Friday 15 December 2017

Theatre: An othello best forgotten

OTHELLO: Chris Obi delivers the goods in his final scenes
OTHELLO: Chris Obi delivers the goods in his final scenes

Emer O'Kelly

ACCORDING to his director's programme note, John Breen has set his Second Age production of "Othello" in the Falklands in 1982.

There doesn't seem to be any obvious reason, nor is there any manifestation of such a locale, period, or focus in what's on stage. In fact, there's no real focus of any kind, the actors seeming more a random bunch than a company, and the entire piece falling apart after each attempt to make it catch fire.

Much of this deadliness lies, most unfortunately, with John Cronin's quite dreadfully superficial performance as Iago. Far from one of the most notoriously evil villains of theatrical history, his Iago struts around, delivering lines in a forced bellow, and emphasising every third or fourth word regardless of meaning or Shakespearean rhythm. He also gives the impression of regarding his character's infamy as a bit of craic.

It makes life difficult for everyone who has to play to him, including Chris Obi as Othello, who also has fairly major projection problems and doesn't seem to be motivated by much passion at all, much less an insatiable desire for the bride he has seduced from her father's protection. But he does deliver the goods in his final scenes.

There are also good performances from Jack Hickey as the betrayed Cassio, Liam O'Brien as the villainous Roderigo, and the ever reliable Simon O'Gorman as both Brabantio and Ludovico.

But the real credits of the evening are on the distaff side. Apart from Megan Riordan's disastrously weird and verbally incomprehensible Bianca (Dolly Parton meets Carry On Barbara Windsor: in Shakespeare?), there is pure gold from Dagmar Doring's innocent Desdemona and Eva Bartley's strong-minded and fiercely loyal Emilia.

Marcus Costello's set and lighting are impressive (apart from the decision to surround Desdemona's deathbed with an arch of fairylights), and sound is by Ivan Birthistle and Vincent Doherty.

Second Age is the company which produces the senior cycle school texts.

The idea is to enthuse pupils whomay be seeing their first Shakespeare, or even their first live theatre. But I suspect this production at The Helix in Dublin may sadly come close to boring them.

ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2008, lights burned throughout the night in government buildings. It marked the night that the financial lights were to be turned off in Ireland for many years to come.

Elizabeth Moynihan has written a play set that night, in the falsely secure atmosphere of a luxury hotel room.

Marvel is a high-grade hooker, originally trafficked to Ireland by the Irish businessman who "married" her as the only way to get her out of her country and turn her into a personal financial asset, after finding her plying her trade on a beach in Liberia when she was only 14 years old.

He has sold her as a "regular companion" to his friend, Dion, while she continues with shorter one-off assignations. But Marvel is human as well as beautiful, and falls in love with the married Dion, the iffy financial trader who handled, and has now lost, €230m entrusted to him by his patron and white-collar criminal associates.

And as the world as they know it, furnished with Dom Perignon bottles and Cartier boxes, falls apart to display the moral stench at its heart, "Marvel" traces the story in flashback to the euphemism of their "first date" at Cheltenham. It's unspeakably sordid and pathetic . . . and beautifully packaged by the author, who writes with absolute conviction, only letting her sense of realism fail her at the end with a scene of rather tendentious moral introspection that completely fails to convince.

Alma Eno and Liam Hourican play Marvel and Dion in this interesting take on the empty vulgarity of our spurious boom and its subsequent disintegration into the grey hopelessness in which we continue to live.

Both of them are tightly directed by Aoife Spillane-Hicks, and dressed by Katie Crowle, with the lighting by Eoin Lennon and the sound by Denis Clohessy. It's an Attic production at Project in Dublin.

***

COMEDY-horror plays are fun, but they need to be very slick and visibly intended for stage.

Stewart Roche's "Revenant" (a co-production between the Venue, the New Theatre, and Purpleheart) plays rather as though it had been intended as a film scenario, with undeveloped visual references and the text 90 per cent dialogue, yet delivered in monologue form.

This deprives the piece of impact despite an extremely accomplished and energetic performance from Simon Toal as the has-been (or never-was) film director working on an isolated island, where he falls into the clutches of his seemingly "ageless" star, a faded matinee idol named Vardell. You can guess the rest.

In addition, Roche favours a somewhat self-consciously cool verbal style, full of staccato present tense half-sentences to describe events, and rather too many would-be "in" theatrical jokes.

Creative and technical credits are good: the set is by Martin Cahill, the sound by Mark Hendrick and the lighting by Colm Maher.

Roche directs the piece himself, and with plenty of energy, but it really needs a good spot of determined dramaturgical cutting. Overall "Revenant's" attempt to appeal to the movie-going "youth" cult works to its stage detriment.

Sunday Independent

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