Friday, January 3, 2014

More Irish Theatre Highlights of 2013

Wayne Jordan's kinetic production of The Threepenny Opera brought movement that is rarely seen on the Gate stage.

I already made a list of the top 10 Irish theatre productions of 2013 but here are more highlights that deserve mention ...

  • I have never seen as much movement on the Gate stage as during Wayne Jordan's kinetic production of The Threepenny Opera. The filthy musical arrangements of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's anti-capitalist satire welcomely shook-up the venue's traditional audience; my only criticism is that they didn't push far enough. We had Aaron Heffernan and Emmet Kirwan in ensemble roles trying to steal some spotlight (and rightfully so), David Ganly's charming turn as Mac The Knife, and Hilda Fay belting out one hell of a spiteful ballad. The whole thing was almost note perfect. 

  • Pan Pan's stage adaptation of Beckett's radio play Embers had us contemplating life and death and the spaces in which they coincide. Contrasting with the liveness of actors Andrew Bennett and Áine Ní Mhuirí was Andrew Clancy's dominating skull sculpture, mesmerisingly animated by Aedín Cosgrove's extraordinary use of lighting. It didn't fully connect but Cosgrove's lighting design was unlike any use of the form that I have seen. In fact, the production's fascinating marriage of visual art and dramatic art was the reward for me.

  • I suspect that director Tom Creed's cut of Raymond Scannell's DEEP at the Dublin Fringe Festival was a shorter and more powerful production than the almost 120 minute version that premiered at Cork Midsummer Festival. Scannell's play spanning the history of the deep house rave movement in Cork was wonderfully written but simply tried to pack too much in. But I would definitely see it again if it's condensed.

  • I seemed to like Amy Conroy's school drama Break more than most critics. Sure it flew off the handle with the overuse of dance and freestyle rap, the storylines didn't fully resolve and the development in Clare Barrett's character was unconvincing, but it was very funny and Conroy herself delivered some golden and very moving passages. I think its central conceit deserved more credit as well, as the absence of students onstage except in the guise of staff was an artful forensic proving the extent that the education system institutionalises individuals from childhood to adulthood. 

  • Owen Roe's tremendous turn as the monarch in Selina Cartmell's primal production of King Lear could have done without a crane to elevate him during the storm scene (after all, Lear is the storm) but it's hard to imagine another Irish actor approaching the role matching this fury and anguish.  

  • I'm usually struck by the female actors working with ANU Productions but the energy and passion with which Lloyd Cooney kicked up and rallied the spirit of the fighting working class in Living The Lockout was glorious, while Thomas Reilly's muscled and burdened turn in the dance Resilience was sincere in its pleading for a father's right to protect his child. Still, Laura Murray is probably my favourite actor working with the company, and her monologue in Living The Lockout (devised in part from her own grandmother's letters) about being caught between a gentle but principled husband and a starving child was beautifully delivered. 

  • Watching and listening to Paul McGann's smooth articulate performance as Undershaft in the Abbey's Major Barbara was another highlight. Paul O'Mahony's set design in the same production was also fantastic (and the only set this year that I recall getting an ovation). 

  • Lalor Roddy's earthy performance as hardened farmer Ephraim was the best thing about The Corn Exchange's untapped production of Desire Under the Elms though I was expecting Janet Moran to steal the show. It was actually the excellent dance comedy Swing that was the set-piece for Moran's fantastic range for both comedy and drama.

  • Aenne Barr was the dark horse this year, playing Queen Elizabeth in her Pageant Wagon company's Mary Stuart. Royally composed, Barr's subtlety as a performer was to show little moments of victory and defeat. I'd love to see more of her. That production also brought out the best of Matthew Ralli and Neill Flemming.  

That's all I have to say about 2013. Check back tomorrow as I'll be taking a sneak peek at the forthcoming year and the theatre that you have to see.

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