Category: Review

Once – Phoenix Theatre, 13th October, 2013

Descending to the stalls upon entering the Phoenix Theatre, the increasing strumming of acoustic guitars accompanied by the singing of vibrant and vivacious voices can not help but bring to mind the conception of you walking into a local Dublin pub on open mic night as the depths of winter billow and take charge outside.  As you continue further and finally observe the stage, you discover that you may as well be entering your local establishment, complete with a chorus of merry men and women on stage inspiring and enthusing with energetic renditions of local folk songs.  As winner of 8 Tony Awards, Once won’t promote a compelling cultural message, make you think of global political issues, or provide a view on an aspect of society, but what it will do, is provide you with a warm and entertaining refuge from reality blurring the line between musical theatre, and musical concert.

Bob Crowley’s stage design, with the one style throughout the duration of the production, not only transports the audience to a corner of an Irish pub, but allows the cast as orchestra to remain on stage through the play, as well as facilitating change of scenes with the exit and entrance of props and characters.  As staging goes, it’s an intriguing concept that is heavily maximised during the interval when audience members can emerge from their dark corner of the ‘pub’, to visit the bar on stage, and order drinks and snacks, becoming part of the scene they have borne witness to.

Rightly awarded a number of accolades in film and theatre circles, the highlight of Once is the music.  Falling Slowly whenever played, is sure to make the only other audible sound in the theatre a muted gulp as audiences try to hold back emotions.  The musical score is arranged and built well through the play, and Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić as Guy and Girl, are able to bring their characters emotion to the fore through their music and singing.  At one stage, when Guy is trying to negotiate a loan from a bank manager the guitar was strummed so voraciously that finally when finished, a broken string allowed some brief improvised humour to flow into the play between cast.

The simplistic ‘boy meets girl’ plot and lack of powerful themes don’t distract or dissuade from what Once delivers, or sets out to achieve.  While the staging and set provide an often romanticised insight into Dublin and Ireland, the monotonous and linear emotional journey that Once presents us with, could be interpreted as a brief insight into the Dublin and Ireland of 2007-08 when recession began to bite and the culture and music that the Irish are able to create was one of the few things that allowed the people to break free from external circumstance.  With a powerful and talented supporting cast, you need to allow Once to be what it is.  Once will transport you to the Dublin pub where traditional or folk music are played until the early morning, it will make you laugh and smile, and is sure to bring a tear to a dry eye.  However, to truly immerse yourself and become Irish yourself, at the interval – go to the stage and order yourself a Murphy’s.


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Macbeth Review – The Globe, 22 September, 2013

Macbeth.  As far as proper nouns go, none can convey visions of blood, violence, madness, and death tinged with universal themes of ambition, loyalty, and greed as much as this.  Eve Best’s directorial debut fulfils much, if not all of the expected.  There is something about seeing Shakespeare performed at The Globe.  Walking to the arena, the external white walls, the open thatched roof, and then during the play, the crowd interaction, and the balcony appearances – they all pay homage in their own way to the days of yesteryear and not even the occasional buzzing of helicopters overhead can diminish the joy of witnessing one of Shakespeare’s most macabre tragedies in the replicated heart and home of his works.

The story and it’s themes itself need not much explaining – ambition to a young mans mind, his wife the more so; and the accompanying greed that leads them down a path not so much half trodden as much as it is laced with treason and regret.  The loss to one man, of not only leadership, but virtues, honour, friends turned mistakenly foes, and finally love, (in a suicide that speaks volumes given that Will did not even want it seen), sees a collective of dead personnel at the finale, that would see the price of marble at the local quarry sky rocket.

The director is competently supported by a cast that strives to reach a level of expectation, Joseph Millson as Macbeth provides an undistinguished but under achieving performance as the Scottish Thane-turned-King.  No doubt revelling in the lead of one of the finest characters to take the stage, many scenes could have utilised relaxation and pause to greater effect, as he seemed to rush through the lines as though reciting them with stagnant intonation and tone.  The shorter sentence structure seemed to suit best, most notably when personable or changing tone in a scene, performing best for example when either dismissing the Porter, or telling Macduff, indeed it ‘Twas a rough night.’   Lighter moments for the audience to take in, but it left one wondering what might have been had the same focus been delivered more often.

Billy Boyd and Stuart Bowman, as Banquo and Macduff respectively, supported proficiently, putting in performances that engendered the audience to watch them increasingly more closely whenever they entered.  Billy Boyd, most famous for his turn as a Hobbit in a famous trilogy, was as powerful speaking in death with his ‘Ghost of Banquo’ torturing Macbeth at dinner with presence and posture as much as he was when alive and speaking.

Without doubt though, the standout performance from Samantha Spiro as Lady Macbeth was something to behold.  Capturing the stage and attention with every spoken word, her immaculate knowledge of the text and her characters emotions, was matched, if not exceeded by her ability to convey such feelings and intentions to the audience.  Her well timed pauses, allowed an audience, some unfamiliar with the writing, to immerse in her words, and feel them.  To understand them.  The varying time lengths with which she utilised this helped colour the overarching background of her scenes whether it be a manic rush as the King lay dead and Macbeth questions whether to turn himself in, or her enveloping madness as her actions feed on her soul.

Just as audiences today enjoy sitting back at the cinemas and watching elaborate fight scenes or car chases through cobbled streets, Shakespeare’s contemporaries were enthralled by swordfight and violence every bit as well.  Kevin McCurdy has done a great job of choreographing the fight scenes in this production, the climactic skirmish between Macbeth and Macduff providing the most entertaining of movements.  The axes used are certainly not plastic, and as one friend mentioned after the show, should one of the actors veer left instead of right, ‘it would certainly hurt’.

If the text of a play is it’s canvass, the players the brushstrokes, and set design the architecture, the accompanying music employed by Olly Fox helped colour the palette and convey varying emotions whether it be the sweetness of victory, or forthcoming trepidation.  Often used to supplement the action below, the music used was relevant and engaging, highlighted by the opening and closing scenes – a troupe of actors beating drums in inspiring rhythms, or a solo violinist closing the play with the sad, slow strings of dancing death.

To be sure, Shakespeare’s Globe has seen many productions of Macbeth.  Every season its boards are trod by actors that no doubt dream what it was like to perform in front of kings, queens and peasants.  The success of such plays, and indeed Shakespeare itself, is to bring that dream and vision to life, and translate for a modern audience.  Eve Best’s production of Macbeth certainly does that, as the play crescendos in pace and quality the more it unfolds before us. Seeing Shakespeare at The Globe, is to witness Shakespeare as it was – under an open sky and a thatched roof, with actors that can translate the old into new, and bring to life characters some 400 years old that still tantalise and entertain us – Macbeth certainly does that.




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