Theatre Upstairs Downstairs

October 23, 2013

Karl Shiels looked positively Zen when I met him at The Theatre Upstairs, his lunch and dinnertime venue, which reopened its doors last week. He may be waving a crutch about, the result of an onstage injury in The Abbey’s excellent production of The House, but he’s buzzing after a Thai massage earlier in the day. “Man, I was just lying there and she goes, ‘Do you mind if I walk along your back’. She hops up, runs up and down, finds the tension and digs her toes right in and…” his face contorts from the memory of the pleasure.

Few people can be more deserving of a little pampering than Shiels. The TheatreUpstairs returns after two years in the abyss, during which time the Irish Theatre Award (ITA) nominee admits he was in mourning. After launching the venue in The Plough Bar he had to over come a series of hurdles, such as dodgy electrics, ridiculous licensing laws, freak weather and lost cast members to insure that the show would go on. Stopping and starting like Braxton Hicks, The Plough would give birth to an array of exciting new work, such as Jimmy Murphy’s What’s Left of the Flag, nominated for Best New Play at the ITA’s and was attracting attention from writers as beloved as Deirdre Kinahan, Eugene O’Brien and Mark O’Rowe.

They say that life is a bitch and boy did she earn her stripes on Shiels. After successfully getting the acting industry to lift their thirty-year embargo on theatre folk drinking in the Plough (after Des Cave was refused a drink ), trade was buzzing. So once the landlord saw what was going on he jacked the rent up astronomically, causing the new management to return to Lanigan’s Bar, where two years later, Theatre Upstairs is housed. “I was under the impression that it was a 35 year lease, but it wasn’t. So we had to strip out all the electrics, throw out all the sets… I had invested a lot of time and energy and it all went out the fucking window. So it took me a while to get over that.”

He recently filmed Titanic: Blood and Steel, with Neve Cambell, shot here, and in Serbia, an experience he describes as incredible. “It was almost like Lord of The Ring’s” he laughs, “we discussed getting a tattoo of the White Star label on our arms. And Neve is the crack man, an absolute lady. No frills.”

Now his baby is back in business. He has built it so that you will come. “We’re offering a loyalty card, given out to punters on their first visit to the venue, so that after four visits to the theatre you get the fifth one free.” And they have an exciting line up of plays between now and Christmas. Jimmy Murphy’s new play, Perfidia, aptly christens the venue, it being about a woman with a nasty surprise in store for the Sherriff, while both Derbhle Crotty and Don Wycherley will make their directorial debuts in coming months.

Fair City’s Gemma Doorly has penned a comedy about the meeting between a WAG, Alan Fagan looks at the irreconcilable differences between a husband and wife who are in a car crash (where the audience chooses who gets to die) while Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney will be staged by a company so new, they don’t even have a name. “When I left drama school I set up a theatre company called Raw Image who staged The Pitchfork Disney. So when this company came to me, I like the cut I their jib and also the connection, so that will be mounted at some point as well.

Perfidia , Theatre Upstairs, Lanigans Bar, Eden Quay, 0862449511 or

Originally published in the Sunday Independent in June 2012


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