Friday 23 February 2018

Theatre is back upstairs

Karl Shiels's brave venture has found a new home and celebrates with a Jimmy Murphy world premiere

Dublin's Theatre Upstairs is back. Two years after the actor Karl Shiels and his collaborators, Paul Walker and Andy Cummins, invested the shirts off their backs in fitting out the upstairs of the Plough Bar in Abbey Street, Dublin as a theatre, they have found a new venue. It's above Lanigan's Bar round the corner on Eden Quay, again fitted out as a small but effective theatre space, but this time with its accompanying lunch-room cum lounge bar.

The original space had to be vacated only halfway through their first production, Jimmy Murphy's What's Left of the Flag. Nothing daunted, the trio put their electrical and technical gear into storage, held on to their company name and this week opened their doors above Lanigan's with another Jimmy Murphy world premiere, Perfidia.

The show must go on, even two years late.

And the piece is as sharply topical as Murphy usually is. His view of "politics" is a conscience-ridden one, but always imbued with drama.

Perfidia is set outside a tower block somewhere off the Long Mile Road in Dublin. A defeated-looking woman is stacking what appear to be her belongings on the pathway when she is joined by another woman, this one loud-mouthed and brassy.

Niamh is waiting for the bailiffs: she has been served with an eviction order having lost her little cafe business, lost her boyfriend and fallen down on her mortgage payments.

Ciara is waiting for her brother to arrive with some hand-out furniture as well as her three small children. She has been handed the key of one of the flats by the city council; her brother is moving her in because the fathers of all three children are no longer on the scene.

The moral seems "obvious". But in a skilful hour, Murphy explores our broken society that has moved so far beyond simplicity. It's an excellent achievement in such a small piece, never losing moral focus, but always staying within the bounds of credibility.

The actors are Una Kavanagh as Niamh and Roseanna Purcell as Ciara and while, both acquit themselves quite well, there is a certain emptiness in performance: such close quarters need great veracity.

Peter Gaynor directs, rather awkwardly. The space may be small, but it could have been better utilised. But with the theatre programmed up to November, the most important factor is that there is a new and very worthwhile space on the block. It also has a visual arts space.

Gina Moxley's The Candidate is very slight indeed, and its structure bears much more resemblance to the rambling of a stand-up comic act than a play. Which is not to say that it isn't an entertaining enough three-quarter hour, because it is. But Moxley has proved herself capable of much more in the past.

The Candidate is at Bewley's lunchtime theatre in Dublin, and is performed by Frances Healy and directed by the author.

Healy is a thirtysomething single woman on a sunshine holiday in a couples' paradise resort. Except her companion on the trip is a dreary woman friend. Cue eyes meeting across a bar and some less than subtle chat-up lines, proving that the object of desire is Irish as well as "older". He's a politician, in fact, on a fact-finding mission.

They click, they fornicate athletically (he doesn't like foreplay). After 48 hours, she realises he's married; well, what else? And she gives him the order of the boot in forthright terms.

That's it, really. There are a few hints of depth: the protagonist has come through a breakdown or a pregnancy termination, or maybe both, and is fragile. But there's no sense of fragility in the writing or playing, and the situation is not so much undeveloped as a non-sequitur. Pity.

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