Saturday, 14 September 2013


An intimate monologue written by a ‘Shameless’ & ‘ Skins’ Writer  Jack Thorne.  Spark Productions Graiguenamanagh, Co Kilkenny, Eire

This potential little gem flagged up to me a few weeks ago as being part of The Graiguenamanagh Festival of Books .   I like solo theatre performances these days simply because over the past few years  most of the memorable theatre I've seen has been of this genre.   Many of these are scattered through the rest of my blogging pages  either as reviews or mentions.

Spark Productions are I suppose semi pro  and that means that what they haven’t got in money and available talent is compensated for by buckets of enthusiasm and graft.  It has meant that what I have seen has been hugely entertaining or engaging.  That is what theatre is about. I don’t care if it cost hundreds of thousands to put on, or a fistful of euros.  If it doesn’t leave me with a satisfying glow and something to enjoy again in my own head . It is simply labelled crap. And frankly I've seen rather too much of that since returning to live in Ireland.

In the UK I saw considerably more great stuff than rubbish, but here it is the case of seeing more rubbish and hoping , indeed praying that ‘tonight’s theatre will  be good’ but driving home despondent, often early and once or twice foot flat to the floor and somewhat aggressively. It shouldn’t be so…and as some of you know I’m slowly but surely attending to that particular matter.

‘Bunny’ looked potentially my type of thing, it also had the Manc connections and it was only a few miles away and had a book fest to amuse me in the afternoon pre show. However it conflicted with things I also fancied at Dublin Fringe.  That latter was causing me a problem as I’d skipped Dublin Fringe last night to see what I was sure was going to be great theatre in GBL’s  ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ fact it was forchrisakes fly me to the interval so I can piss off home  (which I did). An eve sulking ensued.

Was going to see 'Bunny' worth skipping the certainty of a great night at Dublin Fringe? Oh heck yes indeed. A monologue told by a very sweet and talented young actress who just held the tiny audience engrossed from start to finish.  I had expected to see a fairly hard looking woman performing this, maybe a bit guttural. I’d thought the risk was in that element being over done.  I’m familiar with  the Shameless scripts and know a few of that cast in a casual sort of way. Also I’d seen some of the bigger names from that series appear in other things. Maxine Peake being the most obvious one to point out..I last saw her in Miss Julie at The Royal Exchange.

When I arrived in this small function room at The Duiske Inn there was a very pretty young woman dressed in jean shorts and baseball boots standing at the front. I presumed that she was a stage helper until I realised she was wearing the look of someone priming up to perform.  I was curious.  She wasn't what I’d expected.

Recently I suffered Olwen Foure’s  God awful load of tripe ‘River Run’ at Kilkenny Arts Fest and the egotistical old bird, stood front of stage in grey suit and gold shoes waiting until the auditorium was silent before making a ridiculous ‘thing’ of taking off her silly shoes as though about to do something spectacular before walking barefoot into centre stage and boring the tits off me for the next hour or so.

This actress was nothing like that. She waited, picked her moment and grabbed us all. She was a superb story teller with an  air of detached innocence and what was a very gentle and cultured voice. I believe she made the whole thing work much better than it may have done, had it been the hardened youth or woman that I’d expected.  In the same way as reading Shakespeare as if you had no preconception of how it should be read, makes much more sense and is far more entertaining than the over dramatic and gushing way we are taught to believe is correct.

Put simply it was an hour of top quality , engaging and wow element theatre and all should be congratulated and thanked for presenting it.  It should have been at Dublin Fringe, it should have been in someone’s reg theatre schedules.  It warrants a bigger airing than to a few grateful attendees in a bar/foody place’s function room.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Robert Robson Artistic Dir & my closest friend now sadly deceased.

June 2013 

Many of you will know Robert through his work in the arts and as his friend. Many too will read and contribute to his obituaries and eulogies, miss his presence and humour, his knowledge and his professionalism. Robert was the man who was always there when he was needed whose knowledge of all that matters in theatre and dance was exceptional and undoubted.

 Inevitably there will be as many anecdotes over the coming years about Robert equal only to the insightful and frequently hilarious ones that he entertained us with. He was great man in many respects but perhaps best known for his role in arts. Well as a close friend we shared some stories as might be expected given the time we spent together. However they are small fry compared to the breadth of those he had already acquired before we met. Not only had that but he relentlessly acquired more every single day of his life. I swear my inbox was an utter joy and pleasure to see whenever there was a Robert email. I had several daily and these were topped up by regular phone chats of similarly fascinating and entertaining information and discussion.

So, rather than attempt to write an obituary or a eulogy about Robert Robson The Artistic Director. Let me indulge and try to quench just a little, the utter distress and loss that his passing has caused me by talking about Robert my friend.  Sure, he taught me a huge amount about the arts, about technicalities, of what was clever, of what was truly talented and of whom was who.  I had in effect the tutorage of the world’s greatest expert and that is something I was acutely aware of and so valued it immensely. I always will.

However what he also taught me, just by being himself, was modesty, loyalty, passion (for his family and for art), to be self effacing, yet proud of one’s achievements.  Robert  was a gentleman in the very essence of what one should be.   I looked up to him; I looked levelly at him and trusted him implicitly. I have never had a relationship with anyone quite like that.  How could I? There could only ever have been one Robert Robson.  Quite simply, the life experiences that he had, when coupled with whatever brain patterning he’d been born with, could only develop into that astonishing individual.

We met as neighbours in the same apartment block. Robert would be outside, often in his dressing gown, deep in thought and drawing heavily on a Marlboro light. We’d speak the language of polite neighbours ‘good eve how are you?’  ‘The damn management company still haven’t fixed the gates’ and such like.  This went on for months. I’d no idea who he was nor he me.  Neither of us had the foggiest idea of a mutual passion for theatre either. It came out one day that he worked at The Lowry and being a nosey individual I looked him up. Ah!  But also ‘ah yes, a man at home’ and one doesn’t go too much into talking shop. So it was only occasionally that I’d mention in passing some snippet  about a show I’d seen and he would ‘aye’ at me and carry on smoking.

One eve though I’d got back late and there was Robert in the freezing cold having his cigarette by the communal door.  I joined him for a moment and lit my own up, but frankly it was so bloody cold it wasn’t pleasant.  I asked why he smoked outside and he said that his wife was due to visit and she didn’t like him smoking , if he smoked in his apartment she’d know he had been.  I invited him to mine, where he could smoke as many as he liked and have a brew at the same time.

It was either the cold or curiosity but he came up and we talked for hours about theatre and arts and music.  We became firm friends.  I know that being away from his real home and his wife and family  bothered him immensely and I was feeling isolated from cultured discussion. So between one floor of an apartment block and a short stairway a mutually beneficial support came into existence.  In due course we hung out together and saw huge numbers of shows ,not only at his theatre but elsewhere, we went on jaunts to theatres and  Mintfest and exchanged reviews and opinions when one had seen what the other had not. The ratio generally  being my one show or performance to his ten..( that never changed!).

With Robert there was never once a time when it felt necessary to temper down what I wanted to say, nor vice versa.  It was completely open discussions we had, possibly because unlike many male friendships there was no competition between us, genuine or perceived. The result was that in many ways we used the other as an extension of our own thought process. Better out than in, or ‘how does that thought sound aloud?’  A luxury indeed.

Robert certainly knew more about me than anyone ever has or ever will. I cannot say that about him but I can say I knew him, (the private him that is), extremely well. Indeed as I write this I can both hear him and visualise him taking what I tried to explain and handing it all back to me, neatly wrapped up…I could do with him now!

When  it became my time to leave Salford the only concern was my friendship with Robert . Selfishly for me and because of breaking what was perhaps a useful habit for him?  However my prayers that I’d not lose the greatest friend of my whole life, were at that time supported and in fact we continued to discourse, rant, laugh and support each other just as much as before except it was via email and telephone and without the coffee and sticky buns of the Salford apartments.
In June  Robert came over to visit me in the little house in Ireland.  I am so glad he came.

A great and informative obituary is here courtesy of The Herald Scotland

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Guaranteed: A new Play by Journalist Colin Murphy about The Irish Bank Guarantee as set out by The Irish Government

This play is promoted as a dramatization of the events leading to The Anglo Irish banking agreement a very hot topic in recession hit Europe but extremely so in The Republic of  Ireland where  the very visible signs are of a country teetering along on a wing and a prayer & bugger all in the way of hard currency.  It was appropriate, although perhaps not intentionally so , that I should see it premiered in Newbridge, Co Kildare where I’d  been a boarder at The Dominican College some 35 years ago. The school is no longer functioning as a boarding school & when I looked in before theatre, seemed faded and forlorn.  Equally, the town which was once fairly upmarket was depressing, tacky and had certainly lost its aspirational qualities… I’ll be glad never to see it again.

It certainly put me in a frame of mind to understand more about what had happened in Ireland over the past few years.  Infrequent visits to my parents house, where I now live again had often confused me. Where locals had driven battered old wrecks of cars previously, Landcruisers abounded and seemingly everyone was building some grandiose house from the bestselling book ‘of Irish Bungalow plans’. It didn't stack up at all.  On my return here I have been bored witless by the moaning about the economy and the self pity, whilst simultaneously needing to get work done but unable to find anyone prepared to do it.  (especially properly)

However, all of Europe and much of the world is in a similar state and my own affairs have most certainly been battered by recession. I am not wholly unsympathetic therefore, but curious.

‘Guaranteed’ I hoped would be a potted version of events that provided me with some clues as to what went wrong here. It did. ..although sitting in the Q&A session afterwards I’m not so sure that the obvious facts had occurred to any of those taking part. Namely that the whole thing was caused by individuals borrowing and then borrowing more on the vague notion that things were worth more than they were (namely buildings) and banks being similarly minded. However it is the banks and the politicians who now receive all of the blame.

As  a play it was confused. It was not satirical enough to be satire, not funny enough to be comedy, and not accurate enough to be re-enactment, but it was interesting and it was entertaining. It was also a tad too long. Less is more sometimes and I’d have liked to see some  editing going on so that pertinence and tension were kept up.  It was dated too, which surprised me from Fishamble who are usually so innovative.  Typewriter lettering on a big screen to signify a change of location ?... which  was too high up to be read anyway, high flying career women in muddy court shoes? ..there was much that lacked attention to detail.. Role changing so that an actor who one minute is delivering a line as a Press Officer also delivers the next line as a young something else made following the play seamlessly quite difficult. I want to take in the story, not try to fig out who is who and have to remember it.  So overall. I wasn't ecstatically enthusiastic but accept that it was the first night it had played to an audience and as such some tweaks will no doubt be made. 

If it was compared to Toxic Bankers which was a tiny musical about hedge fund managers in a crisis and which I found so dreadful (despite rave reviews) that I slipped out at the interval I’d say this was far superior in every respect. If it was compared to another Irish play ‘Allegiance’ which was a dramatization of the infamous meeting between Winston Churchill and Michael Collins which led to the formation of The Irish Free State’ then it has much to learn.

Would I recommend it?  Absolutely. It is topical, it is uniquely Irish, it is a story that should be seen and heard by all living in Ireland as there is not one of us who won’t find a parallel in there somewhere, or a reference that very much is like a stomach punch..( ‘Northern Crock’ for me) and the actors are highly skilled people. They did a sterling job.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Once -Gaiety Theatre Dublin

A bit underwhelming given the number of awards. Too many dragged out dialogue moments but dance that stopped as soon as it was warming up. The songs were mainly melancholic. The amateur lighting & lack of any props made the set seem unbelievable as a bar/music shop/two flats and a recording studios. Likewise the US style of delivering 'comic' lines with a pause so that we know *something clever was said* was irritating. The swearing was unnecessary & the acting & delivery as wooden as one might expect from an amateur dramatics group.  Playing 'spot the cue' was so easy it was ridiculous & so the impression to me was that 'Once' believed it's own PR & didn't feel it needed to work hard. Some shows cannot run & run with same cast or transfer seamlessly to a different audience in a different country. This is one of them. It did receive a standing ovation but it was quite possibly due to everyone suffering numb backsides by the time the second half had dragged itself along and they needed to move. In summary, it was a bit of light entertainment and a harmless enough way to spend a couple of hours, but cutting edge, riveting, extraordinary, memorable or any such adjectives did not apply.

The trailer is here: Once - The trailer

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Watergate Theatre & Body & Forgetting

If there is one thing I have been missing since moving back to Ireland recently it has been the feasting on quality contemporary dance that I enjoyed in Salford and elsewhere in UK. There is also a keen interest in the use of film or other projections into theatre performance as a whole.  ‘Body and Forgetting’ at Kilkenny’s Watergate Theatre had promised both of these and didn't fail to deliver.

In fact given the punitive funding available to a theatre in a provincial town and despite me occasionally being disappointed in some of what I see at this theatre. I can’t praise the programming ambition enough. Many other theatres are no longer offering performing arts but have basically become music halls.  That not everything I see there tickles my funny bone is neither here nor there. If I was still travelling about as much, it wouldn't automatically do either.  That is the fun of theatre and there is no such thing as seeing a performance that does not provoke some thought or discussion. Give me an eve watching something, anything (almost) on a stage and it beats just being numbed by the facile crap that is the predominant menu of the television.

Again on the subject of The Watergate, with its limited resources and tiny stage, it was able to have The Irish National Ballet perform there in Dec. That still astonishes me. Both from the point of view of the former and also with utter admiration for INB itself. They weren't so precious that they wouldn't come. I’m not sure that other companies of their standing would be less finicky. So,  Artists who want to perform and a theatre that wants to expose its audience to the arts. I raise my hat to The Watergate and thank my lucky stars that I don’t need an excursion to Dublin or Cork every time I need a fix of theatre.

Anyway I ramble as ever and this is supposed to be about ‘Body and Forgetting’ which I thoroughly enjoyed.  

It was clever, the dancers were sensuous and expressed the story well, although in fairness I struggled with the concept of body and forgetting and instead imagined they were portraying déjà vu which worked better for me. I very much liked the use of Alan Gilsenan’s film projection and the perfect music score by Denis Roche. The former was something I’d have expected from someone like Robert Wilson although he would have added an extra pedantic polish or two. It interacted superbly with what was happening on stage and did not feel like a cheat or cheapness as the use of projections often can.  Think Bjork’s concerts in Manchester when she slapped up what she thought was arty and clever.

I have been reading up on Liz Roche and it is all very glowing. However the actual dance element seemed unexciting when compared to others I have seen. There was no doubt that the dancers themselves weren't supremely capable and talented, nor putting in the effort .  there was no doubt that innovation wasn't at work, in the interaction with the projection (I loved that) but at no point did it seem to me that the dancers were being shown off to their capability. There was a couple of bewitching solo performances but it reminded me of someone using a Ferrari to potter to the shop for milk and back. 

Where was the unleashing of that power and beauty?  There was no new movement that I could say ‘blimey, I've not seen that done before’ or any part where my breath was held as some sheer physicality was exercised. Finally there was no joyousness. Just because the piece was about ‘delicately woven circumstances of disappearance, loss and hope’ surely didn't mean that it had to be bereft of a moment of joy. Even in the direst of circumstances people will laugh or remember some happier time.  It seemed a shame for both her dancers and for the audience not to have that moment.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Diaries of Adam And Eve
Watergate Theatre Kilkenny
Dyad Productions

There must be very few of us unfamiliar or at least unaware of the Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) book of the title page. It’s a great bit of satire and should be read at least once. It has also been put on the stage a good many times.  I saw that it was appearing at my local theatre The Watergate for one night and was a production by the very talented Dyad Productions, whom I’d recently seen perform a version of Queen Elizabeth 1st. That was penned and performed by co founder Rebecca Vaughan.  A performance and evening’s entertainment that was as great as I’d hoped and also created an interest in QE1 that hadn’t existed before.

So I was pleased to have an opportunity to see them again so soon. The only thing that bothered me was the play. It was written in an era when the accepted attitude and clichés about men and women were very different to now. It was written over a century ago in fact.  I felt that, unlike plays such as an Oscar Wilde, the humour maybe wouldn't be quite as transferable or less oblique. Let’s face it, it’s not that long ago when people were able to laugh at Lenny Henry,(under duress in this case)  but at the Jubilee celebrations we all felt embarrassed to have to listen to him. However  I was quietly confident  and cautiously optimistic that as it was Dyad and not a lesser theatre production company, that it would all work out well.

I wasn't entirely wrong and they certainly made an entertaining duo on stage. Elton Townend Jones was excellent, his facial expressions were brilliantly executed to maximum comedic effect and Rebecca Vaughan was clearly having a great time in a role that was less intense and more frivolous than her Queen Elizabeth one. As an aside she looked considerably more attractive too, so much so that I was tempted to holler at Adam to stop being a pillock and go sort her out.

They were an excellent act, but the thing began to irk me after about thirty minutes. I’d got the joke by then and there was nowhere else for it to go. Adam is a bit gruff and oblivious, clichéd male and Eve is a bit clever and cliche girly. That’s it.  I became more interested in’ hair twirling girly’ sat in front of me as she moved farther and farther away from her boyfriend  without actually moving seats. It was as if she built an invisible wall, brick by imaginary brick, with a broken glass top, yet he seemed not to notice at all.  Then as the lights came on she was up and gone like a greyhound, leaving him behind. Most impressive.

But back to the play. The humour was probably still ok in the 1970’s but I found it a bit naff in this day and age and then, as if somewhere down the line as they were  putting it together . Someone pointed this out and they decided to add ‘poignancy’. Ye gods it bored my tits off and ruined it pointlessly.  It became a good ten minutes of tedium at the end which left me and the other members of the audience flat. That was a disappointment. Saturday eve at the theatre shouldn't do that. It should leave an emotion that is relevant to the chosen entertainment, but never flat.

So, for acting skill go see it, for support of boundary pushing theatre groups and production companies, also go see it. They cannot always pull it off entirely, but should be applauded for trying. But as a play? I really wish they had put their skills and efforts into something else.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Blast That It Is Past

This date 20th Jan is indelibly printed on my mind it is both the anniversary of the day my’ divorce absolute’  landed on my doormat and crushed me for years. But it is also the birthday of a woman who I subsequently fell in love with and helped me to recover from that and indeed in so many other ways too.  I think of her often and especially on this day. It is with both yearning for what might have been and with shame for my behaviour during that time.

It’s not for me to clearly identify her but those who knew me back in the days of publishing and drinking will probably realise who she is.  Both of us had names then, mine for the wrong reasons, and hers for her business acumen and tempestuous nature. She is hugely successful and as such is   naturally both admired and maybe even disliked at times, the latter usually boiling down to sour grapes and envy rather than legitimate gripes or annoyance  about employers. However, I like to know how she and her company is doing as I admire and respect her strengths immensely and of course was party to her vulnerabilities too. Probably adding a few unintentionally into the equation, such was the old life back then.

I am home in Ireland these days, a scenario that is without doubt due to the intervention of that woman. She and I came over on a trip many years ago with the sole intention of me making up with my now deceased father. We stayed several days in a hotel nearby but could not persuade him to see me. I was all ‘Fu*it I don’t care (although I very much did) but she persevered on the phone to them and with me and on the night before we were due to return both my parents joined us for dinner. She was beautiful, charming, diplomatic and supportive.  Her actions subsequently repaired and set matters on a good footing for the future. One that clearly benefits me today.

Unfortunately I was simultaneously messing up our relationship. My fault at least on the important issues. ( Hindsight.. tsk) I know too of so many other instances where she had bestowed huge kindnesses on her staff and friends. Not for any return, but simply because she wanted to help and so did.

There is so much that I can say about this powerhouse of a female.  Passionate, bothersome, witty, acerbic and great fun…but often disquietingly profound too. She once said to me ‘Brian, I know you love me, but you love drink more’ She was wrong. I did love her but not more than drink, it was sadly that drink compelled me more. Hindsight again.. to this day I love her, I always will, that much I do know. It is the shape and use only of that which is changed.

Recently we have communicated.. a call out of the blue to say ‘well done’ (on taking control of my drinking). Astonishing. From a woman who had suffered far more from it than anyone else. That is undoubtedly a genuinely, sweet and kind- hearted woman.
So to her if she happens to read this. I wish her A very Happy Birthday indeed and add my sincere apologies for not being what she truly deserved.