Thursday, December 30, 2010

Airsoft: The Officeblock

Back in 2008, airsoft in Ireland was still a relatively new hobby. (Airsoft is like paintball but with low-power airguns firing plastic "BB" pellets.) Most sites were - and still are - situated in rugged rural land, usually forested. Airsoft Reloaded opened a site that was completely different: an indoors site in a warehouse in Coolock. It was convenient to get to, offered an entirely different airsoft experience, and was lots of fun.

Time moved on, the site in Coolock closed, and today Airsoft Reloaded run a site in Tallaght called The Officeblock. As the name suggests, it's simply an officeblock turned into an airsoft site. Much of the interior remains true to its origins: there are still chairs, desks, working toilets, and the occasional PC. There's also a lot of debris strewn around; this is useful for cover.

The advantages of the site over traditional forest sites are the same as for the Warehouse: it's easier to get to (being close by to the Belgard LUAS stop), there are working toilets instead of portaloos, the site provides full rental packages so you don't need to own your own kit (although you can use that if you prefer), and of course most importantly the site itself is a building rather than a field/forest. In some respects its a more commercial operation than other sites and much more suitable for beginners. I don't mean than as a complaint; it's just filling a different market niche. It's the Quasar of Irish airsoft.

There are three floors, with stairways at either end of the building. Each floor has two main corridors running the length of the floor. There are of course many offices, but also lots of more interesting rooms such as the canteen on the top floor. Lighting varies: many rooms and corridors are dark, if only because players will turn lights on or off for tactical reasons. While a torch can be risky - giving away your location - it's useful to have that option to light up a room. (Gun-mounted torches are probably the best option.)

Compared to a milsim-style airsoft game full of patience, stealth and cunning, games in the officeblock tend to be fast and furious. Frequently one side (the attackers) will have unlimited lives/respawns, and the games are designed to make use of the setting. My favourite was one called 'Jail', in which players who are shot don't simply respawn but have to go to a designated room on the top floor (the "jail") and remain there until a teammate rescues them. The team that won that game didn't fight better, they just grasped the importance of winning control of the top floor. Many airsofters seem to be good at moving and shooting but have a poor awareness of how to achieve their mission objectives: winning fights in unimportant parts of the building doesn't win the game. (I was the only person on my side to rescue prisoners from the jail, and it didn't require a single shot to be fired, just a quick response to the opportunity. The freed players then... ran away from the tactically all-important jail, to fight pointless fights elsewhere. Tut tut, there were opponents to be hunted down on that top floor.)

The Airsoft Reloaded folk had kindly opened the site up for free on the day I visited - it's something of a seasonal tradition for Irish airsoft sites to offer free or special events at this time of year. Numbers were quite high, maybe around 40: the site was able to hold this many, but it was at its limit. At times player numbers caused key points on stairs and corridors to become too crowded, although in my view this is because many players didn't adjust their playing style when attacking - in an infinite lives attacking game, the attackers should, in my opinion, push aggressively. It's a bit crazy to worry about being shot when you're only a few meters from the respawn point. (I'd have many a fine WW1 general, eh?)

With so many players the site felt - in the words of another player - "a bit corridory". I suspect that's more a problem with high numbers on a free-play day than with the site. With smaller numbers the potential for stealth, tactics and flanking would be high. Even with the large numbers, I enjoyed the games.

Some experienced airsofters will love this site; others will prefer traditional outdoors venues. Either way, if you play airsoft you should give this a go: it's a different experience and there's nothing else like it in Ireland (that I know of) for indoors CQB. If you own grenades, bring them - clearing rooms without grendades is a nuisance.

For beginners, this is possibly the best and most convenient starting place for airsoft. I would just point out though that it's not particularly representative: outdoors airsoft is likely to be (at least) a little slower paced and almost certainly less painful due to the ranges involved.

Conclusion: the Officeblock is fun and very different to most sites, so whether you're a beginner or a veteran, give it a go.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Arrah-na-Pogue

What does Tom Cruise's hideous fakey Oirish accent in Far & Away have to do with a French sounding playwright called Dion Boucicault?  Well, without the latter, we never would have had the former.  Surely, then we should try to forget Dion Boucicault?  No way.

The Abbey's current run of Arrah-na-Pogue continues their much-deserved love affair with Boucicault's work.  Last night's performance was poorly attended due the continuing evil weather but the show itself was no poorer for the small audience.  If you think you've never seen this sort of play, you're wrong.  Every time a foreigner bastardises our accent or says "Top o' the mornin' to you", you can be pretty sure it's because Boucicault invented the notion of stage Irish.

The scene is Co. Wicklow, a few years after the 1798 rebellion and deals with the return of a rebel (played by Rory Nolan and reminding me very much of a young Colm Meaney) and his interactions with his fiancée, her would-be lover, and a young couple who assist in hiding him.  The Irish Times described the set as "Emerald City" but I loved it - from the tiny trampolines that the actors use to exaggerate motion to the unexpected movement of certain pieces of furniture.  A beautiful baby grand piano played by Conor Linehan provides all the music on stage, though there is song in this production as well.  The costumes are perhaps more colourful than would have been the norm when this play first ran or when it was set, but a modern audience requires colour and there's no harm in it.  This is melodrama at its best: artificially heightened movements and speech, asides to potted plants and a wonderful puppet sheep that bleats at inopportune moments.  The English characters are as caricatured as the Irish: mis-pronouncing Irish names and words; the Irish soldiers in English redcoats are sympathetically portrayed as "only doing their duty" and Gerard Walsh as the sergeant is particularly funny.  Michael Glenn Murray as the Major is fantastic in the courtroom scene, both physically and verbally.  Mary Murray as the titular Arrah at times seems to ramp up her already hilarious fakey Irish accent.  The second act is a good deal shorter and more sombre, at times I felt the pace was a bit off.  Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable production, at least as good (if not as lavish) as the production of Boucicault's The Shaughraun a couple of Christmases ago.  It's suitable for kids and would make a great family outing.  It runs until 5th February, so hopefully only this week's performances will have small audiences.

The Abbey Theatre

The Abbey's list of upcoming plays over the next few months is nice and varied. As You Are Now So Once Were We was part of the Absolut Fringe festival - it's nice to see a play progress from the Fringe to being more mainstream. Raoul sounds like circus-meets-theatre; that was a winning formula for CIRCA in the Gaiety so hopefully the Abbey can pull off a similar success. I'm also looking forward to Translations and Pygmalion - I'm told that tickets are already starting to sell for the latter.

If you're a student or under 26, have a look at the Access All Abbey offer. It's a very cheap way to get preview and standby tickets.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Showcase - new exhibition in the Gallery of Photography

The new exhibition in the Gallery of Photography is good. It's called 'Showcase' and features eight artists shortlisted for the Gallery's Artist's Award. Wisely, the Gallery has selected a very varied mix of styles and subjects. If you're around Temple Bar and like photography, go have a look.

The exhibition is on until 30th January 2011.

Photo by Kirsty O’Keeffe

Friday, December 17, 2010

Theatre review: Gulliver's Travels

Earlier in the week I spoke to Emma Fisher, the set and puppets designer for a new production of Gulliver's Travels. The play sounded fun so yesterday I headed down to Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray to see the opening night's show.

Wonderland Theatre have taken on a very daring project for themselves. Gulliver's Travels may be an abiding classic, but turning an 18th century satire into a modern family-friendly stage-show is always going to be a challenge. And how were they to represent within the confines of a theatre the strange encounters of Gulliver's journeys? Wonderland's answer: puppets, countless quick costume changes, song, and dollops of imagination.

Picture courtesy of Stephen Delaney


The first act is about Gulliver's most well-known adventures, his visits to Lilliput and Brobdingnag. On Lilliput, he towers over the tiny inhabitants; on Brobdingnag, the locals are giants and he is treated as a silly amusement. In both cases the play uses puppetry to represent the interaction between characters of very different sizes. The costumes are very nicely done, matching up the actors with the corresponding puppets. I also appreciated that Gulliver is presented credibly as a man of his time - sometimes in fiction the protagonist seems like a modern 21st century person put incongruously into a historical setting. I do have one slight criticism: during the Lilliputian part of the play there were a few moments when I wondered if the pace might be too slow for the kids in the audience. (Glancing around, my impression was that that concern was unfounded.)

During the interval I had a wander around Mermaid Arts Centre. It's similar to the Project Arts Centre concept of mixing theatre with other art forms, and there's an interesting and clever current-affairs-themed exhibition on upstairs. It's a rare thing for an art gallery to advertise using a Warren Buffett quote.

The second act is set in the land of the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnm; a land where horses can speak, and humans are dumb, ignorant savages. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the play - it's excellent on all levels, and the audience were enraptured, children and adults alike. The actors' representation of the equine movement of the Houyhnhnm was especially good. (Forget two-man horse-costumes, this is how it should be done.)

Wonderland Theatre can be proud of this production. They've taken on an extremely hard challenge and created an enjoyable show. It might be a little slow at times in the first act but the Houyhnhnm make up for that.

There's one more show in Mermaid Arts, a matinee on Saturday 18th at 15:00. Tickets are €15, or €50 for a family of four. Then in the new year the main run of the play is on in Smock Alley Theatre, from 3rd January to 21st January.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Restaurants Past & Present

For various reasons, a small celebration was required and last night was the appointed time.  The instigator decided we would go to L'Gueuleton.  None of us had ever been there.  It's on Fade St, so obviously I'd love to be able to say "shut up, that's awesome!"  Sadly, it wasn't.  In a move that always smacks of trumped up self-importance, L'Gueuleton doesn't do reservations.  So we couldn't get a table for 3 people at 19:30 on a Wednesday.  A bit of wandering ensued and we ended up at El Bahia, a Moroccan restaurant on Wicklow St.  It's apparently the only Moroccan restaurant in Dublin too.  They were able to seat us after a short wait in "The Tent".  Shut up, that's awesome, you say, and I have to agree.  Cushions, raffia mats, an actual tent fitted inside the room, replete with a beaded curtain entrance.  I'm lucky enough to have been to real Morocco (as opposed to fake Morocco) and it felt like I was back there.  The food was gorgeous, the waiter was gorgeous, the company was fantastic and a great time was had.  We left about 23:00.  It was very reasonably priced too.

The building that houses El Bahia is very close to my heart.  Many many hours of my time in college were spent in its previous incarnation The Alpha, a much beloved greasy spoon run by Patricia.  People may remember the awesome Jumbo breakfast (2 eggs, 2 sausages, 2 rashers, black and white pudding, fried potatoes, tea, toast and half a fried tomato, which I always gave to Taryn) for a fiver, which contributed in its own way to my waistline for much of the late 1990s/ early 2000s.  The same guys who bought it from Patricia are still running El Bahia now.  Initially they ran it as a going concern and then closed down to renovate and re-opened as it is now.  That they still operate several years later is a testament to the quality of their food and service.  Oooh, nostalgia was alive and well in Dublin City last night.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Theatre: Gulliver's Travels

"I Lemeul Gulliver give thee a most faithful history of my most interesting adventure in the south sea!"

Later this week a new theatrical production begins of that enduringly-popular classic story, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. I spoke to Irish Times Irish Theatre Award nominee Emma Fisher, the set and puppets designer for the play.

I wanted to ask Emma a bit about herself and her background, and of course about the play. Emma was fascinating to talk to, because she's so clearly enthusiastic about what she's doing. I guess you don't go to study in the London School of Puppetry unless you're very committed to the art of puppetry.


Background discipline?
Interactive arts.

Why puppets?
I love the story-telling aspect of puppetry, as well as how visual it is.

Do you have a company or brandname you normally use?
Beyond the Bark

Role in this production of Gulliver's Travels?
Set production, making the puppets and providing advice.
[DC: Normally Emma would also be involved in the puppeteering, but not this time - "I had to hand over my puppets to other people!"]

Types of puppets used in the play
Marionettes, rod puppets, hand puppets, shadow puppets.

Do you have a blog?
emmacfisher.blogspot.com

Is there a book or film you'd recommend - something everyone should see/read?
Micmacs
[DC: It's a 2009 French film from the director who made Amélie]



I also asked Emma how she decided on the look to aim for with the puppets. The puppets have to fit in with the rest of the production, so the same costume designers actually created both the actors' costumes and the puppets' costumes.


Although the play is suitable for kids (8+), I'm looking forward to seeing it. Even aside from enjoying the play itself it should be interesting to see how the technical aspects of the production work, and in particular the puppet/actor interaction. Emma confirmed that Gulliver is, as I'd hoped, played by both an actor and a puppet. I have no idea why I'm so pleased by that, but I am.

Gulliver's Travels opens in Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray on Wednesday 15th December and continues through to 18th December. The play then runs in Smock Alley Theatre from 3rd January to 21st January 2011, followed by several venues in the rest of the country.

Photographs courtesy of Stephen Delaney and Caoileann Abbleby

Handel's Messiah in Christ Church Cathedral

The Irish Baroque Orchestra are performing Handel's Messiah in Christ Church Cathedral on Friday 17th. Tickets are from €20 to €35; standard unreserved costs €25. There are only 90 places available so I'd suggest booking as soon as you can.

Doors open at 6:45 pm for 7:30 pm.

My guess: this will be good.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Costa Coffee returns to Dawson Street... sort of

Right smack bang in the middle of the recession something odd happened on Dawson Street: a new Costa Coffee opened. It was on the corner of Molesworth Street and Dawson Street, and it didn't last long. Thankfully the location was later filled by the excellent Fixx Coffee.

Now Costa is back on Dawson Street. Starting this week it's the coffee being served in Readers' Cafe in Waterstones.

It's a little expensive, the service isn't great, and the coffee is OK but not a match for competitors such as Fixx or Carluccio's. If you're considering going to the Readers' Cafe, don't let this put you off - but if you're just looking for good coffee, I don't recommend it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Arrah-na-Pogue

This article was written before the play's launch. Here's our review.

The Dion Boucicault revival continues, with a new production coming soon to the Abbey Theatre:
"The Abbey Theatre is proud to begin its new season with a rollicking good tale of romance and misadventure in the form of ARRAH-NA-POGUE by DION BOUCICAULT. Director Mikel Murfi brings this play to life, over thirty years since it was first seen on the Abbey stage. Promising to be delightful entertainment for all the family, ARRAH-NA-POGUE opens on Tuesday 21 December (previews from Tuesday 15 December) for a seven week run."

Photo courtesy of the Abbey Theatre.

Boucicault seems to have been very popular in his day, and yet to have been largely forgotten since then, his success overshadowed by the heavy-weights of Irish literature. I guess the "rom-com" genre was no more respected in the 19th century than it is now.

I very much enjoyed The Colleen Bawn earlier this year in Project Arts Centre so I'm looking forward to this production. (Begorrah.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas scenes

I was in town today, along with hoards of shoppers.  Here's a selection of Christmas windows from the Grafton St side.
 Fox's shop for men (well that's how I always think of it: liquor, tobacco, pen knifes...)
 Barnardo's Furriers - they look warm but who wants to risk PETA's paint throwing activities?
 Brown Thomas' famous Christmas windows.  This year's theme seems to be the Children of Lir and Tir Na nÓg.  Spectacular as always.  People wouldn't get out of the way so the glass features in some of these photos.



 Clarks - I think this is same window display as last Christmas but I still like the concept.
 Interesting present shop in the Royal Hibernian Way - can't remember the name but had some great nic-nacks.
 Hodges Figgis, where it was necessary to buy a present for myself as well as the planned ones for other people!

Christmas markets

Two Christmas Markets were due to start this weekend: the Docklands Christmas Market and the Dublin Christmas Market in Fitzwilliam Square.

The Docklands market has a variety of stalls, selling food and drink, jewelry, clothes, ormanents and less conventional present options such as "magnetic healing" products. On Friday evening there was a nice atmophere, with live music and the make-your-own-fun of Irish people trying to dance to the music on snow-ice. Today was fairly quiet: not empty of customers but far from bustling.


One of my favourite food stalls was Pieminister:
The Pieminister encourages you to eat more pies.

The Docklands Christmas Market is worth a visit if you're in the area, or are particularly keen on seasonally-appropriate drinks such as eggnog and mulled wine - but despite being somewhat German-themed, it's not as good as Docklands Oktoberfest.

The Christmas Market in Fitzwilliam Square was a disappointment. Due to the weather the setup was delayed and many stalls were either not ready to open, or closed early today (due to a lack of customers?). The layout of the market is also a bit odd: the stalls face outwards towards the edge of the park, rather than forming an inward facing square. The result is that there's a mostly empty open area in the centre of the square. It currently has two small carousels and a tepee. (No, I don't know why there's a tepee at a "Christmas market".) A friendly security guard told me there'll be a Santa's Grotto in the centre once the setup is complete. It'd want to be Santa's Extensive Cavern Complex to fill that much empty space.

Er... where's the Christmas Market?

Oh, there it is, crammed up against the edge of the park. Most of those nice little shop-sheds were closed.

I don't want to be too cynical. This is early days for the market, and perhaps it will surprise me. But really, a Christmas Market unable to open on time because of a little snow? Fail.

A very friendly homeless man

Right, now I'm no preachy singer-songwriter and I don't want this blog to veer too far off topic onto issues readers wouldn't generally consider to be cultural, but I told two people I'd write about them, so I will. Don't worry, the next post is my more usual sort of topic, the Christmas markets!

Last weekend after at the big protest march on O'Connell Street I met two people, a man and a woman, who told me about their experience of homelessness. He's still homeless; she, remarkably, managed to go from being homeless to having a home earlier this year.

They were both very friendly, and pleased both to talk and to be photographed. Then they decided that it would be better to avoid having the photos here, because they had a different point to make: they felt very let down by how society treats homeless people. I don't mean in a general way - they had two specific complaints. Firstly, they felt that the unavailability of 24-hour hostels for homeless men was a problem. (I presume it must be pretty shocking to have that sort of instability and uncertainty in life.) Secondly, they felt that they had been treated badly by the staff in a hostel on Sean MacDermott Street. I don't know the details and I can't really comment on it - except that I was 100% convinced of the sincerity of the man and woman I was talking to. He showed me scars on his arm from repeated suicide attempts... I've never seen anything like it.

I wish them the best over the next few months. As for my part, I think I'll just have to make a donation to a homelessness charity.

[Note: As topics like this are important, but no necessarily suitable for this website, I'll probably set up a personal blog. More on that later. Thanks for your patience.]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hard to believe it's Dublin

 As beautiful as it looks, and as fun as it is to throw snowballs, etc...please make it stop now.  I'm so over it!