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Walking with Magdalens – “Laundry” at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Laundry - Anu Productions

Laundry is the latest site-specific work from Anù Productions and features as part of this year’s Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. Barry Houlihan witnessed this historic play that takes place behind the doors of Dublin’s Magdalen Laundry.

‘Sanctus’. The word is cast in elegant stained glass over a doorway that leads to the inner chapel of the Magdalen Laundry on Seam McDermott Street. The ‘Santcus’ is a song of praise to God and to his angels that in the order of the mass is sung  just prior to the consecration – the act of true faith in the mass. For the thousands of women who walked under this word every morning and evening of their lives spent in the Magdalen Laundry, it offered little respite or comfort.

Laundry is the latest work by Dublin based theatre company Anù Productions. Formed as recently as 2009, the company has quickly proven to be a phenomenon of Irish theatre; staging radically powerful works while specialising in site-specific areas.  While far from a being a ‘play’, this performance is testimony to the stolen childhoods and stolen lives of the ‘Maggies’ who were forced to endure life inside the walls.

To read this review in full from writing.ie please click here

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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Culture, Theatre

 

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The Fall-Out of Memories – Mercier’s ‘The Passing’ and ‘The East Pier’

“People around here just want to get on with their lives”, offers Steven, played by Andrew Connolly early in Paul Mercier’s new play The Passing, presented in reparatory on the Abbey theatre stage with his other new work The East Pier.  These two new ‘memory plays’ reflect on our contemporary Ireland, the unease and anxiety prevalent in its people and also ponders our connectedness to each other, or lack thereof.

Put simply, these are works for our time. However, they are not strictly of our time. The Passing and The East Pier share themes and ideas that are a continuation and extension of the themes Mercier has explored from the mid-1980s with his play Wasters, where he examined the disinterested youth of a generation of young Irish that were experiencing mass emigration. Here, Mercier presents a suburban middle-class, those who were cloistered in commuter-belt housing estates but today find themselves lost and very much alone socially, politically and economically.

To say these works are ‘recession plays’ or to label them as a direct comment on banking crises would do them a severe injustice. The dreaded words of recession, banks or bonds are never mentioned. That is not what Mercier is getting at here. He says himself “The Passing and The East Pier may be set in contemporary Dublin, amid the wreckage of a bust economy and a visionless future, but “events like the banking crisis, or whatever, happen every day. We’re either flush with [money] or we’re not. These events have been happening since I first began writing in the 1980s. The times then were challenging too. . . Yes. Ordinary life continues regardless of the economic circumstances.” (Mercier in conversation with Sara Keating, IT) Mercier is exploring the fallout of these crises and where they have been felt hardest and that is in the homes of Irish families.

The Passing is set in one such family house that has ceased to be a home.

The Passing. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

The Passing. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

Catherine enters the home of her childhood and in the process sets off the alarm, she is like an intruder in her own home. We learn that this house has been vacant for some time and is about to be placed on the market. A series of meeting with her siblings ensue, each by chance, none arranged and none of the meetings are that of siblings on good terms. Anthony Lambe’s set is a through-section of the house, from ground floor to roof chimney and allows the audience a vantage point into the private lives of families, usually kept within the walls of their home. Liam, played by Peter Hanley, is the son who stayed at home and who watched his parents grow old and eventually die. He is the executor, a powerful position to hold in a society where the holder of property has previously been the winner.

This is also a key point which Mercier teases at: a house loses any sense of being a home when it is treated solely as ‘a property’. Negative equity should mean less to those who bought a home to live in, be at home in and not to sell or hold simply as a commodity.

Catherine is brilliantly played by Catherine Walsh, one of the best performances you will see this year.  The ‘passing’ implied in the play’s title is played on many levels: the death of father and previous head of this household, the breakdown of the family as members move away and the ‘passing’ of the house itself into the hands of strangers, which Catherine frantically and desperately tries to prevent.

Mercier really hits some excellent notes in this play. In one of the final scenes, where Catherine talks with the neighbour Steven, they discuss how ‘year after year homes give birth to extensions’, they battle with hedges, trees, fences, boxing each other in and moving neighbours further away from each other, retreating back into their ‘improved’ houses.

We never quite learn exactly why this house has such a powerful connection to Catherine given that she ‘abandoned’ it some long years back. This, aligned with the fact that we never fully know enough about the original reasons for Catherine leaving her home or for the lack of communication between her and her siblings do leave gaps in the story. It is still an intriguing piece and forces a revaluation of the current state of Irish community, family and social standings and sets about a point of reconciliation for a new Irish society.

The East Pier is the second new play by Mercier staged at the Abbey. The audience are brought to the lobby of a pier-side hotel in Dublin’s south coast. The decor of Anthony Lamb’s hotel is aged but clean, worn and now tacky and out-dated. It perfectly accentuates the passing of time from when the hotel was a hub of life and social meetings instead of present day when not even staff are present. These sea-side hotels were once booked-solid for summer getaways but this of course was before the norm of exotic foreign holidays.

Kevin, a plainly suited business-man enters, slightly nervous and waiting for someone. Jean, soon follows. She is also suited in the garb of the successful business woman. It quickly becomes evident these two have a connection and a story that goes far beyond a chance business meeting.

Idle chit-chat is exchanged, job titles, services, husbands, wives, children, the usual ‘elevator talk’ to pass a moment.

Don Wycherly. Image courtesy of Abbey Theatre

Soon, Jean and Kevin are talking about past encounters that one or either remembers while the other can’t recollect. Mercier masterfully controls this outpouring of experience and memory. His direction keeps the dialogue flowing as one delves into their memories of school, youth, summers, debs, embraces, walks and ideas of elopement. While the other might not always remember the exact details, the place or people present, the key is Kevin or Jean have never forgotten each other. Blanks in memories give way to floods of emotions and remembered embraces. Were these deliberately forgotten however?  The fractured lives of this couple and their changed directions mean things seldom follow the path they envisage.

Don Wycherly has been one of the consistently brilliant actors anywhere in Ireland over the last number of years and this is to be no exception. He carries his devotion to his children, to his business and his clients with an innate vulnerability. Andrea Irvine also excels as she portrays Jean who is visibly hurt by Kevin in a former life. There is genuine connection between the two, albeit in the face of years spent apart and spent wondering.

Paul Mercier has done something extremely interesting here. By working with memory and recollection he has ironically created two pieces that deal with the present. He presents Ireland as it stands today, broken, lacking guidance, stung and struggling in the fallout from its memories of happier times.

See www.abbeytheatre.ie for further details.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2011 in Abbey Theatre, Culture, Theatre

 

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The Abbey Theatre of 1904 brought back to life

A fascinating project was recently brought to my attention by @Marlalbur (who themselves have an excellent blog on Irish cultural history) An initiative by King’s College London historian, Hugh Denard, with Trinity College Dublin’s Long Room Hub & Irish digital graphics company, NOHO, The Abbey Theatre 1904 project is a project where the interior of the original Abbey Theatre, as used by the Irish National Theatre Society in 1904 is being digitally recreated in 3-D.

This painstakingly challenging and detailed task will for the first time bring to life the auditorium, the stage and more than just an impression of what was a birthing pool for theatre in Ireland. The Abbey was of course a National Theatre before there was even an Irish state. It was revolutionary for such a theatre to be state funded at the turn of the twentieth century. It was unheard of anywhere else in the world. Now, through the project website and blog, you can follow the progress as the Abbey of 1904 is recreated and visualised.

The project’s designers say of their work so far: “The task of digitally visualising the Abbey Theatre as designed by Joseph Holloway poses many challenges. Holloway’s architectural plans and drawings fortunately survive in the National Library of Ireland, and we have several black-and-white photographs of the early Abbey. However, it is more difficult to obtain detailed information about textiles, colour-schemes, and fixtures and fittings originally employed, as well as the less photogenic but functionally important backstage areas” 

“Because there will inevitably be gaps and contradictions in the historical information available to us, it becomes crucial to open the doors to the interpretative process so that the decisions we are making can be freely observed.”

The blog excellently chronicles the extricate research necessary and the time taken to sort through and pin point resources at various archives and institutions such as the National Library of Ireland, the Irish Architectural archive, British Pathe Film archives and many more. Videos outline the 3-D visualisation processes and blog articles describe visits to the Abbey Theatre’s own archive.

This is definetly a project to bookmark and keep an eye on as it unfolds. It shows how theatre history and theatre archives can be embraced and revitalised with the right idea and right technical knowhow. As the Abbey has entered its second century and still continues to grow and evolve, its roots and origins will not be forgotten.

Follow the Abbey Theatre 1904 project blog here and on Twitter @OldAbbeyDigital

 
 

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Hustings for the Arts

 

National Campaign for the Arts

 

 

The arts community is mobilising. Once again the driving force is the National Campaign for the Arts group who are getting to grips with the masses, getting to grips with those seeking our votes in the General Election. The venues have decided, the candidates are bracing themselves and all that is needed is the support and commitment of as many arts workers and professionals as possible!!

Hustings are taking place in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Limerick on Next Monday morning, February 14th. The times and venues are as follows:

Limerick, Belltable Arts Centre, Limerick City: 10.45am

Dublin, Project Arts Centre, Templebar: 10.45am

Cork, Crawford Art Gallery, Cork City: 10:45am

Galway, Radisson Blu Hotel, Galway City, 10.45am

In Dublin the arts spokespersons from all five political parties will attend a meeting to outline their respective arts policies and answer your questions. In the other city venues prospective T.D.’s  from their respective constituencies will attend.

The National Campaign for the Arts website has further details on these events and also on their other projects and find out how to further support this group who are supporting arts workers and arts jobs nationwide.  Visit the website here: www.ncfa.ie

If you cannot make the hustings then when canvassers come to your front door, and they will come! The NCFA lists the following questions to challenge them with:

  • Does your party have a policy for the arts?
  • What do you believe are important values for a healthy and flourishing society?
  • What values would you bring to Government that would make a difference?
  • Does your party recognize the vital and valuable contribution the arts and creative industries could make to our national economic and social recovery?
  • Will your party invest in the arts?

The lead-up to February 25th polling day will be a vital period for ensuring the voice of the Arts community is heard and recognised. Be informed and be heard!

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2011 in Culture

 

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As You Are Now So Once Were We

Do you feel like you know Dublin? Really know it? Do you walk the same route along the same streets every day? Is your morning routine so rigid that it almost feels like you are repeating it, on loop, day in day out? Get up at the same time, go to the bathroom, eat breakfast at the same table with the same people and then go out the same door, together.

The Company

Are you in a routine so much that it feels like you are less in a real world and more in a rehearsal? This award winning work (Best Production, Absolut Fringe 2010) by the Company takes this ideas of ‘a day in the life’ and also taking inspiration from James Joyce’s Ulysses tracks the journey of each of the four characters from waking in the morning to their journey through Dublin City to the Peacock theatre where they must stage their new work, whatever that may be.

The Company members Rob, Tanya, Nyree and Brian play heightened characterised versions of themselves. The Peacock stage has seldom looked so open as Dublin City and its buildings and ‘box towers’ are represented by sweetly choreographed large cardboard boxes. The opening sequence where the ‘set-up’ of the stage is played out before you like a manic session of lego building.

The audience are taken on a virtual walking tour of Dublin, where streets, sights, smells and places are all name-checked. The concept of associating certain foods and smells with certain places in the city is reminiscent of scenes from Joyce’s book. The idea of ‘rehearsal’ is examined throughout the work as pieces are replayed, altered and replayed again. The story of Paddy Dignam is one such case. If time can be slowed, stalled and replayed, the question of intervention crops up, where all of us are in a social media-led, isolated bubble which leaves less time for actual human contact as simple as a hug as we concentrate more on virtual ‘poking’. The irony is not lost that as crowds pulse through the city streets as we are hell bent on getting from A to B without knowing what is actually around us.

As You Are Now So Once Were We. Image courtesy of the Abbey Theatre

The work is extremely humorous, the in-jokes and deliberate over-reacting, I thought, gave a particular aspect which I believe can easily be lost in a work of this form and that is a connection with the audience and a commitment to entertain and engage. I imagine it to be the only work at the national theatre to refer to its Artistic Director Fiach McConghail as ‘The F-Bomb!”

The influence and direction by Jose Miguel Jimenez, who was seated in the audience, plays no small part in the production as he strives to keep the whole concept of time – the moment and our place in that moment – fluid and on track. With As You Are Now… Jimenez has justified the much hype about his ideas and abilities. He, along with the Company, really have set Irish theatre ablaze with a new, exciting and unique brand of work.

What grated me somewhat were not the themes of the play, or its perhaps piggybacking-use and reference to Ulysses but actually what I heard and read from numerous others who saw this work. Yes, the Company are brash, yes, they are riding a huge wave of success and have big ideas and are experimenting with new forms that are not everyone’s ‘thing’ or within their comfort zone of theatre with a straight narrative. The Company are good, and they know it. But is this really a bad thing? It still means they are good! And when they are good, they are very good.

As You Once Were Now So Once Were We runs on the Peacock stage at the Abbey until 5 February.

Meet the members of the Company in conversation with theatre critic Peter Crawley at the Abbey, post-show, Wednesday 2 February.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2011 in Abbey Theatre

 

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Round up of news and events: 9 November 2010

  • Purpleheart theatre company, in association with the Focus theatre present the European premiere of Men of Tortuga at the Pembroke Street based Focus theatre. Written by Jason Wells. “Highly original and blisteringly relevant, Men of Tortuga exposes the barbarism encoded in corporate bureaucracy and is tailor-made for the age of terrorism, surveillance and corrupt global organizations”.

http://www.focustheatre.ie/?page_id=480 http://tiny.cc/vk1z7

 

  • Limerick’s refurbished Belltable theatre will reopen to the public with a performance of Anything but Love, written by Mary Coll. The play opens on 29 November. The winter and Spring season at the Belltable has many highlights including children’s Christmas tale The Fourth Wise Man presented by Johnny Hanrahan, Rabbit Hole written by David Lindsay-Abaire and presented by the Quarry Players and The Mai written by Marina Carr and presented by Changing Times theatre company. Download the new programme of upcoming events at the Belltable here.                        www.belltable.ie http://www.quarryplayers.ie/ http://www.changingtimestheatre.ie/

 

  • Following on from the success of Follow a Museum Day and Follow a Library Day on Twitter, November 12th is the next day to mark on your Twitter event calendar. Follow an Archive Day will be a useful imitative for archive services to promote their on line presence and forge links and relationships with new users and other organisations. For all you need to know on Follow an Archive Day go to http://www.archivesnext.com/?p=1699

 

  • Dublin’s Smock Alley theatre will host the new production by the young and interesting Company D theatre company.

    Company D's "Oedipus" at Smock Alley

    Their production of Oedipus at the stone walled and winding Boys School space at Smock Alley should be one to catch. With David Scott at the helm this company is always worth catching.   http://www.companyd.ie/ http://www.smockalley.com/theatre/

 

  • This past Saturday saw the “1916 and After” symposium held at the Moore Institute at NUI Galway and in conjunction with Trinity College, Dublin and Queens University, Belfast. A host of guest speakers include Brian O Conchubhair (University of Notre Dame) Mary Daly (University College Dublin) Nicholas Allen (NUI Galway) and Catriona Crowe of the National Archives of Ireland made the event a hugely engaging and successful commentary and assessment of the legacy of 1916, its causes and effects.

    1916 and After

    Two more symposiums will take place on Saturdays of 13th and 20th of November at Trinity College Dublin and Queens University Belfast respectively. Be sure not to miss.http://www.nuigalway.ie/mooreinstitute/site/view/773/

 

  • In Cork, a programme of Civic Events to Commemorate the 90TH Anniversary of the Deaths of Former Lord Mayors MacCurtain and McSwiney and of the Burning of Cork. For a programme of events see: http://corkheritage.ie/?page_id=348
  • Today sees the Theatre Forum Ireland-organised Open Space event hosted at NUI Galway Bailey Allen Hall. Theatre professionals from all over Ireland will meet to discuss the future for the performing arts. Though unfortunately could not make the event, Staged Reaction is anxiously awaiting feedback and will keep you posted. For more information see:   http://tiny.cc/b8l85

 

  • As Bank of Ireland’s sale of key works from Ireland’s artist heritage continues to stir controversy and comment, one of the featured artists, the modernist Louis le Brocquy will be paid homage at Dun Laoighre’s Pavillion theatre. Cold Dream Colour celebrates the life and work of this masterful artist in an evening of dance inspired
    by his paintings. Artistic Director, Morleigh Steinberg, brings together an international company of dancers and choreographers, including Liz Roche and Oguri, to create this new  production on the occasion of le Brocquy’s birthday. Original music by The Edge of U2 and Feltlike with Paul Chavez has been composed especially for the event. For more information see: http://tiny.cc/zqq86
  • John Boyne

    Ireland Literature Exchange in association with Culture Ireland, UNESCO City of Literature and the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon present a talk by novelist John Boyne as part of the ‘In Other Words’ series, which discusses translated Irish Literature in Irish libraries. Dublin City Public Library, ILAC Centre, D1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2010 in Archives, Culture, History

 

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You’re lookin’ for Broadway?…Try Dublin!

“You don’t have to worry about Dublin audiences,” said the man, who later introduced himself as a doctoral student in Trinity College. “We adore our theater. We’ll go on whatever journey you actors want us to take.”

Patrick Healy, theatre reporter with the New York Times certainly agrees. On a summer visit to our capital Healy was wildly impressed with what he sees as a simply theatre-mad city and people. He acknowledges the various venues and productions that cater for most if not all tastes and budgets. Simply, if you want to see a play that you are interested in, then you can. While Healy’s article gives a glowing review, it may be tinged with the glad eye of an enthusiastic visiter on a short stay in the city, but what surely can’t be denied in the genuine enthusiasm there is for quality theatre in Dublin.

Read Healey’s article to judge his experiences for yourself.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/travel/05Dublin.html?pagewanted=2&_r=3&sq&st=cse&%2334;&scp=1&%2334;off%20off%20off%20broadway?%20try%20dublin

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2010 in Theatre

 

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