Thursday 22 February 2018

Theatre: Sex and supremacy in the suburbs

Spirited tale: Matthew O’Brien, left, and Paul Kealyn in 'Temptress'.
Spirited tale: Matthew O’Brien, left, and Paul Kealyn in 'Temptress'.

Emer O'Kelly

Take something that's a cross between the Lorelei of German folklore, a ghost-busting comedy, and a few shades of the Alcoholics Anonymous mentoring and sponsorship programme, and you have a fair description of Temptress by Philip St. John.

Pete is a spoiled rich kid, or rather ex-kid, because he's now in his thirties, and has spent his adulthood moving from house to house where he has "seen" and, em, "enjoyed" various spirit women who haunt the houses. They've got better as he's moved into older and older houses.

Now the best of the lot is inviting him to "cross over" so they can copulate blissfully for all eternity. But he's not quite sure, even though he's armed himself with various implements of suicide before appealing for help from "The Foundation", whose representative Noel is spending the evening with him to convince him that such thoughts are loopy.

Then Her Nibs makes her appearance, and the jealousy cat is truly among the two-timing pigeons.

Is this play total nonsense? Yup. Is this play hugely enjoyable? Yup. Is St. John a fairly wickedly talented writer? Yup.

It's a Speckintime production playing at the New Theatre in Dublin, with Matthew O'Brien delivering an excellent performance as the rattled Pete, and Paul Kealyn even more impressive as Noel, the counsellor whose own life (as so often in such cases) is a total mess.

The tight direction is by Matthew Ralli, and there's an atmospheric set by Lisa Krugel, and some terrific incidental music by Carl Kennedy performed by The Magpies. Lighting is by Paul Doran.

* * * * *

"This ain't Chekhov," says the note for the current production at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's Bar on Eden Quay in Dublin. Quite right, too. But this joint composite of several pieces, a Hallowe'en production from Gumption Theatre and Theatre Upstairs, has a lot going for it for the season that's in it. Called Tales from the Woods, it is DEFINITELY not for the trick-or-treat generation in its entirely realistic spookiness, and also for its very adult take on some tried and trusted fairy tales. In fact, one suspects that the Brothers Grimm, dug up and sitting in the audience, would feel themselves more at home here than in the average misrepresentation of their work in annual pantomime.

The Ballad of Ginnie Fogarty by Kate Gilmore, has three schoolgirls daring each other to approach the cottage where the titular Ginnie, reputed to have once murdered her baby, lives. But under the influence of the magic in the woods, the youngsters find a horrible truth behind Ginny's insane wailing.

Gary Duggan is the author of The Beast in the Woods, in which a little girl, eerily reminiscent of Red Riding Hood, leads an unsuspecting and lost motorist through the woods. She tells him of a beast which lives there, and can take many forms. Yes, you've guessed it ... and very effective the outcome is.

The Children Played at Slaughtering, by Karl Shiels (who directs all the pieces to smashing, barely subdued, violent effect) is a story very reminiscent of some headline stories of recent years, in which two boys play out the violent stories they've been told by adults to tragic effect. And because this is a Halloween story, they pay the price at the thoroughly nasty hands of a creature called the Plague Doctor.

India Mullen, Eilis Carey, Marnie McCleane-Fay, Shane O'Regan and Dave Rowe all turn in ghoulishly effective performances, with Mullen particularly outstanding as the Little Girl in the woods. And Laura Honan's set and lighting are quite a treat in the limitations of the space.

* * * * *

In times past, if audiences felt they were being lectured or talked down to, they had a simple, primal reaction: they reached for the rotten fruit. We're more polite nowadays, possibly to the detriment of our tempers.

Certainly Noelle Brown's new play Foxy has all the elements of high moral ground patronage. The audience is expected to sit through a documentary-style improving lecture on its own failures in humanity and understanding. The "foxy" of the title is a rather unwieldy attempt to take one of the "characters", a nice middle-class lad who has always been proud of his red hair, and have him discover in a blinding flash of light that almost everyone else on the planet associates it with "knackers", otherwise travelling people. And the audience, it is implied, is the embodiment of prejudice, and regards travellers' difference, indeed, all ethnic difference, as a lesser form of humanity.

Except there are no characters in this turgid if well-meant piece of polemic: only stereotypes. All gardai are racist, all social workers are racist, all settled people who look across their neat walls at Traveller settlements are racist; and not just subliminally racist, but openly and blatantly hostile and vicious in all circumstances. So Brown, who delivered a searing piece of humanity in her first play Postscript, has fallen far short of balanced credibility with this piece.

Nor is the direction any help in getting Brown's work to the stage: Oonagh Murphy seems determined that none of the cast members will actually engage by facing the audience (something I have noticed before about her work.)

Neither Mark Fitzgerald as the Foxy of the title nor Sorcha Fox as most other people is either convincing or anything other than dreary; but against the odds, Michael Collins gives a heartfelt portrayal of a Traveller in a situation plagiarised from the Romanian immigrant community: a child forcibly taken into care because her colouring doesn't "match."

It's a Verdant production at Project in Dublin.

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