Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Making an extraordinary man ordinary

My Fair Ladies, Bewley's Cafe Theatre, until May 26

Hirsuites you sire: Des Keogh is carefully styled to look just like Shaw, in a tweed suit and signature beard
Hirsuites you sire: Des Keogh is carefully styled to look just like Shaw, in a tweed suit and signature beard

Katy Hayes

George Bernard Shaw has an enduring presence in cultural life. His plays get frequent revivals: Pygmalion and You Never can Tell have both had recent outings on the Abbey stage; Man and Superman was recently at the Royal National Theatre in London. The Royal Irish Academy published a significant critical study last year, Judging Shaw, by Fintan O'Toole. Though best known as a playwright, Shaw was a prolific commentator, critic, essayist, and political activist. He lived to be 94 and his output was vast. He won the Nobel prize for Literature and also an Academy Award for the film script of Pygmalion.

Veteran of the Irish stage Des Keogh returns with this one-man show about Shaw's life. The play follows the format of a public lecture to a crowd somewhere in Ireland in the 1940s. Keogh made the decision to engage with the great playwright not through his work, but rather through his relationships with various women. The story starts when he lost his virginity aged 29 with a woman named Jenny Patterson, a friend of his mother's who was 15 years his senior.

Like his contemporary William Butler Yeats, Shaw admired women and liked their company. He had a string of quasi-romantic, quasi-sexual affairs, several with actresses: Florence Farr; Ellen Terry; Mrs Patrick Campbell. Part of the dynamic here is the playwright wooing talent for his plays - there is a detailed account of his seducing Ellen Terry to perform the lead in his play Candida. But these charismatic actresses cast an enduring spell over him.

Alongside these affairs, Shaw had a stable and sexless marriage to the Irish heiress Charlotte Payne-Townshend, who seemed willing to put up with his philandering. Charlotte's money enabled him to give up his role as a working critic, and concentrate on his creative output.

Keogh is one of Ireland's finest comic performers. Here, he is carefully styled to look just like Shaw, in a three-piece, brown-squared tweed suit, and signature beard. Under Patrick Talbot's direction, the version of George Bernard Shaw we get here is terribly ordinary. Only rarely do we see a flash of Keogh's extensive comedic talents. It's there during an extract from Pygmalion, where Keogh performs all the parts: Eliza, Mrs Higgins and Freddie. This a highlight of the show. We also get a blast of Keogh the comedian in a mimicry of Yeats's sonorous tone and during a satirical passage about the poet's interest in the "bonging" noise of the esoteric musical instrument, the psaltery. In choosing to concentrate on the ordinary life of Shaw, to make him a man with mixed success with the ladies, rather than an intellectual giant, Keogh opens up a route into the humanity of his subject, so long celebrated for his cerebral qualities. But that isn't necessarily what we want. We are interested in Shaw because of his status as a colossus of Irish and British theatre. In humanising him, Keogh has demythologised him. Intimacy is definitely gained, but at the loss of intellectual excitement.

Book it now...

1  I SEE YOU

Theatre Upstairs, Dublin,

 until May 26

This new play by Amy de Bhrún juxtaposes — across 100 years — the life of Limerick-born, early aviatrix Lady Mary Heath with another Mary, a woman trapped in an abusive relationship in present-day Dublin.

2 TITANIC

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin,  May 15–19

The tragedy of the doomed, iceberg-bound ‘Titanic’ has proved a rich subject for stage and screen. This musical, which won five Tony awards on its maiden outing on Broadway in 1997, opens in Ireland for the very first time.

3 WRONGHEADED

Project Arts Centre, Dublin,

 May 16 & 17

Liz Roche Company revives this 2016 multi-media dance show which engages with the debate surrounding the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment. Tours to Dún Laoghaire, May 22; Sligo, May 24.

Seeing the world through Lolita's eyes

Review: Dolores, The Chocolate Factory, until May 13

Do you remember that Lolita's name in the novel by Vladimir Nabokov is actually Dolores Haze? Her mother calls her Lo, and Humbert Humbert extrapolates from that the Lolita nickname, which has become synonymous with the idea of a sexually precocious teen.

Junk Ensemble's new production for Dublin Dance Festival is a brilliant interference with the legacy of Nabokov's best-known work. Dolores is played by four performers: Julie Koenig and Deirdre Griffin are gingham-shorted all-American sporty girls; their dance reflects the roughness of puberty and its agony. Erin Thornton plays a quiet, more interior Dolores, who reads and observes. In the novel, Dolores dies in childbirth while still a teen. Here, Dolores grows to be an adult who is both damaged and vengeful, a persona wonderfully created by performance artist Amanda Coogan. All four women at one point wear the same striped dress. The splitting and fracturing of the character is a highly effective way of representing this vulnerable person. Mikel Murfi has the tricky job of playing Humbert Humbert; he manages to be simultaneously dangerous and pathetic, caught in a fug of bewildered sleaze.

Concept, choreography and direction are by Junk Ensemble's Jessica Kennedy and Megan Kennedy. This is a wonderfully put together 75 minutes. Though it has the abstract quality of a dance show, it also has a compelling and mesmerising narrative. The audience is split into two, and led through the space in separate groups. Intriguing design by Valerie Reid creates a variety of sections: a bedroom, a car, a motel room. Highlights of the show include: the confrontation between an older Dolores and Humbert Humbert; an aerial section using a harness, which alters your perspective on matters; the athletic dancing of Koenig and Griffin; the final baton section. The show is a string of highlights.

And afterwards, one thing is sure: you will remember Lolita's name. She was called Dolores.

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