Fractal February 12th 2018

This week’s Fractal has some special features – reminder to donate blood and an interview with Andrew Flynn, artistic director of Decadent Theatre and director of ‘Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me’.

‘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.

‘Dig’

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Walking into Seamus O’Rourke’s Dig in the Town Hall Theatre the evening of the 19th of February, one couldn’t be blamed for having visions of A Skull in Connemara. Performed by Big Guerilla Productions, it was performed on the same stage as A Skull in Connemara was about one year previously; with it’s story based around death, oh-so-rural-Ireland references and a lazy young-lad, they did seem rather similar. Afraid it wouldn’t match up to these accidentendal and unfair standards, I was very pleasantly surprised.

The base plot is quickly revealed to be two neighbours digging a grave for their neighbour Smoky. Many strands of story begin to unravel themselves. Not often something is “edge of the seat stuff”, but this would be an accurate statement – literally. Not wanting to give too much away, because it is a fine example of high-standard production in many ways, I will say that the end of the first act has some rather affecting effects.

O’Rourke’s play has latched onto the ever-popular pressures of Irish society, and the seemingly massive gaping rift between generations; fathers’ whose sole interest lies in football and drinking, and their sons who have a more globalised view of life which encompasses options spanning more than just the length of the bar and the football field combined. It also engages the shocking rise in rates of suicide among young men.

The set verged on questionably detailed. It exhibited a steep incline with one open grave, a dividing wall, some barren trees, a stone entrance and some unsightly rubbish. I could perfectly imagine it being a particular graveyard that I knew personally.

Great use was made of lighting and sound effects. The passing of time during the day was very well depicted by the lights changing to yellow – orange – red. Most unusually I thought, the play was occasionally punctuated with sound effects suggesting birds, cars and even a tractor. But this technique was never overused.

As one of few production where I was so engaged I all but forgot I was a stage this story was unfolding. It was the best thing I’ve seen this year in the Town Hall Theatre and one of my favourite productions I’ve ever attended.

I’ll leave the link to their tour right here:
http://www.seamusorourke.com/dig-by-seamus-orourke/

‘Happy Days’

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‘Happy Days’ gives us a brief insight into the life of Winnie, a middle-aged woman. She is [at minimum] buried up to her waist in earth and almost single-handedly entertains us and herself for the course of the entire play. Her husband Willie who we do not see properly during the first act, appears only briefly in full view during the second act. Winnie regales us with tales she is reminded of by things in her handbag.

During the second act though she is buried up to her neck and can no longer access her bag. She still continues talking, in hope that Willie is still listening for she never did “learn to talk alone”.

To take on Beckett play is no mean feat. With their intricate directions that are insistantly followed it may be tedious and difficult for a company, in this case the Godot Company, London, to give the play its own stamp. For enduring that alone a certain level of respect must be held. For the woman, too, who talks almost non-stop for the duration, I must say I was impressed.

Unfortunately, as soon as I entered the auditorium I was somewhat disappointed. The pile of earth Winnie is buried in looked more like a crater on the stage and reminded me of some class of moon-scape. I didn’t think it was true to the first lines of the play stating “Expanse of scorched grass rising centre to low mound.” As it was the only piece of scenery on stage, I felt like more attention could have been paid to its construction.

All the other bells and whistles appeared to be present. It seemed truer to the script in terms of lights and sound which accompanied the start and end of the acts. A loud whoosh runs through the auditorium as the lights go up. Winnie’s bell to get up, and go to sleep, rings at an uncomfortably loud level (as written).

Holding none of the intensity of ‘Endgame’, or the mystery of ‘Waiting for Godot’ I think this production must appeal more to avid Beckett readers than the usual theatre-goer.

‘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.

‘Beyond Therapy’

It’s not often you see something where the script itself, the acting, and all things technical are so absurd you question how anyone could conceivably allow it on stage.

‘Beyond Therapy’, was exactly that. Brought to you by Orion’s Belt Theatre, it played in the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, the 15th and 16th of January.

It’s hard to tell if the story could have been any more believable if the acting hadn’t be quite so farcical. I doubt any more serious of a company would have used a play about two people in therapy, one of which is living with his boyfriend while have his therapist suggests writing personal ads seeking women, the other having her therapist constantly make passes at her.

Featured in the studio I guessed it was more of an amateur production so I led myself to believe that the awkward beginnings would be accounted for by nerves. However, every overstated acting tool was used; attempting to self-groom while waiting, purposefully rearranging, the overly pronounced differences in stances and styles of walking. It also took me quite some time to realise that the play must have been set in America, and that accent was what all the actors were attempting. As none of them, with the exception of the Southern Bell, could maintain it for the duration I found it very distracting through out.

Once again, making allowances for the fact that it was an amteur production, I wasn’t expecting too much in terms of the set. But something other than the rather particular purple-cushioned seats of the studio itself would have made a big difference.

The whole experience was akin to that of watching a parade of contrasting acting styles and techniques. Interesting no doubt, but not what you’d ever think to put together.