Category Archives: Theatre

The John Hewitt Society Summer School 2018 – An Unforgettable Cultural Experience!


It was my honour to have been awarded a full Bursary by the John Hewitt Society and my privilege to attend their prestigious Summer School in late July 2018.

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Situated in the Georgian surroundings of picturesque Armagh town, the Summer School takes place in the state-of-the-art venue of The Marketplace Theatre.

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I have used words like incredible, transformative, inspiring, engaging and amazing to describe the week’s enticing and immersive cultural timetable but in reality the Summer School is all that and more.

The thoughtfully designed schedule ensures that none of the individual events overlap. Days began at 9.45 am and there were at least five daily hour-long sessions outside of the creative writing workshops and at least one evening event.

In an attempt to give you a flavour of how the week progressed I have summed up most of the lectures, interviews and events that I attended. But some of you may not want to read all of this so I have clearly headed each session which will enable you to

  1. Skim through this and choose to read the ones that interest you.
  2. Read the whole thing (it is long!)
  3. At least scroll down to the paragraph about the Radio Drama Workshop and read on from there,
  4. Leave now and never talk of this again.

 

Opening Address

This year’s Summer School’s opening address was delivered by Dr. Martin Manseragh, former Fianna Fáil T.D. and former Minister for Finance and the Arts. His fascinating talk shedding illumination on the complexities behind ‘simple’ political messages, spanning recent centuries, North and South of the border.

 

Fiction: Patrick Gale

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Next up was an interview with author Patrick Gale who gave us insights into his writing process,
“Writing and reading are part of the same process.”
On character versus plot,
“Plot arises when you bring two characters together”
Answering a question about ‘wasted writing’,
“No creativity is wasted, you go down a path, and even if it is not used, you are enriched by the journey.”
I enjoyed this quote in particular,
“The whole fiction writing process is hugely therapeutic.”
He read and drew from his 2018 novel ‘Take Nothing With You’ during his interview.

 

Fiction and Photography – Travelling in a Strange Land: David Park & Sonya Whitefield

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The evening discussion was with author David Park about his novel ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’ with photographs by Sonya Whitefield who, unfortunately, could not take part in the interview. Throughout the discussion we were given an understanding of the depth and spirituality of David Park, as a person and a writer, when he talked about his views of creativity,
“There is something redemptive and transcendent in art.”
“There are instinctive subconscious things in creativity.”
Also in his memories of the great snowfall of 1966,
“Never before and never after have I felt the weight of the universe.”
On his collaboration with Sonya Whitefield,
“The book is a finished item in itself but the photographs give it a different life.”
“There should be more opportunities for different art-forms to collaborate.”

Park read extracts from ‘Travelling in a Strange Land’

This lecture was followed by an exhibition of Sonya Whitefield’s thoughtfully taken photographs.

 

Poetry

On Monday evening we were treated to beautiful poetry readings by Imtiaz Dharker and Michael Longley.

I woke up on the Tuesday feeling that I had already been there for a week and was ready for more of the same.

 

John Hewitt and the Irish at Coventry

The morning sessions began with Ciaran Davis’ lecture on John Hewitt’s time as Director of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in post war Coventry (1957 -1972) and the difference in motivation behind his move (a secure job and a willingness to leave Belfast) in contrast to the many Irish people who were forced to see work in the city.

Hewitt’s vision was to help to regenerate the city and he felt that “A better society could be created by focussing on the local” and he brought in works by Stanley spencer and J.S.L. Lowry. While he was successful at first, ultimately, his vision was not supported by grant giving city officials.

 

Fiction – Liz Nugent

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We were treated to an interview with the always entertaining, generous and modest author Liz Nugent whose third book ‘Skin Deep’ was published earlier in 2018. Nugent answers gave advice to new and emerging writers.
“The first piece I wrote that was broadcast was for Sunday Miscellany about a pair of gloves (15 minutes). You can start out with something small.”
She explained how the characters from her short story ‘Alice’ “…wouldn’t leave me alone…” and evolved into her first book ‘Unravelling Oliver’.
Answering a question about her dislikeable characters she quipped “I aim to disturb.” She followed this by talking about ‘Skin Deep’,
“As a writer I thought it would be interesting to explore a character who doesn’t care at all

 

Politics – Facing Change: The Identity Perspective 

Tuesday’s post workshops session was a talk by Dr. Nabeel Goheer, Assistant Secretary General at the Commonwealth Secretariat, on the current state of flux we are experiencing in the world and what this means to our global Identities.
“All of the cooperations we started building up since the Second World War are now being questioned.”
With 6.5 Million people being displaced by conflict identity has come back on a global level as a topic. He outlined the meaning of a global citizen as anyone who has enough wealth to invest a percentage of it into global issues or globally recognisable individuals who have the best values and can reach a worldwide audience.

Music

Tuesday evening’s performance was a charming and quirky musical collection by Ulaid and Duke Special.


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Politics – ‘Cross Border Studies’ 

Wednesday started with an interesting lecture on ‘Cross Border Studies’ with Professor Arthur Aughey, Emeritus Professor of Politics at Ulster University. He used the example of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the tangle of borders which were carved in Europe to demonstrate how,
“Frontiers are lines on a map but they are also a force of political ideologies.”
He went on to say that “One of the great objectives of the EU has been to remove the borders and the threats of the invasions of 1914-18 and 1939-45”
Issues in the Northern Ireland conflict was dominated by borders, terrorism and political identity and Professor Aughey recalled us that in 2017 Seamus Heaney suggested that the world had become a big Ulster.

 

Mary O’Donnell

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Mary O’Donnell, novelist, short story writer and poet, was the next author interview I attended. She was so interesting to listen to that I forgot to take many notes but I came away with a couple of gems.
“If something isn’t working in poetry I ask myself if this will work in fiction.”
One of O’Donnell’s general tips about being a writer,
“You need to be in good health and you need to be living a selfish lifestyle to be a writer and that is not possible for everyone.”

Panel – Writing and Refugees 

The guest that stood out for me from the *Writing and Refugees* panel was the multi-talented Annie Waithira, who made the most unforgettable entrance and then served us food for thought with some choice statements.
“If you cannot hear our stories then you will never be able to get to know us.”
“Dear Ireland, why have you forgotten the immigrant?”
To steal from the John Hewitt Society twitter account
“She represents the absent voice in many contemporary debates: the refugee woman.”
Waithira explained that not every immigrant is on the same journey.
“Just because we came on the same boat does not mean we are of the same situation.”

This panel was followed by the opening of an exhibition “Daily Lives: Asylum Seekers in Italy and Ireland” by Mariusz Smiejek.

Music and Dance – Edges of Light

Our evening’s entertainment on Wednesday was “Edges of Light” collaboration between Irish Dance legend Colin Dunne, fiddler Tola Custy, harpist Maeve Gilchrist, and uilleann piper David Power.
An energetic and very entertaining musical and dance interpretation of the time in 1916 when Ireland was 25 minutes and 12 seconds behind the UK and so to coordinate Ireland with GMT the time went back only 35 minutes that October (but not everybody stuck to the rule).

Towards the end of the week I was working on my workshop exercise (more about that later) and so didn’t get to as many of the events as I would have liked.

 

“Challenging the Two Traditions: Women, Memory and Literature.” 

Writer and PhD researcher at Ulster University, Eli Davies, investigated the Northern Ireland conflict through the lens of the women involved and the upheaval paramilitary activities had on marriages and relationships in literature about the period,
“During the conflict the home was politicised.”
“The female figure is portrayed as queen, victim, peacemaker, but often used in service of the bigger male narrative.”
“Nell McCafferty pinpoints the mundane duties that the conflict affected as opposed to the macro issues.”
In Deirdre Madden’s ‘One by One in the Darkness’. Davies points out that  “The house becomes a person or a character in itself.”

 

Fiction – Sheila Llewellyn

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The next interview was with author Sheila Llewellyn which centred about her debut novel ‘Walking Wounded’, which deals with how post-traumatic stress disorder was suffered and treated after the Second World War. The book has been praised by, among others, Pat Barker.
Llewellyn mentions that “the generation of writers who came after grew up with the narrative of the second World War.”
On research she said that “It satisfies my inner historian, I love doing the research but I have to hold myself back.”
While researching PTSD she came across recordings of soldiers recounting their experiences “You can hear them struggling to control the memories.”
One of her pre-war book loving characters returns with revulsion of literature because “Books lie because writers write a happy ending and life isn’t like that.”
Llewellyn says that a challenge that writers face is to portray some characters with as much integrity as possible while not liking them. 

 

Northern Ireland Political Collection at Linen Hall Library

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The next lecture was a visually centred lecture from Belfast’s Linen Hall Library on the topic of the Northern Ireland Political Collection.
The library is most famous for its local and Irish collections.
Sometime in 1969, Jimmy Vitty, then Librarian of the Linen Hall Library, was handed a civil rights leaflet in a Belfast city centre bar. He kept it. Since then the Library has sought to collect all printed material relating to the ‘Troubles’.
The Political Collection is the only one of its kind that began collecting before a conflict was started.
In 1972 the collection almost shut down under the Special Powers Act which banned dealings with any anti-Government literature.
A former librarian of Linen Hall quipped that the Political Collection has “Something to offend everyone.”
The library has various individual collections as well, for example, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Archive, Northern Ireland Women’s Movement and more. As well as that they hold a Troubled Images Project which comprises of 16 volumes of press clippings from the early 1970s to 1994,
The digitalisation of the Political Collection is currently underway.

 

Fiction – Michael Hughes

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The last event I attended was an interview with author Michael Hughes, whose most recent book “Country” is set during the Northern Irish conflict using the structure of Homer’s ‘Iliad’.  Hughes says said that he chose this approach because
“The Iliad took place among a small group of people who all know each other’s family history. A similar set up here in the Northern Ireland conflict”
He explained another reason for using the Iliad’s structure
“If you are writing about the conflict you will either to fictionalise or dramatise accounts of real people which isn’t fair to them.”

 

Creative Workshops

Throughout the week there was a choice of seven different creative workshops to attend, ‘Getting Started’ with Nessa O’Mahoney,’ Poetry’ with David Wheatley, ‘Poetry’ with Siobhán Campbell, ‘Short Story’ with Mary O’Donnell, ‘Fiction’ with Bernie McGill, ‘Memoir’ with Ferdia McKenna and the workshop that I opted for was ‘Radio Drama’ with Eoin McNamee.

 

Radio Drama Workshop

Eoin McNamee proved to be an excellent facilitator and on our first session he sent us out to the winding streets of Armagh with the quest of returning with a snippet of colloquial conversation. He then guided each of us to expand these snippets gradually into a short radio drama. The feedback he gave to the individual students acted as mini tutorials in the nuances of writing for radio for everybody at the workshop.

 

Creative Showcase

At 4.00 pm on Friday the Creative Writing Showcase took place. At least three people from each workshop read out their work. It was a shared pleasure to listen to the wealth of talent and promise from the bursary students chosen to read.

Thursday and Friday evening’s theatrical performances were a double bill from the remarkably astonishing mind and bodies (so to speak) of Mikel Murfi, “The Man In The Woman’s Shoes” and “I Hear You and Rejoice”. If you haven’t seen Murfi’s one man shows yet I urge you to rectify that. These two presentations were such a perfect way to finish off this culture laden week.

But it was not over yet. We all strolled down to the Armagh Centre for a fun open mic night.

During the week I met an eclectic range of people who fast became a strong foundation on which to grow a new creative family and it was their company that turned the cultural experience into an unforgettable adventure.

I woke up on Saturday morning in the charming and quirky Charlemont Arms Hotel with the feeling that I had been back to the best parts of university for a week – the pleasure of learning without the pressure of exams.

I came away with the feeling that I wanted to work towards something astounding but if I don’t manage that I’m definitely aiming higher than before.

If you have an interest in encountering culture I advise you to attend in 2019, see you there.

Finally I have to send many, many thanks the John Hewitt Society for awarding me this incredible opportunity and putting together an unforgettable week and to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs who kindly funded the ROI bursary students.

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Pondling – Theatre Review


Thanks to Guna Nua for the invitation.

It is unusually hot in Dublin as we climb the stairs of the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar. A wardrobe to the left, an upturned crate in the middle, a couple of chests and a small hinged box litter the stage.

Some of audience fan themselves while others grab a last and desperate look at their phones before the performance begins.

Pondling

Pondling’s Writer/Actor and award winning Genevieve Hulme-Beaman arrives out on stage. Her character is about twelve years old whose dark soul boils with a brutal confidence which evaporates when it has to leave the confines of her own psyche.

For the next 60 minutes she brings the audience through a monologue which is creepy, emotionally unbalanced, with humour that is black and sticky, and wonderfully captivating. She is utterly believable and at once scary and pathetic.

It didn’t help that a member of the audience nervously took on the role of unnecessary laughter pace-setter before Genieveve had finished her first line. But it wasn’t long before the rest of the audience were drowning her out.

Ms. Hulme-Beaman was not fazed as she threw us creepy stares and swung into so many different emotional states a mood ring would have looked like a rainbow. She captures the state of a deeply troubled tween on the verge of teenage years to a frightening degree. Her temperament swings from the simplicity of girlhood in one moment to a skewed idea of womanhood the next and all sprinkled with a thick layer of psychotic scary dust.

8/10

Directed by Paul Meade of Guna Nua Theatre  and written and performed by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman in The Project Arts Centre.

Upcoming Performances

Is Social Media the Fifth Wall of Theatre? #OnlyInMahagonny


Indulge me.

I would like to introduce you to two men.

Paul Gallagher

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Kurt Furey

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Paul is a travel blogger who has recently returned from South America and has been employed by Threepenny Travel. You can follow him on twitter @paulgallagher92 here and read his blog here.

His first assignment is to track down the enigmatic Kurt Furey.

Kurt is no ordinary man as his twitter handle suggests @kurtthefurey and he has recently been posting some very odd ‘Commandments’ through twitter and his youtube account.

Here is an example.

If you are on twitter I suggest that you give them a follow because if (when) Paul manages to track down Kurt I get the feeling that there will be more than sparks.

Paul and Kurt only exist on social media and they both have a one way ticket to the fictitious city of Mahagonny (pronounced Ma-Ha-Gonny). Mahagonny itself is a city which sprang forth from the mind of Bertholt Brecht and the music of Kurt Weill when they wrote the Opera “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”.

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Mahagonny stood for everything that is wrong about capitalism as Brecht and Weill saw in 1930s Germany. It is a city that develops initially to provide people with goods but ends up reducing everything to a commodity. A live current which touches many people living in Ireland today.

Over the next ten days you can follow Paul Gallagher as he meets Kurt the Furey who will lead us deep into the corrupt, hedonistic heart of Mahagonny. On the thirteenth of June the fusion of opera, jazz and cabaret that is “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” (produced by Rough Magic Theatre Company and Opera.ie) will be start a short run in the Olympia Theatre.

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This production is reflecting the 4th wall breaking tendency of Brecht who dared to connect straight to his audience and promises to be an almost interactive theatrical experience. The social media skills of Maverick TV have created what you might call a fifth wall of theatre by drawing the online audience into the world of Mahagonny before the run in the theatre begins.

I feel that Brecht would have approved.

Anyone who knows me will appreciate that I love the idea.

The concept was a winner of the Sky Arts Ignition Award

Keep an eye on the hashtag #onlyinmahagonny and enter the city here if you dare…

West Side Story at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre


Thanks to a tweet from writer Sarah Webb I voted in the Bookshop of the Year competition and a month later received a call to say that I had won tickets to West Side Story, I hardly remembered there being a prize for entering so it was altogether very pleasant phone call.

If you haven’t been to the relatively new theatre (opened in March 2010) designed by Daniel Libeskind and situated in Dublin’s Grand Canal Square I would urge a visit. It was my first time in the building so I arrived early to lap up the atmosphere.

From the outside it looks this impressive.

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But there is a different type of  impressiveness from the inside looking out and especially at night. The glass front rises up at various different angles and is criss-crossed with white beams which gave me the impression of being at the bottom of the bow of a glass boat. The modestly lit waters of Grand Canal Dock silently lapping in front helps to secure this image. Red lights that flicker and dance upward on angled columns which protrude out of the angular plaza between the entrance and the water gave me a sense of haphazard pilot lights guiding us into hazardous waters. Overall I was left with a peculiarly satisfying nautical feeling. But once you enter the auditorium it has the all classic feel of being inside a traditional theatre albeit bigger than any other in the Ireland.

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I shall leave the architect’s son behind as the curtain rises and we are transported to New York’s West Side in the 1960s where two gangs are preparing to square off to claim dominance over their meagre slice of territory. The Story begins.

This musical reminds me that I have not seen a professional production with standards higher than teenagers in love for a very long time. The gangs almost glide across each other’s paths like professional ice skaters, Joey McKneely’s choreography is sublime. he mixes ballet, swing, salsa and probably a handful of other dancing styles styles I can’t identify as the gangs and players face off with each other.

The singing, especially from the two leads playing Tony & Maria are literally top notch. Massive fire escapes of New York flank either side of the stage and move in and out on their invisible axis when the scene demanded. Colourful to brilliant white costumes adorn the players who perform exquisite moves under such technical use of lighting that suits the moods and tone of the individual scenes.

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Familiar tunes “America”, “Maria”, “Tonight”, “I Feel Pretty”, floated over and invigorate the audience, while “Officer Krupke” provides the welcome light relief from the tragic modern re-working of Rome & Juliet and all at a dizzyingly breakneck speed.

If you can keep up with it follow the international tour dates here.

For more about what is on at The Bord Gais Energy Theatre click here.

The Threepenny Opera at The Gate Theatre


Mr. and Mrs. Peachum try to break up the marriage of their daughter Polly to the notorious thief, murderer and rapist Mac The Knife.

The Gate Theatre

I had only heard about The Threepenny Opera in passing until The Gate Theatre announced it was putting on a production. I did not even know that the song “Mac The Knife” originally came from this play but I did have an idea that is was the one of the first productions that merged music and drama in one setting making it one of the early precursors to the modern Musical.

So small was my knowledge that I did not even realise that (until the curtain opened) Mac the Knife was the main character. We were given a splendid and menacing rendition of the original lyric of Mac the Knife which sets the scene and leaves us in no doubt that this incredibly dangerous man is back in town.

The Threepenny Opera

There is always a period of adjustment when experiencing a play. The actors do their part but the audience must also do their part to lend themselves to the performance. I was disappointed that it took a longer time than usual for the players, play and audience to settle. It seemed to only gel after the first act. I want to put this down to it being the last preview before opening night because the rest of the play was great fun.

Even though the play is set in London they chose to only have 3 or 4 characters speak in that accent while the others all spoke with Dublin accents. There was enough swearing to bother some of the more conservative theatre goers.

But in saying that once it gelled and the players clicked it was very entertaining, funny, sexy and well directed. The songs were emotive and the dance routines amusing and very well-choreographed, especially on the space restricted stage of The Gate Theatre, which also held the small orchestra for the entire performance. There is not one morally stable character in the play yet between them all you will find yourself empathising as the emotional stakes rise throughout. These vagabonds mirror high society by clinging on to what ever morals they can grasp to inflate their own egos.

Some of the problems with the early part of the show manifested themselves in comic lines being lost on the audience. I must keep reminding myself that it was a preview because the play itself should be watched by anyone with an interest in the history of theatre and musicals in particular. If you have seen either Cabaret or West Side Story there is no doubt that they were directly influenced by this seemingly flippant but deceptively deep, humanist and humourous adaptation of the classic by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

I will try to catch another performance later on in the run

6/10

The Threepenny Opera is playing at the Gate Theatre until November 16 2013

Box Of Frogs – A Revue of the Mind


“A Comedian, an Actress and a Broadcaster walk into a room…”, this sounds like the set up for a joke but instead Box of Frogs is an intriguing, insightful and witty performance about the serious problem of Depression.

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You might think that poking fun at depression was a distasteful premise for a live performance until you hear how Box of Frogs came about. Playwright Isobel Mahon interviewed the three performers John Moynes (Comedian), Mary McEvoy (Actress) and Dil Wickremasinghe (Broadcaster) about their own lifelong struggles with depression. Mahon then wrote a first draft of the play. Between the performers, Mahon and director Caroline Fitzgerald they have sculpted and pieced together this very amusing and sometimes heart-breaking patchwork of sketches that never forgets an age old theatrical tradition of turning tragedy into comedy.

The production and staging may remind you a little of a school play but this is down to the improvised nature of how it was devised and it only adds to the flavour of what they are serving you. We quickly realise that these people have suffered and they are making us laugh without any feelings of guilty.

Anyone who has ever felt the dark cloud of depression or even had to deal with anyone close who suffers from it should experience Box of Frogs.

Box of Frogs is part of the See Change movement which is working to bring about positive change in public attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health problems.

Or catch up with their schedule here

I, Malvolio – Written & Performed By Tim Crouch At The Peacock, Dublin


You know that game where you choose your ultimate dinner party guests?

Well Tim Crouch has just  made my list.

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You don’t have to know anything about Shakespeare.

You don’t even have to be an adult to enjoy Crouch’s one hour, one man show focusing on Malvolio a minor character from “Twelfth Night”.

You just have to be human.

Crouch greets us as he stands on the stage wearing a variety of grimaces, stained long-johns and a cobbled together hat.  Throughout the next hour we are brought to tears of laughter, mocked, questioned, moved and all the while entertained to a degree I have not felt in the theatre for a long while.

At once a mixture of the story telling of Shakespeare, the cantankerousness of Victor Meldrew, the brilliant absurdity  of Monty Python, the ad-libbing of the best stand-up comedians and the simple depths of the Philosopher Socrates.

Crouch breaks down the usual actor/audience balance and draws us right into the sad life of Shakespearean Malvolio while acknowledging that we are living in 2013. His observations hold a mirror to the role of modern theatre and the maturing audience.

He asks us

“Is this the sort of thing you like?”

Yes, Mr. Crouch it is.

Not to be missed.

I, Malvolio runs until the 23rd March click here before it is booked out!

 
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