Thursday, 27 September 2012

I Am My Own Wife Review

Telling a story based on real events is never easy.  Telling the remarkable story of cross dresser Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is beyond not easy, it's a huge undertaking. The writing itself is outstanding as you would expect from a Pulitzer and Tony prize winning play.

The actor, John Cronin is exceptional.  He has a sense of stillness about him that many actors don't have.  He doesn't need to make a gesture, change his costume or use a prop to let the audience know which character he is.  His posture, accent and the look in his eyes are enough to convey the character he has become.  This is a particular ability I admire in an actor - Damian Lewis from Homeland and Band of Brothers being another example.
Despite playing 36 different characters, his performance is always measured. Character changes are realistically balanced and there is no sense of unnatural speed.  Every character, no matter how insignificant, is precisely defined and effortlessly conveyed.  This is a testament to Cronin's acting ability.  In fact the entire production is a testament to his ability.  The breadth of accents in this production alone are enough to make most actors run away.

The set is beautiful and acts to enhance Cronin's performance.  I particularly love the contrast between the beautiful old things Charlotte surrounds herself with and her choice of dress. Gilded mirrors and red velvet chairs are set against her plain black dress, hair covering and orthopedic black shoes.  This plain style of dress both reflects and amplifies her character traits, her purposeful collecting of materials, her quiet acceptance of events and her resourcefulness at working through situations.  She is not a stereotype; she doesn't wear make-up, or heels or act frivolously.  

The show was gorgeous, Charlotte herself was endearing, the direction was perfect.  I loved the set, the sound, the visuals.  I particularly loved the lighting in the last scene and it seemed the audience was hesitant to applaud in case they broke the spell Charlotte had woven.  John Cronin gave a virtuoso performance of this highly technical play, and made it look effortless.

This play is for theatre people, for actors, for people in the business as well as the usual audiences.  You will see how theatrically nimble this actor is, and you will be jealous and amazed and rise and applaud as I did.

I am My Own Wife is playing at the MAC Belfast until Saturday 6 October.  If you don't see it you will regret it.


Monday, 24 September 2012

The Plough & The Stars Review

Last week we had date day. We've never been able to do date night like other couples because of the hubby's un-family friendly working hours.  I had booked tickets for the matinee of The Plough and the Stars, an Abbey production, on tour to the Grand Opera House

First of all, we decided to try HOME on Wellington Place which we'd been meaning to try for a while.  We kept it simple, Sean having a burger and me trying the fishcake.  It was lovely, really simple, informal and friendly.  The service was speedy, the price was cheap and the food was tasty.  What else could you ask for? 

Then we were off to the Grand Opera House.  As usual at a matinee, the place was full of school kids.  This is always a risk you take if you choose to go to a matinee and sometimes it's a curse, at other times a blessing.  Our seats in the stalls were right in the middle of two different sets of school kids, but we had nothing to worry about. Despite a bit of shuffling around and a laugh in an inappropriate place, they were exceptionally well behaved.  They clearly knew the text as the anticipation in the air was obvious.  Just before a particular character died, I heard a whispered 'This is the bit where she dies, I hope I don't cry' from a student sitting near me.

The Plough and the Stars itself was excellent.  I didn't know the story at all, not having much interest in Irish literature until very recently.  As always I am drawn to the historical context - the birth of Ireland as a nation and the effect on the people living at the time.  While the romantics constructed their perfect rebellion and heroes were revered for their amplified deeds, the real people of Dublin were struggling through their lives with illness, poverty and pain.  O'Casey centres on these people in his play; the heroes are not the republicans at the GPO but the real people such as Fluther Good and Bessie Burgess.         

I found the performance a little slow to get going, perhaps lacking a little energy but this is natural at a matinee performance as the actors conserve their energy for a second 3 hour show.  Frankie McCafferty was, for me the stand out performance; his Peter Flynn was engaging, comical and well rounded.  I also enjoyed Gabrielle Reidy's Bessie, who has such pivotal character development throughout the play.  The cast supported each other throughout and were a tight team on stage.  The set was great, both functional and authentic and I loved the visual reminder of nationalism with the flags, but the scene changes and flying seemed clunky and unnecessary.  The lighting at times seemed to intrude on the play and there were changes in lighting which distracted from the actors' performance.  However small technical issues aside, the production was a great introduction to the Abbey's work and we have already booked to see The Picture of Dorian Grey at the Abbey in November.

Nice to catch up with 'A Bartender' Tony Flynn after the show as well, though he will always be the demon Mephistopheles to me...                


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Dredd 3D - A flawed masterpiece

I haven't read the original Dredd graphic novel and I haven't seen the Sylvester Stallone film, probably a wise move given it's 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  But I was so excited by the build up to this film.  Sold as a futuristic Neo-noir action film, Dredd lives up to the hype, and then some.  

Ok, so there's not much of a story, and very little depth but I'm not sure there needed to be.  The story is sparse, as is the emotion. Judge Dredd is not the kind of person you imagine could break the rules or even crack a smile.  Karl Urban was brilliant as Dredd, though I do believe his chin should win an Oscar as it definitely had the most to do.  Slightly unfortunate though that the similarity between Urban's chin and another actor's, meant that my husband spent the entire film thinking it was Hugh Jackman under the helmet.     

The film looked good and the 3D was stunning in all the right places.  I am a big fan of shiny, stylish films.  I like the details, the slow motion effects, the blood spattering all over the place. I love special effects and sexy graphics, glittering backdrops and theatrical music.  I love the drama of it all.  I particularly liked the use of the 3D slow motion when highlighting the effects of the drug Slo-Mo and the inclusion of my girl crush La Roux 'In for the Kill' on the soundtrack was just the icing on the cake. You can listen to it here LA ROUX 

Deemed ultra-violent by some people, I completely disagree.  The violence wasn't particularly shocking because it suited the film and the Mega City One setting.  The film was bereft of emotion and because you didn't see how a death affected other characters, the scenes of murder and mayhem became almost beautiful.  I'm not a big fan of violent movies and never before have I thought that throwing someone from a height and watching their head break in slow motion was anything other than gratuitous violence.  But it was brilliantly done.  It was as if someone had actually just lifted the graphic novel out of it's pages and put it on the screen. The focus was on the stunning artwork, great design and the razor-sharp dark edges of the setting.  Despite my not knowing the original character, I could tell that the film has stayed true to it's historical format.

Despite it's flaws I loved this film. I thought the acting was strong, the effects were s-excellent and the 3D was relevant and actually added to the experience, where usually it detracts.  I also LOVE that the violence wasn't cut, edited, changed or amended to fit with the censors (Taken 2 anyone?).  


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Belfast Bred walking tour

Last weekend I went on the Belfast Bred food tour.  It's been around for a while and I had always wanted to check it out.  I guess I didn't because I'm not a big foodie and thought it was aimed more at tourists.  Now I wish I'd checked it out sooner.

We had arrived a bit early so went to a cafe to get a scone and some coffee, not realising just how many samples we would get on the tour!  The tour started at Sawer's Deli in Fountain Street.  

Our tour guide Barney told us some of the history of Sawer's and introduced us to the Manager who continued the story.  We were taken inside and given various food samples from octopus to Guinness Cheddar. 

Despite clearly being busy as the shop was being extended into the unit next door, the Manager and the staff made time to show us interesting items in the shop like this jar of real gold used for garnishing desserts.

Barney then led us out of Sawer's and round to Mourne Seafood Bar, one of my favourite restaurants. On the way he told us stories of his life, about food he remembered eating when he was young and also gave us some interesting insights into the history of particular buildings.   

After a chat to the Manager of Mourne Seafood bar and some freshly cooked Salt and Chilli Squid, off we went again, following Barney to the John Hewitt Bar. Again we heard some interesting facts about Belfast as Barney led us across Royal Avenue on a busy Saturday morning.  Passing shoppers looked bemused as Barney, in his lobster adorned chef's hat, shouted 'Hello' to everyone in his broad Belfast accent and rang his bell to get us to hurry along.  

At the John Hewitt we sampled some cider and lager as the Manager told us about the history of the bar and it's relationship with local beers and breweries. We felt rather special, being locked in the pub for our tasting session. 

The artwork that was on the walls while we were there, apparently linked to the Titanic Boys show in the Grand Opera House deserves a mention.  Some of the pieces were beautiful and the art is part of the reason why Belfast people love this wee bar.  

And we were off again, this time down the cobbled lanes past the Duke of York to Nick's Warehouse.
Barney continued with his brilliant stories of the history of Belfast and joking with the tour group.  I really think that this is what made the tour so special.  Fra Gunn, who plays Barney, is a gifted storyteller and engages everyone with his character, both the paying members of the audience and passers by.  He clearly enjoys what he does, and he is adept at ad libbing when he needs to.  I enjoyed seeing his typical Belfast banter with the chefs and managers of each venue. 

Nick Price, owner of Nick's Warehouse gave us a fascinating insight into not only his restaurant, but also into his own interests.  A quirky character, it was nice to hear the passion in his voice when he talked about food.  We sampled different types of cheese, which were all lovely, though my favourite was as always, the goats cheese.

And off we went again, following Barney through the busy streets towards McHughs Bar, the oldest building in Belfast.  This place is a gem.  The old photographs are a genealogist's dream, and I found it difficult to listen to the Manager with all the history on the walls around me.  

In McHugh's we were brought a volcanic rock heated to 430°C and a steak to cook on it. I'm not a big fan of steak, and would never order it, but even to me it tasted amazing.  

Barney led us on to St George's Market.  This was our final location, after two and a half hours.  We hadn't even noticed the time go.  It seems like a long time, but the tour is evenly broken up and as well being seated in the venues, you can also sit at various benches on the way.

The tour is absolutely not just for tourists. I know quite a bit about Belfast History, but Barney gave me a few extra facts which I'd never heard before. You also don't need to be a 'foodie' or even need to try all the samples. I started the tour practically a vegetarian, cooking with quorn rather than meat. The week after the tour, I took myself down to St George's Market to buy some real meat, simply because McHugh's made me realise how much I missed it.        

Belfast City Council describes the Belfast Bred tour as a 'unique theatrical walking tour exploring the food and drink of Belfast'. But it is so much more than just a food tour.  The tour tells us stories of Belfast city, of Belfast characters, architecture and history.  Barney is a great character and Fra Gunn a brilliant storyteller.  It's great experience and I wish I hadn't left it so long to book.

Information and booking info on the tour is here: Belfast City Council


Saturday, 1 September 2012

Noye's Fludde by NI Opera at Belfast Zoo

The kids went to see their first opera a couple of weeks ago.  Their cousin told them how he fell asleep at an opera when he was in New York, so they were pretty disgusted that I had booked them tickets for something so boring.

I think they were genuinely pleased by what they experienced, though the typical Belfast rain did it's best to wash us away.

Having the opera performed at the zoo must have been a logistical nightmare, but it was a stroke of genius.
All the kids I saw were excited, despite the downpour, and the marquees were packed, as well as the outside area.  Entry to the zoo itself was included in the price and many people stayed to see the animals.

I don't usually buy programs as they are usually full of actors' biographies and adverts and are a waste of money, but I'm pleased I bought this one.  It included sections on Benjamin Britten, the China Children's Chorus, the KT Wong Foundation, the design, a synopsis and the story of Dayu, as well as the customary biogs and ads.    

The best aspect of the event definitely was the design though.  The animals made from bamboo and silk using traditional lantern making techniques were simply beautiful, as were the birds made using kite making techniques.  The ark was built in front of our eyes, bit by bit and I think we were a bit shocked at just how many animals managed to get inside!

Well done to all involved. Opera can be a difficult artform to get kids interested in.  This production not only succeeded in getting families to go, but also managed to make them want to go back.