‘Terminus’

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Mark O’Rowe, writer of Terminus, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970. He grew up in the working-class-suburb Tallaght. This environment, as well as his avid watching of exceptionally violent films as a teen is what fuels the violence in his work, he states. O’Rowe is described in The Literary Encyclopedia as being someone who challenges “[Irish] drama’s traditional concern with rural life by focusing on urban stories, usually characterised by high-octane language and a surreal and violent sensibility”.

O’Rowe began writing because of both a desire and a need. Having nothing more than secondary school education, he had limited job options. He decided finally to write something thinking it would either go well, or he’d never try again.

O’Rowe wrote his first play, The Aspidistra Code, at age 26 in 1995, and has been steadily churning out plays and screenplays since. The Aspidistra Code never quite came to fruition as he hoped but he summoned the ability to carry on. Arguably his most popular play, ‘Howie the Rookie’, premiered in Bush Theatre, London, in 1999. This play may be considered as setting the bar for O’Rowe’s ever popular monologue-style.

Terminus, which premiered in The Abbey, 2007, is also written in a similar monologue style. Though it does have three very distinct characters in it and not just one like Howie the Rookie; (A) – ex-schoolteacher and mother, (B) – her estranged daughter who lives alone, and (C) – a psychotic singing serial killer in the form of a man. The narrative which is told from each character’s point of view aims to regale us with the events of a single night.

As you’re already thinking this play sounds absurd, it should be apparent that nothing but an abstract set would be appropriate. This becomes more obvious as the play moves from Samaritans’ office, to apartment, to bar, to alley, tram, arm of a crane, car chase, petrol station… and so on. It’s because of this variety in the setting that it’s so important for the actors, who are really storytellers, to be able to paint these pictures for us.

Thereisbear! Theatre performed Terminus in the Town Hall Theatre Studio, Galway, 26th of February until the 1st of March.

The flat stage area was marked by three wooden palettes, with bright back lamps behind. A long white sheet stretched out behind the performers which was lit pink or blue, by six Fresnel lamps with coloured gels. Finally, there were three LED spotlights behind them capable of a wide colour range. Though simple enough, it was quite effective in creating an atmosphere to match the events being regaled at particular moments. As it wasn’t in anyway cumbersome it seemed to match the simplicity of the overall portrayal of the story.

The actor-storytellers were all equally faced with the task of giving us an energetic account of their night. They did this very well with great use of their bodies, hand gestures, facial expressions, and the tone of their voice.

The pace and rhythm of the play was nothing short of delightful. I feel any experienced poet or spoken word artist would have appreciated that aspect of it. Some of the lines were so melodic that the jarring words describing a brutal murder almost seemed less devastating. There’s no fault in the description of even the most risqué events “nipples poking, evoking so prevailing a craving, I’m quaking”.

My only grievance really was the way it ended. Not wanting to give it away of course, I simply think it should have ended as it began, with (A), rather than (C). I left the studio the  with a vague sense of unease after the end. Though perhaps that was the intended effect.

Overall, Terminus makes for a very unique theatre experience, one I’m glad I had, and certainly one that will remain with me for quite some time.

‘Word Becomes Flesh’ by the Living Word Project

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First performed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph in 2003, Word Becomes Flesh took the Main Stage in the Redfern Arts Centre, Keene State College, New Hampshire early October 2013. The performance combines elements of dance, hip-hop, live music and spoken-word poetry. It gives an insight into the world of pregnancy from the point of view of a young black man.

The play was devised from the Joseph’s own experiences; getting his girlfriend pregnant, his absent father, and simply existing as a black man in America. Redone with five performers, they deliver the majority of the show by performing letters to the unborn son. It conveys true anger and frustration at the historical atrocities and myriad of injustices stacked against the black male before he is even born. Joseph evokes in his audience the anger he feels at this, as well as the sad empathy he feels for his unborn son.

He is by no means overly proud. Looking at himself critically he also admits the flaws in his character, admitting to contemplating leaving, as his father did to him, and even his darkest thoughts involving the mother losing the child.

While the theme may seem over-specific to be appreciated by a wide audience, it tackles a number of issues particular to a wide range of people. They discuss in detail how the pregnancy came about, the relationships they have with the women involved, relationships with their own fathers, and the world they expect their sons to inherit. The play also touches on abortion, domestic violence, slavery, infidelity and also the father-daughter relationship. Common fears are related such as “Will I make a good parent? How can I change to lead a better example? Will my child make the same mistakes I did?”

At 80-minutes the performance is an impressive show of strength and stamina on the actor-dancer-poets’ parts, but is never boring or tedious. The almost empty stage lent itself greatly to the atmospheres and ideas being conveyed. As only chairs are ever brought on, nothing detracted from the back lighting of the wall. Scenes were set mostly by the live-music playing at the time, which ran through a range of genres to suitably set each scene.

The performance, funny but mature, was very well received by everyone in attendance. It could heard cropping up in casual discussion on campus for days following, which think says a lot.

‘A Tender Thing’

So, last Saturday I traveled up to Dublin to see ‘A Tender Thing’ in the Project Arts Centre. It was a matinée and the light atmosphere entering the theatre did not in the least bit prepare me for what I would watch.

After walking into the already crowded auditorium we took our seats in the second row and sat in awe momentarily gazing at the spotless set, decorated in shades of Royal Blue, perfectly depicting a tastefully laid-out bedroom with a door leading out on my left, and a bathroom to my right. A double bed, chair, dressing table and wardrobe sat on stage.

Before it started my theatre companions filled me in on it a bit; written by Ben Power, it’s based on Romeo and Juliet, as if they hadn’t died at the end. It has two rather famous actors; Owen Roe playing Romeo and Olwen Fouéré playing Juliet.

I should mention, I have never cried at a play before (and I do not cry very often as is). Nothing could have prepared me for the way I  would sob uncontrollably during that play.

Romeo comes on stage: “Give me the light”. The lights come up for the first time of many in a visually stunning way.

The play opens with explaining, if a bit cryptically, what is to come. Juliet is bound to die, by her own [husband’s] hand, after falling fatally ill. It starts rightly with them proclaiming love for each other. Early on Juliet reveals she’s quite sick. After this scene a few sniffs and subtle wiping of eyes could be observed. Later on when Juliet fails to slide off the bed and suffers incontinence, Romeo finds her on the floor crying and shouting “I sicken love!”. I completely broke down and would have left, if I hadn’t had about a dozen people blocking my exit.

I was glad I stayed though. It had some very striking moments you rarely see on stage, which brought to it a very real and raw beauty. I was also slightly wowed by the mechanics of the stage, including the slide away bed and secret hidden entrances.

After a wondrous dance piece at the end I left the auditorium a feeling a bit shook but also uplifted.

‘The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley’

With an immaculate set and a mildly humorous story-line, the Acorn players’ production of ‘The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley’ kept me entertained, for its first hour or so

The story by Jimmy Keary starts off with Gabriel, who lives with his mother, discussing a woman he finds attractive in his theatre group; Hazel. A long-time friend of the family’s, Chrissie, tries to ask him out, but he’s already on the verge of entanglement with Hazel.  He later finds out Hazel has plans to make him her third husband and sell his farm. With the help of Chrissie, Gabriel manages to brush her off, and the play ends on a positive note; after two and a half hours.

Upon entering the auditorium of Galway’s Town Hall Theatre, I was instantly struck by the detail of the set. The furniture, colours and perfectly-adorned walls screamed new-style old-fashioned Ireland. Some classic Irish music played as people seated themselves to create a complimentary atmosphere, and the play got off to a good start with two older women, Gabriel’s mother and aunt, having a hilarious back-and-forth commentary; again, very Irish and very believable.

However, by the time the interval came, an hour into the play, very little had happened worth noting (aside from Gabriel’s aunt’s commenting that he might be “one of those lesbians”). As the second “half” seemed to drag by (almost a half hour longer than the first part) I found myself melting into my seat listening to long winded conversations. Though with the THT’s unusual combination of college students and older audiences, I’ll admit that the humour of it all appealed greater to the other half than it did to me. While the dialogue aroused raucous laughter from some people, it evoked nothing but the occasional snort of derision from me.

Overall, not my cup of tea. But in a time when stage design is often kept quite minimalistic, it was nice to see such a detailed set. And while a bit lengthy and tedious, the play no doubt appealed to its own target audience greatly, which is something to be commended.