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Mephisto’s Journey to “the Honey Spike”.

The Honey Spike

Here is a tale of Irish Roads, of a Tinker and his wife,

It’s a tale of trouble and wildness and a child that’s born to life,

There’s mating in it, birth and death and drink to flood a dyke,

So here’s how they raced the bloody road that lead to the Honey Spike

The review from the Evening Press of “Bryan MacMahon’s the Honey Spike, produced at the Abbey Theatre in 1961 reads: [The Play] has the essential quality of all good drama: vitality – life breathes through this play.” (23 May 1961)

While “The Honey Spike” is indeed a play singing the virtues of life and the fervent dedication of expecting young parents, it is also the fear of death and superstition which supersedes the anxious wait for new life.

A young Traveller couple, Martin and Breda Claffey have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, on their own journey and adventure as newly-weds. From the cliffs aside the Giants Causeway, on the tip of Ireland’s East Coast, the pregnant Breda is nearing her ‘time’. Her baby is but days away from life. Driven by tradition and superstition and indeed also fear, Breda longs to abide by her mother’s wish, to have her baby at the ‘lucky’ spike – the Honey Spike – back in her home of Dunkerron in South Kerry.

This trek  to the lucky spike also allows for much soul-searching amongst the couple themselves, with touching scenes of genuine warmth and love by a campfire in the wilds of Ireland.  When crossing the Border region, MacMahon characterises this ‘lost world’ of an area without a true attachment of a people. It is a purgatorial space, belonging to no country but yet fought viciously over by those living on either side – the wounded IRA man seeking help identifies with the cause of the Claffeys, depicted as yet another who is seeking to find a true home. As Breda declares to the English soldiers, “What do we Travellers care about the IRA or if the country is in two or two thousand bits – shur isn’t every hand North or South up against us.”

The arduous journey brings the couple on an expedition through the heart and soul of Ireland. They must encounter a Border region “full of smugglers and IRA”, a lifeless midlands and perhaps most troublesome of all – the Puck Fair Festival in Kilorglin.

The symbolism of Puck Fair, being a Festival that many believe to be Pagan in origin and which celebrates the goat as a symbol of fertility, is fantastically written by McMahon and driven with skill by director Caroline Lynch. The passion to return to the Honey Spike at which to birth her child consumes Breda, as does her Catholic fears such as losing her ‘blessed cord’.

Emmet Byrne and Emma O'Grady. Image (c) Mephisto Theatre Company

The mixing of Catholic and Pagan symbolism reminds much of Vincent Woods 1992 play “At the Black Pig’s Dyke” which was produced by Druid Theatre Company. The story tells of families in the Border counties of Leitrim and Fermanagh where local feuds are passed down through generations. This is evoked through using the local traditional customs of the’ mummers’, characters, who since Pagan times, celebrated life, death, growth and harvest.

The oral tradition of storytelling that surrounds the Irish Travelling people is never far from MacMahon’s mind. A volume of his own autobiography is called “the Storyman”, named after a child in the street who stopped him and asked was he the “Storyman”. Characters like Dicky Bird, excellently portrayed by Sèamus O’Donnell, represent the wandering bards synonymous with the story-telling tradition of MacMahon’s North Kerry as much as with the Travelling community.

The play is also so much an exploration of language. Turns of phrase local to those from the Kerry or Munster region differ from those we encounter from the character of Meg McCuteheon from the North of Ireland. These phrases are in turn different again from those purely native to the Travelling community. Dicky Bird, the Traveller, recounts prayers in the traditional Traveller Gammon dialect, which is joined in chorus by those other Travellers around him.

The closing scenes offer a reflection of supreme pathos. As Dicky Bird has confounded all who he encounters with his riddles and rhymes, so too is the confounding riddle of life and death played out at the Honey Spike – the end of a journey. Perhaps most fittings of all to sum up this is a riddle by Bird himself. It is introduced as being written on the gravestone of a poet in the north-west, Yeats himself: “Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horsemen, Pass by”.

Mephisto Theatre Company have produced a real classic here and in doing have staged an impeccable production. Emmet Byrne and Emma O’Grady (Star of earlier Mephisto production of Grenades) are outstanding as the young Traveller couple who must overcome religion, feuds, prejudice and often their own fears and customs so that their child might live. O’Grady relishes the rich character and language of Breda afforded to her character by MacMahon. Daniel Guinnane also gives a great turn as the drunken Mickle Sherlock. Mephisto are quickly establishing themselves as a company of considerable ability and imagination. It is a truly moving and powerful production, full of lyrical beauty, stories, humour and grief and is not to be missed.

The Honey Spike is at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, 9 – 13 August 2011.

www.mephistotheatre.org

www.tht.ie

 

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The Magic of Misterman

Misterman

Seen through the eyes of loner Thomas Magill, the imagined town of Inisfree is a heinous sin-ridden place where he is moral judge and eternal juror of his neighbours. The Black-Box Theatre becomes the broken-down remnant of the town of Inisfree and also of Thomas Magill’s mind and soul. The play is a frantic and sinister retelling of Magill’s life where all who he interacts with or has some sort of relationship with is retold and relived on loop through the recordings he has made with them. 

The play opens with a farcical scene where Murphy is driven to distraction by an incessant Doris Day song. For Thomas, this is an early indication that what he is not able to control and correct outs the darker recesses of his personality.

Thomas, in his purgatorial world, repeats verbatim the recorded conversations with his beloved mother and relives the encounters with those sinners he meets on his daily walk around Inisfree. He half-runs, half-stumbles his way from tape player to tape player where each plays a conversation from the past. These aural memories become all the more visible through Cillian Murphy truly astounding performance. In such a gruelling one-man performance Murphy is simply outstanding, skipping seamlessly through a host of characters, accents and personalities, none more visceral and provocative than Thomas Magill himself.

Thomas keeps a diary of sins of those he meets – a list that includes profanity, gluttony, debauchery and uncleanliness. As Magill considers himself as being next to godliness, he is also canonised as being saintly by his neighbours and simultaneously mocked and jeered for his devotion to his God and also to his mother. I would consider Magill one of the most sinister characters I have encountered on any stage. Enda Walsh has created a man who has visions of his own deism in the face of the spiritual and moral ineptitude on his compatriots. He is, as Thomas himself says, the only kitten in a town full of dogs, or indeed also a vision of Ireland, a broken nation sinking into the sea that supports it, a-la the image on Thomas’ father’s grave.

But what exactly is it about Thomas that startles so much. Are we afraid of his temper, his subdued anger and violence that simmers and bursts through to the surface? Are we afraid of his devotion to his religion? Or perhaps is it his religion itself we are afraid of? A combination of all these questions are gelled by Enda Walsh into this enigmatic character, a self-declared avenging angel that is so forcefully portrayed by Murphy.

Thomas is a powerless individual who strives to attain what it is exactly he cannot get: power, respect and recognition for his efforts to save those around him from drowning in their own sin. He is constantly told what to do and where to go, be it by his mother, by those around him and also crucially as he is ordered to do by the catechism he preaches and by the God he worships. Thomas is an unsettling individual: to those neighbours around him he is easily forgettable, little more than a passing nod or a wave in the morning. He is anonymous. He is nameless. He is Misterman.

The soundtrack is sublimely designed and expertly staged by Gregory Clarke and Donnacha Dennehy. The dialogue that eerily is only one-way: between Thomas and a tape-recorded voice, echoes around the industrial wasteland that is Magill’s own mind. The set design by Jamie Varton uses every available inch of the expansive Black-Box and is ably filled by Murphy.

With Enda Walsh himself directing the play seldom dips below a virtuoso piece of enthralling theatre, all leading to a striking and startling final scene. As powerful a scene so portrayed by Murphy you will not readily see on stage too often. It is a fitting tribute to the collaboration between Walsh and Murphy, whose personal touches and input into the play and its development from its earlier 1999 incarnation (then produced by Corcadorca Theatre Company in Cork) makes this a truly unique and special experience. If you want to see a summer blockbuster this year, then it has to be Misterman. It runs for the rest of the coming week (18 – 24 Jul) but is long sold out. Any return tickets are now recognised as legal currency, trading as gold-dust in Galway at the moment. If you have tickets, hold on to them tightly!

www.galwayartsfestival.com

http://www.landmarkproductions.ie/

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Theatre

 

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Galway, Well, It Loves Theatre!

Nuns Island Theatre - Galway Loves Theatre

For the next two weeks, Nun’s Island Theatre will be taken over of near non-stop action. With four performances a day those who are caught up in Arts Festival fever will have ample choice to pick from. Groups such as Mephisto Theatre Company, Galway Youth Theatre and Vagabond Theatre Company, among others, are staging a series of works that range from the comedic, the political, the ridiculous to the deadly serious. The programme of events is directed by Páraic Breathnach.

Highlights include Mephisto Theatre’s Grenades which starred in Galway earlier this year at the Cùirt International Festival of Literature. A dark but engaging account of life in the North during the Troubles, Tara McEvitt’s play is brilliantly written and delivers a sincere and astute performance from its actor Emma O’Grady. In 2010 McKevitt won the RTE PJ O’Connor Award for the radio version of ‘Grenades’ and in June 2011 won a Gold Award at the New York Festivals Radio Awards. Tara is a participant on The Abbey Theatre’s New Playwrights Programme 2011/12. Grenades has been touring Ireland for the past few months and is a great opportunity to see this play on its return to Galway.

Love and Money written by Dennis Kelly is staged by Galway Youth Theatre/Galway Arts Festival. I saw a production of this play in 2008 at the Project Arts Centre by Hatch Theatre Company and seldom has a play stuck in my mind all this time later. The play examines the wreckage lives and relationships are left in when materialism and a culture of greed pervades society and the minds of people that live and interact with each other. A couple struggle in the face of debt to the point where suicide is felt to be the only option as an exit strategy. The play follows the lives of this stricken couple in a reverse and at times askew timeline that runs from debt, death, affairs to love, greed and materialism. In early 2008 this play was eerily resonant in face of what would happen economically in the coming months. Its selection here for inclusion in ‘Galway Loves Theatre’ is an excellent choice and an intimate reminder of where we were and how we were during Celtic Tiger Ireland in comparison to todays more ‘stringent’ times. This will be one to catch. Here is a clip from rehearsal of the production at the Project Arts Centre starring Barry Ward, Kate Ni Chonaonaigh and Will Irvine.

In keeping with current trends there appears to be a nationwide Friel season happening. With works by the great Lovers performed by Galway Youth Theatre. Written in 1967 Lovers consists of two self-contained mini-plays, one being Winners and the second being Losers. Following the lives of two couples and the social expectations and moral examination inflicted on them by neighbours and families, Friel presents their experiences through issues such as unmarried parenthood, Catholicism and family expectations, this is a good chance to see one of Friel’s lesser known works.

The joyously riotous Who Needs Enemies written by Conor Montague and brought crashing onto the stage by Vagabond Theatre Company. Described as a satire on Ireland in love with hedonism. Previously staged at the Bulmers Galway Comedy Festival and at the Body and Soul Music and Arts Festival, the play follows Eoin who returns to Galway following an enlightening trip to the Himalayan wilderness. Now detached from his previously destructive lifestyle, it is up to his beloved friends who chip away at his new-found serenity and drag him back to the dark side of drink, drugs and unregulated mayhem. Here is a clip of a typically ‘restrained’ scene from Who Needs Enemies:

These are of course just a flavour of what Galway Loves Theatre has to offer. There is plenty to satisfy all tastes and with tickets ranging from 12/14 euro, it is certainly at the more affordable end of theatre tickets these days. Performances are Monday to Friday 11th – 16th July and 18th – 23rd July and are at 1pm, 5pm, 8pm and 10pm and there are variances in productions between these weeks so check the programme for full details of performances and tickets. http://www.galwaylovestheatre.com/home#

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Theatre

 

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On the Ropes – Billy Roche’s “Lay Me Down Softly”

Lay Me Down Softly

Billy Roche’s slugging drama “Lay Me Down Softly” invites the audience not into a theatre in the traditional sense but into the burlesque world of the travelling fairground and rather dank Academy Boxing Arena of Delaney’s Travelling Road Show. Set in 1960’s Ireland and parked somewhere along an unnamed stretch of a rural Irish town, Roche creates a world of has-bean boxers, fair-ground bosses, cut-men and fixers –  a group of men and women toughened by their past lives and cemented by their transient lives on the road in Ireland.

Theo, played by Gary Lydon, is the head of this wandering family, and rules it with quite some vigour. He treats this world as a business and seems to care little personally for his fighters and staff unless it affects their potential to perform in the boxing ring. Business is good for Theo until a pro-boxer, a bookie and a marksman that “must be in the FCA” threaten the welfare of the fair at this particular juncture. The unexpected arrival of his sixteen year old daughter, Emer,(Pagan McGrath) adds no extra stability to the already wavering applecart that is Delaney’s Travelling Boxing Academy.

This is a self-regulated society that Theo is judge and jury, A dishonest stall-hand, Rusty, find this out the hard way and signals that punishment by Theo is tolerated. “Let the word go forth”.

Peadar (Michael O’Hagan) is his aged but warm cut-man who has spent his life in sweat and blood filled gyms. Theo’s Gangster’s Moll, Lily, played by Simone Kirby, adds to the dynamic of relationships VS brotherhood VS sexuality that runs throughout Roche’s play. The journey-man Dean (Anthony Morris) and the ‘next-big-thing’, Junior,(Dermot Murphy) are the more like machines to Theo than people. They must be maintained and nourished, more profitable to him than Lily or his ex-wife Joy could be.

The travelling lifestyle of Theo and his crew seems to just about sustain them rather than let them live. Theo’s past wife and mother of Emer left life on the road and now Lily is desperately seeking to escape the small-town monotony that comprised her past life. These characters seem to always be escaping something, be it boredom, ex-loves, injuries or past lives.They are running and running and seldom stopping to truly consider where they are or what they are looking for. Emer asks Peadar at one stage “How can you tell where in the world you are from one day to the next?” with Peadar’s considered answer being “I’m good and lost wherever I am”. All their journeys did not start together but have intersected on the road and are stuck with each other, for better or for worse.

Gary Lydon

The insistence of memory and cast of characters that exist solely through recollections reminds me of another classic play of the memory form – Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer”. The travelling and wandering Frank Hardy has many similarities with Theo who, along with his crew, isolate themselves in a transient lifestyle with few trusted friends and even less stable relationships, where most is learned about the present state of the characters through solemn rendition of their memories.

The Wexford accents of the cast add to Roche’s ability to really write for the ear. He writes the local and makes it national. He creates this male dominated world of the boxing ring, full of “sweat and dust and blood” and allows it to be totally disarmed and any masculine facades broken down by the women in this play. While the men struggle to keep up the act of being tough enough or strong enough, basically being gladiators in the arena, they are completely inept in maintaining a lasting relationship. Emer’s attempts to convince Junior to ditch this life, not the life on the road, but just the life in the ring, is incredibly touching and poignant. While some in this crew lean on the ‘security’ of a life on the road and in the ring like a crutch, it is possible to escape. The real strength is realising when to get out and being willing to take any blow or punch to make this happen.

Lay Me Down Softly is at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, until Saturday 18 June. http://www.tht.ie

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Theatre

 

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Cuirt Festival brings books, talks and grenades to Galway

The Cuirt International Festival of Literature got off to a strong start in its Galway home yesterday. Events are taking place city-wide and taking place until Sunday. The Festival, officially launched by playwright Thomas Kilroy is in its 25th year and is showing no signs of slowing up after its quarter century.

Cuirt Festival 2011

The Town Hall theatre is just one venue that will be a hub of activity for the week. Things kicked off with a talk with authors Paul Murray and Dermot Healy. Healy’s new novel Long Time No See has been getting a considerable deal of extra attention of late owing to a spat based in the letters page of the Irish Times on various opinions on opinions of Healy’s book. Healy has kept his council on this matter and last night’s talk along with the excellent Paul Murray got focus back on the writing.

In the Town Hall Theatre studio space Tara McEvitt’s play Grenades was playing to a sell out crowd. Winner of the P.J O’Connor award for the radio version of the play, McKevitt presents a stark yet touching portrayal of family, relationships and death in the North of Ireland still reeling in the grip of sectarian violence. The soundtrack is fantastic with true classics from Thin Lizzy and the Undertones, linking the innocence and care-free youth of Nuala and Oran Kelly, who proudly sport the badges of their favourite bands on their denim jackets. They do not so openly display their religion or political beliefs, Nuala, particularly is bewildered by the presence of a gun in her granddad’s shed. Her childhood is shattered suddenly as physical and metaphorical grenades are lobbed into her life and take with them those she loved most. Nuala is brilliantly played by Emma O’Grady is this solo performance piece presented by Mephisto Theatre Company and will definitely be a highlight of the Cuirt Festival week.

Grenades - Mephisto theatre company

For a radio version of the play click here and enjoy: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/drama/

Wednesday’s festivities sees what promises to be a great insight into two leading current female playwrights, Nancy Harris and Stacy Gregg. Both have staged new works (No Romance, Harris) or will stage new works (Perve, Gregg) at the Abbey Theatre. Both authors will discuss their new works with Dr. Patrick Lonergan who lectures in NUI Galway and author of many works such as Theatre and Globalisation: Theatre in the Celtic Tiger Era.

Gerbrand Bakker adds a prestigious international flavour to teh Cuirt Festival. Bakker was awarded the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in June 2010 for The Twin, his first novel published in English, beautifully translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer.

A personal highlight takes place this Friday, 5pm, at Charlie Byrne’s bookshop where Kevin Barry will launch his new novel, The City of Bohane. Barry’s debut novel, following on from his excellent debut collection of short stories, There are Little Kingdoms, has just been released and will be a test of the young writer’s jump from the short form to the novel. His style, themes and language make Barry stand out with huge excitement.   It promises to be an exceptional story and an interesting evening in conversation with the writer.

Barry features again on Saturday in a panel discussion on the short story in Irish writing entitled Granta: the Irish Story. The distinguished panel includes Booker prize winner Anne Enright who edited the recent Granta Book of Short Stories, Phillip O’Ceallaigh and Eilis Ni Dhuibhne. The short story has undergone a major renaissance and rejuvenation in recent years and when better to discuss how and exactly why this has happened is with a new generation of award-winning short story writers. The panel discussion takes place at Druid Theatre at 1 pm.

Of course these selections are just some highlights from an incredible week’s line-up. Tickets are still available from the Festival Box Office at the Town Hall Theatre. www.tht.ie For a full programme of events see http://www.cuirt.ie/

I will keep you posted on as many events as possible over the course of the week. Get your diary out and start filling! Galway is known as a city of festivals and there can’t be a better way to get things rolling that with Cuirt 2011!

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2011 in Books, Culture, Uncategorized

 

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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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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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