Thursday, 28 February 2013

Romeo and Juliet

Tonight I went to see C21 Theatre Company's Romeo and Juliet at the Grand Opera House.  This is a show I last saw at the Globe Theatre and it lasted over 3 hours.  As we were in the Groundling area outdoors in the rain, my memory was that it was endlessly long and very uncomfortable.  C21 promised a shorter version aimed primarily at a secondary school audience.  The production comes in at 80 minutes which is perfect for it's audience.

First mention must go to Jolene O'Hara, a talented young actress who embodied the role of Juliet with ease.  Her delicate beauty and passionate performance was touching. The role of Juliet is a powerful one and I thought she dealt with it well. Romeo, played by Michael Lavery, was a good match for her in performance and also in passion.

The other cast members Mark Claney, Eoghan Lamb, Rachael McCabe and Dan Leith played various roles, and despite a few accent issues on occasion, all were strong.  As a whole the production enthralled the many teenagers in the audience. They sat wide eyed as the story developed and by the end a few were crying.

The show is touring to schools and thus the set and lighting was simple but effective.  The white nets of Juliet's balcony were put to good use as a symbol of innocence and virginity.  On the night of her marriage to Romeo, the lights coloured red and she was innocent no more.

Arthur Webb did a good job at directing the production.  His experience as an educator clear, his knowledge of teen minds meant that the audience's attention was not distracted.  Peppered with humorous moments, music and lots of not too passionate kissing, a teen audience will engage well.  Credit also is due for the adaptation which kept the scenes short and focussed.  A sterling presentation from C21 and great to see them in the Grand Opera House.

Click here to find out more about c21Theatre Company

Click here to book tickets for the Grand Opera House from 26 February - 2 March


Thursday, 21 February 2013

Bite sized Romeo and Juliet from c21 at the Grand Opera House

Next week I'm looking forward to seeing c21's bite sized version of Romeo and Juliet in the Baby Grand.

Sold as a turbo-charged, pared-down version of the famous romantic drama that will distill all the beauty, violence and tragedy of the original… but in less than 90 minutes.  The production has been especially adapted for schools and smaller theatre venues with the original script that has been adapted by Gary Wilson. 

Lisburn actor Michael Lavery and Belfast’s Jolene O'Hara star as the star-crossed lovers, heading up a dynamic cast bringing Shakespeare's words to exhilarating new life.  Shakespeare’s universally known language is still intact but in a more condensed and accessible form. The show will be directed by Arthur Webb who acknowledges that teachers often have a fear of teaching Shakespeare.  He promises that this new production makes the blank verse accessible and the narrative straightforward without diluting the enjoyment and sense. He finds that pupils are often more visual than auditory learners, as am I!

No longer a young upcoming company, c21 has been on the theatre scene in Northern Ireland now for 8 years.  It has established itself as a consistent and exciting player, staging a variety of productions from edgy comedy drama to pantomime.  The production is supported by Arts & Business and Burke Shipping Group.
The production opened today at the Craic in Coalisland, touring to the Grand Opera House, Riverside Theatre and Sean Hollywood Arts Centre as well as giving schools performances and workshops.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Comedy of Errors at Theatre at the Mill

Last night was the Opening Night of Theatre at the Mill's Comedy of Errors: the Musical.

After an absolute disaster of a day where our car broke down, the fridge blew up and our heating wouldn't work properly, I needed cheering up.  Comedy of Errors had a lot to live up to!

Billed as a musical theatre version of Shakespeare set in 1920's Belfast, the production is a difficult sell.  The cast were clearly nervous for the opening number but settled quickly into their parts.  Not being a play I have read and not knowing what to expect I found the beginning confusing.  I couldn't quite understand what was going on and who each character was meant to be. However it didn't take long to realise that the who's, what's and when's were mostly irrelevant.  This musical adaptation was first and foremost meant to be fun.

And fun it was.  Richard Clements and Paul Boyd are excellent as the brothers separated at birth, their relationships with their servants a high point. Paul Boyd's Belfast Anthony is perhaps the most passionate of the brothers, continuously kicking his servant and getting a fair few kisses from his mistress.  Richard's Dublin Anthony is by contrast a less violent man, pleasantly surprised by the lovely Belfast people who like to give him money and pearls.  The two Drews are strongly played by Drew Dillon and David Marken, talented young actors who ensure that the confusion and slapstick comedy continue throughout.  The curly clown wigs chosen for the Drew characters however, did remind me of Art Garfunkel or Gene Wilder.  Not a good look.

Sara Lyle's wronged wife Adrianna and her single sister Lucy played by Orla Gormley are engaging in their roles.  Reflecting the brothers' conflicting characters, the sisters are polar opposites to one another.  Adrianna seems to enjoy a bit of passionate S&M, whereas Lucy's demure character is much more restrained, but played with a Gormley twinkle in the eye. Chris Robinson and Orla Mullan had perhaps the most frantic parts to play, portraying with style various roles such as the jeweller, a policeman, the father, the mother, an exorcist, a nun, a businesswoman, a mistress and the cook.

As always, I found the music overpowered the vocals making it difficult to hear the words of the songs.  In this instance it may not have been so much an issue of volume, but more to do with balance and clarity through the sound system.  It should be said however, that I often have an issue with the music simply being too loud in theatre productions.  The songs are fun and catchy and are well handled by this cast.

The story was set aside to use comical interludes such as a Stomp-like door-knocking musical episode, a stylised slow motion fight scene, musicians calling out hellos to the characters, an off-stage run though the audience and a pun-tastic comic monologue from Drew Dillon which accented his excellent comic timing.  These set pieces were interesting individual moments but were not there to assist the development of the story but more to allow time for quick changes.  I thought these mostly worked well but they reminded me of the comic interludes used in panto to allow for the big scene change to happen behind the curtain.

I felt that the play tried too hard to fit in too many styles and this was detrimental to it's focus. Panto meets Shakespeare meets musical theatre meets slapstick meets farce all set in 1920's Belfast meant that the play felt confused in it's direction. The continuous large gestures and unnecessary movements of the characters undermined the storytelling and merely created one dimensional stock characters which force this production more into the world of pantomime than musical theatre.

Despite this, Comedy of Errors: The Musical is a fast paced and frenetic show, with is a very hard working cast whose hi-jinks and even higher kicks had my eyes watering.  Full of slapstick fun and witty naughtiness, this shows runs until 2nd March. You can BOOK HERE.                        

NI Opera's The Flying Dutchman

On Friday night I attended NI Opera's The Flying Dutchman at the Grand Opera House.
Being more of a theatre lover, I'm not a very experienced opera attender.  I attended two children's operas, Noye's Fludde and Elephant Angel early last year, then later in the year, The Magic Flute, all of which I loved.  

This season, I could only afford to choose one event to attend at the Grand Opera House.  As someone who loves the arts and who generally wants to see everything, I simply can't afford to go to everything I want.  This means missing on some of the best events.  Thank goodness then that I decided to choose this production as my 'one to see'.

Wagner's opera tells the tale of a stormy night when a Norwegian sea captain encounters the Flying Dutchman - a ghostly captain doomed to sail the seas for all eternity. The two men strike a deal, but when things do not go according to plan, other lives are pulled into the resulting maelstrom.

The opening sequence was beautiful and was my favourite part of the production. As the orchestra played, the stage was covered in a blanket of falling snow as waves crashed at the back of the stage. The bleakness  of the otherwise empty stage really set the scene for the drama to come.  The Dutchman's huge ship sailed into view and it's ghostly appearance was impressive.  Of course links have to be made to the Titanic, but I couldn't help but think of that other famous Flying Dutchman, Davy Jones' ship in Pirates of the Carribean!        
I really enjoyed the ethereal beauty of the whole of Act One and the Ulster Orchestra as always were astounding.  

Acts Two and Three were equally engaging and I thought that the leads were strong, especially Giselle Allen as Senta, her fiery passion set against Bruno Caprioni as the serious and bleak Dutchman.  I enjoyed the chorus a lot, their enthusiasm drawing me in closer to listen to the words.  It was nice to see some familiar faces in the chorus as well. I love that Belfast can not only produce an opera of this size, but also that we have produced home-bred opera singers of such calibre.

Despite some apprehension that Wagner may be too difficult for me as a new fan of opera, I followed the story completely and was absolutely mesmerized by the entire production.  I'll be back to see NI Opera for The Bear in March.  Click here for more info.            

Monday, 18 February 2013

Mixed Marriage at the Lyric Theatre

Ok, so I'll admit it, I wasn't convinced at all that this show was the right thing to be shown in Belfast at this time.  I thought it was just too close to the current situation in Belfast.  We have moved on I told myself.  Why would this play be shown now?  Where is the progression in Northern Ireland if this play still resonates 100 years on?

While we all think we have moved on and we chuckle at flag protesters and laugh in wonder at those politicians' views that seem completely at odds with our own, this play did have resonance with the audience in the auditorium tonight. From the rioters at the door, the police being overrun by violent mobs, guns on the streets and families being destroyed by the problems inherent in mixed marriages, it's all too real.

Marty Maguire's character Mr Rainey still exists today.  I know many people who think like him, and given what has happened over the past couple of months, I think everyone has become aware that his views are still prevalent.  I was disappointed though that the audience was never really given any indication why he thought the way he did. It meant that this character came across as unreasonable rather than having a valid opinion. The perception of Orangeism as being anti-Catholic is still the case today, even though it is not necessarily true. Despite the stereotypical bigoted character, Marty's restrained performance was refreshing.  His aggression and hard views bubbled under the surface until his mistrust pushed him over the edge of reason.

I loved Mrs Rainey and I thought that Katie Tumelty was outstanding in the role.  Her strength of character and 'live and let live' views really helped to show that despite her husband and her background, she was willing to move forward.  I enjoyed the moments of gentleness between Mr and Mrs Rainey, and thought that they really served to accent her ability to accept people for what they were.  She was, for me, where the optimism is in the play. She was the character who would enable Ireland to move forward.  I thought that the change from the original script made at the end of the play in relation to this character was misplaced.

Karen Hassan as Nora is great, particularly towards the end of the play as she wrestles with her feelings of guilt.  Her assertion that she will marry who she wants, no matter what the cost, is quickly rendered unimportant when she realises her part in what happens.  Her chemistry with Brian Markey is clear and added a perfect note of passion to the proceedings.

Brian Markey, is a talented young actor but I felt that his performance was missing some integrity.  I never quite believed his character and doubted that Hugh would have the strength to stand up to his father. His relationship with Nora was lovely though and the chemistry between the lovers was palpable. Their passionate embrace ensured that the audience was left in no doubt that this play was going to end in tears.

Gerard Jordan is strong as Mickey O'Hara. His deep understanding of the character's place in the play is obvious.  O'Hara keeps the play within its historical context of the Dock Strike.  Gerard is always believable as the brave man on the street working to bring the Dockers together, no matter what their religion. While O'Hara may not agree wholeheartedly with mixed marriage, he is willing to forgo his personal opinions for the good of Ireland.    

I have seen Darren Franklin in a few things now and I find him a very versatile young actor.  His character of the younger brother Tom highlights how Hugh was treated by his father when he was younger.  He isn't given a lot to do, but his development through the play from boy to man was excellent.  I thought that Darren established a real connection with his character - his internal terror while making his brave stand against his father was clear on his face.

All the characters have differing opinions on religion and mixed marriage.  Nora and Hugh are willing to look ahead, to make a new future for themselves without their families if they have to. They put their love for each other above their religion.  Despite his traditionalist views, Mr Rainey tentatively attempts to move forward but his mistrust of the 'other side' will never go away.  His clear love for his wife is shown in small private moments, but when push comes to shove, his opinion that he is right will always be more important.  His belief in a 'Popish plot' is shown in a dream sequence which I thought worked really well to show just how ingrained his paranoia is.

Mixed Marriage goes to show how vulnerable our so called peace is in Northern Ireland.  While people have different degrees of friendship with the 'other side', our peace is volatile and it does not take much for peoples' mistrust to return.  I think the flaw in the production is the change at the end, which removed the optimism and led the play to a different conclusion than the writer intended. That said, this is a production worth seeing.  With a stellar cast of actors, and lovely directorial touches, there was a lot I liked about this play.

Mixed Marriage is on until 23rd February at the Lyric Theatre.  You can book online here.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Comedy of Errors, The Musical

I've visited Theatre at the Mill on a few occasions, but despite my best intentions have never made it out to the Newtownabbey venue to see a show.  I've decided my first show will be Comedy of Errors for various reasons.

  • The story sounds brilliant.  It's a Shakespeare play I didn't study in school and I don't know it at all, but the witty description and excellent production shots caught my attention.  The cheeky grins and surprised expressions on the actors faces really highlight the farcical elements of the play.
  • It's a brand new musical version! I'm thinking Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet... 
  • It's set in Belfast in the 1920's.  Well if ever there was a way to get me to go to something, it would be to include some local history. A quick look at the Comedy of Errors microsite reveals set images of the 140 year old Jaffe fountain, currently situated outside Victoria Square. 
  • Setting the musical in the roaring twenties means fabulous costumes.  The costume drawings are really stunning and I can't wait to see them for real.
  • Live 1920's Music.  (Note to self: remember not to dance in public)
  • The cast!  Some of the best actors/ singers working in NI today all on one stage.  Richard Clements, Drew Dillon, Paul Boyd (the other one...), Chris Robinson, Orla Gormley, Sarah Lyle, David Marken and Orla Mullen. Seriously have you heard these guys sing?  Click here to hear Drew Dillon and click here to listen to Richard Clements. *may induce tears

The show runs from 19th February - 2nd March.  Click here to find out more on Theatre at the Mill's website.