Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hollywood Babylon - Dublin's Midnight Movie Film Club

I continue to be impressed by Block T. It's primarily an arts centre, but the team behind it are clearly doing a good job of reaching out and being part of the wider community. One of its uses is as a venue for Hollywood Babylon, "Dublin's Midnight Movie Film Club". Hollywood Babylon generally meets every fortnight on a Saturday and shows a double bill, with the first film starting at 10 pm and the second at midnight. It's €6 for one film or €8 for both.

I liked the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Maybe it's partly due to the venue; for example instead of cinema-style seating there's a mish-mash of seats ranging from cheap plastic office chairs to couches. It's a BYOB event, which is nice (and cost-friendly), but they also sell snacks and drinks. €1.50 for a big bag of pretty good popcorn is a damn fine deal compared to any cinema's prices, and a bottle of Sol for only €2.50... what can I say, I'm not much of a drinker but I appreciate having the option to drink alcohol while watching a movie.

And the film I saw sure was one of those needs-alcohol movies. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is something of a cult '80s movie, and walks that fine line between being a spoof and just being awful. I'm not sure whether to love it or hate it. Both, perhaps.

I didn't stick around for the second film (Samurai Cop) but overall I left feeling that this is an event I'd go back to. If you're looking for a cheap alternative to the cinema - or something a bit different and more sociable - Hollywood Babylon is worth a look.

Note: the film club isn't necessarily on throughout the year, and they recommend mailing them about the venue, so I'd suggest checking their Facebook page (linked to above) or mailing them before going.

A castle fit for a Prince

Malahide Castle played host to Prince last night in his only stand-alone gig of his current European tour.  It is also the only concert at the castle this summer.  I haven't heard the total attendance but it was apparently in the region of 30,000 people.  The castle had a real festival vibe to it with food stands and squashy cushions provided by a company called Elephant.  The support act were called Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, who were late on stage, apparently due to a delayed sound check.  They were surprisingly good, and also came on stage with Prince later on. 

Prince surprised everyone with an apology for the cancelled at short notice concert in 2008 and then he played an energetic 2 and a half hour show.  He covered a broad range of hits including a 12 minute version of Purple Rain (during which it rained on command) and some slightly more obscure songs along with covers of Play that funky music & Don't stop til you get enough.  I was disappointed that he didn't do 2 of my favourite tracks but others were happy to let Prince choose what he wanted to do!  He seemed to only take a 5 minute break during the 180 minute set when 2 of his backing singers sang a solid rendition of an Adele track.  He did several encores ending one with the words "I got too many hits" after he'd played only half of When Doves Cry.  Prince's much touted guitar-playing prowess is deserved and at times he played both it and a keyboard concurrently!  When he danced, he looked a lot younger than his 53 years.  Over all, it was worth the wait and every cent of the €90 ticket.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Two days left of PhotoIreland Festival 2011

After today (Friday) there are two days left in this year's PhotoIreland Festival, although some of the exhibitions continue on afterwards.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dublin Mountains Way

The Dublin Mountains Way (DMW) is a waymarked walking trail in the south of County Dublin running from Shankill to Tallaght. It's approximately 43 km in length, not including an optional spur which adds an additional 12 km.

Yesterday I decided to take advantage of the warm, bright weather to walk the DMW. The Way officially opened in October 2010, so this was my first time along it. Regular hillwalkers might already be familiar with parts of the trail, but it's very convenient to have a single well-marked route to follow, linking together many forests and hills which would otherwise be difficult for walkers to reach. In places the DMW overlaps with the older and better-known Wicklow Way, providing additional potential walking routes.

None of the terrain is especially difficult, but in the afternoon sun I found first few kilometers to the Scalp tougher than I'd expected. Fortunately this initial section provides many excellent views out over Dublin, Wicklow, and the Irish Sea.

The Scalp (next photo below) provides a nice scenic point to take a quick break at before heading on to the next major feature, Johnnie Fox's Pub.

For walkers planning to start early in the day, Fox's might be nicely located for lunch or rehydration. It's quite touristy, for better or worse. By the time I reached the pub the fine dry Mediterranean weather had been replaced by rain and humidity. The Irish weather makes it essential to plan for varied conditions, so I put away the sunblock and shades and put on my deeply-unstylish plastic poncho.

As it grew darker and wetter, the rest of the trip was a bit of a slog. I'd started the walk quite late, hoping to avoid the hottest part of the day, so I arrived back at Dublin by about 1 am. Night walking is wonderful, although more enjoyable on a clear moonlit night than in rain. The Dublin Mountains Partnership have mostly done a good job with signage; at crucial points the yellow-walking-man signs were close enough together than my headtorch easily lit up each sign as I reached its predecessor.

There were a few places where I found navigation more challenging. The initial few hundred meters of the walk in Shankill are potentially annoying - the level of scale and detail appropriate for the hills provides insufficient information for the fine work of moving street to street. Finding the starting point and leaving the urban area wasn't physically challenging, of course, but it was mildly frustrating at times. I'd recommend carefully looking out for the yellow signs at each and every divergence in your path.

Featherbed Forest, run by Coillte, also needs a little care. It's currently being harvested so there was a minor diversion along the nearby roads. More problematic was the lack of a clear sign into the forest from my approach from the Shankill end of the Way. Perhaps I missed it in the dark, but careful inspection didn't reveal any obvious marking, just the sign about the diversion - and that was set back from the road in such a way that it wouldn't be obvious unless you were already aware that you'd reached the entrance to the forest. Still, it's good of Coillte to be involved in the Way so I can't complain too much.

Parts of the DMW have wooden boards along the trail, with flattened nails to provide additional grip. These are the same sort of boardwalks used at the Spinc in Glendalough, and definitely make the walk easier. It's this sort of care and attention that makes the DMW a proper trail and not just a marketing concept.

I write a lot about the urban aspects of Dublin's culture. At times it's easy to forget that the county is mostly rural and that there're plenty of outdoor activities available right on our doorsteps. In Ireland I tend to do most of my hillwalking in Wicklow, partly because its trails are better mapped and supported. Thanks to the Dublin Mountains Way I'm now going to do more walking here in County Dublin.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Launch of Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival 2011

This year's Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival was offically launched yesterday. Once again the programme is varied and impressive, featuring high-profile international works, world premiers, and a range of special events.

I'll be writing more about the Dublin Theatre Festival over the next few weeks in the lead up to its start on September 29th, and of course we'll aim to review as many of the plays as possible. With 28 shows in 25 venues (plus many special events), we'll have our hands full. That's part of what makes the festival fun - there's just so much going on.

There's one production I'd like to highlight right away, because it might well be the highlight of the festival and it could sell out quickly. Laundry is about the Magdalene Laundries and is being performed in the Gloucester Street Magdalene Convent. As if the setting weren't enough, this is a participatory event. As the festival guide puts it: "Inside there are two rooms. You are in one. Holding your dirty laundry. They are in the other. Waiting for you." There is a limit of three people per performance.

The reason I regard Laundry as being a highlight of the festival is that it links in to several importance issues. Firstly, it addresses the criticism that's sometimes made that Irish theatre ignores the wider society around it, particularly on hard issues. (Frankly I've never agreed with that idea anyway.) It's also a continuation of the "immersive theatre" concept. I was somewhat critical of immersive theatre last year, because I felt that it seems to rely too heavily on shock value and a power imbalance; I suspect that this time, in Laundry, the format will support the drama rather than relying on novelty. That would be an immense step forward for a potentially exciting approach to theatre. And finally, Laundry also links into the festival's Behind Closed Doors and Access All Areas discussions in Project Arts Centre.

Oh, and well done to all of the sponsors for their involvement in the festival. I quite like Carmen Wines so I was pleased to see they're continuing their support.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gallery of Photography - The Long View

The latest exhibition in the Gallery of Photography is called The Long View, and features works from several Irish photographers: David Farrell, Anthony Haughey, Richard Mosse, Jackie Nickerson, Paul Seawright and Donovan Wylie. It's quite a varied mix. I quite liked Haughey's photos of Ireland's ghost estates.

The exhibition is part of PhotoIreland Festival 2011. Admission is free and the exhibition continues until 28th August.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

More Dublin Zombie Walk 2011 photos

Here are more photos from today's Dublin Zombie Walk. My oh my, you are a very photogenic lot when the sun is out and you're dressed as the risen dead.

Oh, and well done to the organisers and everyone involved. There was a very friendly, happy atmosphere at the Walk, with loads of enthusiasm from the zombies. I particularly liked the concept of (some of) the marshals being dressed as living survivors - it really added some great moments, such as when one of the marshals got swarmed by the zombies on Dawson St.

I loved the response from the people who run The Cliff, a hotel/restaurant on St Stephen's Green. They called out "come in!" and beckoned the horde of zombies into their establishment.

Dublin Zombie Walk - initial photos

Today, the undead arose and walked in Dublin for charity. The Dublin Zombie Walk is still going on down in Temple Bar so these are just a few initial shots. Plenty more later, and don't forget there's an afters party in the Button Factory.

More photos here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

PLAY - new family-friendly music festival from The Ark

PLAY is a new family-friendly summer music festival by The Ark in Temple Bar. Here's what The Ark have to say about it:
"If you’ve ever wished that you could bring young children to hear great live music, then this is the festival is for you!

Running Wednesdays-Sundays until 21 August, PLAY features five weekends of entertaining afternoon concerts for families, offering a chance for you to join in and make some music with outstanding musicians including Julie Feeney, the “pop genius” (Hot Press) behind the hit song Impossibly Beautiful, fiddle player Zoë Conway (described as “incredible” by RTÉ’s Gay Byrne), the hilarious Size2Shoes – of whom Stephen Spielberg is a big fan, the Grant/Kelly family ensemble, and many more.

You can fill-up summer-break weekdays with The Ark’s jam-packed programme of music workshops, which let children aged 2 to12 experience all the excitement and fun of making music, even if they’ve never picked up an instrument before.

There are also free electronic sound installations. Perfect if you’ve ever wondered what a can of baked beans sounds like or fancy playing a real drumkit without touching it!"

Tickets: €10 (€8 concessions).

Review: 'Translations' in the Abbey Theatre

"We must learn those new names....We must learn where we live. We must learn to make them our own. We must make them our new home."

Set in Donegal in 1833, Translations tells the story of a rural Irish community's response to the arrival of Royal Engineers sent to map the area and 'standardise' the local placenames. This is a play of contrasts: the Irish language and English; divided loyalties; classical education against practical education; the English as an army and the English as individuals. Where other plays might give simple answers, Translations presents its characters with choices. Few plays feel quite so complete - it has a wonderful mix of comedy, romance, history and cleverness. The ending is a little abrupt, but suits the play well.

This production in the Abbey Theatre makes good use of Brian Friel's script. The pace is just right, the acting is good, and the set supports the play well without ever being distracting.

This is magnificent production of a superb play. Highly recommended.

Translations continues in the Abbey until Saturday 13th August, from Monday to Saturday at 7:30 pm and with Saturday matinees at 2 pm. Tickets cost from €13 to €40.

Photo courtesy of the Abbey Theatre.

Malahide Has It

The fledgling festival is now in its second year and runs from today until Sunday with a fun fair on the beach (already set up and looking quite cool), a market on the village green, Art Alley exhibiting amongst a massive selection of family friendly activities.  There's a table quiz tonight in the Grand Hotel (where else!)  There's a free tai chi class on Sunday on the Green and free Zumba on both days.  Malahide Historial Society will be displaying their photography archive in the Credit Union offices on Main St on Sunday as well. 

If we get any decent weather, it'll be a great weekend.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peter Pan @ Grand Canal Theatre

I saw Peter Pan last night with a group of friends - none of us are children, who are mostly definitely the target audience of this production.  And the kids loved it.  This is a new musical version of the story with present day London taking the place of Edwardian London.  I wasn't mad about the songs - they were fairly bland and forgettable, though the music to Never stop telling the stories was stuck in my head afterwards.  Wendy and Peter were played by adults but unlike a lot of other theatre productions, Peter is played by a man.  Many of the adults double up on roles, with Mr Darling & Captain Hook being played by Ben Richards (the standout performance) and Maureen Nolan playing the mother & the head mermaid.  The mermaid scene, which is just a song, is totally inexplicable and seems out of context, even though there is a mermaid chapter in the original story.  I loved the set, it was wonderful -  the various pieces were on tracks which moved smoothly around and off the stage.  They had a filmed backdrop which worked well too.  The pirates were my favourite part.  I know it's wrong to want them to win, but I did.  They sang and danced in an unexpected fashion.  To be fair, the whole pirate theme owed a lot to a post-Capt. Jack Sparrow world but it worked. 

Many of the Lost Boys were played by Irish children and the two actors playing Michael Darling are too.  The rest of the cast was English, with Les Dennis being the most famous, and fairly unrecognisable as Smee. 

One technical criticism, which I also remember saying about the last thing I saw in the Grand Canal Theatre, was that the music was too loud at times and you couldn't hear the lyrics clearly.  This wouldn't be so bad in a familiar story but with new music, we do want to hear what they're singing.  Turn up the mikes, turn down the orchestra, please!

So net result: bring your kids but don't expect a multi-layered Pixar-like production for the adults.  It's running until 6th August with nightly and matinee performances with tickets available from the usual places.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ragús - competition winner

After a bit of a delay (entirely my fault) we have a winner. Congratulations to Sonia M. - we hope you enjoy it!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Abbey Theatre - new season

The Abbey Theatre have announced details of their 2011-2012 season. There's lots of good material in there, and I'm particularly pleased to see B for Baby continue to enjoy success.

Artistic Director announced for the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival

The Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival has annouced that Willie White has been appointed as the festival's Artistic Director and Chief Executive. He is currently the Artistic Director of Project Arts Centre, which in my opinion suggests they've chosen the right person for the job.

The programme for this year's festival will be announced on July 26th.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Movie double bill tonight in Block T

I went to Block T in Smithfield for the first time a few weeks ago, thanks to its involvement in the monthly First Thursdays evenings, and I liked it a lot. It's a spacious venue with a relaxed, stylishly shabby look, and was a great setting for yesterday's Dublintellectual event. (Dublintellectual will return in September.)

This evening Block T is the venue for Hollywood Babylon, "Dublin's Midnight Movie Club". They're showing two films, starting at 22:00 and running until 02:00. First up is Wet Hot American Summer, a parody of summer camp movies, followed at midnight by Dazed & Confused.

The Facebook event page and Block T's website do not, unfortunately, list the price, but it's only a few Euros for the double bill and you can pay for just one movie if you'd prefer. It's a BYOB event.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Made in Temple Bar

One of the highlights of the summer is about to begin: Made in Temple Bar. It's a ten day festival running from 15th July to 24th July, celebrating Temple Bar's contribution to culture. Temple Bar is probably my favourite part of the city, and there's a wide range of events, so I expect this will be a lot of fun.

On Twitter the hashtag for the festival is #mitb. There's also a YouTube video.

Dublintellectual - Tex-Mex Super 8 Film Fest

For their July event on Friday 15th, Dublintellectual are going with a different format to normal. Instead of a trio of speakers in Shebeen Chic they'll be showing short films in the old Super 8 format in Block T in Smithfield. The theme is Tex-Mex.

Entry costs €5 and it's a Bring Your Own Beer event. The start time is 7:30 pm, finishing at around 11:00 pm. It'll be fun. (Fact.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

La Locandiera: the Hostess at the Inn

Wonderland  have produced some excellent dinner theatre in Dublin over the last couple of years.  Dave saw their Picture of Dorian Grey and Gulliver's Travels earlier this year:  he loved them both.  This new one is possibly a little less accessible, given that it's a translation of an 18th century Florentine comedy by Goldoni.  The venue is Il Baccaro, which is a gorgeous little wine bar & restaurant in the corner of Meeting House Square in Temple Bar.  It's running for 5 nights next week - Saturday to Thursday, and there's a Sunday matinee.  €40 will get you entry and a three course meal.  Hard to go wrong really!  I'm looking forward to hearing some reviews.

You can book tickets through the Temple Bar Trust's website.

Do I win a prize for the highest number of links in a post?!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Casino in Marino

My post on Wednesday about the OPW doing a free day every month reminded me of the existence of  the Casino in Marino.  Shamefully, I had never been there so I set about rectifying that today.  For a mere €3, we got a tour of the house with a very knowledgeable guide. 

Here's the history.  The Casino was designed by Sir William Chambers for the first Earl of Charlemont.  It was built at the height of the 18th century's love affair with ancient Greece & Rome, which spawned the neo-classical style of architecture.  Lord Charlemont had spent 9 years on the mother of all Grand Tours, describing Italy as his mistress, but eventually coming home to Ireland, his wife.  The Casino was based on Palladio's masterpiece, Villa Rotunda, which Charlemont had seen on his tour.  Chambers was an in-demand architect, who worked on what would later become Buckingham Palace, amongst many other fine buildings in the UK and he never actually came to see his buildings in Ireland, which also included Charlemont House on Parnell Square.  It might interest you to know that Marino (as in "beside the sea" in Italian) was developed by Charlemont because it reminded him of Italy.  Casino means little house, and you can see the Wicklow mountains from it.  Of course the bay is built up now, but when it was originally built in the 1750s, the house would have afforded a spectacular view of Dublin Bay.  Sadly, the main line of the Charlemonts had died out within 2 generations and over time the building became delapidated, with most of the original furniture sold off.  The State took it over in the 1930s and a 10 year restoration took place from 1974 - 1984, after which it was opened to the public.

The Casino was purely for socialising and fun.  Charlemont built it to impress his friends, and having seen it, I can safely say they must have been.  Unfortunately, you can't take photos inside.  The 4 facades of the house are perfectly symmetrical, with doric columns surrounding it.  It's built from Portland stone, from England, from which the Customs House is also made.  James Gandon, the architect of the latter was the favourite pupil of William Chambers. With mirroring and complementing features, everything in this building is neo-classical in style.  The rooms are quite small inside but you might be surprised to hear there are 16 rooms over 3 floors, with one being completely hidden from view from the outside.  Some windows light more than one room and the massive door (of Irish Oak, specified by Chambers never to be varnished or painted so it would age to the colour of the building) only opens in the middle to again allow symmetry of the 4 sides.  The funerary urn on the roof disguises a chimney.  There are 8 tunnels, some used for storage, 2 are toilets today and one linked to the Charlemont Estate house, which no longer exists but was less than a mile away. 

Take a minute to think how our city has grown.  His townhouse is on Parnell Square and his estate house was in Marino, with the Casino nearby.  All within 3 miles of each other.  Further north on both sides of the Malahide Road was all fertile agricultural land.  The Casino featured on definitive stamps in the 1980s and has been described as Ireland's most important neo-classical building.
It's open Monday - Saturday from 10am to 5pm.  The tour takes less than 30 minutes.  Totally worth your time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Anti-Gravity Yoga

I think I mentioned before that I am a regular yoga practitioner and I like to try out different types of yoga.  I tried hot yoga a few months back and hated it so much I felt it wasn't fair to review it for Dublinculture!

Tonight I tried anti-gravity yoga for the first time.  Do people still watch the Grammy Awards? If so, you may remember Pink performing a song above the stage while contorting herself into different positions, with some backing, er, contortors.  That's anti-gravity yoga.  You are doing the poses in a hammock-like swing, which holds your body weight and allows you to get deeper into the postures.  It completely supports you (and can hold a massive 1000kgs so there's no risk of it collapsing).  You're also only about half a metre above the ground at all times, which has a yoga mat underneath.

The class I took is run by Suzanne Kenny at her new studio in Swords.  In the interest of openess, Suzanne has been my regular yoga instructor for a long time but she has just branched out into this type of yoga.  The class was 1.5hours long and I loved every minute of it.  While there is a studio in Drogheda teaching a-g yoga, this is the first place in Dublin to do it.
Chandelier Pose
That's a photo of Suzanne demonstrating one of the more difficult poses we did tonight.  There's a lot of being upside down, which I loved, but some people may find it takes a little getting used to.  You don't need to have done yoga before to try this out but it would probably help if you did.  I'm quite tired after it too, which for me is a new experience after exercise!  It was a super workout.  Suzanne teaches the class with another instructor, Fiona Kearns, so that everyone has help to get into the poses correctly.  They were both trained by Christopher Harrison, the man who developed this type of yoga, earlier this year.  This training was so tough that only a few people in the class passed the course!  Yoga always has a few minutes of relaxation at the end and it's done in the hammocks.  You just lie there, totally relaxed, gently swaying in the hammock.

Courses of 5 weeks at a time are available for booking from next week by phone or email (details here).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dublin Zombie Walk

The Dublin Zombie Walk is on 23rd July. It starts at 2 pm in St. Stephen's Green and ends in Temple Bar. There's an afters party in the Button Factory - sounds really good actually, and admission is free.

The walk is a charity event for the Irish Cancer Society & the RNLI.

First Wednesdays

In a similar vein, the OPW announced this morning that all of their venues will be free of charge today and every other first Wednesday of a month for the rest of year!

A complete list of what they manage is here, but because I am nice, I reproduce the Dublin list now.

Arás an Uachtarain
Arbour Hill
The Casino, Marino
Dublin Castle, State Apartments
Farmleigh.Grounds open all year round. House
tours: Mar - Dec.
Garden of Remembrance
Government Buildings
Grangegorman Military Cemetery
Kilmainham Gaol
National Botanic Gardens
Pearse Museum – St.Enda's Park
Phoenix Park Visitor Centre & Ashtown Castle
Rathfarnham Castle
Royal Hospital, Kilmainham
St. Audoen's Church
St Mary's Abbey
St.Stephen's Green
The Croppies Acre
War Memorial Gardens

Monday, July 4, 2011

First Thursdays - July 2011

It's almost time for another First Thursday! The idea of 'First Thursdays' is that the participating art galleries and other similar public spaces stay open later than usual (say until 8 pm or 9 pm) on the first Thursday of each month. In practice there's a bit more of a buzz at the venues than there'd normally be and First Thursdays provide a good opportunity for launching new exhibitions or putting on special events. Block T last month was a lot of fun.

This month has a considerable photographic element, as PhotoIreland Festival is currently on.

Good weather is another country

Dun Laoghaire, Sunday evening

Friday, July 1, 2011


Nina and I attended Riverdance at the Gaiety last night. We had a mild scuffle over who got to review it so we're premiering a new style of blogging, for us at least.

Claire: Overall, I thought it was fantastic. I'd never seen it before and expecting it to be good but I was fairly blown away at how good it was.
Nina: I enjoyed it, but I think some of the effect was a little lost on me by the fact it wasn't my first time - I already expected it to be good. It's great to get the perspective of someone who hasn't seen it before.
Claire: So a repeat performance takes something away from the experience? Personally, I love watching things again, particularly musicals, so I can anticipate something good, or compare with the last time I saw it.
Nina: There is that, but I'm not sure a second time can ever compete with the very first WOW experience, when you're completely blown away by something new.
Claire: Quite possibly.

Claire: Despite having seen excerpts on TV, I was not expecting the whole voice-over thing and the basic story of Ireland & emigration that featured in it.
Nina: What did you think of the voice-over?
Claire: I thought it was a little touristy, if I'm completely honest. Also, I kept thinking, "I know that voice from some ad!"
Nina: I too felt it was a little more artificial than the rest of the performance. And I was also wondering if there mightn't be a scope for a "Riverdance 2.0" at some point - by all means tell the story of Ireland, but don't stop at the emigration, there is much else to tell, too. I was pleased, though, that the story didn't dwell too much on the famine, which I feel is by now overdone in the "Irish story".
Claire: Yes, in fact, they kind of swoosh right by it, which is a relief. This show is a celebration of Ireland, not real history.

Claire: Let's talk about the non-Irish dancing in it. The flamenco!
Nina: Oh, I loved the flamenco. I thought the dancer was wonderful.
Claire: Her name is Rocio Montoya and she is from Spain. Do you think she might have a brother called Inigo?!
Nina: Oh...oh...I fear this.
Claire: She was amazing. I didn't know how they would work it in but having the 4 male Irish dancers come in really worked.
Nina: I loved that she was being an embodiment of the sun and fire.
Claire: I also liked the way the rhythm of her feet echoed the main rhythm of Riverdance itself at times.
Nina: Very much so. I thought the contrast between her role and the chief female Irish dancer's role (Maria Buffini) was interesting. Very sultry/confident/seductive versus almost coy/timid/innocent.

Claire: What about those tap guys?
They first appear in the second act. One of them sings too - have to say I found his song quite dull, though technically excellent.
Nina: It was a very musical-y song
Claire: I loved that dance off between them and the lead Irish dancer, who is Padraic Moyles in this Riverdance company (of which there are 3 at the moment).
Nina: They had definitely gone for the dark and charismatic type with him! But yeah, it was the "encounter between the Irish and America" dance I still remembered from seeing the show all those years ago. And I still really enjoyed it.
Claire: People seemed very familiar with Padraic, though I'd never seen him before.
Nina: I hadn't either. I assumed they were just cat calling because they thought he was hot!

Claire: I really liked the Thunderstorm sequence (danced by him & 5 other male dancers, all dressed in black).
Nina: Yes, you were talking about that at the theatre... Let's hear your thoughts about it.
Claire: It reminded me of the haka, that the All Blacks perform before each rugby game.
I kept thinking "any minute now, they'll slap their thighs and then get into a scrum".
Nina: There was a lot of manly roaring.
Claire: And it directly contrasted with the very feminine Firedance (the first flamenco performance).
Nina: But the passion in both of those worked together very well
Claire: Absolutely.

Claire: I was so surprised to see Riverdance done at the end of the first act.
It was every bit as impressive as I expected but I thought it would be the finale of the show, rather than just the first half. I felt a tiny bit let down that I wasn't going to hear it again.
Nina: It left the second half feeling like an appendix, almost, didn't it.
Claire: It reminded me of a time I saw a concert of Bond music in the Helix and they played the Bond theme at the start and then didn't do it again at the end! Except they do a reprise of Riverdance at the end of the show, thankfully. And it was fantastic. To be so close, watching those feet exactly in time with each other, and their excitement in dancing it.
Nina: As I said last night, it was great to be able to see the movements so clearly, and their facial expressions.

Claire: Flatley & Butler's choreography is so evident, even though neither of them is in the show anymore.
Nina: Maybe that's why they're sticking to the Gaiety, which is a reasonably small venue, although places like the Grand Canal Theatre are now available.
Claire: I did wonder whether they might move when GCT opened.
Nina: From the sound of things they consider the Gaiety their home by now.

Claire: As you were saying, Flatley's talent as a choreographer is just awesome... Ok, so what about that barn dancing scene?
Nina: I wasn't too mad about it, although the abundance of colours was lovely.
Claire: It owed a lot to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, I thought, despite being different dancing traditions. For me it brought a nice element of céilí to the whole piece, such an integral part of Irish dance.
Nina: The whole show is definitely something I'd bring my foreign visitors to, and I'd encourage even natives to go see it. But I was left wondering where new Riverdances and the like are. I feel like there's a massive pool of Irish creative talent out there and things like Riverdance showcase it very well. Is it just that people haven't been interested in homemade spectacles in the past 20 years?
Claire: I'm not sure we had anything before it that could even be compared.
Nina: It's well before my time, but the question stands even more then.
Claire: As a nation, we're much more into straight theatre. We don't have a great variety performance tradition, like they do in the UK.
Nina: And the Gate and the Abbey and their ilk are, of course, going reasonably strong. I remember arriving and being impressed by how often their programmes changed, and what their strength was like.

Claire: Definitely. We haven't really discussed the music & the singing. So let's finish up with that. The fiddle player, Niamh Fahy, was the star for me.
Nina: I myself was really impressed with the main singer's voice.
Claire: Yes, and unfortunately, their website and programme are not obviously giving me her name.
There was something funny about the rest of the singers though. I felt like the dancers were mouthing the words to a backing track at certain times.
Nina: Yes, we were wondering about that after the performance. It wasn't obvious that it wasn't being done, put it that way.
Claire:She was definitely singing, as was the tap dance guy, Michael E. Wood.
At times I felt there must have been a backing music track because it was hard to believe so much music could be provided by a 4 piece band, even if they were playing multiple instruments and had the largest percussion section I've seen in years.
Nina: I felt that way too. I was quite surprised to see the live band when the back curtain was raised for the first time.

Nina: What it is your one sentence summary of the whole show, then?
Claire: Unbelievably good: I'd see it again on its current run. And yours?
Nina: A lovely Irish fairytale to take your mind off any current economic gloom.

Riverdance runs at The Gaiety until 28th August. Tickets cost between €25 - €55 per person.

Greyhound racing in Shelbourne Park

"Capable performer. Emerged a decent winner June 22. Up in grade & needs luck." - form guide for Erins Romeo, dog 6 in the final race

I arrived at Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium with almost no idea of what to expect. There'd be dogs and gambling, I was pretty sure - and that was about all I knew. I'd been to Punchestown once to get rained on and lose money on horses with silly names; maybe this would be similar.

Well, no. The names were just as colourful but I enjoyed Shelbourne Park much more than Punchestown. It's conveniently located (in Dublin 4); the service, food and drink were all excellent; and it all just felt fun. Admittedly I was in a corporate hospitality suite with a tipster on hand to explain how everything worked, but nonetheless I was impressed.

The racing itself worked well. There were five or six dogs in each race, running a single lap of the stadium. This produced quick races, typically about 30 seconds in length. The pacing was just right - plenty of time to chat, enjoy the hospitality and of course place bets, but with frequent enough races to keep up the excitement and interest.

Betting was by tote rather than with fixed odds. The tote system means that bets are pooled, and payouts are determined based on the punters' collective selections rather than on odds offered by a bookie at the time of the bet. (I think fixed odds were available elsewhere in the stadium, down by the track.) I'm unfamiliar with the inner workings of the tote but fortunately the system is computerised and fast: I didn't need to understand how exactly the calculations were done to get the general idea. Placing bets was made very easy, with helpful staff taking bets at the table. No queuing, no hassle.

The small number of dogs in each race was, I think, an advantage. For a novice it meant that betting on a dog to win would produce an enjoyably high likelihood of success. Mostly I bet on dogs to place i.e. come first or second. There are various more complicated forms of bet available as well, such as forecasts, trios and jackpots.

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and left wanting more. Highly recommended.