Saturday, 6 April 2019

The Painted Lady - by Rob Hollway

Who is the Painted Lady?

Is it the woman who is strewn across the stage the minute we arrive into the auditorium?

Thirty minutes before the play even starts, she is lying, face down, her short dress exposing her bare legs. A pair of high heels tossed to one side hints at a night of drunken chaos.

But this isn’t some stranger’s bed she has woken up on, she is lying in a field, in the midst of thorny thistles.

She awakes from her stupor, confused and wondering how she got there. Her head is thumping. She scrambles around in a panic looking for her bag, her phone, her purse – are they there?

With relief, she realises she does still have them – but not before she clutches her stomach and heaves, throwing up into the grass.

This is the subject that is tackled with such honesty in this play – the subject of alcoholism and addiction.

Kimberley not only has the dreaded hungover and no idea where she is, but has awoken to the face of a none-too-happy Dan who wants her off his private property.

I’m imagining that this is going to be some sort of romantic connection, but actually it goes a lot deeper than that. Dan, a self-confessed hermit and the hungover chaotic Kimberley seem to have been placed in each other’s paths for a reason.

What unravels throughout this 90 minute play (which seemed to zip by in no time) is the gradual disclosure of each other’s secrets. Each of them have buried hurts; each of them have hidden fears and slowly they begin to realise they have more in common than once thought.

But a tension and conflict keeps the play moving as these strangers are able to confront each other in ways that perhaps a family member couldn’t. He challenges her abusive relationship and she challenges his festering self-pity.

Whilst the subject matter could seem heavy and a drudge, this play is anything but. It is scattered with plenty of humour along the way, which had the audience laughing aloud.

The painted lady – which is actually a reference to a butterfly, was captured so beautifully in a scene that used lights and visual imagery to capture a magical feeling.

There were moments of poetic lyrical language, and there were also moments of heartfelt emotion. When Dan described, in a raised voice, of his struggle with the alcohol, it felt like he was really talking from the heart.

The final scene left a tear in my eye as I realised that these two lost souls, who had crossed each other paths for whatever reason – synchronicity or a guardian angel – were finally opening up to each other in a way that could lead to healing and contentment.


“The Painted Lady” was written by Rob Hollway, performed by Rob Hollway & Debra Hill and directed by Rachel Coffey. It was performed in Accidental Theatre, Belfast on 4, 5 & 6 April 2019.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

'Natural Disaster' by Roisin Gallagher

We will all experience grief at some point in our life. 

That raw, aching, sadness when someone we love so dearly is taken from us.

In ‘Natural Disaster’, Roisin Gallagher expresses so clearly that feeling of loss, without using many words.

The set, her father’s shed, is a symbol of her dying dad. It is wonky, lopsided, full of holes and susceptible to storm damage.

And the storm comes.

The storm, symbolising his illness, is so howling, so terrifying; it’s like a scene from a horror movie.

Roisin, on her knees, writing in the soil, is trying to remember everything about her dad before the storm takes the shed.

Descriptions of how he looks are narrated over the loud speaker using sound effects that are both hypnotic and eerie.

His coat, his trousers, his hat – are hung on pegs, as though to represent that her dad is still standing there with her.

His welly boots, a symbolic representation of his hard-working, sturdy stature, feature throughout.

And mid-way, a tiny welly boot is produced, an inkling that there is another character in this story.

The storm progresses. The rain beats down heavily on the shed; the storm is battering her father.

She rushes around, trying to prevent the damage. She uses plant pots to try to catch the leaking water. But the flood rises and rises and rises – until suddenly, she is drowning. Drowning in her grief.

Using physical theatre, fantastic sound effects and lighting, Gallagher depicts this drowning scene to perfection. And in that murky darkness, I can feel her pain. I can feel her despair. I know how horrendous she must have felt in her grief.

And then, we hear a recording of her late father’s voice. I feel a tear spring to my eye and roll down my cheek. Then more tears as we sit with Roisin and listen to those recordings – those fragments of time spent with her father that she wanted to document; for fear of forgetting.

We are led to a memory of the funeral – her standing there; tray of sandwiches in each hand, listening to the clich├ęd platitudes of those attending. ‘Great service, at least he’s at peace, do you want an egg and onion sandwich, yes the flights are very expensive at this time of the year’ – All those empty, meaningless words when actually her face is saying ‘I’m grieving, I’m in agony, I don’t care about fecking egg and onion sandwiches’.

She is ‘shocked’, ‘shocked’, ‘shocked’ – punctuated by gun-shot sounds and sharp body movements. The sound, design and physicality of this piece allows Roisin to express her grief in a way which words can’t. Perhaps that’s why there’s such a limited script.

The shed represents her grief – sitting in it, lying in it, screaming in it, and then eventually walking away.

The child’s tiny welly boot makes a re-appearance – reminding us of the circle of life. There’s a little one to look after. There are giggles; cuteness; a smile on her face; a reason to put on her heels and try to walk on.   

'Natural Disaster' by Roisin Gallagher was performed in The MAC, Belfast on 15 - 16 March 2019
Tinderbox Theatre Company 
Writer & performer - Roisin Gallagher 
Director - Patrick J O'Reilly 
Producer - Jen Shepherd 
Set & Lighting Designer - Ciaran Bagnall 
Sound Designer - Isaac Gibson 
Stage Manager - Seana Green 
Set Construction - Matthew Forsythe 

Monday, 25 February 2019

'Wasted' by PintSized Productions

I am sitting in the American bar right beside the stage. An audience sits drinking their Sunday afternoon pints about to watch ‘Wasted’. Two actors are in front of me. Two chairs. Two spotlights. The music begins. Immediately we are thrown into a nightclub scene. The two actors are drinking, taking selfies, dancing. As the title suggests, they are wasted.

It is fast, vibrant, energetic. We move through scenes with great speed – the bar, the taxi, the club. We even move from character to character quickly – one minute we are watching two female best friends, next the actors switch to two male friends. Thrown into the mix, the characters change to a mother, a bouncer, a Policeman. All the actors have are two chairs and two spotlights. But with fascinating direction and choreography, one hour of two actors and two chairs becomes so much more.

We have Emma and Kate, best mates on a night out. They bump into Oli and Charlie, and the four progress from a few drinks in the bar, to drinking games, to a taxi, to a club. There’s a scene where Emma falls and is picked up by Oli. Oli examines her bloody foot, only to find that the blood is actually spilled Strawberry Daiquiri. Shannon Wilkinson (Emma) portrays a highly realistic drunken girl – even her facial gestures are down to a tee. Then she manages to switch to the laddish Charlie, which she pulls off effortlessly by the way she cranes her neck and she way she swaggers.

Thomas Martin on the other hand, who originally plays Oli, immediately switches to best friend Kate, and we need no explanation. He can act girlish, feminine and like a sympathetic girlie best friend. Then straight away he can switch straight back into his male character who is being grilled by his mother on what he got up to the night before.

How Nuala Donnelly pulled together this feat of choreography and direction is beyond me.  It is fast, tight, and non-stop. This play does not stand still. And yet for some reason, you never lose grip of who is playing who and what scene we are on. The actors pull it off perfectly.

The scenes jump back and forward as we start to learn the events of that wasted night. Emma lost her phone, her wallet, her keys and her friend Kate. Oli is there is pick up the pieces. To literally carry her home over his shoulder.

But then the following morning comes, and along with it, the hangover. Emma’s dread as she awakens and feels rough. But worse than that, did something happen last night? Was there sex? Does she even remember anything?

And this is where the main tension of the story lies. Did Emma and Oli have sex? Emma was too drunk to remember. Did she even consent to it? eg. Was it rape?
Therein lies a storyline which in some ways should feel like a talk to young people, and yet it doesn’t come across like that. Interwoven within the dramatic storyline are lessons to be learned. What would happen if Emma reported Oli? What would the Police say? How would the interviews take place? What are the consequences for this alcohol fuelled evening?

This play has everything – powerful, emotional scenes – when Emma is crying to her friend and can’t remember anything. Comedy and light-heartedness – the early evening, the selfies, the hanging off the bar ordering drinks. Information and education – all young people should watch this play and come away with lessons learned. And physical theatre – how can only two chairs tell so many scenes? It’s because of the way the two actors bounce off each other, move, twist, exchange roles and genders. It is clever, it has perfect timing and it is entertaining.

What was also interesting about the writing of this play (written by Kat Woods) was that my sympathies for the two main characters switched back and forth. I never really knew what was going to happen or what the outcome would be for Oli.

The final scene left me with tears in my eyes. A hugely powerful hard-hitting yet entertaining play. This is one I will not forget.   

~ 'Wasted' by Pintsized Productions was performed in the American Bar, Belfast on Sunday 24 February 2019.

Rambert 2: Mixed Bill - dance review

What happens when you want to review a dance piece but you feel majorly unqualified to review it? The review below happens.

I remember studying Rambert Dance Company as part of my University degree which was more years ago than I care to admit (alright then, 24 years ago).

So when I saw that Rambert 2 was performing at the MAC, I begged a friend to go with me, knowing in advance that I’d love it. Thankfully she loves contemporary dance as much as me, so we drove to the MAC with high expectations.

We were informed that the show was split into 3 parts – the first part, followed by a short 5 minute break; the second part, an interval, and the third part finale.

First part opens. What I immediately observe is the youth of these dancers. Rambert 2 is a new group of the world’s best dancers. I learned that 800 auditions were whittled down to the 13 we have on the stage in front of us. And 13 hugely young people they are. These kids must have been dancing from the minute they left the womb, devoting every evening and weekend to dance. Every movement is perfect, every contortion of their body is athletic; these are young people who are hugely gifted in their field; it is a joy to watch.

Coupled to this is the amazing music which is loud, dynamic, vibrant and youthful. I almost feel like I’m down at the local Thompsons watching kids who are so in tune with the music, I would almost blame it on chemicals.
And then there is one girl who stands out even more than the others. A spotlight of white light shines down on her. I’m wondering if it’s to represent her death and ascendance to heaven in the storyline. Next she dances in the middle of a group of the others. The group have the same repetitive movements but she dances and weaves inside and through them with all the skill and rebellion of a unique loner.

As if the first part wasn’t so flipping amazing enough, it just gets better with every stage of the production. By the third part, we are watching insanely talented dancers who are on their actual tippy-toes for what seems like ages – doing what seems like some sort of tribal dance. I am beyond wondering what story the dance represents. Now I am simply mesmerised by these hugely talented humans. How can the human body do so much? How do these athletic vessels live their lives? They must be training morning, noon and night. They must live and breathe dance.

When watching this production, it suddenly doesn’t matter if I’m not qualified enough to review it. It doesn’t matter if I’m not interpreting the story in the way the choreographers planned. All that matters is that the combination of the pulsating music and the movements of these talented human bodies is so completely mesmerising that I could sit and watch them for hours. It doesn’t matter what thoughts run through my head, or how therapeutic I find this to watch. I’m sure that every single person in that audience had different thoughts running through their head; their own interpretation and their own enjoyment. All I know is that it bloody worked! All I know was that it was amazing!  

Rambert 2: Mixed Bill - played at The MAC, Belfast on 22-23 February

Check out a trailer for Mixed Bill here

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Who's Looking at you? ~ by Colm G Doran

Having thoroughly enjoyed several productions directed by Colm and one dance piece which he wrote the background script for, I was keen to go and see his latest piece of writing.

“Who’s Looking at You?” was performed in the Crush Bar at The MAC, Belfast.

The same trademark headphones from previous shows “Three Stories”, “Date Show” and “Date Show: After Dark” are being used, but this time, just one colour of headphone, meaning that the audience would all be listening to the same script throughout the production, rather than several stories going on at once.

We are seated in the bar, headphones on, awaiting the entrance from the actor(s).  A bar maid strolls by, pushing a bar trolley in front of her. I wonder if she is part of the performance. (She isn’t!) Then a woman appears, glammed up in her little black dress and red lipstick. Through my headphones, I can hear her thoughts. Here is our actress.

She sits at a bar table. A bottle of wine is resting in a wine cooler. Two empty glasses await the appearance of her and her date. We hear a beeping noise. She checks her phone. In her head she’s reading out his text. About the date, he can’t make it. His child is sick and vomiting, he will have to take a rain check.

Disappointed, she looks around her uncomfortably. She had already poured herself a glass of wine and now she is drinking alone.

Punters attending the MAC – possibly to see the ‘Oliver!’ in the main auditorium, or to dander around the art gallery, can’t help but look over at the woman drinking alone in the Crush bar. Albeit, they are probably noticing the string of blue headphone-wearing people watching her, but their curiosity adds to the authenticity. She is self-conscious, she is drinking alone. Who is looking at her?

I begin to realise that this performance will take the form of listening to our actor’s inner-most thoughts. Having not been out of the house for weeks, she decides to drink on. One glass, two glasses, three glasses, four. Within the space of her drinking, we listen to her reminiscing about the past, remembering childhood memories, recalling the moment she met her husband.

My attention starts to move around the bar – noticing the people coming and going, noticing the other people who are watching this piece also, wondering if the wine inside the glass is real or watered down Ribena. I begin to think how hard it must be to act this piece – when she can’t get up and stride around – when all she has to work with is facial movements.

And then something happens. Then the memories suddenly go to the death of the husband – only 8 weeks prior. And furthermore, we hear of what the husband was really like – abusive; one punch after the other. We are thrown into a memory where she is lying on the carpet trying to count the patterns on the carpet just to distract herself from the thump-thump-thump.

Tears spring to my eyes. That is the strength of this writing. That amidst the distraction of punters passing to and fro, despite the fact the actress can only work with facial movements, the writing is so powerful that it catapults us into another place which can stir so much emotion.

And somehow, somehow there happens to be comedy in the midst of this. The friend on the phone whose complaining about ‘the b*tch in the Jeep behind her, up her backside’ and the text from the vomit guy promising to stand downwind so she won’t experience the bad smell. And there are heart-warming moments too – the smile on her face when she realises the new guy is outside waiting for her; the possibility of new beginnings and moving on and potential happiness.

Bravo to Colm Doran on another fabulous production. I look forward to seeing more writing from this author! 

Who’s Looking At You? ~ Written by Colm G Doran
Performed on Sat 19 January 2019 – 3.30pm in the Crush Bar, The MAC
Presented by Prime Cut Productions as part of the ‘Revealed’ series

Friday, 23 November 2018

"Three Stories" by Three's Theatre Company - The MAC, Belfast

Three’s Theatre Company has returned with yet another cracker of a show. They are quickly establishing themselves as producers of reliably innovative, experimental and entertaining theatre.

“Three Stories” has some similarities to their previous shows I have watched Date Show and Date Show: After Dark.

The silent headphones have returned – the different colour of headphones – red, blue or green, indicating which story the audience member will listen to. This has become the trademark distinction of Three’s Theatre Company. That with each production you attend, there will be three different stories going on at once, so no one audience member will have the same experience.

But as with the previous productions, where audience members were walking around on a site specific tour (The Bullitt/ The MAC), with “Three Stories” we were all in the same room in the MAC watching the same dance piece.

One large triangle in the middle of the floor indicated the dancers’ space. On one edge, was the blue-headphone wearing audience, the other – the red, and the other – the green. Meaning that each of the three colours was watching the performance from a different angle.

The dancers had choreographed this show in just 3 days. Their dancing was mesmerising. Strong, beautiful, energetic, fast, slow, beautiful, sad, happy. It was full of energy, emotion and vivacity.

3 writers were asked to watch this performance and put their own words to the dance. I was fortunate to listen to “Connections” by Colm Doran. There was something very intimate about sitting in this space, cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, in a totally black space save for one spotlight, watching these beautiful dancers and hearing the words of Colm Doran’s writing in my headphones.

I marvelled at how he interpreted the dance, how he was able to conjure up stories immediately. How he could see the young children playing, or the lovers parting, or the sadness and loneliness. He spoke of the young child learning to walk, then moved through the stages of growing older, trying to become successful in the world. He talked of trying too hard and having too much ambition. He talked of remembering times of being lost and never wanting to forget it. All these beautiful observations he made and more.

This performance felt like a soothing balm. It was peaceful, comforting, fascinating and mesmerising.

Yet again another wonderful performance from Three’s Theatre Company. I look forward to their next production! 

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Having a GYST day (Getting Your Sh*t together)

After the manic week that was: 20,000 words – aka one quarter of a novel, I had to make a few changes. I was knackered – not physically, but mentally. And because I went straight back to work on the Monday, there was no time to surf the sofa and draw breath.

Added to this fact, work was also full-on. There is no-one to cover me when I’m off, so all that happens when I return from a week of annual leave, is that I have a week of work to catch up on. I was exhausted.

I usually set aside Saturday and Sundays for writing but I knew for a fact I couldn’t go straight into writing on Saturday. My mind was still reeling from the previous two hectic weeks.

That’s when I decided a GYST day was in order. That’s short for GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER.

It’s a day when you tidy up all the loose ends that are leftover. All the small jobs that you have neglected for weeks because you’ve been so busy. All the little tasks that jump into your head and nag at you to do and you’ve had to keep putting them off. 

I’m talking about things like:
- Order some groceries in
- Take a stock of your money situation
- Hoover
- Chuck out those clothes to the charity shop
- Order a new set of headphones to replace the dodgy ones
- Get on top of the laundry

All boring jobs but jobs which, when completed, will clear your head.

How on earth can you sit down to write when your mind is swirling with all the odd-jobs that need done? How can you concentrate on the characters and listen to what they’re up to when your head is full and chaotic?

So, Saturday was allocated as a GYST day. This meant I didn’t have the GUILTS about not sitting down to write. But I did use the day productively.
When I had the place cleaned, food ordered in, things prepared for the week ahead, I was able to soak in the tub and then relax in a nice clean home.
It meant that today, when I sat down to look at my writing, my head felt calm and free from any distractions. I was able to spend some time on plotting, looking back at the 20,000 words I’d just written and projecting ahead as to where I can go from here.

In her book “The Artists Way ~ a course in discovering and recovering your creative self” Julia Cameron refers to this GYST idea as an unblocking tool (although she does not use the exact acronym – but the idea behind it is the same). 

She gives the following unblocking tasks to do: 
Clearing: Throw out or give away 5 ratty pieces of clothing
- Any new changes in your home environment? Make some.
Mend any mending.
- Repot any pinched and languishing plants.
- Create one wonderful smell in your house – with soup, incense, candles, whatever.

I like to think that the GYST day reminds me of the phrase ~ “Out with the old and in with the new”.

ie. Once you have a good clear-out day (GYST day), you are ready to listen for new ideas coming in to your writing and onto the page.