Thursday 18 January 2018

Sweet version of a classic ballet

Cupid's wings: Ryoko Yagyu and Vincenzo di Primo in the lead roles. Photo: Declan English
Cupid's wings: Ryoko Yagyu and Vincenzo di Primo in the lead roles. Photo: Declan English

Katy Hayes

This Ballet Ireland version of Shakespeare's great tragedy was originally choreographed by Morgann Runacre-Temple in 2010. It is traditional in terms of dance style; the enhancement is primarily dramaturgical. The ballet opens in a classroom, with students in school uniforms forming gangs and provoking one another. The teacher and school chaplain, later becoming the nurse and the friar, marshal them into costumes and have them perform Romeo and Juliet as a learning exercise, a play within a play.

Shakespeare's tale of juvenile lovers is a curious hybrid of tragedy and comedy. The first half is all fun, with masked party scenes and romance. In the second half, the mood darkens to thwarted romance, violent death and ultimate tragedy. It is always tricky to take the mood of the audience down this dark path. Sergei Prokofiev's score is a tremendous help in altering the tone - something straight drama productions often struggle with.

Runacre-Temple's choreography has plenty of humour. A stand-out sequence is the post-party scene, which includes drunks wobbling on pointe. The balcony scene, where Romeo risks all to pay court to Juliet is given plenty of space, and strongly establishes the tragic-romantic core. The choreography swerves easily from comedy into romance, before moving into tragedy. Ryoko Yagyu dances Juliet, and her earnest uncertainty perfectly conveys Juliet's youth. She is a supremely sweet dancer. Vincenzo Di Primo is a charming, eager Romeo, his movement and physique designed for romance. The contrast with Amand Pulaj's sturdy, aggressive Tybalt is striking. Viola Daus as Lady Capulet creates two tremendously affecting dances of grief. The solo dances by Valentin Quitman as Friar Lawrence strike a different note to the rest of the work, with a more expansive, experimental feel. They linger afterwards in the memory.

Design, also by Runacre-Temple, is simple but highly effective. White school tables, and similar boxes are arranged and rearranged to effectively create and shape scenes. Gauze curtains, with clever lighting from Zia Holly add drama and romance.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable version of the Prokofiev ballet. It brings it gently up to date but retains the purity of the original. For all the framing with the schoolyard gang-fight device, the core romance takes over and becomes more real than the supposedly realistic frame. In the end, the show hardly returns to the school setting at all. The tragic romance is core: all the surrounding apparatus falls away. A treat of a show.

BOOK IT NOW

1 NEW WRITING WEEK   

The New Theatre, Dublin  Nov 13 - 15

A showcase of brand new writing from brand new writers. Plenty of impressive names among the cast list. Always worth keeping an eye on up-and-coming talent. Hats off to the The New Theatre for this initiative.

2 JUDAS

Viking Theatre, Dublin Nov 14 - 25

Rare opportunity to see work by Dutch writer Lot Vekemans. Performed by Andrew Murray and directed by Elyn Friedrichs, a newcomer from Germany to the Irish scene. The gospel villain speaks.

3 FIRE BELOW

Peacock Theatre, Dublin until Nov 18

Owen McCafferty is an important Irish theatrical voice. This is a companion piece to his successful play Quietly which won an Edinburgh Festival Fringe Award in 2013. Directed by the Lyric's Jimmy Fay.

Irish style funerals with sandwiches

Director/creator Louise White's experimental interactive show kicks off with a number of questions. Do you think you're good looking? Do any of you not talk to a family member? This is non-narrative theatre, so there isn't the pay-offs of plot or character development, instead the work is impressionistic, humorous and thought provoking.

Actor Lucy Miller, dancer Philip Connaughton and singer/keyboard player Michelle O'Rourke take us through the idea of a funeral. White's programme note explains her inspiration: the death of her father four years prior and the rapid catapulting of her family into the funeral process afterwards.

A triumphantly funny part of the show is the recreation of the after-funeral house. An audience member is dressed in a superhero cape and put to making triangular cheese sandwiches, while another, similarly caped, is given the task of washing up. The washing up seems to endlessly renew itself. This happens as the doorbell rings every few minutes and the phone keeps ringing, amongst endless ambient chatter of mourners.

Design by Lian Bell creates a funeral parlour air, with its fleur-de-lis motif carpet and orange curtain. The flashy retro lighting display in the foyer, picked up on stage, is an inspired touch. Sarah Bacon's costumes are first rate, especially the superhero capes. There is plenty of humour, with a few naff songs, including Abba's 'SOS'.

Connaughton does a number of funny dances, incorporating bongo drumming and tap dancing, but his last dance is most serious and affecting. O'Rourke has a beautiful, velvety mezzo voice and raises the tone in more ways than one. Miller is the master of ceremonies, like the sensible older sister who takes charge - there is always one.

This show is a reminder that theatre has its origins in religious ritual, and that the function of those rituals is to reconcile us with our mortality. This may sound heavy, but it is delivered with a very light touch. Irish people frequently dig for comedy, even in tragedy, especially in a show about a funeral.

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