Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New entertainment website -

This blog,, is unashamedly focused on Dublin and only on Dublin. If you're looking for a wider view of what's going on in Ireland you might want to have a look at a new site called

Based on the quality of the people involved I expect it'll be good. Here's how they describe
It’s a place for us to tell you about events, festivals, theatre and more.

We run competitions, share reviews and previews and have fun with what we do.

We post information that we’ve found or from event organisers, marketing and press departments, PR companies, charities and venues to help spread the word.

We’ll be up front when we’re sharing press releases or asked / invited to write about an event. We’ll also share where we found our information online.

Molly Sweeney @ The Gate

Brian Friel's play Molly Sweeney returns to the Gate for a short run and I attended the opening night yesterday evening.  The original 1994 production toured to London and Broadway, to critical and popular acclaim, winning amongst others, the Drama Critics' Circle Award.  Dawn Bradfield plays the eponymous Molly, a middle-aged blind woman from Donegal, who is talked into having surgery to restore her sight by her effusive husband, Frank, performed to great effect by Peter Hanly.  Mr Rice, played by Michael Byrne, is the once-great surgeon who attends her.  The set, designed by Paul Keogan, is astonishingly minimal.  I heard someone comment "now they spent money on that set!"  It's just some chairs and windows, like a waiting room.  Effective use of lighting means it looks quite different at various times in the play.  Occasional theatre-goers may not be familiar with the monologue style.  The 3 actors never interact which each other but all are on stage for the whole play.  Each one speaks in turn, mimicking the others when necessary and relating the story, as if to friends.  The other 2 actors are silent but occasionally move during the other's part.  Great use of spotlights is made here, obviously.  I'd only seen one other play done like this before (Unravelling the Ribbon at the Project Arts Centre), and I felt it worked better than this one.
Dawn Bradfield as Molly Sweeney.  Courtesy of The Gate.

The story reaches a climax with the end of Act 1 and then takes an emotional downturn for the second act.  Bradfield's performance rises and falls appropriately with the intense emotion she portrays.  It was a nice touch to have her barefoot, showing her character's inner vulnerability, while outwardly projecting confidence.
Peter Hanly as Frank Sweeney.  Courtesy of The Gate.

It's not a crowd-pleasing piece, but taut acting and an engaging story keeps the audience's attention. 

Molly Sweeney runs until 23rd July.  Tickets are €20 - €35 and can be booked on the Gate's website, and in the usual places.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Competition: tickets for Ragús and a night in the Burlington Hotel for two

Recently we reviewed the show Ragús. It's an enjoyable mix of Irish dancing and Trad music, although I was concerned that in the current environment some readers might consider it just a bit too expensive.

Now we're giving away a pair of tickets to the show - complete with a night's stay in the Burlington Hotel, three course dinner, and a full Irish breakfast the next morning (all for two persons). Normally this would cost €99 per person sharing - which I think is a good deal. The show continues in the Burlington until 3rd October 2011, so if you win you'll have plenty of time to take advantage of the tickets. As many of our readers are based in Dublin, I'd suggest that the prize might make a very nice present if you have friends or relatives popping up to the city for the weekend.

To be in with a chance to win, just mail us at or tweet us at @dublinculture before the end of Sunday 10th July 2011. Good luck!

No Drama Theatre

Well done to No Drama Theatre for their end-of-season 'Shindig' at the weekend. The eleven short performances were nicely varied and there was some genuine talent on show, both on stage and in terms of new writing.

No Drama's Tuesday evening workshops are over for now but will return in the autumn.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review: 'Fast Portraits' in Project Arts Centre

Fast Portraits is a contemporary dance performance by dance company Rex Levitates and choreographer Liz Roche. Today is the show's final day in Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar - there's a 3 pm matinee and an evening showing at 8 pm.

I have to admit that my knowledge of contemporary dance is quite limited, so I'm not going to attempt any sort of in-depth critical analysis. Here's an extract from the press release:
Fast Portraits...a singular moment captured from diverse dancing perspectives.

Inspired by the realistic observations of the true human condition by artists Bill Viola and Caravaggio, Rex Levitates explore the layers of emotion and memory that infuse captured images and transfer them into movement. The unleashing of the inherent, hidden human intensity creates complicated, life-affirming and sometimes surreal dialogues between the performers connecting them in ways previously unimagined.

This latest evening of work from the award-winning choreographer Liz Roche features two new pieces Fast Portraits and These Two People with specially commissioned scores from Denis Roche and Joel Mellin respectively. It also features a short film piece, Solo Portrait directed by Project Arts Centre Artistic Director, Willie White.

Personally, I enjoyed the show. The synchronised movements, clever use of repetition, and variety of scenes combine to produce an aesthetically satisfying performance. The musical score is good, and well suited to the rhythm of the dance pieces. The costuming - particularly for the first half of the performance - is also effective.

You don't need to be familiar with dance to appreciate the quality of Rex Levitates' performance.

Tickets cost €18/€14. The performance runs for 60 minutes without an interval.

No Drama Theatre - Shindig

Looking for something fun to do this evening? No Drama Theatre are having their first Shindig event of 2011 tonight at 7:30 pm in the Teachers Club on Parnell Square West. Members of the drama group will be performing a variety of short pieces, after which there'll be drinking and dancing and who knows what. Tickets cost just €5 and are available on the door.

Guaranteed fun.

Filmbase turns 25

Filmbase is an organisation which provides support and training for the Irish film industry. They're currently celebrating their 25th anniversary, so today (25th June) they have a range of free events in their building on Curved Street in Temple Bar, including free screenings of short films.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Comedy Gig

Neil Delamere is headlining a comedy gig in the Abbey Tavern in Howth on 1st July.  Sounds like it'll be fun - tickets can be booked from the venue or (evil) ticketmaster for €22.50.  Might be just the sort of thing for a "summer's" evening in Dublin!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera at IMMA

If you have not yet been to IMMA to see the exhibition on Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera, you still have until Sunday the 26th to catch it. I personally would recommend that you do.

My gallery-going companion and I momentarily puzzled over the portrait on the cover of the exhibition guide, until we copped that the portrait was of Natasha Gelman, from whose collection the works exhibited have been selected. She and her husband were personal friends of Kahlo and Rivera, which adds a poignant and personal element to the exhibition, particularly to Natasha's portraits as respectively painted by both Kahlo and Rivera (and do look at the sheer differences in the demeanour of the two portraits!).

Many of Kahlo's paintings are very well known along with her own in parts tragic life story. At the exhibition, though, we got an impression of much more deeper dimensions to her work. Although I am usually loath to connect an artist's work too much to their own life, it is highly doubtful that Kahlo's paintings can be separated from her personal life. Their symbolist nature also lends them to a great deal of viewer's response. We found grief in works, which according to the exhibition guide were supposed to convey joy and serenity, and peace and pleasure in those, which others had interpreted to signify negative or at least troubled emotions. Like it or not, Frida Kahlo is very definitely a feminine painter and her works focus on the woman - even when they are seemingly centred around her husband. Her litograph of her own miscarriage is bare with pure raw emotion, whereas The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), me, Diego and Senor Xototl displays the eponymous characters as serene components of the universe. Those who are used to seeing Kahlo's tormented self-portraits should pay particular attention to photographs taken of her by her lover Nickolas Murray, which show her as confident, remarkably beautiful, and apparently at peace.

Although Rivera was the more celebrated artist during the couple's lifetime, his paintings unfortunately do pale a little next to his wife's. Besides his portrait of Mrs Gelman, we also liked his Calla Lily Vendors, both of which play around with repeating shapes and bright colours. We spent some time discussing his two nude lithographs in display, one of Dolores Olmedo (Nude with Long Hair), which emphasises the model's face and erogenous zones, and the other of his wife, which is more realistic.

As personalities, Kahlo and Rivera cannot really be separated from their works or from each other. As such it was fitting that the exhibition should display works from both of them, to go some way towards recreating the context in which the two worked. Thus this powerful exhibition is not only of their works but also of the two people and their associates.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera, Masterpieces of the Jacques & Natasha Gelman Collection, continues until 26 June in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, New Galleries. Entrance €5/€3, Friday free entry.

'Fast Portraits' in Project Arts Centre

Tonight is the opening night for Rex Levitates Dance Company's Fast Portraits:
Inspired by the work of artists like Carravaggio and Bill Viola and their attempts to represent the true human experience, Rex Levitates take those observations one step further bringing them to life through movement. Fast Portraits peels back the layers of emotion and memory that exist within us all to explore what it is to be human and how this can connect us in ways previously unimagined.

The show runs until 25th June. Tickets cost €18/€14.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Iphigenia in Aulis

A new production of Iphigenia in Aulis is starting in Project Arts Centre. Currently previewing, the opening night is 20th June. I've been impressed previously by the company involved (Classic Stage Ireland) so I'm expecting this to be good.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: Measure for Measure

Having recently enjoyed Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Dublin Shakespeare Festival, I wanted more, so I went to see newly-formed theatre company Whiskey Tango Foxtrot's opening night of Measure for Measure. The venue was the Back Loft in La Catedral Studios on St Augustine Street.

I've never seen Measure for Measure before - it's one of Shakespeare's less well known plays, but quite undeservedly so. Compared to many of his more famous plays the characters seem less epic and more genuinely human, neither purely good nor evil but simply caught up with their own concerns. At times the play is almost like a modern courtroom drama. It's tense, compelling, morally complex. In that context the use of modern-day clothing in this production works well and doesn't seem jarring with the style of the dialogue.

The production suffers slightly from the clunking and creaking noises created as the actors walk across the wooden floorboards - the actresses' footwear might have been a contributing factor. This isn't a major problem but I'd suggest grabbing one of the comfy seats near the front.

Measure for Measure is a great play, and this is a solid (if unexceptional) production.

Tickets are good value at just €10. The play starts at 8 pm sharp and runs for about 90 minutes plus a 15 minute interval. The play continues until 18th June.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Review: Ragús

The Ragús performersThe Burlington Hotel in Ballsbridge is currently hosting a show called Ragús. Ragús mixes together Trad music, singing, and an impressive dance routine combining elements of traditional Irish dancing with other forms of dance.

The evening starts with a three course meal, served before the show begins. The starter and main courses are good but plain; the dessert though is excellent. The post-dessert Irish Coffees are a nice touch, and the timing of the meal is just right - enough time to chat, relax, and enjoy the meal, but not so much as to cause any impatience waiting for the show to commence.

Ragús combines three forms of performance: instrumental music, singing, and dance. The instrumental music is mostly based on traditional Irish music - "trad" - but with a few non-traditional elements as well, providing some variety. On the night I saw the show, the lead musician made a valiant attempt to get the crowd into the trad spirit, with partial success - for audience members unused to the rhythm of trad, clapping along and shouting yeeeowh! at the right moments is in fact more difficult than you might imagine.

The more striking part of the performance though isn't the music, it's the dancing. Mostly this is based on traditional Irish dancing but there are other styles mixed in with it, and at times it resembles Flamenco. This is beautiful, powerful, high-tempo dance - I loved it.

The only part of the performance I found disappointing was the singing. The female vocalist was technically perfect and the inclusion of songs adds variety to the pace of the overall Ragús performance, but the songs were just a bit too bland for my liking.

So, is Ragús good, and is it good value? The first question is easy - yes, it's good.

As for value, at €55 this isn't cheap, but against that the price includes dinner. Whether the show is good value partly depends on what you're looking for; it's a relaxing evening rather than an exciting one. I suspect that for many Irish people at the moment, the price might just be too high, even if they'd enjoy the show. Although it won't be quite the same experience, it's also possible to buy show-only tickets (without dinner) for €29 - probably a better value option.

If you're planning to visit Dublin for the weekend then you might want to consider the Burlington's special offer of €99 (per person sharing) for a night's accommodation, dinner, the show and a full Irish breakfast. I quite like the Burlington, and its location in Ballsbridge is pleasant and nearby to the city centre, so I think that's a good deal.

There's one group of visitors to the city I'd wholeheartedly encourage to see the show: anyone holidaying briefly in Ireland and aiming to get a quick taste of Irish culture. Ragús offers an enjoyable, convenient way to experience authentic Irish music, dancing and food. If the food is slightly plain, that's because that's exactly how Irish cuisine usually is.

Ragús continues in the Burlington until 3rd October 2011. Doors open at 6:30 pm, with dinner being served at 7 pm. The show starts at 8 pm and runs for about two hours including an interval. The show is on every night except Tuesdays.

Friday, June 10, 2011

More open air theatre

Following on from the Dublin Shakespeare Festival ending tomorrow in town, here's some details of more open-air events this "summer", an initiative of Fingal Arts.

The Chapterhouse Theatre Company will be performing The Taming of the Shrew in Ardgillan Castle on Friday, 1st July at 19:30.  They will also be staging an adaption of Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskill (which was a beautifully filmed period drama by the BBC in 2009) in Newbridge House on Friday 8th July at 19:30.  Both venues have extensive parking.

Tickets (€10 for adults, €5 for kiddies and family prices at €25) are available direct from the venues or Balbriggan and Skerries libraries.  Audience should bring their own rugs or low backed seating.

Review: Blood Knot

Blood Knot tells the story of two half-brothers living in South Africa during the apartheid era; one brother is clearly dark-skinned while the other has much lighter skin and can pass as white. At the time of the first performance of the play in 1961 theatres in South Africa were racially segregated, and although Blood Knot made playwright Athol Fugard famous internationally it also made him quite unpopular with the State authorities at home.

Despite the acclaim it has received over the years, Blood Knot isn't the most dramatic of plays, and takes considerable time to introduce the characters and premise. Just as problematically, at times the script sacrifices the plausibility of the characters for the sake of exposition and metaphor.

Having said that, I enjoyed Blood Knot. Although the play starts slowly it gathers pace as it progresses. Both characters are well acted - Kolade Agboke's portrayal of Zach in the second act is just so damn likeable. It's also nice to see actors respond sensibly to the unexpected, so I was pleased to see that when a door didn't close properly and instead swung open, Morris (Keith Ward) closed it without missing a beat. Not all performers respond so well.

The most fascinating concept in the play is the dual nature of light-skinned Morris. Neither obviously black nor truly white, he has the potential to choose his own identity, and with it his place in society. He can choose resentment towards a system that discriminates against him; or he can choose to hide his true nature and so be treated with respect. It's to the play's credit that this is not presented as a simple, easy choice.

Although it starts a little slowly, overall Blood Knot is well-acted and enjoyable.

This production of Blood Knot in Project Arts Centre continues until Saturday 11th June. Tickets cost €18. The play runs for 2 hours 20 minutes including a 15 minute interval.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Joyce's Ulysses - its enduring popularity explained by Senator David Norris

As I mentioned in a previous post, our little gang is reading and reviewing books set in and about Dublin this year.  Somehow I ended up with the daunting task of reading Ulysses.  Until recently, I'd never even met anyone who had managed to get the whole way through it.  In fact, I half thought that if one did complete it, that person might have to be deported or given a medal or both.  I had notions of completing it before Bloomsday (16th June) but have spectacularly failed on that front.  It'll come as no surprise to anyone that Ulysses is a hard book to get into.  I've never re-read so many sentences and am actually keeping a list of words I had to look up in the dictionary (many of which are not there since Joyce made them up).  It's a hard admission from a woman who has kept a book journal since the age of 11, but better minds than me have failed in this endeavour.  So I got some help.

David Norris, the preeminent Joycean scholar, Trinity College Senator and presidential hopeful, kindly agreed to an interview to help me (and our readers) ford the wild river of Joyce's masterwork.  He began by giving me some background on the novel and Joyce himself.

Norris never met Joyce or his wife but he was lucky enough to meet and know many of their friends, publishers and contemporaries such as Sylvia Beach, Maria Jolas, Frank Budgen and many more.  Interestingly, he says it’s fallacy that Ulysses was ever banned in Ireland.  In fact, they used the Customs Consolidation Act (1876), which meant they didn’t allow it into Ireland, a small technicality which of course amounts to the same thing.

“The spark of the novel began on 10th June, not the 16th, which is Bloomsday, when Joyce was out walking on Merrion Square and his eye was caught by a beautiful young woman – she had long chestnut hair and a certain saucy air about her”.  This was Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid from Galway and Joyce’s future wife.  She actually thought he was a foreigner on first appearance.  They made a date, which she did not keep, being a bit of a flirt.  Joyce pursued Nora to her place of work and persuaded her to meet again, on Thursday, 16th June 1904.  They went out walking on the beach in Sandymount.  The exact details are unknown but they began some form of intimate relationship that day and were together until his death in 1941.  Joyce’s father was said to comment on hearing his future daughter-in-law’s surname, “she’ll stick with him”!  As Norris eloquently put it “that was the day the clocks stopped for him”.  They moved to the Continent in 1908 and Joyce rarely returned to Ireland again, yet his novels are all set in Edwardian Dublin.

Norris’ major advice to readers of Ulysses is to read it aloud. Joyce was a musician – he had a beautiful tenor voice and even took a bronze medal at the Féis Ceol.  Nora would have preferred him to be a musician than a writer, saying that he could have earned more money this way.  To illustrate his point, Norris quotes from memory the opening lines of the novel. 

"Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of
lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown,
ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He
held the bowl aloft and intoned:
Introibo ad altare Dei."

I have to say his advice immediately makes sense.  I’m going to abandon the notion of reading it and get an audiobook of it (and then I’ll have a small ongoing personal debate as to whether listening to a book means I can put it in the book journal!)  Once I’ve listened to it, and know the story, I’ll be in a better position to read it.

It's also reassuring to know that some of Joyce’s characters are as puzzled by his word use as his readers were.  At least he knew it was challenging!  Of course, his celebrated development of stream-of-consciousness writing appears in the novel and would seem to show the meandering thoughts of his characters, but in fact, every word is selected and intended.

I couldn't resist asking if  there was a correlation between it taking Odysseus 10 years to get home (after the Iliad) and how long it takes to read the book.  “No, but Joyce would have been amused and delighted by that!”  Joyce himself described it as his “usylessly (sic) unreadable blue book of Eccles”.

We then moved on to talk about Bloomsday, which is now actually a week long series of cultural events to do with Joyce and Ulysses.   Of particular interest this year is a talk at the Irish Jewish Museum on Joyce and the Jewish Dublin of his time (13th June @ 18:30).

Ulysses was actually uncelebrated in Dublin until 1954 when a group of bohemian artists hired 2 horse-drawn carriages and followed the route of the novel in a pilgrimage, and even made an amateur film of it.  This group included the poet Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien.  Almost 10 years later, Norris himself became involved in the scene – performing parts of the novel in the locations where they took place.  He took to wearing what is now considered to be his uniform of Bloomsday – which Norris which put together himself (straw hat, brocade waistcoat, silver topped cane, etc).  People thought he was quite the character.  After that, he began attending international symposiums but believed he could do better.  And he would go on to do better.  In 1982, the first Dublin symposium on Joyce was held.  Horizon Theatre Productions re-enacted “The Wandering Rocks” episode of Ulysses in costume, and the film of it was shown all over the world.  Ideas like this cemented the idea of Bloomsday as a worldwide celebration of James Joyce and Ulysses.  So don't be surprised to see people in Edwardian dress next Thursday, cycling bicycles and eating special Bloomsday breakfasts. greatly appreciated David taking time from his busy campaign schedule to talk to us this week and we wish him every success in the election.  Hopefully this time next year, I'll be interviewing him in the Áras about the cultural program of his presidency.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Tape

Sometimes the best theatre is simple. A good play doesn't need a lavish and expensive set, a large cast, or contrived attempts at contemporary social relevance. It just needs good acting, good characters and a good plot. LHC Theatre's new production of Tape has all three. This is an excellent piece of theatre, combining a very strong, fast-paced script with an equally high quality of acting.

Despite the simplicity of the production Tape has an almost cinematic feel. The acting and script are both unusually naturalistic: the characters are plausible modern people. Whereas many plays take considerable time to build up pace and introduce the main characters, here we're right into the thick of the action almost immediately.

Set in America, the story is about three very different people who were friends in high school but now, a decade later, rarely meet. All three actors (Lauterio Zamparelli, Hilary Rose and Chris Aylmer) look and sound the part, maintaining their accents well throughout.

Tape is on in Thomas Reads pub on the corner of Parliament Street and Dame Street. It's on at 6:30 pm each evening until Sunday 12th June. The duration is one hour with no interval. One of the nice features of using the basement of a pub as a theatre venue is that customers can enjoy a drink during the show. It's also nice to be able to get so close in on the action. Tickets cost €10 and include a free drink. Highly recommended.

Ómós: to be an Irish man

The charity, One in Four, is organising a cultural event to raise funds on 25th June in the gorgeous Pepper Cannister church.  This year's line-up includes readings by Pat Boran, John Lonergan & Paula Meehan.  Music will be provided by Mary Coughlan and Colm Ó Snodaigh (of Kila fame).  Kevin McAleer will do some stand-up and that's not all.  All the performers are giving their time for free and profits will go to the charity.  Why not combine your cultural diet with supporting this worthy cause and enjoy a quality evening.

Tickets are €25 and can be booked on or call 01 6624070.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Market House EP

Robin James Hurt, the Scottish-Irish folk musician, is launching his new CD The Market House on Sunday 12th June in the Ivy House in Drumcondra. The EP combines folk influences from Ireland, Scotland and England and also features original compositions.

I'm no expert on folk (or music in general) but I know what I like, and I like this sample over on youtube:

Monday, June 6, 2011


Last Wednesday I went along to Shebeen Chic on George's Street for the fourth event of Dublintellectual. The aim of Dublintellectual is "to champion academic discussion in the public sphere through events that take place in informal settings with established and up and coming scholars". The three speakers talked about gothic architecture in Ireland; technology and culture; and the Irish film industry. I enjoyed listening to the speakers but I also think a large part of the event's appeal is the level of knowledge and engagement by members of the audience.

As for Shebeen Chic, it's a nice, lively venue but it does have its flaws. There was quite a bit of background noise and despite the stylishly casual shabbiness of the furnishings, drinks in Shebeen Chic are actually quite expensive.

The next event is on Wednesday 22nd June 2011. So far I'm aware of only one of the speakers but he's someone I'd be very interested to hear, Stuart McLaughlin of

Romeo & Juliet

I was at Sunday evening's performance of Romeo & Juliet, part of the Dublin Shakespeare Festival in Trinity.  Having booked through DU Players (the drama society) website, I was a little disappointed to discover that they were not the actors.  But the GB Theatre Company were equal to the task and performed on a traditional stage, with temporary grandstands set up in Front Square.  As it got dark, lanterns were brought out by the actors.  The props and stage were minimal, in true Shakespearian style and the company was small enough that actors doubled up for some characters.  They were a fine ensemble cast, and worked within the old English to remind the audience how funny a play Romeo & Juliet is.  When you read it at school for your Junior Cert, it's difficult to find the right rhythm and pacing.  I remember most of the humour passing by the vast majority of my schoolmates and indeed a lot of it is of a sexual nature that 14 years olds won't get.  There was some interesting editorial work done on the play.  While nearly all the dialogue was intact, minor parts like valets and pages were instead said by more involved characters and a couple of incidental scenes were cut - no real loss to the story, of course.  A lovely addition was some gregorian-chant style hymns sung off stage by the company not on stage during parts of the play.  Some of the actors also played some (presumably) Elizabethan music while the audience were getting settled and again during the performance to good effect.

The performance was marred for me by the extreme turn of weather, which had me looking to the stars to see if somehow we were now in the wintery Southern hemisphere. The temperature was a tiny 8 degrees with quite a windchill.  I wore my winter jacket and a hat for the whole performance, other people had blankets.  I was sorry to see a good number of people leave during the second half, presumably due to cold and not boredom!  A nice touch, which is in place every night, is the free tea and coffee on offer in the intermission, provided by Lemon.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say goodbye til it be morrow is just one of the many famous lines you'll get to hear if you take the time to watch this nicely produced show, which runs a few more times during the next week, along with Twelfth Night, which Dave will be reviewing shortly.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Art Books of Henri Matisse

The new special exhibition of the Art Books of Henri Matisse at the Chester Beatty Library presents the visitor with an inspiring selection of images, which is sufficiently small to be taken in with comfort during a lunch hour, but large enough to leave the viewer sated at the end. Sated, but still desireous of another encounter with this fascinating artist. I visited the Chester Beatty on Thursday.

Rather than just simple illustrations, livres d'artistes were interpretations of the works of well known writers by well known visual artists, coveted as luxury goods among the middle class from c. 1900 onwards. The exhibition at the Chester Beatty displays works by Stéphane Mallarmé, Henry de Motherlant, Charles d'Orléans and James Joyce as seen through Matisse's eye, as well as images from Jazz, Matisse's collection of plates based on improvisations of jazz musicians. Jazz, with its deep striking colours, stands out from the rest of the images, mostly black and white, or with only the occasional touch of colour. One of the images displayed is Icarus, the figure of black on a blue background surrounded by yellow stars. I was amused to note that the claim of this being Matisse's most reproduced artwork seemed to hold true, as I later on the same day passed through Temple Bar and saw a restaurant advertise a special menu, with the words printed on an A4 poster of Icarus.

Much of Matisse's work is very sensual. The striking colours of Jazz are reminders of hot days and exotic milieus. The stylised images of the rest of the artists' books displayed here create impressions of curves, motions and desires with their simple technique of outline drawing. Female bodies feature a great deal, from the playful La Chevelure (Hair) to the sincerity of ...emportés jusqu'aux constellations...(....taken up to the heavens...). It is worth noting that the exhibition is presented on an interior of dark magenta and sky blue, which on the one hand recalls the colours of Jazz and on the other hand does justice to the lightness of the other works. Against a light background, it would have been too easy to simply pass by the etchings and linoleum cuts without paying attention to their exquisite lines.

The Art Books of Henri Matisse, 26 May - 25 September 2011, admission free.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' in the Gate Theatre

Reviewed by John McKeown

Tennessee Williams’ 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning play is far from being a subdued or quiet piece of work. It’s a bubbling cauldron of squabbling, back-stabbing, and outright recrimination, in the mansion of the patriarchal Big Daddy, on the night his family celebrate his sixty-fifth birthday. Big Daddy, unknown to himself, has terminal cancer, and hasn’t yet made his will. One of the two sons is set to inherit 28,000 acres of prime farm-land in the Mississippi Delta.

The play’s vibrant display of indoor fireworks isn’t short of explosions, but the cast of Mark Brokaw’s production provide a sustained assault on the ear-drums that can be quite nerve-shredding. They all, almost invariably, act as if a Southern drawl has to be yelled to be believed.

Maggie ‘The Cat’ played by Fiona O’Shaughnessy, is the proud owner of a rasping falsetto which allows for precious little modulation of tone. Her self-confessed aim is to win back the heart of husband Brick, steadily drinking until he hears the ‘click’ in his head which initiates the onset of oblivion. As she’s thus laid her cards on the table she has to play them as seductively and subtly as possible, but that rasping tone, and the statuesque poses she keeps striking – arms outstretched like a windmill is a favourite - are the precise opposite of the voluptuously feral feline grace required.

Brick, played by Richard Flood in his Gate Theatre debut, exhibits a disappointing lack of presence throughout Act One, though there are attractive traces of that ‘charm of the defeated’ that gets Maggie so hot under the cat-collar. Between hobbling to the whiskey tray on his crutches, gulping the booze, and weathering Maggie’s interminable verbal storm-fronts, Brick has few good lines, but when they come they have to be delivered with more of an acerbic sting, more sense of someone’s acutely sore spot being trodden on, than Flood displays.

Brokaw’s production makes another big misstep in having Act Two, like Act One, set in Brick and Maggie’s bedroom. It does add to the sweaty claustrophobia to some degree, but, like the endless shouting, it goes against a vital grain of the drama itself. One of Brick’s brother Gooper’s and sister-in-law Mae’s main weapons against Maggie’s bid for ascendancy with Big Daddy is that her and Brick are childless, in fact, they know, from nightly acts of espionage, that Brick and Maggie don’t even sleep together. Maggie simply wouldn’t tolerate her in-laws and the friends of the family gathering around her and Brick’s failed marriage bed.

Act Two’s opening minutes are overcrowded and I had the dizzying feeling that the whole thing was spiralling into farce. Thank Tennessee for Owen Roe!

Roe’s Big Daddy is the anchor that weights and redeems the production. His is a truly compelling, authoritative portrait of this vital, visceral self-made man, revelling in a new surge of self-belief and power in the conviction that his last, exhaustive medical tests show he has nothing worse than a ‘spastic colon’. ‘The sky is open again!’ he yells. But when Roe yells, I’m thrilled rather than wincing.

His performance acts like a magnet drawing the best out of those around him. Flood rises to his standard, the noxiously affectionate Big Mamma, played by Marion O’Dwyer, proves herself to be human, and as unforgiving with ‘mendacity’ as Big Daddy. Even the gratingly frenetic Maggie becomes palatable, mostly by being neutered by Roe’s overwhelming Caesarean dominance.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof continues in the Gate Theatre until 18th June.

'Redundant' in Block T

As part of First Thursdays Dublin Block T in Smithfield presented a new exhibition called Redundant. Combining text, sound, digital projection and sculpture, the theme of the works is redundancy. The exhibition runs until 6th June.

I particularly liked The Hair Shirt Household, a simple but well-executed piece. I'm not sure if it was intended as dark parody but I couldn't help laughing as I read through it and thought of the many serious, detailed and ultimately ineffective reports I've read over the years. The real highlight of the evening though was Block T itself - it was my first time there and I liked the cheap-but-stylish feel of the place. It helped that I was there for an opening night on a First Thursday; the decor had a Shebeen Chic quality to it, but unlike in the pub of that name there were free drinks. Art: just add alcohol.

In case you're unfamiliar with the concept, the idea of 'First Thursdays' is that selected art galleries stay open later than normal on the first Thursday of each month. Typically they remain open until 8 pm although in this instance Block T remained open until 9 pm. Last month's First Thursday had a lovely buzz to it in Temple Bar, and though it was more muted this time I still consider it to have been a success - it gave me a reason and opportunity to visit an arts space I hadn't been to before, and I appreciated it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's on in June?

Here's a quick list of some of my personal highlights for June.

Wednesday 1st June:
Dublintellectual are holding another of their Conversations on Culture evenings in Shebeen Chic at 8 pm. It's a free event.

The Dublin Shakespeare Festival (left) in Trinity College starts, running until 11th June. It looks promising.

Also starting right at the start of the month is the High Anxiety film festival in IFI in Temple Bar. It continues until 26th June.

Thursday 2nd June:
A Midsummer Night's Dream? opens in Project Arts Centre: "Forget the romantic fairytale, Loose Canon is ripping A Midsummer Night’s Dream to shreds, exposing a sordid nightmare of lust, rejection, manipulation and self-denial - a darkly comic re-imaging of Shakespeare’s classic tale for the 21st Century."

Bloom in the Park begins - "Bloom, Ireland's largest gardening, food and family event, takes place in the Phoenix Park Dublin during the June bank holiday weekend". It continues until 6th June.

And of course First Thursdays Dublin continues! This has been working very well so far - the idea is that art galleries and the like stay open late on the first Thursday of each month. Yes, that sounds a little like Culture Night and yes, it's managing to get a touch of that same wonderful excitement and buzz to it. This Thursday, Temple Bar is the place to be - and if you're thinking of seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream? in Project Arts Centre that'll be just fine, because the Centre is part of First Thursdays.

Monday 6th June:
Bloodknot opens in Project Arts Centre. This play set in apartheid-era South Africa was written decades ago, during that era, and received considerable attention over the years.

Wednesday 8th June:
Ignite Dublin returns, once again with its simple and effective format: a diverse range of speakers, each having only five minutes to discuss their chosen topic. I really enjoyed Ignite the last time I went along.

Thursday 9th June:
Taste of Dublin runs from 9th to 12th June in Iveagh Gardens.

Saturday 11th June:
Flamenca in the Culture Box in Temple Bar - a free event with Peña Flamenca El Indalo. Time: 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.

Monday 20th June:
Classic Stage Ireland return to Project Arts Centre with Iphigenia In Aulis. CSI's Oedipus the King was excellent and I've been looking forward to seeing their next production. I can't say for sure until I see it but I'm expecting this to be good.

Thursday 23rd:
Brian Friel's Translations begins in the Abbey Theatre. The current plays - Pygmalion and Perve - run until 11th June and 28th June respectively, with Translations continuing until 13th August.

Tuesday 28th June:
Riverdance returns to Ireland for another tour.