Irish writing has developed a strong, feminine streak in the last few years with writers like Lisa Tierney-Keogh (Four Last Things), Abbie Spallen (Strandline) and Elaine Murphy (Little Gem) emerging to challenge their male counterparts in terms of both commercial and critical success. The latest lady penning her odes to Modern Ireland is Yasmine Akram, a Drogheda raised RADA graduate who has collaborated with the Calipo Theatre and Picture Company since she was fourteen years of age. She brings her one-woman show 10 Dates with Mad Mary to the Project Arts Centre this Tuesday.

It’s about “Mad” Mary McArdle whose just been released from the Joy, returning to Drogheda in time for her best friend’s wedding. Made to feel like dirt by the hens, Mary’s sets out to find a nice guy to bring as her date and prove she’s finally out run the rep that has haunted her since the age of 15.

“She’s based on the Mary’s that everybody has in his or her town.” The writer/performer tells me, squeezing me in to her busy scheadule before the show opens this week. “The girl that you were aware of, who could kick off at any moment. The best fighter, known for all the wrong things. She’s a girl from any town but she’s definitely based on people I grew up with.”

Akram shares more than a hometown with her creation. “Our sense of humor would be similar. Because the show is quite comedic some of the jokes that she makes are quite similar to ones I would make in certain situations.” But that’s where the similarities end though. “She is much more fiery and angry than I am and speaks her mind a lot more. I’m a little bit more scared of people than Mary is. Also, she’s got dyed blond hair, loads of rings, a tracksuit and a tattoo. “

So this isn’t a wardrobe she’s going to fight to keep after the show? “God no. It will be ‘chuck it in the bin, I’m done!’”

Akram found her voice at RADA devising different sketches in class. She found writing the roles she wanted gave her the opportunity to play parts she wouldn’t necessarily get if she just walked in off of the street. “When I left college I found myself in the position where I didn’t have a very specific casting bracket. I really love comedy. So I married the two and created roles that others wouldn’t naturally cast me in.”

It’s paid off. Once Mary finishes she’s straight into rehearsals for a show she has devised with her writing partner which is headed for the Edinborough Fringe. It’s to be directed by the big impressionist Alistair Mcgowan.

“It’s a new partnership. Two best mates mucking around .The way it worked before was that I would do the writing and she would do the pieces and then she kind of said to me ‘I would really like to stop being the Julie Walters and start being the French and Saunders.’ It was a good move and it’s worked out really well.”

Mary was a huge learning curve for the young performer and she hopes to develop as an all round writer in the future. “I write comedy primarily, I look for the joke in situation. Darren (Thornton, the director) taught me a lot about plot and structure and while I’m focused on comedy right now I think when I’m a little older, a little wiser, I’ll try and do some drama as well.

Ten Dates With Mad Mary runs from 26 January 2010 – 31 January 2010 at the Project Arts Centre

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Ten Dates With Mad Mary

January 31, 2010

Yasmine Akram’s 10 Dates with Mad Mary is a charming, expletive laced ode to life in small town, parochial Ireland. Fresh from a stint in the Joy “Mad” Mary McArdle is back in her native Drogheda, frying chicken and knocking back cider and alco pops with the next generation of lay abouts- doing nothing to undo her reputation for being drunk and disorderly. Treated like shit by her best friends bridal shower she vows to scare up a date in time for the nuptials and prove to all that she is a changed woman.

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Nothing boils my piss faster than a slow walker. You know the kind. They’re everywhere. Clogging up our escalators, trudging down streets, taking their own sweet time – as time stops for those trying to get past.

In 2000 a group of businessmen – henceforth known as My Gods – suggested Operation Tug Boat: a pedestrian fast lane to get people moving faster on Oxford Street.

The minimum speed in these lanes would be three miles an hour and would be free of those knobheads who slow down to spark up a fag, chug back a bevvie or who can’t walk or talk at the same time.

Pushchairs and dogs would also be banned. Throw in grannies and toddlers and you’ve got utopia.

Of course nothing has come of My Gods proposal, and everyday 50 per cent of Londoners experience “pavement rage”, according to the British Association of Anger Management. In one such fit in May 2007, John Laidlaw shot Abu Kamara in the neck after a bag brushed against his friend.

But still gaggles of girls shriek in agony as they break in their new Louboutins, stopping and starting like Braxton Hix

Still, tourists weighed down in camcorders, camera phones and maps the size of cities clutter streets as they marvel at the sights, while failing to observe local customs. In Japan you take off your shoes, in Dubai you don’t drink. In London: YOU GET OUT OF THE BLOODY WAY!

Is it any wonder that the inventor of the escalator commited suicide?

It was supposed to get people from A to B faster. Instead it’s become a halting sight for the lazy and obtuse. Were he alive to day I’m sure he’d point the gun in the other direction and blow some life into those stagnant sons of bitches.

I am of Ireland review

January 31, 2010

Initially staged at the Peacock Theatre in 1988 I Am Of Ireland has been revived by it’s originator Bosco Hogan almost annually since. This production is presented by The Focus Theatre and has been hacked down to meet the time restraints of the Bewley’s Cafe. As a result scenes jolt uncomfortably into one another guided jarringly by a recording(from the original production) of Graine Yeats playing the harp. A live soundtrack or a fresh approach might have made this bearable but as it is it is an irritant.

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Bosco Hogan Interview

January 31, 2010

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I Am Of Ireland returns to The Bewley’s Café Theatre after a brief nationwide tour. With the possibility of a US and UK tour looming next year-and three independent shows on Yeats on the horizon- Bosco Hogan tells Totally Dublin the reason behind the current trend for WB-centric plays, the reaction of the Yeats estate to his performance as well as giving the reason why The Focus Theatre (who produced this show) remains relevant.

What exactly is this play about?

The play is the life of WB Yeats, entirely in his own words. It was written by an Irish American university professor called Edward Callen but it consists of the works of WB; a lot of his poetry a lot of his autobiographical work and a lot of his plays.

There are a string of shows either on at the moment or about to be staged about WB…

There’s a very simple explanation for that. Yeats is now out of copyright, so you don’t have to pay any money to the Yeats estate. So now people are jumping on the bandwagon because you don’t have to get permission to use any of Yeats’ work. So there will be all sorts of stuff coming out of the gutter that people have been sitting on for the past few years.

I saw The Waterboys one at the National Library. It was …interesting. Not my cup of tea. I think it could be a good introduction for younger people.

Have you had any reaction from the Yeats estate?

Michael Yeats, WB’s son came to see the show about 40 times. I think one of the reasons might have been because Michael was very young when his father died and he didn’t know him very well. In a funny kind of way I think he got to know his father by coming to see the show.

Both Michael and Anne were extraordinarily generous in their support of the show and of me in playing the role. But there was one thing Anne said to me. She said ‘your hair is far too neat. Father’s hair was always all over the house.’

An enormous plus to the production was that Grainne Yeats, who was married to Michael, came along and provided beautiful music on the harp. When we first started the play she provided the music live but she is a little elderly now and she has decided she doesn’t want to do it in the live performance, but I have the recorded music, which forms an integral part of the show.

What kind of research did you do before approaching a character as well-known as Yeats?

Well it’s the basic research of reading absolutely everything you can get your hands on. It’s the same as any character, any real human, you find out as much about them as you possibly can. You don’t have to bring it into the performance. But it is there in the background.

Another thing about Yeats is that he recorded quite a lot of his poems for the BBC at one stage, and if you listen to those recordings he was very strict about the rhythms of his poetry everything was very measured and done to the beat. But to do an entire evening performance in that way would be very dull and boring. So I took what I could from that, but I don’t in any respect try to imitate what Yeats sounded like because it wouldn’t sound right for people to listen to for a long period.

It’s a Focus  Theatre Production. Do you still think that the Focus Theatre has an important part to play in the Irish theatre landscape?

It’s incredibly difficult for all the small theatre groups in Ireland. Focus has played a huge role over the years soldiering on in the face of odds and we’re fortunate they are still going.

I Am Of Ireland runs til the 30th of January in Bewley’s Café Theatre – tickets are €15, and include lunch.

A Little Gem

January 31, 2010

Set in Elaine Murphy’s native Artane , Little Gem is a rollicking year in the life of three ordinary women, a granny, mammy and prammy as they crave, rave and slave through the everyday curve balls life throws at them.

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Elaine Murphy Interview

January 31, 2010

Rounding up The Abbey’s By Popular Demand season, which saw the welcome (Terminus) and not so welcome (The Sea Farer) return to the Abbey and Peacock Stages of some of its most talked-about shows, is Little Gem, the award winning debut from actor/writer Elaine Murphy. Ever since its much-raved-about appearance as part of the Fringe in 2008, it has played to sold out audiences in Edinburgh, London and New York, snaring its scribe some serious accolades ranging from the Fishamble New Writing award to the 2009 Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh. Not bad for a woman who only wrote it because she couldn’t be arsed walking to the library.

“I initially started writing the piece as a vehicle for myself,” she tells me when I meet her for tea in The Abbey. “I had an audition and I was to lazy to go to get a new monologue. I had this idea for a script. The youngest character came from that. Then I had this idea for the granny’s character. I started thinking about how I was going to bring them together in a play and that’s how I came to write the mother.”

“When I finally finished writing it I was too old to play Amber and too young to play Kay or Lorraine and the last thing I wanted, after spending so long writing the bloody thing, was to be in it myself, so I left it in Paul Meade’s hands.”

Little Gem is a simple story, based on three generations of women from Murphy’s native Artane. It chronicles a year in their lives. A simple play, in monologue form, with no extravagant sets or costumes.

“I find that a lot of the time when I go into a theatre I don’t recognise the characters on stage. I wouldn’t meet them in my everyday life. With Little Gem, I think, the audience members recognise themselves more in the characters, particularly if you see it in one of the suburban theatres like the Civic in Tallaght.”

As the latest in a long, long line of Irish writers finding their voice in monologue form I wonder what it is about this mode of theatre that makes it so attractive to emerging playwrights?

“I was talking to Abi Spillane about it, whose own debut Punk Girls featured three actors delivering monologues, and we agreed that it’s just a matter of getting the piece up and getting it out there. If you do something really simple, with no set changes, just three actors who can literally set up shop in your living room, people are more likely to take a risk on you.”
It also provides new writers with a much greater vehicle to present their voice. “You can tell so much more of a story and go anywhere. People forget that it’s just one actor speaking because they are presented with all these amazing images going through their heads.”

In Little Gem the role of Amber proved the most difficult to cast. “This play has a really big elderly fanbase, because the Kay role is so much fun, and to get them to listen to what a 19 year old has to say and to really care about it, you really need someone strong in the role.”
As a writer and an actress is she dreaming up any juicy roles for herself to bring to life on stage?

“I’m playing with it. You write a piece and you think about whether you can see yourself in it or whether somebody else would be better off in the role. There’s always the question about whether I’d be able to have enough distance from the piece to do it justice.”

“I do miss acting though. I have a small part in a romantic comedy called Happy Ever After which is out in January and its nice to just walk in, get your script, get dressed up and off you go.”

She finds writing quite lonely. “Your cast create this bond and the production have this bond, and there is a little part of you that’s looking on, waving the piece goodbye.”

Little Gem runs at The Peacock Theatre from the 19 January – 27 February. Tickets priced between €15 and €18.

While sitting through yet another standing ovation at the theatre the other week I got to think about how sycophantic we theatre-goers are.

We queue up, get our tickets, sit in the dark, and no matter what occurs between curtain up and curtain down, we rise and applaud at the end.

Where’s the excitement? Where’s the danger? Where’s the exit!

I want the theatre experiences of my youth back. Boos, hisses and roars of “he’s behind you” were all common place in panto.

But as we gain our adult stripes we put up a wall between us and the performance. We are pressurised to stay quiet as these gods of the stage guide us through the sacred text.

Me Bollocks.

Arm your audience members with a head of cabbage and a bag of rotten tomatoes and actors might think twice about phoning in their performance. Celebrities in search of kudos would stay well clear of the stage if they knew it was them – and not the tickets – the audience tore up if they failed to deliver.

Sport and opera fans have never shied away from expressing their displeasure. In Australia, one heckler, Yabba, was so revered they named a stand after him at the Sydney Cricket Ground. While in Italy the claques who venomously applaud or appraise performers they love or loathe, have stopped the fat lady singing on more than one occasion.

Actors need a kick up the arse, not a pat on the back, to get their creative juices going. Without the fear of a tumbleweed replacing the thunderous reception what’s to motivate them… Other than a piss poor paycheck?

Of course this wouldn’t work for all forms of theatre. There’s more scope for it in the Globe than the Apollo.

And there’s always some twat who’ll unpack his baggage on the actors, whether they deserve it or not.

But if actors were held to account for their performances by the audience there and then, it might improve the quality of the performance.

Or at least the evening.

Glengary Glen Ross review

January 31, 2010

For whatever reason “all-female production” does not have the same fuzzy connotations its male counterpart does. You think all-male and you think of vaudeville, music hall, or even Shakespeare performed in its most traditional form. You think all female and you think 12 Angry Lesbians in a Woe is Me production. Well, there is plenty of anger in Idir Mna’s debut performance of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross but it is peopled with credible, feminine performances that avoid any trace of butch. These aren’t women playing men; they are cleverly drawn characters that have taken on a life of their own.

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Not content with having a career past the age of forty and a much vaster range of roles to play with, in recent years the less fairer sex have lived up to their name by poaching some of the plum female roles in all-male productions. Sick of whining about the rules of the game Yvonne Ussher decided to play by them and hit the boys where it hurt, staging a role-reversed version of David Mamet’s Pulitzer prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross. The show was a baptism of fire for her production company Idir Mna, who following a sold out run in November return this week to the New Theatre with a play that depicts two days in the lives of four desperate real estate agents who are prepared to engage in any number of unethical, illegal acts to save their jobs

Tell me about Idir Mna?

The idea of the show has been there longer than the idea of the company – one informed the other. I was on a rant a few years ago when there were a lot of all-male productions. Since there are so few female parts out there why were they taking what few parts there were away. We should get them back and do all female versions of plays. I wanted to do something ballsy. I wanted to do an all-female Glengarry Glen Ross.

So you’re out to change people’s conceptions about what women in theatre are about?

It’s not a gay thing and it’s not a malebashing thing, which is something I feel quite strongly about qualifying. There is a male director involved in GGR and it was pivotal to have that balance and to have that point of view in the rehearsal room and to take heed of that when we were creating the show. The arts are exploratory fields and if we don’t use it to its full advantage then what are we doing here?

When people hear “all female productions” one automatically gets a certain image as to how they expect that show to appear…

I got the whole “well, you’re obviously going to put that show on in the Gay Theatre Festival” even though it is not a gay show – it has nothing to do with lesbianism at all. And then they go “Oh well, you’re all going to be butch, women trying to be men” and I’m like “NO! These characters are real people and we are going to do it like we do any other show, we are going to allow these characters to be created and explore them in the same way we would explore any character in any other play”. I mean I understand that the movie is about testosterone-fuelled, career-driven men, but why can’t women be career driven and aggressive in the workplace? The character I play is the office manager. She is not a nice character at all but playing her was like an exorcism because I have met so many bitches that are office managers while temping that I’m drawing on real life experiences.

I spoke to Elaine Murphy in the current issue of Totally Dublin, and we talked about sexism in Irish theatre and she said she found no barriers in her way; no problem getting her play read, and that being a woman may even have helped.

I don’t think there are barriers there. I think it’s a matter of the women being inspired to get up and create this stuff in themselves. At the theatre forum a few years ago there was a subgroup that rallied and said that all women seem to be playing the young ingénue, or the mother – these were the only roles available – and there needs to be more opportunities there for females. I think that’s a good point; but why are you saying it instead of CREATING it? We are in a creative field with no boundaries. My company is completely unfunded, it’s on a wing and a prayer that we’ve set off, but… I did it… and I’m not an extraordinary person. What I am is motivated, and rather than waiting for someone to phone me with an ideal job I set off on my own and did it!

Glengarry Glen Ross
 by David Mamet

@ the New Theatre. Jan 11th – 16th @ 8pm
Tickets: €15 / 12 (concs)
 Parties of 8 or more: €10