Resourceful director Jim Culleton and the crew from Fishamble: the New Play Company have responded with imagination to the lockdown. Like other theatre makers around the world, they are squeezing the artform into a new, rather awkward, online shoe. But the result is an unmistakably theatrical show, albeit in this strange screen-bound form.
The company issued a broad invitation to writers to submit 600-word playscripts about the pandemic. They have created a 53-minute show containing 10 playlets in Dublin: some are shot on Zoom, others are filmed on the stage in the O'Reilly Theatre, one is shot by a drone. Most of the writers could be described as new or emerging, so these tiny plays might be a glimpse of the future.
A number are focused on environmental issues: Just Because They're Birds by Maria Popovic is about birdsong, a sound more easily heard during the din-reduction of the pandemic. Patrick O'Laoghaire's lyrical Change is about the push-and-tug relationship between the sea and the land. This is performed by Olwen Fouéré as the land, Pat Kinevane as the sea and Mary Murray as a bird, their voices playing over coastal drone footage. Kinevane's dramatic tones crash like Atlantic breakers on the seashore.
Ryan Murphy's Ragnarok, the final piece, presents a young couple, acutely conscious of climate change, considering bringing a child into this imperilled world. This piece is as moving as it is philosophically assured.
Grace Lobo's Bear Hunt precisely describes the experience of being stuck inside with your family during lockdown. Teddy bears being stashed in windows for passing children to spot on a bear hunt become a powerful metaphor for being trapped. Eileen Walsh carries off this exercise in family suffocation with a playfulness and lightness of touch, which is, nonetheless, deeply touching.
The standout piece is Ciara Elizabeth Smyth's Wild Horses. It is a pandemic workplace drama where an employee is being reprimanded (on Zoom) for inappropriate behaviour during a business meeting (on Zoom). Fascinating here is the upending of the usual boss-subordinate power dynamic. The assumption of authority by the underling is truly arresting; the audacity of the core idea is given gloriously imperious grace by Denise Gough as the employee.
It might be no bad thing if some of these innovative practices remain when the pandemic tide washes out.
Following the cancellation of their production of Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio, Irish National Opera in association with the Irish Chamber Orchestra have created a distilled version, presented in eight segments over the past four weeks. Director Caitríona McLaughlin's inventively creates playful parallels between the kidnap/rescue plot of the original libretto and the experience of lockdown in Dublin.
Peter Whelan conducts and also plays the Pasha Selim, the Turkish lord of the original. He is now a writer working on a children's book and this provides a basis for the fanciful storytelling. Key arias are incorporated as a group of friends organise a Zoom call. The adaptation is admirably ambitious - lots of text exchanges, Tinder messing about and lockdown parallels. But in parts the narrative feels overloaded, particularly the football material. The arias, however, soar. Claudia Boyle on the bed singing about torture is a treat. Wojtek Gierlach brings depths of lustrous villainy to his rich bass as the bad-minded Osmin.
The final episode, with all five principals joined by the chorus, gives a vivid picture of how these complex opera voice mixes are achieved. The orchestra on Zoom creates a vibrant reminder that orchestral sound is utterly dependent on the individual musician. A rewarding curio for curious times.