Sunday 18 February 2018

A little bit of theatrical magic at the Gate while Rihanna is still an enigma

Theatre: The Constant Wife, Gate Theatre, Dublin

Pop's great enigma: Rihanna.
Pop's great enigma: Rihanna.

Alan Stanford's production of W Somerset Maugham's 1926 play is pure Gate summer fare: a drawing room comedy played out on plush sofas in a posh London house. The play opens with Constance's mother, sister and friend in a frenzy of gossip served up in cut-glass accents, whilst wearing Peter O'Brien's thrilling 1930s fashions. Constance's husband is having an affair. The mother is Victorian in sensibility and sees male philandering as only to be expected. The sister is prone to outrage, and so is completely outraged. The practical friend proposes that Constance goes into business with her.

The wronged lady herself has more nuanced and complex ideas. This is clever storytelling, as the unfolding plot is layered and the audience isn't sure what to believe and when.

The bit of theatrical magic that the piece offers is the table-turning on John, the errant husband. Simon O'Gorman gives a measured performance in the first half, but ramps it up beautifully in the final act, as he takes self-delusion to the next level. Constance's seeming passivity is turned into a strength and John is left squirming.

Tara Egan Langley is utterly commanding in the trickily straight role of Constance. Caoimhe O'Malley is as playful and flirtatious as her frilled frocks, giving a delightful turn as the silly Marie Louise.

In 1926 this play would have been risqué and exciting; it would have been startling in its description of marriage as a form of "prostitution" and its relaxed attitude to sexual affairs. But when you remove a socially provocative play from its time, you deprive it of one of its key features: its context. This production is entertaining, but feels very safe having lost that social edge. While Maugham's witty playscript is honoured, his socially challenging instincts are not.

- Katy Hayes



Aviva Stadium, Dublin

Rihanna is modern pop's great enigma. Where contemporaries Beyoncé and Taylor Swift have become ubiquitous in our lives, the Barbadian singer remains unknowable.

Rihanna (28), inhabits her songs and celebrity like an actress slipping through roles. That veil was as tightly wound as the bleached Jedi robes she wore as she arrived on a dais in the centre of the crowd. Tears streamed down her cheeks - but was she responding to the audience's adoration or the bittersweet lyrics of 'Love the Way You Lie (Part II)'? We had only just started and already RiRi had us in a spin.

Rihanna is touring 'Anti', her first album in four years. Taking in doo wop, potty-mouthed pop and a cover of indie darlings Tame Impala, 'Anti' celebrates messy eclecticism while rejecting the idea that pop stars owe it to their fans to present a coherent vision.

She brought the same restless spirit to the stage. Rihanna veered from the almost slapstick risqué of 'Sex With Me' (with some lively cavorting in a glass box) to 'Work's bubblegum dance-hall.

Such understatement was reflected in the visual elements, with the singer emoting against a blank white screen. Here was a refreshingly stripped -down vision of stadium pop that leaned on Rihanna's low-burn charisma.

There was no lack of hits either. 'Rude Boy' was rasping and raw and it is hard to think of another pop song of the past 15 year that communicates uncomplicated joy as powerfully as 'Umbrella'.

Here was a slick, sleek arena blockbuster that didn't waste time on embellishments and instead delivered full-strength shots of sass and escapism. Long may this enigma stay unsolved.

- Ed Power

Irish Independent

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