Sunday, 19 August 2012

A Woman of no Importance at the Gate Theatre, Dublin.

At The Gate Theatre, Dublin till 22nd Sept 2012

On Wednesday evening last (15th August) I enjoyed a performance of Oscar Wilde’s play A Woman of no Importance at The Gate Theatre. The production is directed by Patrick Mason, Set Designed by Eileen Diss, Costume Design by Peter O’Brien, Lighting Design by Paul Keogan, Hair and Make-up Design by Anne Dunne.

The interpretation on staged presentation resulting from the collaboration between the Director and Designers is visually appealing, effective and economical. The controlled pallet and tones of both Set and Costume focused the audience’s attention on the delivery of the author’s words and the performance of the cast. The metallic like material in the unadorned costumes of the seated Lady Pontefract and that of Lady Hunstanton gave them the formidable appearance of occupied armoured personnel carriers

The dimly lit set is visible to the audience as they take their seats and the performance opens with a subtle light change to the leafy dappled light of a conservatory at a great English country house and the quiet arrival on stage of some of the characters.

The play is scripted to open on a terrace lawn at a large English country house, followed by an after dinner scene in a drawing room and the final scene in the picture gallery of Mrs Arbuthnot’s home.

Eileen Diss successfully adopts the concept of a large mid19th century cast iron conservatory as a structural matrix to accommodate the scenic needs of this period play. The design, allows for the seamless, smooth, unfolding of the play, in that it minimises the interruption of scene changes between the acts on the immersion and engagement of the audience in the performance. This theatrical immersion was ably supported by the elegant resetting of the furniture, dressing props and hand props by the in-character cast between the acts.

The restrained tone and mono-chrominance of the set, costumes and set dressings does give a look to the production akin to a slightly faded, late Victorian photograph. This early photograph ambience is supported and maintained by Paul Keoghan’s subtle and unobtrusive lighting and lighting changes that bring us from sun lit, leafy exterior to lamp lit moodier evening and daytime interiors.

Costume Designer, Peter O’Brien’s costume concepts ably and with restrained aplomb, reflect the Director, Patrick Mason’s darker interpretation of Wild’s play. The “good” formidable ladies of society directing and pontificating from within the protective, folded metallic like sheets of their fortress dresses, the disarming, brash, innocence of the assertive visitor from the new world in an elegant white dress and the dark haired, darkly dressed, abandoned, fallen woman who struggles against the mores of late Victorian society to protect her son and promote his interests. The men, adorned in their smart attire, as appropriate to their stature and time of day, strut, shuffle and pose as the complacent heirs of the male dominated society of the time.

Anne Dunne’s Hair and Make-up Designs are convincing and ably support the performers in their characters and reflect the style of society at the time.

The comments and sketches in the programme by the designers Eileen Diss and Peter O’Brien are informative in giving their insight into some of the thought process behind the concept development. For students of Design for Performance and for Stage and Screen, this input from the Designers is to be welcomed and encouraged, thank you Eileen and Peter.

Eileen Diss:       

Peter O’Brien:   

Paul Keogan:    

Anne Dunne:     

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey at The O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin

The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey at The O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin

I had the good fortune last night to get into town in time to catch a pre-show talk by Richard Boyd Barrett TD on Sean O’ Casey at the Abbey at The O’Reilly Theatre, Belvedere. The talk, titled “O’Casey and Politics” was under the banner of the Abbey Theatres “Other Voices” series of talks 

Boyd Barrett’s talk spoke of O’ Casey the socialist and how his political beliefs shaped his view of events leading up to, during and after the Easter Rising of 1916 and how the horrors, confusion and dichotomies of what O’Casey witnessed shaped his interpretation of the consequences of the events as expressed in his writing of The Plough and The Stars. 

For me, Wayne Jordan’s interpretation and direction of the production is engaging and informative at times riveting and at times inspiring. The down stage opening tinkle on an old up-right piano in front of a dirty large off-white front cloth engaged the prepared minds of the audience for transportation into the opening act. The front cloth gathered its self up into a border, rucked like a stowed sail on a square rig spar. Apart from its evocative and decorative presence, it set the upper margin to the framing of the stage. 

The revealed set conveyed the oppressive gloom of the spaces inhabited by the poor and the working class city dwellers of Dublin at that time. The construction of the set, its texture, its fabric, its decor and its lighting echoed a previous life of the building as being one of Colonial Dublin’s, second city of the Empire, grand Georgian town houses. Now it is but one of many, a gutted shell of cramped sparse privacy and little comfort against which Nora Clitheroe (played by Kelly Campbell) strives maintain some small sense of civility and dignity.
Scenographer, Tom Piper’s concept for the set conveys all of this very well, the lit central performance area and lighter toned floor recede upwards and outwards through the dark textured tones of the set into the blackness of the flys and the wings, allowing the audience’s attention to remain focused on the performers.

The cage like structure of H section reinforced steel joists (RSJ)s functioned as elements not only to divide the space but they also held back the crumbling edifice from tumbling in on the occupants.  

I am in two minds as regards setting some of the contemporary lamps so visibly on stage, on both sides of the set. While they are a visible reminder that we are looking at a period performance on a contemporary stage, they were also incongruous, a jarring visual paradox against the ambience and atmosphere created by the characters, the costumes and the predominant statement of the set .

The brass, shell like reflectors of the period foot lights, while saying one thing they were contradicted by being augmented by contemporary lamps on floor stands. 

That said Tom Pipers set works and works well both as an appropriate and visually satisfying environment supporting the script the director and the performers interpretation. Also to be borne in mind is that this is a touring production, see below.  

The work of Costume Designer Joan O’Cleary maps the characters and their roles into the period. Through her Costume Designs, Joan establishes the characters, their age, their gender, their socio-economic standing, occupation and their demographic and contributes hugely to establishing the where and when of the play. 

Sinead Mc Kenna’s lighting design contributed to establishing and maintaining the overall gloom but where appropriate, brought changes in mood to the scenes and defined the different areas of performance.  

The off stage sound effects by Ben Delaney were very effective and prompted the convincing reactions of the performers. 

The resetting of the furniture, dressing props and hand props by the cast between the acts was well done and maintained the theatrical illusion.  

You can see “The Plough and The Stars” when it tours Ireland and the UK this autumn.

1.      Grand Opera House, Belfast. Tues 18 – Sat 22 Sept.

2.      An Grianรกn, Letterkenny. Tues 25 – Sat 29 Sept.

3.      Cambridge Arts Theatre, Cambridge. Tues 2 – Sat 6 Oct.

4.      Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham. Tues 9 – Sat 13 Oct.

5.      Theatre Royal, Bath. Tues 16 – Sat 20 Oct.

6.      Siamsa Tire, Tralee. Tues 23 – Sat 27 Oct. Assisted performance Thurs 25 Oct.

7.      The Lime Tree, Mary immaculate College, Limerick. Tues 30 Oct – Sat 3 Nov. Assisted performance Thurs 1 Nov.

Richard Boyd Barrett:

Tom Piper:               

Sinead McKenna:    

Joan O’Cleary:         

 Abbey Theatre: