compelling dramatic build-up. That is the missing ingredient here.

But No's Knife is well worth seeing for Dwan, who is a star.

Stage whispers...

Katy Hayes

Increasingly, the big skill required to be a theatre or festival producer is the ability to shake down the corporate sector for cash. Wexford Festival Opera has announced a new corporate partnership with Credit Suisse, the global bank. Good news for Wexford. But this week also saw Bank of America withdrawing its sponsorship from a New York Public Theatre production of Julius Caesar (inset), in the ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ season. It features a Trump lookalike in the lead role who meets his end in a graphic stabbing scene. Delta Airlines also pulled its funding. A reminder that corporate sponsorship and the arts do not always make for comfortable bedfellows.

Ever wanted to perform on the Gaiety stage? Now is your chance. The 60th Anniversary Dublin Theatre Festival will open in September with a production of a Greek classic: Aeschylus’s The Suppliant Women. This new version by David Greig has a large chorus and the production recruits a volunteer cast in the host cities. They need 40 females aged between 16 and 26, as suppliant women. They also need soldiers and a gang of citizens of all ages who can sing. Suppliant is defined as “a person making a humble or earnest plea to someone in a position of power”. Suppliants can fill out a form on the Dublin Theatre Festival website.

The Irish Women Playwrights and Theatremakers conference went off in fine style last weekend in Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College. In his opening remarks, Dr David Clare wondered why he’d seen The Weir by Conor McPherson five times, but never seen a production of Danti-Dan by Gina Moxley. Garry Hynes, artistic director of Druid Theatre Company, came along for a while on the second day. Druid has been in hot water recently because of its male-dominated programming. Hynes said nothing during her visit, but no doubt was doing a good deal of listening.

Book it now

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Everyman Theatre, Cork until June 24

Cork-born Lynda Radley’s play, a Fringe First award-winner at the Edinburgh Festival, gets its Irish première directed by Tom Creed as part of Cork Midsummer Festival at the Everyman, which continues to promote contemporary Irish playwrights.

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Pavilion, Dún Laoghaire June 23  —  24

Jon Kenny and Mary McEvoy give this John B Keane 1960s material plenty of energy and pizazz in this funny adaptation directed by Michael Scott. The play has not dated at all — because in politics, many things have not changed.

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Bewley’s Café Theatre June 19  — July 22

Actors Helen Norton and Jonathan White have developed the characters of Miss Prism and Canon Chasuble from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest to create a hilarious lunchtime play. Direction by Conor Hanratty.

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