Tag Archives: Theatre

Richard III: Fast and Loose

Image by James Toumey, courtesy of Fast and Loose Theatre Company

And indeed it is a winter of discontent. If Ireland’s current economic woes aren’t enough to deal with (yesterday’s Budget hits – and hurts – everybody), the sub-zero temperatures have most people wrapped up like Sand People from Star Wars (unless of course you’re Polish; in which case you’re wearing shorts and breaking out the sun lotion). So when my friend Dennis suggested we go see a play at Dublin Castle, I said why not. If it’s not going to cost too much I’m there. As it turned out, there was no cost; the tickets were free. And as Dennis says, free is the best price of all.

The Fast and Loose Theatre Company was set up in 2009 “with the intention of producing Shakespeare in unusual and non-theatrical settings.” (This is taken from the programme for this evening’s performance.) And it was true to its word: the company staged on of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, Richard III, in the former official Church of Ireland chapel of the Household of the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland from 1814 until 1922, when Ireland became a Free State. So basically, we were going to see a play in a church.

The Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle

As it was when Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed, the audience were very close to the action. We sat in the centre of the chapel while the actors walked and ran up and down. Every entrance and exit was used, and at times, even spectators became part of the play, by way of gestures or hands on shoulders. It was an intimate presentation.

I know very little about Richard, other than he wasn’t a very nice person; a deformed madman (he was rumoured to be a hunchback) who murdered and plotted his way to the throne of England. Though his reign was mercifully short (1483 until his death in 1485), it was filled with incident, most notably for the murder of The Princes in the Tower. He was eventually defeated by the Earl of Richmond (who later became King Henry VII) at the Battle of Bosworth, and so ending the War of the Roses.

Richard III, King of England, 1483-1485

The play itself is one of Shakespeare’s longest. So in order to keep the running time at two and a half hours, the producer and directors pruned a fair amount of historical background. It was necessary, but if you were unfamiliar with the play (like me) and unsure about English history (again, like me), you might get lost (I’m saying nothing). But it was easy to put that aside because the production was so energetic. (I mentioned there was a lot of running around, didn’t I?) The young and talented cast, led by John Cronin as Richard, oozed vibrancy and enthusiasm. It was hard not to get wrapped up in their characters’ dilemmas. In fact, a number of the cast held down more than one role (which was handy if you were murdered early in the production). I give a special mention to Eva Bartley, who played Queen Elizabeth. As the main female lead (no disrespect meant to Margaret MacAuliffe, Denise McCormack or Camille Rose – each gave full-blooded performances), Bartley stole each scene she was in and I felt her conflict when Richard demanded her daughter as his new wife (he murdered his first wife, Anne). I thought she was stunning, and she and Cronin were the lynchpins of this deep and complex play.

Not that it was all blood and guts; there was an element of comedy to it, too. The cast interpreted the Bard’s language expertly, complete with knowing asides to us, the audience. There were laughs to me had, amid the murdering and scheming. Two and a half hours flew by.

My friends and I left the Chapel Royal very much energised by what we’d witnessed. We bade each other goodnight and went our separate ways. I waited for my bus home, in the freezing cold, and knew that I would have given my kingdom for a horse.

Thank you for reading – and thank you Fast and Loose Theatre Company.

The Silver Tassie: Good For What Ails Ye

Last night I got a text from a friend of mine who was working as a volunteer at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Picture the scene. I’m sick, I’m wrapped in an old duvet, and I’m feeling sorry for myself. I don’t want to be anywhere else except alone with my ‘misery’. I have a high temperature, a nose that’s running a marathon, a cough that’s causing shock waves in Tahiti – and I’m doing battle with a self-imposed exile from the Internet.

I’m also, if truth is told, still a little bit heart-broken. But that’s life. What can you do but go on? Anyway, back to my friend’s text. He had a free ticket to a performance of Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie at the Gaiety Theatre. Did I want it? Well, I didn’t really – but I said yes.

It had been two or more years since I’d attended a play. That was Beckett’s Happy Days at the Abbey, and I  had enjoyed the experience. I thought it would be best if I took myself away from my malaise and do something I’ve never done before: go see a play on my own. While fighting a very bad cold.

But as always with these things, I had a wonderful evening. Once again I was reminded of the breadth of Irish art and culture. O’Casey’s play isn’t his best – or so I’m told – but it’s one to treasure. In four acts it tells the story (or kind of tells the story) of a group of Dublin people affected by the First World War. It centres around a man called Harry Heegan (played by Aaron Monaghan), a young soldier who scores the winning goal in a football match on the day he goes to war. He wins the cup for his team, a cup he calls the Silver Tassie. He comes back a broken man, paralysed from the waist down, and deeply bitter that his girlfriend has betrayed him with a friend and fellow war veteran.

Act Two is striking. The production team created a field of battle, with a tank forming the centre-piece of the stage. It is told in song and dance; but the effect is stunning and for the first-time spectator (i.e. me), it is unpredictable and exciting.

John Olohan (Simon) and Eamon Morrissey (Sylvester)

O’Casey litters the play with well-drawn characters. Comic relief comes in the form of celebrated Irish actors Eamon Morrissey and John Olahan. Anyone who has seen any kind of Irish production will recognise these two. In fact, most if not all of the cast work in Ireland theatre and television.

But what made this play work for me is its language. This is not a play where characters all out lines to one another. O’Casey’s lyricism and poetry transcends the drama altogether. There were times when I was in a trance, when I allowed myself to flow along with the beauty of O’Casey’s use of language. I wish I could spell it out for you here, but I can’t. Seeing a play is a much different form of experience than what you might find in your local multiplex. The writer in me can testify to that.

Ireland is blessed with the very best in playwrights. Think J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of The Western World; Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (among others); and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. I know I’m leaving others out, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind.

I only know that this form of art and creativity is endemic within Irish culture. It is to be treasured and supported. It’s definitely worth getting out of your sickbed for.

Mick Lally 1945-2010 R.I.P.

The late Mick Lally

One of Ireland’s most beloved character actors died today. Mick Lally, known to many of us as Miley in the long-running soap Glenroe, passed away peacefully in hospital this morning. He was 64.

Lally began his career as a teacher and secured a part in the premiere of Brian Friel’s play Translations in 1980 while a member of the Field Day Theatre. Company.

His work on television in the RTÉ series Bracken and later his role as Miley in Glenroe made him a household name.

He also starred in the BBC television series, Ballykissangel, and in the award-winning Ballroom of Romance.

Lally’s versatility as an actor extended to the cinema where he appeared in Irish language films. He was a fluent Irish speaker and an advocate of the language.

Lally also starred in Hollywood-funded films including Alexander, directed by Oliver Stone, and provided the voice in the animated film The Secret of Kells.

He is survived by his wife Peggy and their three children.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said he is ‘shocked and saddened’ by Mick Lally’s death. Mr Cowen added: “He was one of the most loved actors of his generation and will be dearly missed by the public and his colleagues in theatre and television.”

Minister for Culture Mary Hanafin has paid tribute, saying his contribution to the theatrical world had been immense. “His wonderful ability to communicate with his audiences whether in the intimate setting in the early days of Druid, on stage in the National Theatre or in the sitting rooms of homes every Sunday for over 10 years playing the character of ‘Miley’ in Glenroe, Mick Lally was an integral part of the world of acting and, by extension, our society.”

Additional reporting from RTE.ie