Monday, February 28, 2011

Irish Blog Awards

I'm pleased and excited to say that we've been shortlisted in the Pop Culture category! 

Irish Times Theatre Awards

The results are out for the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards. I'm particularly pleased to see B for Baby win Best New Play and to also to see that the Judges' Special Award went to Project Brand New.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: Tutankhamun - His Tomb and His Treasures

As you've no doubt noticed from the advertising on Dublin Bus buses, a new exhibition called Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures started recently in the RDS.

Before I get into the details, let's start with the most important points. Firstly, this exhibition is worth a visit, provided that you're comfortable with the price and that you plan ahead and pre-book instead of just showing up. Tickets vary from €8 for a child from Monday to Friday to €18 for an adult at the weekend. I think the exhibition is worth this, but one of the people I was with reckoned the Chester Beatty Library (with free admission) is better. I think that's more an indication of how good the Library is than a suggestion not to visit Tutankhamun.

The exhibition claims to offer a new and different approach to showing history, and in this it is undoubtedly correct. It uses replicas rather than real ancient artifacts, and while this does reduce the emotional impact of the items it allows the exhibition designers to present the material in ways that simply wouldn't be possible in a traditional museum-style exhibition.

A very convincing replica of King Tut's deathmask

The official website ( does a decent job of justifying the use of replicas. Some of the real items have been taken on tour before - most notably to the US during the cold war period - but this is increasingly rare, and the number of items in an exhibition of the original pieces would be in the dozens. In the RDS, there are over 1,000 items. To my (admittedly inexpert) eyes they looked entirely convincing; if I hadn't known they were replicas, I wouldn't have spotted it just by looking.

As you enter the exhibition you'll be handed an audio guide. At various points along the way as you walk through the exhibition you'll see numbered signs, with the numbers corresponding to entries on the guide. I quite liked the guide - the material was pitched at the right level, neither too detailed nor superficial. As a bonus, the female Egyptologist doing part of the voiceover has a really nice voice.

The initial introductory material is rather oddly presented. At the very start of your tour you'll go past a wall covered in pictures and writing detailing Egypt's ancient history. Sounds like a fine idea, but the layout is confusing, and it's a surprisingly dry start to an otherwise very visual, hands-on experience.

Next up is an introductory video. Like the audio guide this is good and gets the right balance between introducing you to the world of Pharaoh Tutankhamun and avoiding too much detail. After this you'll file into another room, sit down, and watch a second video. This one is really the key to the way the exhibition presents the material - it's about Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Carter is then used as a sort of narrator in audio clips throughout the rest of the exhibition.

The first replicas you'll pass by are a presentation of the layout of the tomb as Carter found it. This is the exhibition's strong point: they've been able to lay out the items in a way you simply couldn't with the originals. Lighting is used to highlight individual artifacts as they're discussed, and you'll be helpfully shepherded along through a series of these dioramas, each revealing another stage of the tomb's exploration.

Coffin shrines

After that you'll reach one of the most visually striking parts of the experience, a series of very impressively decorated coffin shrines followed by a set of even more magnificently detailed coffins. Like Russian dolls they would have been layered one inside the other. It's fascinating to think that the sceptre and the shepherd's crook have been used as insignia of authority for millenia, right up to and including the modern day.

You'll then reach the main hall of the exhibition. At this point there are a large number of collections of related items to read about, hear about, look at and indeed touch. That's a nice aspect of this display - as everything is a replica, it's mostly OK to touch the items and to photograph them. (Flash isn't allowed.) The children at the exhibition seemed to quite appreciate this tactile approach.

It would be easy to rush through the main hall and finish the tour quickly. Don't - take a little time and appreciate the items. Despite being replicas, they really are extremely detailed.

The exhibition ends with what I imagine would be an important part of any authentic Egyptian experience, an expensive souvenir shop. And speaking of authentic Egyptian experiences, it's worth noting that even in Egypt itself they sometimes use replicas as a way to introduce tourists to Egyptian history.

This is a very novel and visually beautiful exhibition. Perhaps the best thing I can say for it is that I left the RDS wanting to learn more about Egypt's (mind-bogglingly long) history. The exhibition isn't a "must see", but I enjoyed it and if the price doesn't put you off I'd recommend scheduling a visit.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Happy Voting!

Dublin has been littered with posters, we've heard all the positions: if you can vote today - get out there and do it!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Irish Times Theatre Awards

Last year was a great year for Irish theatre. The quality and variety of plays was very high, and (in Dublin) attendance remained good despite the state of the economy. Perhaps it's a sign of the vibrancy of our theatre that actors such as Brian Dennehy and Stockard Channing have come here to perform in recent times. At the same time, THEATREClub and the Fringe Festival offered new talents a chance to shine - and they certainly did. Ireland can expect 2011 to be another good year for theatre.

On Sunday 27th this success will be celebrated at the main awards ceremony of the year, the Irish Times Theatre Awards. (The event will be held in Vicar St.) Having seen several of the plays shortlisted I'll be interested to see the results.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tutankhamun - His Tomb and His Treasures

At the weekend Claire and I went to see the new exhibition in the RDS, Tutankhamun - His Tomb and His Treasures. There's a lot I could say about it, so I'll be writing a proper review soon. For now I'll summarise as follows: it's good, it's a little pricey, and you need to plan ahead and not just show up.

Replica of the Pharaoh's Deathmask.
Photo courtesy of MCD.

(And no, there are no animatronic mummies shambling around!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wine tasting at Ely CHQ

On Friday night, The Big Tasting took place at Ely CHQ in on the quays.  There were over 90 wines to try and I did my duty to the blog by tasting as many as possible.  It was Ely's first ever portfolio tasting and it was very well attended.  I'd say it was a huge success.  I did bring my camera to take photos but it wasn't really a photo-taking event, and I'm sorry to say my camera got a bit tipsy instead.  At €15 a head, this made for a cheap and fun night out.

Ely also runs 6 week wine tasting courses at a pricey €245 per person (though it does include food) and single evening tasting events at a more manageable €30 a head on Thursdays.  Advance booking obviously is required and full details are on their website.

We're bad

So some lovely person or people decided we were worth a nomination in the upcoming Irish Blog Awards in not one but two categories (Arts & Culture and Popculture).  Dave and I were so excited that we completely failed to put anything up on the blog about it!  So a huge thank you to whoever nominated us and a huge thank you to anyone who takes the time to read the blog!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gallery of Photography - Worlds of Colour

The new exhibition in the Gallery of Photography in Temple Bar, Worlds of Colour, is simply stunning. The shot selection, choice of subjects, and colourful vibrancy of these photos is exceptional.

This is world-class photography at its best and you can see it for free until 24th April.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

More bad news for Malahide

Further to my post about the closing of Fry's Model Railway in Malahide Castle, this report in today's Irish Times explains that the wonderful Tara's Palace dolls house, and the Museum of Childhood, housed in the same area of the Castle grounds as the railway, are all to be re-located but none have acquired a new venue yet.  The article states that:

The museums are located in the courtyard of the castle which will be given a makeover as part of a €10.5 million renovation of the castle and gardens. The renovation will make way for a new more commercial courtyard with a garden museum and interpretation area, and a large shop and restaurant. Avoca Handweavers has been rumoured to be in the frame but Fingal County Council won’t confirm names until, it says, the tendering process for the commercial operators for the retail area is complete.

Because that's what a post-boom Ireland needs, more expensive kitchen and coffee shops instead of family-friendly culture!  The Castle had a commercial venture running alongside these attractions up until a few years ago.  Anytime I ever visited these shops, they were devoid of customers and over-priced.  This is a sad day for Malahide.  Hopefully some good will come of this though and perhaps Malahide Castle will employ real tour guides who can answer questions, instead of a button on the wall in each room that tells you about it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Festival of Russian Culture

is running from 28th February - 7th March in Dublin in conjunction with the Russian Dept of Trinity (of which I am a graduate), Dublin City Council and some other institutions.  Programme seems to be a bit sketchy at the moment, with some events listed as already having passed.  Highlights include a screening of Eisenstein's classic silent film "Battleship Potemkin" with music and a family friendly day on 6th March in Cow's Lane with (hopefully) many many delicious Russian pancakes or blini as they are known in Russia.

This might be the best thing to happen for online promotion of Ireland's culture in... well, ever: the newly launched website and accompanying iPhone app. Go have a look.

Although I've no doubt that the funding for this was prompted by its potential to boost tourism, my personal interest in it is that it's a wonderful "must see" list of artistic and cultural venues in Dublin. Other institutions will be keen to join, and because the site already has such a strong list of respected cultural organisations involved it has a credibility that could snowball. Have a look not only at the section about the venues but also the events: it's possible this site could become an important source of information about current and upcoming cultural events in Dublin. This is the web at its best, curated and yet giving the institutions involved the chance to speak directly to their potential audience.

I've been to most of the venues listed, but not all. I hope to fix that over the coming weeks and months. Well done to everyone involve.

Note: despite the similar names, and are not in any way affiliated.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Earlier this evening I saw the opening show of the THEATRE MACHINE. (Yes, it's in uppercase.) A Sonnet for Dark Love was a dance piece by Ruari Donovan, and quite daringly for an opening act he's not an experienced dancer. Five minutes in I started to wonder if the concept was that the dancers would literally remain motionless for the entire thirty minutes of the show; and while I'd have admired them for such nerve, in fact it was just a slow build up to a much faster tempo. The theatre was packed - I'd heard tickets were selling fast, and it appears to be true.

There are four slots each night. There's a musical motif to this design. The first slot, 'Demotapes', is for very new works. In the case of Hawk/Hare it really is a demo: it's an extract from a larger work. The Demotapes start at 18:00 and run for thirty minutes. At €6 a pop, this is a bargain.

The second slot is called 'New Releases' and aims to show performances that wouldn't normally be seen in Dublin. Starting at 19:00, these shows run for 45 minutes. The price per show is €10.

Then there's 'Long Play' / LPS and as the name implies these are one hour plays, starting at 20:30 each evening. These are typically from more experienced companies. This is the most pricey slot, at €12.

At 22:00 there's the final slot, EPS. These half hour shows are by experienced performers working outside their normal field. Price: €10.

Speaking of price, you can get a ticket to see all four shows on a night for only €22. I reckon if there were a few of you this would be a great laugh, because there'll be a good variety of shows and a bit of time in between the performances to chill out and enjoy the (very nice) bar. Oh, and the sponsors are Absolut Vodka, which is fitting really given that the plays are similarly short and punchy.

Right so: I'm off to see tonight's EPS, Where do I start?. It'll be on again tomorrow evening.


Folks, just a quick reminder: this evening sees the start of THE THEATRE MACHINE TURNS YOU ON: VOL II. This consists of 15 plays packed into a five day schedule, all in Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar. To me it seems like a super-concentrated fringe to the Fringe Festival, a wonderful exhibition of variety and new talent. I can see why they call it a machine - every day they get ready for four more performances in the evening, with the involvement of large numbers of new and upcoming theatre companies from around the country.

The machine starts rolling at 6 pm today with "A Sonnet for Dark Love", a dance piece. For just €6 for a 30 minute show, what have you got to lose?

More on this later.

Science Gallery - 'Visceral'

At the weekend I popped into Science Gallery in Trinity College to see their latest exhibition, Visceral: The Living Art Experiment. As the name suggests, it's an art exhibition based on living tissue. The artworks come from SymbioticA / the University of Western Australia and were produced by artists working with the advice and support of scientists.

Just because the exhibition is made of organic matter doesn't change the most basic rule of enjoying art: context is everything. For €1 you can pick up a handy little booklet with information on the various pieces. Better still (and free), talk to the friendly and knowledgeable staff. From previous experience I was unsurprised to find that they know what they're talking about - most of them seem to be researchers, postgrads or other well-informed types. It's perhaps a bonus that they're good communicators and seemed interested in the material.

Then again, why wouldn't they be? There are some damn fine concepts on show. For example The Vision Splendid is a bioreactor with cells from an anonymous human donor who gave a sample back in 1969. Similarly Afterlife: Immortalisation of Kira and Rama looks at the idea that some cell lines could live on indefinitely; it also prompts discussion about the use of "Foetal Bovine Serum" (Calf-foetus blood). Ask a member of staff to tell you about it.

My favourite part of Visceral is Host, an exhibit about the sex lives of crickets. It's fascinating - fellow humans, crickets would find us terribly dull. Those are some damn kinky insects.

Visceral runs until 25th February 2011 and is well worth a look.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tutankhamun - his Tomb & his Treasures @ the RDS

So I'm in two minds about this exhibition, which opens next Thursday in the RDS and runs until mid-July.  When I first heard of it, I was very excited, having never been to Egypt despite having studied ancient history in college.  I was definitely going.  But the marketing is clever and it's initially  easy to miss that the whole thing is a replica.  The tomb is reconstructed to show you exactly how it was discovered by Carter and his team in 1922, something that the museum in Cairo doesn't do.  However, given the state of poor Egypt, would-be tourists are probably going to give it a wide berth for at least a few months, so this might do instead.  Their website does state that every item is an exact replica and you do get to see the things close up instead of behind glass.  If it's for you, it'll be pricey, with weekday tickets for adults at €16 and rising to €18 on the weekend, unless you can get to see it this week, when they do previews for significantly less.  There's rates for kids, students and groups, so no doubt it'll be popular with school trips this spring.  I'm still deciding whether to fork over the cash when I'm sure to visit Egypt at some point, but there's plenty of time between now and July.  If you do go soon, I'd love to hear your feedback.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Theatre - new plays

It's been a good year so far for Irish theatre. Can that high standard be maintained over the next few weeks?

Let's start with my personal highlight of the month: THE THEATRE MACHINE TURNS YOU ON: VOL II, a collection of short plays running from 15th to 19th February in Project Arts Centre. I like the idea of popping into the theatre for half an hour to an hour and seeing a complete play. Being able to do so several times each evening... magic.

There are lots of other new plays coming along besides that though. Raoul begins in the Abbey Theatre on Friday 18th; "Acrobat, clown, poet and magician, James Thiérrée creates a world of endless invention." It's supported by the French Embassy.

Also in the Abbey, No Romance starts on Wednesday 23rd. It's an Abbey Theatre commission.

Two shows opened in the last few days in Project Arts Centre: Four Told, a story told through dance; and Connected, which is (I'm reliably told) "short and sweet". On 22nd February two new plays will start in Project Arts: Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds and a play previously performed as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival, Mimic. (Dear Project Arts Centre, this is very impressive. You might actually run more plays this month than every other major theatre in Dublin combined.)

The Cripple of Inishmaan has won several international awards and will open in the Gaiety Theatre on 21st February. The theatre company, Druid, are one of the heavyweights of the Irish theatre scene: this could be the play of the month.

In the Helix there's The Early Hours on 18th and 19th February and also, starting on Thursday 24th, Hamlet. I've a confession: I've never actually seen Hamlet before.

Reaching Richie's Freedom begins in the New Theatre on February 14th, and God of Carnage (a comedy) is running at the moment in the Gate Theatre.

If you haven't yet seen The Field in the Olympia you've not long left - it ends on Saturday 12th.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Film Studies - short course in Filmbase

There's a new Film Studies course about to start in Filmbase. It'll consist of eight Monday evening classes with showings covering a wide range of film genres. At €180 it's a bit pricey but it could be good.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Asthma Society Table Quiz

In case anyone is planning to go to this, it has moved venue and will now be on in Central Hotel in Exchequer St (7.30 on 10th February).

Theatre Review: Batsh*t

Batsh*t is a new play by Dublin Youth Theatre, "a no holds barred commentary on the pressures of modern Irish life and what can happen when the pressure gets too much." Before the play began I had a slight apprehension that it would be angsty and worthy but perhaps not very entertaining. I needn't have worried; the story is simple enough - a tragic romance - but the way it's told is both innovative and enjoyable.

The story of the two central characters is told through a range of techniques. At times there's direct narration to the audience; mixed with that are interview-style monologues from minor characters who know the protagonists. The use of costume is superb, simple yet effective. (I won't spoil it for you.) The most striking approach is the use of what I can only describe as montage sequences, highly physical scenes with musical scores and repetition.

Ah, montage sequences, perhaps mankind's greatest artistic invention. If they were good enough for Rocky and Team America, they're good enough for the theatre. Batsh*t didn't have anyone welding, lifting weights or running up stairs but its montage sequences were nonetheless excellent. The quality of the live music (including vocals) is a considerable bonus.

These sequences also highlight the unusual approach to developing the play: it was written and devised by the cast. Perhaps surprisingly, it's highly coherent, moves along well and remains interesting throughout. It's a good sign that the audience wants more at the end of a play, and they did.

Batsh*t is clever, original and highly entertaining. Recommended.

The play runs until 5th February 2011, including a matinee on Saturday 5th.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dublin walking tours

Last year, I highlighted Architecture Ireland's nascent initiative of architect-led walking tours but there is already an established regular set of walking tours in Dublin.  Run by Dublin City Council, and mostly led by historian and artist, Pat Liddy, Let's Walk & Talk, runs regular weekly tours on a variety of themes and subjects.  Highlights also coming up in the next few months are:

6th March: Women & their contribution to the health of Dublin Past;
meeting at Fusilier's Arch, Stephen's Green at noon.

2nd April: Rathmines: a suburb apart;
meeting at Swan Leisure centre at 12.30

7th April: The 5 Lamps area: hub for transport and architecture since the 18th century;
meeting at the Five Lamps at 19.00

13th April: Handel's Dublin, meeting 11.00 at Wolfe Tone Park

28th April: Ghost Light (chosen for this year's One City One Book) - Edwardian Dublin
meeting at The Abbey at 19.00

Theatre - Batsh*t

From Project Arts Centre:

Batsh*t is an original performance written and performed by a cast of young people. A no holds barred commentary on the pressures of modern Irish life and what can happen when the pressure gets too much.

Inspired by the classic text Woyzech, Batsh*t explores the lives of a group of young people and the challenges they face, exploring themes of mental illness, social hierarchy and violence as a response to social pressures. Featuring original writing, original music, multi media and highly physical performances.

Batsh*t starts this evening.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Oscar Wilde Festival at TCD this week

No, I hadn't heard about it either but Rupert Everett opened it at the weekend and there's various lectures, plays and speakers throughout this week.  Performances of The Happy Prince will take place daily in Players theatre at lunchtime as well as new versions of  The Importance of being Earnest.  Booking can be made by email and phone and everything is free.  All the details are here.

Fry's Model Railway

I've just heard that Fry's Model Railway, housed in Malahide Castle, has been permanently closed to the public. What I read says it will close this month but when I rang their number, there was a very out of date message saying they were closed for the 2010 season and would re-open on 1st April 2011, which I presume is now not happening.  I feel terribly sad that this has closed, it's never been well-publicised but every child in Malahide sees it and loves it.  Apparently, Dublin Tourism are going to scout around for another place to house it.  Here's a youtube clip of it.