Sunday 21 January 2018

Theatre Review - Joyous Dream on zimmer frames

DELIGHT: The Abbey Theatre’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a joy. Photo: Damien Eagers
DELIGHT: The Abbey Theatre’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a joy. Photo: Damien Eagers

Emer O'Kelly

Gavin Quinn does not walk with a limp or with his head on one side; but his directorial soul is almost insanely lop-sided. With his new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream for the Abbey, the lopsidedness is, as usual, both thought-provoking and hilarious.

It opens with a thundering rendition of Ghost Riders in the Sky and has the residents  of an old people's home joining in enthusiastically, led benignly by the medical directors Theseus and Hippolyta, while the prologue has been delivered by the Chaplain, Philstrate to you and me.

The metaphysics are all there, the themes of displacement, our helplessness in the face of powers beyond our comprehension, the nature of fidelity; but a new over-riding piece of charming comfort has been added.

In the midst of our human helplessness, Quinn posits, love can comfort and conquer all. It was Shakespeare's own tenet, right there at the heart of the text, but in this case we are shown that we are never beyond it, with Lysander and Hermia (John Kavanagh and Aine Ni Mhuiri) tottering towards fulfilment on walking aids, as do the warring Demetrius and Helena (Barry McGovern and Gina Moxley.) Athens, in this case the old peoples' home, is a hotbed of palpitating passion, as thrumming as any centre-city club on a Friday night.

Neither do the fairies escape the pensioners' wand, Stella McCusker stepping from a wheelchair to morph into Peaseblossom, as do Maire Ni Ghrainne and Maire Hastings as Mustardseed and Cobweb. The whole thing is almost unfairly and heartwarmingly delightful and mischievous (the same word to be applied to some sly liberties with the text).

Even the original unpleasant machinations of Puck as he does his fairy master Oberon's bidding against the humans, fades into no more than a pretty dream to be forgotten in a happier reality.

There's double mischief with some of the Abbey stage's past stalwarts prancing with pride alongside current cohorts, including Des Cave as Robin Starveling, Peadar Lamb as Francis Flute, Des Nealon as Tom Snout and John Olohan as Snug.

Daniel Reardon is a glamorously cynical Puck, with Andrew Bennett as the bewildered Bottom. Fiona Bell and Declan Conlon are almost impossibly glamorous as Titania and Oberon, and Shadaan Felfeli is Titania's Indian boy ward…in this production very close to his mistress's heart.

The outrageously joyous costumes are by Bruno Schwengl, the high tech set is designed and lit by Aedin Cosgrove and sound and music are by Jimmy Eadie.

* * * * *

Everything between sisters Teeni McKinney and Sandra Richardson is violent: their shared memories, their ambivalent feelings for each other, the brutality of their sense of loss. Author David Ireland establishes this from the opening moment in his 2010 award-winning play Everything Between Us, given its Irish premiere by Rough Magic at Project in Dublin.

The sisters explode onto the stage, hitting, scratching, and foul-mouthed. But it's the "civilised" Sandra, in her business-like dress and heels who wins out over the be-jeaned, butch-looking Teeni, forcing her to the ground in a hammer-lock. But then, it's implied, clothes are the surface: Sandra's the sister who has never left Belfast; Teeni has roamed the world and ended up boat-building in Norway. And as a cradle for learning how to be triumphantly violent, Belfast has good credentials.

The most striking element in Everything Between Us is that in portraying the "troubles" from the protestant/loyalist perspective (rarely seen in Northern Ireland theatre, and presented south of the Border even more rarely) the characters of the two sisters, who have seen their gunman father (responsible for nine murders) himself gunned down in an IRA revenge attack on his own doorstep can hate with the best of them.

But they also have a dim awareness of catholic/republican sensibilities, while still regarding them as "scum." It is a kind of tolerant hatred: a justification of their own numb rage.

In all other ways they differ from each other: this is the first day of a putative "peace and reconciliation process" and Sandra, now a unionist MLA, is a mediator. Teeni, on the other hand is a barely recovering alcoholic, her childhood experiences having haunted her for the 11 years she has been roaming the world, drinking herself into a stupor when she is not getting into violent fights.

Arriving home unannounced to seek out her sister, she explodes into Sandra's carefully controlled world, assaulting and flinging racist insults at the judge, a South African woman who was formerly a member of the ANC.

Set in the conference centre boiler-room where Teeni has been incarcerated to await being arrested by the police for her violent behaviour, the sisters have nothing to do but re-open wounds. The question is: will they fester, or will the poison finally be released?

Ireland explores the damaged, dysfunctional State through the souls of two very different, damaged, dysfunctional women. The result is close to brilliant, but neither pretty nor hopeful.

There are two splendid performances from Stacy Gregg as Teeni and Abigail McGibbon as Sandra, and they are rigorously directed by Sophie Motley, in a design by Sarah Bacon lit by Sarah Jane Shiels.

* * * * *

John Sheehy has a smashing way with language; Bren Barnett has a smashing way with performance. Sheehy has written and directed The Hole, and Barnett performs it at Bewley's lunchtime Theatre in Dublin, currently playing at the Powerscourt Centre

Given the combination of undoubted talent, it should work. Unfortunately it doesn't. The surrealist/mentalist/schizophrenic thrust is too diffuse and bizarre to have credibility, as a reclusive man engages with the world through a chance meeting with the small daughter of a new (and resented) neighbour family.

When the little girl and her mother are killed in a motor accident, he and the widower, and another eccentric neighbour apparently under sentence of death from heart disease, start digging a vast hole in a field.

It becomes a neighbourhood attraction, a tourist mecca, and the hole becomes the size of the field until it collapses on itself. But still the man digs in an attempt to break through to the earth's core. As I say, a storming performance, and beautifully written. But the question remains: Wha'?

Jazz- Piano Trios in the Bello Bar

TWO trios share a double bill in the Bello Bar, Portobello, next Friday night. Carole Nelson (piano), who leads the first, is best known as a saxophonist with Zrazy, but this is only part of her talent. She is also a songwriter, vocal coach, teacher and arranger. Her colleagues in the piano trio are Damian Evans (double bass) and Dominic Mullan (drums). They will also appear in the second trio with Johnny Taylor as leader. Originally from London, Johnny studied music in Trinity College, Dublin, and  Berklee College of Music in Boston. He now leads his own trio, accompanies Emilie Conway and plays in groups led by Nigel Mooney, Cormac Kenevey and Louis Stewart.

Next Thursday night brings a choice between a straight-ahead quartet in JJ Smyth's and a far-out duo in the Kevin Barry Room. Mike Nielsen (guitar) is a native of Sligo where he plays in the annual jazz festival. With him in JJ's are Greg Felton (piano), Derek Whyte (bass) and James Macken (drums).

In the Kevin Barry Room, John Wiese plays 'live electronics' - surely a contradiction in terms? - with pianist Paul G. Smyth. It sounds scary,

On Friday at lunchtime, Honor Heffernan and Jim Doherty return to the John Field Room with 'We're Old-Fashioned', featuring movie tunes by Jimmy Van Heuson.

Grainne Farren

Sunday Independent

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