Sunday, October 31, 2010

Theatre: Strike!

I used to dislike Irish history. It seemed very dull compared to the exciting and world-changing events of European and world history. Recently though I've started to find that theatre has made me more interested in our history. Sean O'Casey's The Silver Tassie meant a lot more to me when I saw it recenly than when I read it in school.

Strike deals with a relatively recent event. As the TCD Drama site says:

Dublin 1984
Economy failing
Unemployment rife
10 young women and one young man were about to change the world ...

In July a shop worker on Henry Street refused to sell South African fruit to a store customer and was suspended. Ten colleagues followed her out on strike; they thought it would last 2 weeks - it went on for nearly three years.

STRIKE! is a fictionalised account of the famous anti-apartheid shop strike on Henry Street.

The last play I saw in the Samuel Beckett Theatre in TCD was Medea - high on set production, low on emotional buy-in. Strike! is just the opposite: the set is simple (and at times a little am-dram) but the script and acting are good and engaging. If the aim of a play is to move the audience emotionally, Strike is unambiguously successful. It helps that the underlying subject matter is meaningful and has the potential for conflict.

The inclusion of brief monologues by South African characters is a good decision by writer and director Tracy Ryan, reminding the audience of the reasons for the struggle. Sure, the reasons are intellectually obvious, but it's good to see views of apartheid presented in the first person. Oh, and personally I just love good South African accents and these were pretty well done, particularly by the white anti-apartheid campaigner.

The cast is large and the Saturday matinee I went to was poorly attended; there must have been almost as many actors as viewers. This play is good and deserves more commercial success than that. If you've time, I'd recommend seeing it.

Strike runs until 6th November in TCD. It then opens on 9th November in Axis Theatre and continues until 13th November.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Natural order restored

A few weeks ago I mentioned that there was suddenly a London post box on North Great Georges St. I'm pleased to report that things are back as they should be.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lady Gaga in Dublin

Claire and I went to see Lady Gaga in the O2 yesterday. Hearing Poker Face, Bad Romance, etc., live was wonderful, and Gaga is an impressive performer - really knows how to drive the crowd wild. "Stand up and dance - this isn't a f**king funeral!!!"

Her response to items thrown on stage was one of the best parts of the performance. I quite like her "stuffed animals thown on stage will be beheaded" shtick; she does however allow unicorns to live. Nice. When a stuffed leprechaun toy landed beside her she ripped its hat off with her teeth, put the hat on her head, strutted around and concluded: "No hat is too small for Lady Gaga". Awesome stuff. (Maybe you had to be there.)

It's interesting to see how, after only a single album (sort of), she's already redefined herself. It's very clear from many of her songs that she's exceptionally ambitious and wanted wealth and fame. Beautiful, Dirty, Rich; The Fame; Money Honey and Paper Gangsta are about her, Stefani Germanotta. She now seems to have reinterpreted her songs to fit with her newer concept, one more attractive to her Little Monsters, that everyone can be a star (or at least, happy with themselves). It's not always an easy fit - saying "I don't want your money, I want your souls" right before launching into a song about how sexy money is, for example. Poker Face is explicitly about manipulating people for the sake of her ambition.

However, I'm not a cynic. I think Gaga is the Real Deal, a true talent and a star. It's possible that she's trying to change the meaning of her songs because she herself has changed. I've no doubt that she's still ambitious, hard-working, calculating, and as shrewd a crafter of image as Marilyn Manson, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't genuinely have an interest in some of the issues she talks about, such as gay rights. Besides, for all that it's odd to hear the most popular musician in the world claim to be on the side of freaks and outsiders, it's only fair to say that she's not... conventionally beautiful, let's say. She's sexual rather than sexy; more Rocky Horror than girl next door. So it's possible that her sentiments are at least partly authentic.

Or of course, maybe I've just been taken in by the most ruthlessly brilliant manipulator of modern pop culture.

Lady Gaga has one more night in Dublin, on 29th October, and then she's off to Belfast.

Photos from Gaelcon

I'm not going to attempt to review Gaelcon - if you're looking for a good review I'd suggest heading on over to Ireland's top gaming podcast, The Adventuring Party. I'm going to take the much lazier approach of just sticking up a few photos, below.

Gamers being gamers

Tarn ambassador from "JumpTech". Many gamers like sci-fi, so sometimes the conventions can look a bit like, well, sci-fi. This is one of my favourites.


You wouldn't like me when I'm angry. Ganger turned investigator, from "The Scintillan Concorde".

In the far future, people will still be drinking Coke.

These guys have an interesting system; players are rewarded (over time) with in-game benefits for improving their costumes. Result: lots of accessories. Imagine if office workers had this sort of incentive system...

As well as playing LARPs I also encountered a group of people who play a truly weird sport called Jugger. It's based on the post-apocalyptic film The Salute of the Jugger and sounds like a cross between American football and gladiatorial combat. I must investigate this further.

The reason this photo is a bit blurry is that this guy is whirling a foam-padded ball-on-chain type weapon around as fast as he can.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Immersive Theatre, Improv and LARP

Innovation often happens at the margins, where one discipline or world-view ends and another begins. Two areas of interest to me - theatre and LARP - are part of a continuum, with improv lying somewhere in the middle. I'll start with theatre and come back to LARP.

Thanks to the Ontroerend Goed Trilogy (part of the recent Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival), Irish theatre-goers have had a chance to experience "immersive theatre". Immersive theatre is theatre with the fourth wall removed: the actors interact with the audience. This is more than just an acknowledgement of the audience presence by the characters - the audience members are typically right at the heart of the action.

My experience of immersive theatre was Internal, the second part of the Trilogy. The scenario was speed-dating-meets-group-therapy. Like many other participants I found it fascinating and thought-provoking. (In my case though, the thoughts were mostly to compare and constrast it with improv and with LARPing.) The power balance lies firmly - and perhaps necessarily? - with the actors, because audience members don't know what to expect or how to react. In my own case, I was tempted to push matters, even to create a character, but I didn't want to risk ruining the show for the other participants.

Advocates of immersive theatre could point out that the productions are, in principle, entirely open to audience push-back, and certainly there must be a great deal of rehearsal by the actors to prepare for the crazy situations that could arise. However, in reality most members of the public aren't jerks and aren't going to hijack a show for their own personal amusement.

A key reason for the power imbalance is that it's not clear to audience members what the "rules of engagement" are. How far will the actors go? How far can we - may we - push them? Internal contained partial nudity and in some instances some pretty intense actress-on-participant kissing. Where does "legitimate theatre" end and borderline "immoral earnings" begin?

The lack of rules is, for now, part of the experience. Personally though I think this could in time become a problem and a limiting factor. If the "will they won't they" aspect of immersive theatre is its main selling point it will soon wear thin: it's a nice trick but neither original nor likely to impress if repeated frequently.

Now I'd like to approach the subject from a different angle. As well as enjoying theatre I'm also involved in LARP. A LARP is a freeform game very similar to improv acting: the participants each play a character, making up their lines as they go along, with no-one knowing how the scene will end. Unlike the sort of improv you'd experience in a drama class (such as No Drama Theatre) the scenes can be very long and highly complex. A typical Irish LARP runs for three hours, often as a single scene with 10 to 20+ players. In some cases the interaction is physical - Nick Huggins' new LARP series, Midway, uses airsoft guns and LARP weaponry. (Sidenote: LARP in the UK typically means something different than in Ireland: it's a bit like medieval recreationism.)

A key difference between LARP or improv and immersive theatre is that the social norms of acceptability are clear, sometimes to the point of being written rules. There is no power imbalance between actors and participants: everyone plays a character. In Internal it was unclear if the actors were playing themselves or characters or (as I suspect is the case) something in between, not entirely themselves but drawing heavily on their real lives. I was shocked at the end to see other audience participants giving the actors their addresses when asked for them - these were characters in a play!

In LARP there is a clear distinction between "In Character" (IC) and "Out Of Character" (OOC). Airsoft has something similar, "off game" calls for real emergencies. Immersive threatre generally seems to lack "safe words" and aims to go to great lengths to avoid breaking character - "We take the ethic that the audience can do what they like and at no point would we come out of character or break the fictional world to stop them", as one company puts it.

You want to avoid breaking character? Fine, rules of engagement please. Safe words, rules, an OOC guide, whatever: you can't generally expect audience members to participate in an active way - rather than passively reacting - if they haven't a clue of what's acceptable and can't ask (because the actors are in character). Yes, for now this blurring of In Character and Out Of Character is part of the fun, the unsettling experience of the unknown, but my (13 years) experience of LARP tells me that that's not likely to be sustainable in the long run, at least not if immersive theatre is to be anything more than an occasional novelty.

I'm no expert in immersive theatre, far from it, and I enjoyed Internal, so I don't want to be too critical. Quite the opposite: I think it's great that the world of theatre has in recent years tried out this new and interesting idea. However, longer term this genre needs to move past shock value and exploiting the audience's lack of suitable social norms. Frankly, mixing IC and OOC is a cheap stunt that won't keep working (and some day might just get someone sued). I don't claim to have a solution - full on improv/LARP with characters for the audience might be overkill and cause its own set of new problems.

So I guess the question is: is there a theatre company out there willing and able to go beyond the current controlled-yet-dangerous approach of current immersive, and head down the long, challenging road of true audience participation, towards improv/LARP? It could be a catastophe - but trying new perspectives and approaches can be theatre at its best.

This weekend you can experience LARPs at Gaelcon, Ireland's leading games convention. Be warned though, gamers are rather nerdier than the typical cool, artsy theatre-goer! This year's crop of LARPs reflects that, so it might not be ideally suited to drama types looking to try a LARP for the first time.


What's that then?
Gaelcon is the national games convention and it's on in D4 Hotels in Ballsbridge *formerly Jurys* from this evening until Monday evening. It's a singular event, running now for more than 20 years on the October bank holiday weekend. A day ticket will cost €14 or €28 for the whole weekend. Kids go cheaper and their parents can go free. Inside, games cost a nominal amount more.

So what's a games convention?
Well, it's somewhat what it says on the tin. There'll be board games (some you've heard of, some you haven't and some that are in, well, German, which is somehow the language of the coolest boardgames). There'll be war games. That's an extremely fancy, rules-laden version of toy soldiers, with brilliant scenery and elaborately painted figures. There'll be role-play games (or RPGs). You may have heard of Dungeons & Dragons, that's a "famous" RPG. They involve playing a character, in a story that someone is GMing (games master) and rolling dice to decide the actions of your characters. And then there's LARPing (live action role-play, my favourite type to play and write). Dave's going to talk more specifically about the wonder of LARPing because he thinks it's great too. And then there's card games. We don't really talk about them.

So what else will there be at Gaelcon?
Loads. Traders will flog their wares - best place to buy new boardgames or pick up an RPG source book. Saturday night will have a pub quiz, always excellent fun. Sunday night will feature the annual charity auction - a chance to pick up gaming related ephemera. Prices have traditionally gone sky high and I remember one year (Celtic Tiger RIP) where well over €20,000 was raised. Charities featured usually have some emphasis on kids and helping them to have fun. There'll also be a lot of mapcap activity going on in D4 over the whole weekend that I can't even imagine yet.

Come down, see what you think, what's the worst that could happen? You'll probably have a fantastic time.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

'I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant'

There's a new multimedia art exhibition on in Temple Bar Gallery & Studios:

Temple Bar Gallery & Studios is pleased to present ‘I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant', an exhibition of new works by Alan Butler. Butler is an artist who makes works by ‘remixing’ or amalgamating a multitude of different materials, most of which have been sourced online through websites such as Ebay, Twitter, Wikileaks, Youtube and Wikipedia.

I've just been to see it and quite liked it. Worth popping into if you're around Temple Bar. The exhibition is on until 27th November.

"Your Dublin, Your Voice"

New competition from Dublin's Local Authorities to get opinions and comments from Dubliners:

"Your Dublin, Your Voice is an exciting new project that will give you the opportunity to tell us what you think about Dublin. We want to hear from you what is great about Dublin and what’s not so great... Once you register and complete the first survey you will then become a member of the ‘Dublin Opinion Panel’. As a panel member you may be contacted up to four times per year to complete a short survey about Dublin. As a participant in these surveys you will be in with a chance of winning a number of exciting Dublin-themed prizes so keep an eye out for future emails. Panel members may also have the option to participate in dedicated discussion groups relating to the future of Dublin. Over time, the results will provide a barometer of views and experiences of Dublin and public opinion on issues affecting Dublin."

Well done Dublin City Council, good idea.

Here is the official page about Your Dublin, Your Voice.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Theatre: John Gabriel Borkman

With the Fringe Festival and Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival over some of you are probably either slumped in a corner from exhaustion or starting to get jitters as you go Cold Turkey on theatre. The good news is that two of the plays that were part of the UBDTF are still running in the Abbey Theatre: the very enjoyable B for Baby and John Gabriel Borkman.

Borkman was originally written in the late 1800s by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. (The version in the Abbey is by Frank McGuinness.) It's the story of a corrupt banker who has been ruined for stealing from his clients. Despite the massive changes in the world - in this case, the world of finance - since then, the story needs no social or technical explanations to be understandable. This is in contrast to Enron (recently shown in the Gaiety), which has far more financial technicalities to explain. Borkman manages to be far more contemporary than Enron despite being more than a century older.

This simplicity allows the audience to focus on the story and, most of all, on the character of John Gabriel Borkman as played by Alan Rickman. Borkman's personality - his attitude towards himself and others, his thoughts on his past - are the heart of the play and (to me) felt credible. Cathy Belton also deserves praise, adding a touch of warmth, humour and seductive charm to an otherwise very frosty play.

Having said that, all the star performers and beautiful set changes don't overcome the rather serious problem of a definite lack of pace. It's hard to feel excited or gripped by a play that moves this slowly. The first act in particular is just too long; almost tedious.

This is a good production, and worth seeing, but if you're looking for a fun night out I'd suggest B for Baby instead, also on in the Abbey.

John Gabriel Borkman is on in the Abbey until 20th November 2010.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Collector's Eye

The real skill with photography is, I think, not technical ability but shot selection*. A fascinating aspect of the latest collection on display in the Gallery of Photography in Temple Bar is that the photos come not from a professional photographer but from a professional collector: if you have a sufficiently expert eye for good photos, I suppose you can skip right past the bother of actually taking pictures and simply find the very best of others' works.

And have no doubt about it: Sean Sexton has put together a superb and varied collection. The photos are interesting (and sometimes a little gruesome) in their own right but are also informative about the development of photography. The exhibition has been enhanced by the well-written text accompanying the photos to provide context - good job, curators.

Unknown Labourer, c. 1858, (c) Sean Sexton Collection

I wasn't too keen on the previous exhibition in the Gallery of Photography, but The Collector's Eye is excellent.

The exhibition is open up to and including 21st November 2010.

*I make no claim to either skill!

Restaurant: L'Gueuleton

As this week is Dine in Dublin week I thought I should check out one of the participating restaurants I haven't previously been to. L'Gueuleton is (of course) a French restaurant, a bistro, and is located on Fade St.

I went along at lunchtime and had the Plat du Jour; in this instance, grilled cod with a mix of vegetables - very much the classic French approach of somehow preparing dishes that are superficially simple but subtly excellent. With a pleasant glass of Merlot included this was well worth the €13.50.

Service was friendly and fast. The decor was standard for a bistro, which is fine by me as I quite like it. The music was French and just right for the setting; at times the music was replaced by French language (talk) radio, adding to the ambience without being irritating or intrusive. The restaurant was busy but not overcrowded.

Overall, a fine restaurant and well worth visiting.

Coffee: Coffee Angel

Ireland has been blessed in recent years with the arrival of a strong "barista culture". There are now some real experts out there with the knowledge and the business acumen to successfully turn their enthusiasm into, well, delicious high-quality coffee. (I should point out that I'm very far from being such an expert and know little about the actual preparation of coffee - I'm one of those lazy Celtic Tiger idiots who always buys good coffee instead of making it.)

One such enterprise is the wonderful Coffee Angel. They have three stalls along the quays - north of the Sean O'Casey Bridge; nearby to the new Convention Centre; and one on the south side at Sir John Rogerson's Quay. There's also a Coffee Angel service in MYO on Mayor Street in the IFSC.

The coffee quality is very high. It's relatively freshly roasted, and freshly ground; there's a clear, sweet, distinctive aroma from the coffee. The coffee range isn't quite as fancy and sophisticated as in Third Floor Espresso but that's fine - Coffee Angel provides a superb "classic cup" coffee.

Conclusion: One of the best coffee vendors in the city. Strongly recommended.

Other coffee-related posts.

The Drivetime Diarists at Farmleigh

As part of Writing 3.0 Fingal's Annual Writers' Festival, I went along to Farmleigh last Friday to hear Mary Wilson host a selection of diaries read by their authors: Fergus Finlay, Olivia O'Leary and Joseph O'Connor.

Since the Guinness family built Farmleigh, it is ridiculously opulent. We were in a room so filled with neo-classical stuccowork that it felt like being inside an elaborate wedding cake. There was a free drinks reception in the lovely Victorian conservatory before we sat down to hear the diarists. On a side note, they do free tours of Farmleigh and it's very interesting.

Joe O'Connor started us off with a clever & funny piece about the like prevalence of saying like, like, in the middle of a sentence, or at the end, like, though the latter may just, like, be a Cork thing? Olivia O'Leary followed with a piece originally aired just after the release of the Murphy report, a stinging indictment of Cardinal Brady's actions. Fergus Finlay followed with the story of two separate visits to Holles St, one awful, one great, and ended with a nice comment that some things have improved in the health service. Each of the diarists read 3 pieces, and talked a little about each with Mary Wilson at the start. Fergus Finlay did do a little stump speech for why he'd like to live in a different fancy house in the Phoenix Park, but politics doesn't belong on this blog. That said, my favourite piece of the night was O'Leary's mock letter from Dick Roche to Brian Cowan, on the day when he culled junior ministers. If you can find it on RTÉ's maze of podcasts, it's a great laugh.

There were some organisational negatives. Tickets were allocated by lottery, so it was surprising that they didn't have enough seats for everyone. The beginning of the event was hampered by significant delays, which, to be fair, were partially caused by the crazy level of security and checking of names off a list twice. It's quite dark around Farmleigh and there were no signs directing you to the right part. That same security meant photos were not permitted. It's not ideal as a public venue for evening things. However, I really enjoyed the evening, even if I was the only person under 40 at it!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Theatre: The Author

One of my favourite things about the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival was that friends of mine who don't frequently go to the theatre saw some of the shows. The following review is written by David Heaton about 'The Author', one of the UBDTF shows that ran in Project Arts Centre.

I went to see The Author with very little idea of what to expect. There were inklings, sure: half an hour before the inaccurately-titled curtain up, I had a look for a synopsis, and found a review mentioning the walkouts that it provoked in Edinburgh, due to it's shocking nature. Shocking nature? Disturbing material? Oh, well: there goes the plan for the relaxing night out at the theatre.

On entering the theatre, it's immediately noticeable that this won't be like many plays that you see: where's the stage? All there is in the theatre is two banks of seats. The audience files in and glances around nervously - all the muttered foyer chatter has been about how shocking and disturbing the play will be, and this seating non-arrangement hasn't done anything to dispel that. Eventually we're all sat down, waiting for things to get going. And waiting.

Finally the silence is broken, and we assume that the play has started, as a member of the audience begins to rhapsodise about the wonderful thing that is live theatre, asking people's names and chatting away happily, but the air of unease doesn't really lift until music is playing loudly enough for people to converse without attracting attention, but the device of having the actors seated in the audience and just chatting away to draw people in begins to work. The play begins to jumps around between four characters.

The real treat to the production is the way that these four characters weave a gradually tighter and tighter web between each other, and the way that the play slides from light-hearted fun towards darker and darker themes: there are certainly sections that were very hard to watch (Esther's recreations were excellent, but I could feel my stomach turning through them). And that - I think - is the point of the play: we, as spectators, have the power to choose what we watch. We're regularly given little escape valves during the first half-hour: "Are you all OK?" and "Will I continue?" become a recurring theme as the downward slide begins, and there's always the suggestion that - if we don't like what is happening - it's all right to hold your hand up and leave the theatre. What you have to remember, though, is that should you stay in your seat, you will have to deal with the choice you made.

I could easily sympathise, though, with people who have paid for a ticket, and then leaving because they are unhappy with the material dealt with in the play. The counter argument is equally strong, though: you were warned that the play was likely to be disturbing; and you still chose to take the risk of buying a ticket. (Unless, like me, you were foolish enough to not read the background until half an hour before it started!)

In summary, The Author is deeply disturbing in places; but it is also well-crafted, fascinating and utterly compelling - not a play you're likely to forget in a hurry.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Rocky Horror Show @ the Grand Canal Theatre

It's astounding....time is fleeting....madness takes its toll.

As someone who took part in the Stella's weekly Rocky Horror tribute during the (gasp) 1990s, I was always going to enjoy my first time seeing it performed live. Dave's going to review the theatre itself so I'm here to review the show, which has now finished its run in Dublin. It seemed to move a breakneck speed through the first half, song after song. Christopher Biggins played the narrator and kept breaking character to laugh at the guy in the audience who was well-versed in his RHS audience participation lines. I was shouting the ones I remembered too. Initially I presumed the guy was a plant, and was a little sad to hear so many people laughing unexpectedly at his lines, which meant they didn't realise it was part of the production. But Biggins lost himself too many times, and I ended up thinking it was someone who used to go to the Stella as well. The set moved very well, with lots of ladders on wheels for people climb and I loved the barbie like box with toy components that Rocky made his appearance in. The actor playing Frank N Furter looked so like Tim Curry that I briefly thought it was him, until I remembered how old he is now. The show is as brash and rude as ever, so I was more than a little surprised to see people had brought actual children to it. Very pleased to report that they did indeed do the Time Warp again at the end. My only complaint was that there wasn't enough room to do it properly while staying in my allocated row.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Restaurant: Crystal Boat

I like Chinese food and, even more so, seafood, so a Chinese restaurant specialising in seafood sounds to me to be a wonderful idea. And it is - a wonderful idea. The reality of Crystal Boat restaurant on Grand Canal Dock is rather less impressive.

Let's start with the positives: the food is tasty and the prices are reasonable, typically in or under €20 for two courses if you're not drinking.

However. There's not much point having a long, complex, varied menu if you can't actually serve everything on it. Lamb is not a rare or obscure food-type: worse, my friend who ordered a lamb-based dish was only told there was no lamb available long after ordering. This wasn't the only lapse in service - even the other main courses took far too long to arrive. And while I accept that it's not essential, I'd have appreciated being able to split the bill.

The restaurant lacks atmosphere and the decor is a little staid.

Conclusion: tasty, reasonably priced food - but the service is poor and there is no ambience.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Theatre: Enron

Gaiety Threatre: ***

Enron is the story of one of America's greatest corporate transformations, a corporation that set itself free from the mundane task of producing something useful (energy) so as to concentrate on the much more important job of creating phantom profits and big bonuses. This show is probably the most flashy, musically up-tempo production in the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival: lightsabers, raptors, a very clever dance sequence based on traders' hand signals... this is as much a musical as a play. The slow-motion acting effects are particularly well done, almost gravity defying.

Underneath all the flashing lights, crazy dances and (well chosen) powerful music lies a story of greed and fear. While many commentators suggest that this tale of financial woe is of great contemporary relevance, personally I feel that this is yesterday's story. Yes, many of the same problems still exist, but fundamentally Enron is inconsequential compared to the modern banking crisis. Sure, shareholders got burnt, and sure, it's doubly sad for employees who bought stock, but ultimately Enron's demise is exactly what should happen to big, stupid, greedy companies that make major mistakes: they go bust, the senior managers' reputations are ruined, and if there was potentially illegal activity then it is investigated. Today's situation is a far bigger, more complex, more important story - and I'm looking forward to seeing how the world of theatre responds to it.

Sometimes it's easy to recommend a play - B for Baby for example is just plain good and that's that. Enron's not so simple: while it is undoubtedly impressive - even spectacular - it loses momentum towards the end and feels rather drawn out. At 2 hour 40 minutes, and with the conclusion clear well in advance, the end of Enron will come as a relief.

Enron runs in the Gaiety until 16th October as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Theatre: B For Baby

I've been impressed by the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival so far. Some shows have been spectacular (Circa) or exceptionally engaging (Internal). B for Baby is a much more conventional play than either of those performances, but that's not a criticism - it does what it does very well.

B for Baby is mostly set in a residential care home for adults with intellectual disabilities. Two of the characters, 'B' and 'Dee' are residents of the home, while the other characters are "normal" people. Louis Lovett's performance as B is the highlight of the show - his deadpan delivery of childishly silly comments manages to be funny without being farcical or insensitive. He also plays the minor character Brian, while Michele Moran plays both Dee and "Mrs C".

The play deals with serious, emotionally powerful subjects, but never becomes preachy. It simply presents the issues and conflicts as they arise, and uses them to good dramatic effect.

The Peacock stage is just the right size for the play. (It would have been swallowed up by the vastness of the Abbey's main stage.) I also quite liked the music and the set.

The ending of the play is perhaps its one weak point. After a dramatic conclusion to the key relationship of the play, the final scene seems a little underwhelming. This doesn't spoil an otherwise excellent play.

Conclusion: Highly enjoyable; a beautiful and very funny play.

B for Baby is on in the Abbey Theatre (on the Peacock stage) up to and including Saturday 6th November. Prices range from €15 to €25 and there are both evening and matinee performances. The show runs for a little over two hours including an interval. Contains partial nudity.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Restaurant: 10 Thousand

This restaurant on Upper Abbey Street is an "all you can eat" Asian buffet. At €6.99 you might expect it to be all quantity with no quality, but it's actually pretty tasty. There's even a salad section and lots of plain boiled rice in case you want a healthier meal. The restaurant is also surprisingly spacious and pleasant.

This isn't fine dining but it's damn good value.

Restaurant: Boojum

I was recently told* about Boojum, a Mexican restaurant on Millenium Walkway (opposite Temple Bar). It's nothing fancy but it's good: quick, cheap, and tasty. Typically it'll cost roughly €7; service is from a counter, with the food being prepared to order in front of the customer.

Not quite a match for Pablo Picante but it comes close - and it has the advantage of having much more seating space, including outdoor seating. Recommended.


*My thanks to newly launched blog, Fluff and Fripperies.

Monday, October 11, 2010

One last Dublin activity and one oddity

After all the touring around this weekend, extensive sitting was required and we headed to the Gresham Hotel on O'Connell St for a reasonably priced fancy afternoon tea. At €18, it's not a cheap lunch but you get a lot of sandwiches, scones, biscuits, cake, stuff I can't name and tea/coffee. They also won't send you away in a hurry - we were there over 2 hours without being bothered.On my way back to the car, I walked up North Great Georges St and saw this deeply wrong, freshly painted postbox, like a London one for some filming being done that day. How very weird.

11 North Great Georges Street

This was my last tour of Open House Dublin 2010 and it was quite memorable. It was billed as private house and the tour was conducted by John Aboud, one of the owners. The house is available as an event venue and so they were happy enough for us to take photos. We started in the basement, which apparently hosted a performance of Macbeth recently! The house is full of reclaimed masonry, which the owners salvaged out of skips in the 70s and 80s. It has eclectic decoration, some of it period, some of it modern but it was all interesting. One room featured an enormous doll collection, which I have to admit was a little creepy. The ceiling of that room was a multi-coloured Rococo vision.I was really surprised at the size of the garden, which also has a mews building at the back. When the house was built, it faced only one other large house on the street, which was built piecemeal and gives the whole street a very singular look, compared to the homogenised buildings of our Georgian squares. It was weird to see the back of those houses.I'd go to a function in it but given the age and style, people in wheelchairs couldn't. One criticism: it was a pre-book event but they didn't appear to be ticking off names and there were far too many people at it. The owner commented that they had 55 people on the tour.

Open House Sunday: Grangegorman

Grangegorman's participation was in the form of a substantional walking tour. First off, I have to admit I wasn't entirely sure where it was so Mr SatNav assisted. Secondly, it's huge. It's 72 acres! It's also quite derelict and destined to become the campus for (the far flung about the city) DIT. It's hard to believe but this photo shows the remaining side of a massive quadrangle and was both a prison and a mental asylum.This will apparently be a functioning dorm for students sometime this decade! At the height of its use, the hospital had over 2000 patients but today has fewer than 100. The tour, which I had to cut out on after 1.5 hours was given by one of the architects involved in the renovations and a representative of the Grangegorman Development Authority, who both really knew their stuff. We finished off looking at the masterplan and a model of what it will look at in hopefully just a few years time. I could say more but I think the photos speak for themselves and I really hope that they do manage to refurbish this huge section of the city, it's less than 2km from O'Connell St.

10 Henrietta St

10 Henrietta St is a double-fronted house built by Luke Gardiner in the early 18th century for his family. He was a property tycoon of Celtic Tiger proportions and he also built Mountjoy Square and all the streets surrounding it as well as Henrietta St, named for his daughter. Over 800 people lived on Henrietta St in 1911 which is a far cry from when its 15 houses were built, before fashion followed the Duke of Leinster to the southside of the city. Barristers and professionals lived there. The design of the house is attributed to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, who is best known for designing the Houses of Parliament which are today the Bank of Ireland on College Green. The front of the house would have originally been brick like the rest of the street but it was cement plastered over in the last century.

Today the Gardiners' house is owned by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, who kindly opened their doors to Open House Dublin. They received a Europa Nostra grant about 10 years ago to assist with renovations and the tour was given by one of the architects involved in the project, which is complete. The house has some beautiful ceilings and reproduction wallpaper based on the original which they found under centuries of grime and paint. Most of the interiors dated from the 1760s. The ballroom is a lovely, peaceful chapel today and features the 20th century addition of a Harry Clarke stained glass window. The staircase was moved from the front of the house to the back at some point and the original ceiling is intact.

I was so pleased to see this building. Henrietta St is much neglected today apart from those on their way to the Kings Inns or the Registry of Deeds and could really benefit from some renovations.

Other posts about Open House Dublin 2010: Newman House, National Library of Ireland, Grangegorman, 11 North Great George's Street

Open House Saturday: Newman House

So Newman House is a part of UCD and forms 2 plots on St. Stephen's Green. They mostly rent it out for functions and the curator repeatedly said this was their only source of income, so I found it strange that they didn't want anyone to take photos. Here's a picture I took before they told me this! The tour was well attended so we were a little cramped in some of the rooms. There's a cool secret passage between the two separate houses. We saw the room Gerard Manly Hopkins had when he worked there (in its Catholic University of Ireland phase) and a classroom Joyce would have learnt in when he attended the university. There's a lovely view out into the Iveagh Gardens from the back of the house.

Pictures of stag in Phoenix Park

I took advantage of the good weather to spend a few hours on Sunday walking through the Phoenix Park. At one point I spotted a stag in the distance and of course I immediately wanted to photograph it. Although I don't like the idea of hunting I can empathise with deer-hunters - there's a wonderful challenge in trying to get close to deer. This one, unfortunately, had spotted me at the same time I saw it, so the photos below aren't as good as I'd like.

Dear stag: I know where you live and I'm coming to shoot you.


Shouldn't natural selection have eliminated prey animals who let themselves get silhouetted on a ridge like this? Maybe the Phoenix Park is letting them become weak...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Open House Dublin: National Library of Ireland

Earlier today I went to the Open House Dublin tour of the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street. It was a fascinating tour, mostly because I've been in the building before and never realised how many wonderful architectural details and historical and literary links the Library has. As on Culture Night, I was struck by the degree to which the great buildings of the city are intertwined with many of the city's major historical figures.

The tourguide clearly loves the Library and was delighted to recount facts, dates and anecdotes. The National Library has, since the enactment of the Legal Deposit Act 1927, been legally entitled to a copy of each book and newspaper published in Ireland. Storage is therefore a major challenge, and microfilm is used extensively to reduce wear and tear - although the tourguide mentioned that film-makers sometimes get access to originals.

Mosaic in the main entrance hall

The Reading Room

I'll definitely return to the NLI - I'm keen to see their Yeats exhibition.

Theatre: Diciembre

I like to stroll through Temple Bar. On a bright sunny morning it has a lovely calmness to it; on a Friday evening it's full of life and activity. So I happened to walk by Project Arts Centre, wandered in to see what might be on, and realised that there was exactly one ticket left for a play starting in under a minute. Decide now!

Thirty seconds later I was inside, knowing nothing about the play except its name. The actors started to speak... in Spanish. Oh dear, I thought. As the last person to enter I was seated right beside the exit - slipping out would be so easy...

I decided to try to understand the play just by watching and listening without understanding Spanish. As artsy and cool as that would of course have been, I soon spotted that the were English-language subtitles being displayed overhead. The extremely bright lightbulbs right beside the display made reading it quite unpleasant, so I alternated between reading and just watching.

Photo courtesy of Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

I'm glad I stuck with it. This is a magnificent play, both funny and grimly powerful. And if you want to know what it's about... go see it.

Diciembre runs until 10th October.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Theatre: The Silver Tassie

Sean O'Casey deserves that bridge to have been named after him. I've just seen The Silver Tassie in the Gaiety and was very impressed; this is every bit as good as The Plough and The Stars.

There's a lot I want to say about this play - and to do it justice will take a little time, so rather than knocking out a quick review now I'm going to write something longer as soon as a I can. Thanks and sorry!

In summary though: Druid Theatre have done a good job with O'Casey's work. The second act - set in the British army in WW1 - is quite odd, and not at all the way other productions of the play have depicted it. (I think at times it lost the attention of the audience.) However the play as a whole is good and final scene is magnificent. You'd have to be very cold-hearted not to be moved by it. Overall, an enjoyable and interesting production, well worth seeing.

The Silver Tassie runs in the Gaiety Theatre as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival until Sunday 10th October.

Tickets have sold very well so far for the Dublin Theatre Festival - the crowd gathers outside the Gaiety:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dine in Dublin - Restaurant Week

Dine in Dublin returns, running from Monday October 18th to Sunday October 24th.

I quite enjoyed the last Dine in Dublin - back in March 2010 - and went to Le Mere Zou for the first time. This time I'm considering the excellent Nepalese restaurant Monty's of Kathmandu and perhaps also L'Gueuleton. Having said that, as much as I'm supportive of the idea of encouraging people to enjoy the city's restaurants, €25 - €30 isn't the special offer bargain it once was. Restaurants offer better value than they used to - or perhaps survival of the fittest has simply eliminated restaurants unable to match the value now available. Perhaps the best example of top quality at a good price: Patrick Guilbaud's has a €50 3-course lunch menu - a steal for a restaurant with two Michelins Stars.

No Drama Theatre (2)

A while ago I mentioned No Drama Theatre, an amateur theatre group. I've now tried out their Tuesday workshop twice, and enjoyed it both times.

The format was the same for both weeks: an initial warm-up with drama games, followed by structured improv. The focus of this week was to gain experience in the 'business' (physical actions) of using props. Rather than actually using props, this was done through mime - this isn't as odd or silly as it might sound. It was fun but also felt like genuinely good practice.

No Drama are currently preparing for their upcoming production of Wyrd Sisters in the Teachers' Club, Parnell Square, from 3rd - 6th November.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oktoberfest - the evening experience

So I was there on Saturday evening with two friends. I was prepared to be underwhelmed, since I've been to the REAL Oktoberfest in Munich. First off: there's a great buzz around the area. Lots to see and eat, plenty of people milling around. We arrived just after 6 and promptly spent over an hour queuing in the rain to get in. So my advice is to get there around 5pm. Once we got in, things were better. There was lots of interesting German food, though I criticise them for having the menus only in German. I was also amazed at the number of actual German people imported for the event, and even more surprising, a lot of them seemed not to speak English. I thought it was the law in Germany that everyone learn to speak better English than natives! I had to dig into my rusty school Deutsch on 3 separate occasions. Naturally, there was a beer tent and we went into it. It was very like being at the actual Oktoberfest. Beer in steins, cheesy music, nowhere to sit because all the tables were jammed and every 10 minutes or so, a beer song (usually the same one though). I dutifully reproduce the lyrics here for those who have still to attend.

Ein prosit, ein prosit, der Gemütlichkeit!
Ein prosit, ein prosit, der Gemütlichkeit!

And then:
Eins, zwei, drei, g'suffa!

And then an optional:
Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke!
Ho Ho Ho!

If you're staying after 10pm, you have to buy a wristband which gives you a food voucher and you can't buy anymore beer if you don't have it. This is to comply with liquor laws.

So the rules: get there early wearing comfy shoes, an umbrella will be essential as you'll mostly be standing up and outside but it's lots of fun! Very much like the real thing without the fun fair and the different types of beer.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dublin Theatre Festival

The Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival is off to a great start so far, with shows selling out quickly. Earlier this evening I saw the highly-praised Circa. It deserves all the great reviews. Unfortunately this was the last day for the show.

I missed The Smile Off Your Face - there was just a single audience-member per showing, so tickets were like gold dust. Fortunately there are two other shows by the same company, Ontroerend Goed, the next one being the slightly terrifying Internal, in which the five audience members talk to the cast in a sort of speed-dating-meets-group-therapy format. (Any readers familiar with Irish-style LARPs may at this point feel a little smug: "We did this sort of thing years ago!" But it's still a good concept and I'm pleased it's been included.)

Photo courtesy of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

I'm also looking forward to The Silver Tassie, the Sean O'Casey play in the Gaiety.

The Silver Tassie
Photo by Robert Day, courtesy of Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

And don't forget, if you get a ticket for any show in the festival you can get special offers in a wide range of excellent restaurants as part of the "festival feeds" promotion. "Just mention Festival Feeds when booking to avail of this special offer", says the festival website.

Dublin Fashion Festival

Dublin Fashion Festival held an outdoors catwalk show on Grafton Street earlier this afternoon. Talk about being lucky with the weather...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More photos from Salute

I wrote last month about Salute, a military-themed festival in the National Show Centre near Swords. Here are more of photos from the event, including one from the Irish Airsoft Association's shooting gallery.

Salute festival
Er, some sort of military vehicle
Airsoft player 1, Man on paper target 0
Airsoft guns
WW1 soldiers charge the crowd
German rifleman