August: Osage County

January 24, 2014

If your friends with me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter– hell if you’ve even passed me on the street these past few months, you’ve probably been privy to one of my hissy fits about Meryl Streep. You would have heard me quote this article by Fintan O Toole, or this one from Vulture. I would have growled about her self aggrandising Oscar acceptance speech and hissed about her catty remarks on the critic Pauline Kael.

But even I can’t deny that, were it not for her turn as Violet, the pill popping, cancerous matriarch of the Weston clan- all united under her roof for the funeral from hell, August: Osage County would have been interminable.
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12 Years A Slave

January 24, 2014

I was left cold by Steve McQueen’s beautifully shot and mostly well acted 12 Years A Slave. As unfeeling as it was unrelenting, it was a continuation of the directors show and tell -or shock and awe, approach, which has little time for human emotion. It’s human endurance that dings his dong. And boy does he lay it on thick.
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The reaction to Fintan O Toole’s recent article in the Irish Times, Abbey Confidential, has exposed a petty, reactionary and at times malicious side to many people working in the arts in Ireland. To read some of the responses online you would have thought the critic had strapped himself naked to a wrecking ball and smashed into the theatre just so as to upset those basking in the reported success of the Theatre of Memory Symposium.
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Like the desperate characters at the heart of this tale of tenement life, the Abbey Theatre have started to drop their artistic integrity off at the pawn shop each Christmas in hopes of reclaiming it later when the coffers role in. After joining the hoards fetishising Joyce last year with their toasty mounting of The Dead, it’s the Lock Out that’s slipping on the garter in 2013. Using its centenary as an excuse they have staged the theatrical petri dish of the defining work of fiction on that period- Strumpet City.

Working with an antiquated text, Jimmy Fay has festooned this production with a mixture of ragtime tunes and bittersweet harmonies, of both new and reimagined songs, diverting our attention from the Plough-lite story, resulting in an entertaining, dare I say inventive first half.

But then it looses it’s balls and instead of using the opportunity to satirise the accepted truths we’ve been force fed from the tit of De Valera, it continues to suck on the same stodgy sap that fuels our nations little man syndrome. When it tries to suddenly follow a wholly emotional trajectory in the second act it becomes a bore.
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American Hustle

January 9, 2014

Trying to piss down both legs of his pants David O Russell ends up with a wet patch of a movie, that works neither as a crime caper nor a screwball comedy. A fusion that may have crackled had he spent as much time tightening the plot as he did in the centre of an era-aping circle jerk, it instead flickers and goes out.
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HISTORY at the P.A.C.

January 9, 2014

With HISTORY, that ran for five days at the Project Arts Centre late last month THEATREclub brought to an end their probing trilogy about the cyclical failings of Irish society (the previous shows were HEROIN and The Family). Like Rosemary McKenna’s SEEDS showcase, Way to Heaven, it appealed to the intellectual rather than the emotive side of one’s brain, resulting in an informative watch rather than the desired transformative one.
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Glancing over the plays our National Theatre has staged over the past 12 months it would seem they came very much cap in hand to the paying public, mounting productions they hoped would become sure-fire hits to help clear deficits left by risk and litigation

It started promisingly with King Lear but faded with each passing production. From the hoodlum bluster of Richard Dormer’s Soprano’s aping Drum Belly, (enjoyable enough but entirely lacking in originality or social commentary) to Elaine Murphy’s hen flick nodding Shush, which director Jim Coulleton appeared not to understand ,having his cast play it for menopausal laughs alone. Worst of all was The Hanging Gardens, moribund mush from McGuinness and Mason, a dull, vapid, regurgitive money grab that trotted down a thematic road, so well scorched that it seems no new grass will ever spring from its well raped roots.
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Assassins at the P.A.C.

January 9, 2014

There’s lots of fun and what seems like frivolity in Ronan Phelan’s entertaining production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, whose choice alone marks the SEEDS graduate out as an ambitious yet unpretentious helmsman. Like AA for presidential (although sometimes only attempted) assassins, it gave those soured by the perversion of a nations supposed USP-the disillusioned, resentful and dispossessed, a chance to put the record straight about why they tried to take out the Land of Opportunity’s figurehead, expressing the unthinkable in peppy musical hues.

What made it work was the fact that Phelan’s eyes weren’t only on pleasing the crowd but disturbing them. The underlying message of Assassins seemed to be that while our titular heroes may have fired the gunshots that were heard around the world, they didn’t really change it. So what’s their legacy?
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Artists willing to take on subjects as weighty as the holocaust seem to avail of an unspoken critical boon. So long as they pay the subject perceived reverence other areas of the production are spared any squinty-eyed scrutiny. Much talk has centered on Rosemary McKenna’s staging of Juan Mayorga’s Way to Heaven and how it makes us consider the responsibility an individual takes for their role in historical events.

From three different perspectives we are shown how the Nazis used theatrical devices to cover up the monstrous evil they perpetrated at Thereseinstadt concentration camp. The director illustrates the questions that echo throughout time as to how such a horror could be allowed to occur in a way that ensures that the writers sympathies and understanding- and the chilling meta-theatricality of the experiment, hit home.

But in ignoring how she puts her actors to use, critics fail their craft in the same way the Red Cross failed humanity by taking what was presented at face value and not questioning what lay beneath the facade.
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