Since their founding in 2014, Curtain Call Productions Dungarvan have quickly established a growing reputation for big cast productions and they have now added another layer of good quality drama and comedy. Some may think that taking on a play better known as an iconic Sixties rite of passage movie was too big a task, but Fidelma Meaney was ambitious and that dedication paid off, with a funny and sizzling Irish premiere of The Graduate. I suspect that some will compare the work to the Mike Nichols movie but this hard-working cast, on a small stage, delivered passages of great comedy and the many scene changes were accomplished quickly to Simon and Garfunkel tunes. This was fine ensemble work with a dedicated stage crew working with Catherine Whelan, Brian Sheehan and Dirk Baumann designed the lighting. Ian Walsh and Kevin Nolan organised the soundscape. A quick sequence in a lift, a pool of light, was a gem and showed the attention to detail.
The advertising carried a Warning: Contains Adult Themes and it did and they were sensational, in the best possible sense. The audience loved it and the standing ovation was loud and exciting. I was laughing from the opening moment when Kris Cowming as Ben Braddock (The Graduate) sat on the bed in a scuba suit and goggles and when he tried to remove same in the presence of the drunken predator Mrs Robinson I was hurting from the high physical comedy of it all. I had expected a wimpy, soul-searching Woody Allen style performance, but Cowming surpassed this with a many faceted interpretation and splendid comic timing. Here was the nerdy graduate trying desperately to cope and find his place in a family dominated world as the permissive Sixties erupted all around him.
Emma Walsh is a fearless actress and her Mrs Robinson was a revealing tour de force; she could be prim and proper, drunk and ditsy, acerbic and agile and what agility in a bedroom scene where press-ups were the order of the minute, and I was helpless with laughter.
Hugh O’Donnell shone as the back-slapping, blustering and angry Mr Robinson and Aaron Cowming was a young but confused and proud (That’s my boy!) Mr Braddock. Mary Nagle was a hoot as the irritating Mrs Braddock. Claire O’Halloran brought real character to Elaine and she was never overshadowed by the others or the part.
Raymond Tobin was excellent in several parts and the range of costumes by Nomac, Noel Devereux, Sue Ryder and Vanessa Leary Hyde added another layer to a wonderful evening. Debbie Collins (Coco) and Aoife O’Mahony (Brandy) were wonderful as Go-Go dancers and never flinched in a difficult routine in the best possible taste. Other parts were played by Catherine Whelan, Martin Landers, Damien Canning, James Fraher and Blathnaid Foley.
It was such a pleasure to see the London Classic Theatre’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1974 comedy Absent Friends at the Everyman Cork. There was a time when LTC included Waterford on their Irish tours, but now you will either travel to Cork or Kilkenny to see their November production of Waiting For Godot. I have never been disappointed by any of their productions. They always ‘travel’ a full set and properties and this Absent Friends had a wonderful kitschy set that screamed Seventies upwardly mobile chic.
This is a comedy of embarrassment that drops in on a tea party for Colin, who recently lost his girlfriend. The others – his ‘friends – gather at the invite of Diana, a loose cannon who suspects her bullying businessman husband Paul (Kevin Drury) is having an affair with Evelyn (Kathryn Ritchie), who attends the party with her husband. She speaks in monosyllables and is so bored and laidback to be almost horizontal. John (John Dorney), the husband, is a fidgety fool who cannot sit still and prattles on, much to her annoyance. Then there is Marge (Susie Emmett), the loyal friend who tidies up all the time and she nurses an (unseen) husband who phones during a scene of comedic crisis, as he has soiled himself. There is a dark streak of social cruelty that runs through this play and some critics have referred to it as ‘Absence of Friends’.
Colin, the bereaved ‘friend’, has come to some ‘ecstatic’ peace of mind and he brings a box of photos to the party. He cannot be stopped and his exasperating antics expose the complex lives of near desperation or boredom of them all. Peter Collis was marvellous as Colin and he managed to appear bewildered and beatific at the same time. Lisa Burrows was magnificent as the spurned Diana, who wails that she should have become a Royal Canadian Mountie.
Michael Cabot directed with such style and the pace never flagged. Simon Kenny did the Set and Costume Design.
Vernon God Little
Decadent Theatre Company brought their touring production of Tanya Ronder’s adaptation of DBC Pierre’s 2003 Booker winning novel Vernon God Little to Garter Lane. It was a wild ride of American satire, where little is sacred and it had a groovy country roots trio, The Lifebuoys. They were a hummin’ and a strummin’ as the audience arrived and played like a soundtrack of a Coen Brothers movie throughout this production.
There was Irish satire in the foyer with a purple balloon festoon for The Purple Flag – a great place for a better night out. This in a venue that warns the audience that food and drink are not allowed in the theatre. Ronder is the wife of Rufus Norris (Artistic Director of the English National Theatre). Her most recent play is Fuck the Polar Bears (about climate change). DBC Pierre is Peter Finley, and the DBC stands for Dirty But Clean.
A series of shots ring out as the teenager Vernon Little tells his frantic and crazy story of a High School massacre of sixteen students in Martirio, a small Texan town allegedly famous as “the barbeque sauce capital of Texas”. No wonder Vernon has a bowel problem and he defecates at inappropriate times. His defense attorney, who has poor English, shouts out “Pee Pee and Poo Poo” as Vernon cries “tears of f**kin’ regret”.
The play satirises a difficult subject of mass killings and the craziness of American media to sensationalise this, while not calling for the repeal of gun laws. Vernon finds himself in prison and nobody believes his survivor story that Jesus Navarro was the killer. Even his mother Doris, who is hooked on instant celebrity, finds it hard to support him.
So he takes off on a madcap escape plan into Mexico and finally his trial on television and his eventual conviction for 34 murders. The TV guy is killing others to hype up the story.
An ensemble cast play a series of roles in cartoon styles like South Park or American Dad, and Jarlath Tivnan is brilliant as the livewire Vernon. Little John Nee is excellent as is Eilish McCarthy.
I loved the rush of it all and whenever the action flagged the roots band wowed with Crazy, Rhinestone Cowboy, Amazing Grace, Ring Of Fire, Fulsom Prison Blues and the Bob Dylan song, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door from Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid.
Star Of The Sea
As part of the Strollers Theatre Network the Watergate Theatre Kilkenny presented the bilingual (Gaeilge & Bearla) Star of the Sea, freely adapted from Joseph O’Connor’s novel. A small ensemble cast of actor/singer/technician/musician told a very non-linear story that was complicated and complicating as it had time-shifts and puzzling changes of principal characters. When you read a book and you lose the thread you can flick back but in a play (that was so unrelenting in its depiction of Famine misery) it demanded greater concentration, even when the sails of the ship (Star Of The Sea) carry projected text to fill in the narrative gaps.
At its best it was beautiful, hypnotic and sad but at its most difficult it was confusing, as the sea voyage kept returning to the origins of the novel.
A play should not require that its audience had read the book and it needed more narrative clarity than co-directors Ionia Ni Chroinin and Mairead Ni Chroinin brought to the task. Presented by Moonfish Theatre/An Taibhdhearc, it laid out the technical aspects of the visuals and you saw the computers, projectors and costume changes, but at times this ‘alienated’ the audience (just as Brecht said it would). Stylised techniques should advance the story not slow it down or make it didactic. The idea of actors creating a pile of stones to represent those dead on the voyage was a great idea but its repetition slowed down the emotional engagement with an often cruel narrative.
I loved the tenderness of the landlord exploring the naked body of his servant who was once his childhood companion, as he sketched her for his amusement. The opium den scene in London was a dance/trance but the repetition of scrabbling for food in fields again slowed the narrative.
As well as the co-directors the ensemble also included Morgan Cooke, Simon Boyle, Grace Kiely and Zita Monahan.