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Posts Tagged ‘Enda Walsh’

In the Barbican / Guildhall School’s Silk Street Theatre the seating has gone and there are five giant white boxes inside which there are five rooms. You enter them in turn and once you’ve absorbed the extraordinary detail of Paul Fahy’s design, there is a recorded monologue. This makes it different from anything I’ve seen before.

We started in the Kitchen, typical of a modest family home, then on to a shabby Hotel Room for a very hypnotic monologue from Niall Buggy. The Bathroom smelt like it had just been used and there was something very creepy about the Girls Bedroom. We ended in a grubby Office where the smell once again pervaded the room, and things took a more sinister turn. The monologues were read by five fine Irish actors and were occasionally broken up by sounds and light effects.

Enda Walsh’s stories are very poetic but I didn’t always engage with or fully understand the narrative. The whole thing was mesmerising though, and you’re still processing it long after it’s over. It’s an original idea brilliantly executed and for once my three fellow travellers proceeded with the silence it both needed and deserved.

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This is the fourth collaboration between writer / director Enda Walsh and performer Cillian Murphy, the last two shows seen in London at the NT’s Lyttleton Theatre. The full house is testament to Murphy’s pulling power since TV’s Peaky Blinders, but as it happens its both a deeply moving play and a virtuoso performance, and a welcome debut by new theatre company Wayward Productions.

Based on Max Porter’s debut novel, with a nod to Ted Hughes’ poems, it’s a study of grief. A widowed father is struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife and to bring up his two sons. He conjures up an imaginary crow to help him on his journey, while his sons are largely left to their own devices. We’re inside his head experiencing his grief with him as Will Duke projects text and images onto Jamie Varton’s set, and a visceral soundtrack and soundscape by Teho Teardo & Helen Atkinson create an extraordinary tense atmosphere.

Murphy’s very athletic performance is a real tour-de-force, transforming from Dad to Crow by donning a black floor-length hoodie, with synthesised vocals aiding the transformation. As he progresses through his grief, his affection for his sons, beautifully played by Taighen O’Callaghan & Adam Pemberton on the night I went, comes through, and it ends with a sense of a completed emotional journey for all three.

Technically, it’s a triumph. As words are scrawled onto screens, the sound gets you on edge. We meet his deceased wife through projections of her life. As with the more Beckettian Misterman, which I much admired, and Ballyturk, which I didn’t, the stage seems vast and is fully used, and indeed roughed up. You are immersed in Dad’s world, feeling his pain, in what is a surprisingly poetic evening.

A unique piece that disturbs but ultimately satisfies.

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A collaboration between a musical hero for 45 years and a favourite theatre director. What could possibly go wrong? Well, an awful lot it turns out, starting with Enda Walsh’s obtuse and incoherent book.

Apparently it was all David Bowie’s idea. Producer Robert Fox came on board first, and he introduced playwright Enda Walsh, to whom Bowie gave four pages of notes and a selection of music to choose from. Director Ivo van Hove came on board last. What further involvement Bowie had is unclear. It would be impossible to stage The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which Bowie made his screen debut, but the idea was to take his character Newton and sort of pick up where the film left off.

It takes place entirely in a Manhattan apartment (uncannily like the one designer Jan Versweyveld built last year in the Young Vic for Song from Far Away).The band is on the other side of the apartment windows, with screens and curtains sometimes putting them out of our view. There are video projections on a central screen, and also on the apartment walls and ceiling, and even behind the band; they are very effective.

Newton is an alien who came to earth to find water and a way of transporting it home. He made a fortune patenting technological ideas from his more advanced planet. Now he’s stuck on Earth drinking gin and watching endless TV, and we’re watching him as he interacts with three new characters – some sort of mass murderer, his assistant Elly and a girl. There are a handful of others. Exactly who they all are or whether they’re even real is unclear. In fact, it’s a complete lack of clarity and coherence that’s the show’s problem. Apparently, during gestation, Bowie’s assistant said ‘yeah, but what happens?’. I couldn’t have put it better myself. The narrative is a bit of a mess and the show is ever so dull.

The score is a mixture of old and new, from 1969’s The Man Who Sold the World through to the wonderful Where Are We Now? from The Next Day. The trouble is they all sound so cold, clinical and bland, devoid of energy and emotion, as if they’ve had the very life squeezed out of them, and the sound doesn’t help. When a club scene turned up accompanied by that Glam Rock anthem All the Young Dudes, I went from disappointment to despair.

You can’t fault Michael C Hall as Newton, sounding uncannily and spookily like Bowie, or Michael Esper as Valentine, the scary ‘mass murderer’. Sophie Anne Caruso as ‘girl’ and our own Amy Lennox as Newton’s assistant Elly are good too, but a fine young musical theatre talent like Jamie Muscato is wasted, I’m afraid. I bet he wished he was back in Bend it Like Beckham or Dogfight.

Whatever the quality of the creative inputs, it’s the material that kills it. It was a long unbroken 110 minutes. A huge disappointment.

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Three stage adaptations of his books running simultaneously in the West End is a real testimony to the timelessness and enduring appeal of Roald Dahl. This is one I haven’t read, so I approach it afresh.

Chloe Lamford has created a brilliant design which is spectacular yet intimate, grotesque yet funny. Mr & Mrs Twit live in a giant circular space and the monkeys they persecute in a cage which rises from underneath at the front. The circle is sometimes replaced by a stage (which looks like it will cover the front of the stalls when it lowers) onto which the caravan of the fairground folk enters and opens. You seem to be peering in to something very close but other worldly.

Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan also create grotesque characters that you have to hate but love just a bit. The monkeys they imprison and torment (Welsh!) are charming, none more so (well, for me anyway) when singing Welsh hymn Calon Lan unaccompanied quite beautifully. Those they have robbed of their fairground (northerners) seem hapless in the face of their trickery and mercilessness. Martin Lowe has added great music, not least punk rhythms to convey The Twits manic menace.

I don’t know whether it’s the book or Enda Walsh’s ‘mischievous adaptation’, but I found the story a bit thin, with a lot less substance that I’m used to with Dahl. In truth, not a lot happens in two hours. I also felt it didn’t have as strong a moral compass as we expect from Dahl. That said, the young people around us were having a grand old time (well, apart from the girl in the second row who paid more attention to her seemingly bottomless packet of crisps) and it was the day after the BAFTA’s so Jason Watkins provided a cheeky ad lib when he was encouraging contributions from the audience – acceptance speech, anyone?

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Playwright Enda Walsh has always been a bit, well more than a bit, Beckettian, but here he has ‘created’ (you can’t really say ‘wrote’) an odd, absurd, surreal ‘piece’ (you can’t really say ‘play’) that’s fully fledged Beckett, in spirit if not restraint. It was a very long 100 minutes and having invested that much of my life in it I’m disinclined to invest a lot more reviewing it. I’ve seen a handful of Walsh’s plays since Disco Pigs in 1997 and it really is a trajectory much like Beckett; diminishing returns. I think this might be my last.

The only reason for seeing it is two virtuoso performances from Cillian Murphy and Mikel Murfi – but it comes at a price. For the first 20-30 mins I was intrigued and fascinated, but that soon turned to irritation and then to boredom and eventually to fantasies of a gin & tonic in the comfort of my own home. For some inexplicable reason, though I had not connected with the piece emotionally, the conclusion was like a wave of sadness blowing from the Lyttleton stage.

Two men race around the stage dressing and undressing, throwing things (and themselves) around, making a mess, uttering seemingly meaningless dialogue and generally getting on your tits. They appeared to be in some death waiting room and we eventually meet the grim reaper, Stephen Rea, a cool-as-cucumber chain smoker who appears to suggest only one of them come forward. Ballyturk seems to be a place outside – we hear voices of the residents, there appear to be drawings of them on the back wall (which get darts thrown at them) and our two protagonists may be impersonating them occasionally. Who knows? Who cares?

Jamie Vartan’s set includes mysteries like inaccessible cupboards and draws, a cuckoo clock with a life of its own, a kitchenette in one corner and a shower(ette) in the other and a back wall that lifts and lowers to reveal Stephen Rea’s character in his world. It gets well and truly roughed up. Walsh also directs, so there’s no-one else to blame. The two lead actors give it their all, but for me that isn’t enough.

If this is what it’s like inside an Irish brain, I’m glad I’m Welsh!

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Last night I described Enda Walsh’s play as ‘Beckett on acid’. It’s the story of Thomas Magill, a loner in Inisfree, sometime evangelist, who converses with characters from the village (and his dead parents!), all of whom are on tape or created by Thomas in conversations with himself. It’s a stage picture of an extraordinary character rather than a play, but it’s riveting.

Cillian Murphy’s tour de force really is something special. He occupies the vast Lyttleton space (which seems wider and is deeper than it has ever been) with an athleticism that is breathtaking. He runs, throws things and rants. He is accompanied by all manner of sounds and lights with the stage a performer itself (this is virtuoso technical staging). You can’t take your eyes off him, dripping in sweat, inhabiting his character like you rarely see.

I’m not one for monologues, but this is an exception as it doesn’t conform to the static stereotype. It’s a thrillingly dramatic 90 minutes which you’d be mad to miss.

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Well here we are again; I’m not counting but my guess would be something like my 25th year.  It’s a drug and I have a habit. Here’s the story so far (with added star ratings!)…..

This year started very well with Roadkill, a ‘site specific’ piece about sex trafficking.  Fifteen of us boarded a bus outside the Traverse Theatre and were joined after a while by a bubbly naïve Nigerian teenager fresh off the plane, who chatted incessantly, asking questions about her new home city. She was here with her ‘auntie’ for ‘education’. When we arrived at a flat a mile or so away, the meaning of ‘education’ emerged in a series of harrowing scenes that took place in three rooms and the corridors.  It was so believable you could feel your blood boil with anger at the ‘pimps’ and the punters. It was often difficult to watch but this was important theatre covering issues often buried. The staging was outstanding and the acting stunning ****

The juxtaposition of shows often means your next experience is affected by the last, and so it was I think with Penelope, Enda Walsh’s setting of the Greek myth in a swimming pool where four men take it in turns to ‘court’ the one who hates men and whose lives depend on their success. It was clever, surreal, well staged and acted, but just seemed trivial and unimportant after Roadkill; needles to say, the remaining three in the party – for whom it was their first show – rather enjoyed it! ***

Day Two started with a classic – En Route – which I will be talking about for years to come. The day before I received a text telling me where to go and to look out for someone who would be clearly marked. When I arrived there was someone with a hand-written sign which said ‘ Clearly Marked” and that got me off to a smiling start. I was given directions to turn right outside the theatre then turn right again and off I went. Just before I got to the point where I was thinking ‘what next’ another person caught up with me and gave me an I-pod and some instructions and checked my mobile number. I walked alone through Edinburgh receiving instructions by text, calls on my mobile and in a phone box, behind doors, in the racks of record shops and chalked on pavements. The I-pod provided a music soundtrack with occasional dialogue.  I had to take a photo and call a friend (who turned out to be – unexpectedly – in Greece and hence had to incur the not insignificant cost of my call!) and at one point was asked to raise my hand only to find it grabbed by a passer-by who held it as he walked me for a few minutes. I saw parts of Edinburgh I’ve never seen in c.25 years (including a stunning view from the 8th level of a car park) and it made me realise how much you don’t observe when you’re walking. The soundtrack heightens your visual senses and the whole experience was intriguing and thrilling. I don’t know how many of the people I saw en route were part of the experience but you get to the point where you’re convinced they all are. I ended up at a café with a complimentary coffee where the person who gave me my I-pod 90 minutes earlier and three miles away joined me. This is what the Edinburgh fringe is for *****

I should have rested, but a couple of exhibitions nearby proved too tempting. Impressionist Gardens is really one of those (seemingly frequent) ‘excuse for an exhibition’ exploiting the British’ insatiable appetite for anything impressionist. There were some lovely paintings but it was so much of the same that it was overpowering *** Just because it was free with the combined ticket, I took in an exhibition of an early 19th century Danish artist I’d never heard of called Christen Kobke and it was a revelation – I admired the quality of the portrait painting, but it was the landscapes, and particularly their light, which bowled me over. A surprise treat****

The same now happened as it had the day before, of course – disappointment to follow. Freefall is again a clever and well staged & acted play set at the moment after a stroke where the patient is rapidly reflecting on moments from their life. I was by now very tired so it was hard to get into it and I’m afraid as much as I admired the craftsmanship it never really engaged me; yet again, the other two members of my party for whom it was the first show of the day enjoyed it a lot more. ***

The Day ended with one of those things you book because it sounds so intriguing. Flesh & Blood & Fish & Foul was billed as theatre meets art meets taxidermy…..and they weren’t wrong! Two people inhabit an office where they seem to have little to do so end up employing those diversions we all at some point do to kill time. Their world collapses around them as plants and animals (stuffed!) rapidly appear and grow all over the place. It gradually becomes more and more absurd with the plants invading like triffids and the animals getting bigger – what starts with a rat ends up with a bear and a deer. It’s a surreal and absurd combination of slapstick and physical theatre and it made me smile and laugh ***.5!

Sunday started with a cracker called Speechless from Shared Experience / Sherman Cymru (makes you proud to be Welsh!) at the Traverse. I knew something of the story of the silent twins Jennifer and June Gibbons (I’ve seen the opera!) and this play focuses on their early life – until they are committed to Broadmoor. It was gripping from the start and the performances from the girls were positively mesmerizing. Their mother, and the boy who they befriend and who exploits them, were also brilliantly played. This was a fascinating psychological drama and high quality theatre indeed****

More art followed with Martin Creed’s quirky stuff at the Fruitmarket Gallery, the best of which was the staircase wired for sound*** Across the road at the City Art Centre there are two contrasting photographic exhibitions. At first, I thought I’d find the dressed up /posed dogs of William Wegman distasteful but they made me smile and the relationships between the pets and the photographer meant it wasn’t really cruel*** Early 20th century photographer Edward Weston covered a broad range from still life to landscape to portraits to nudes and though it was clearly technically very accomplished, there’s little more than historical interest almost 100 years on***

Oedipus at Colonus sounded like a brilliant idea – Greek tragedy (though a rare one where no-one dies!) as an African-American gospel oratorio.  There was an ancient building backdrop (used for projections) and steps for the performers. The music was very good and the costumes gorgeous. The problem was it didn’t work turning Oedipus into a Christian Everyman who is redeemed by repentance and setting it ‘inside’ a church service just wasted time and dented the impact. The projections were of dubious taste and reached their peak when Oedipus rose to heaven to be replaced by a rainbow; I’m afraid we laughed***

The day ended on the high on which it had started with the Frantic Assembly / National Theatre of Scotland co-production of Beautiful Burnout. I’ve lived my like until this year without a play about boxing, then two come along in quick succession. I think Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch at the Royal Court is the better play, but this production is simply stunning. You’d never think that Frantic Assembly’s stylised choreography and boxing would mix but they turn out to be made for one another. The energy is extraordinary and the performances stunning. I can’t say I approve of boxing, but you get caught up in the excitement at the same time as being horrified at the hurt. We left exhausted but exhilarated****

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