I have to admit that my recent theatre excursions have not exactly been mind-blowing as of late.
Probably the most exciting (and yet unoriginal production) to see was the Abbey Theatre’s production of King Lear. Directed by Selina Cartmell, this lavish production delivered beautiful choreography and many strong performances. With performances by the outstanding Owen Roe and recent Irish theatre fancy, Aaron Monaghan, the production indeed had the capability to be a memorable one. [I saw it twice!]
As per usual there is always something to bring a performance down or leave one to feel a little bemused. My main issue with this production was the representation of Lear’s daughters as caricatures of lesser Disney Princesses or Disney Princess villains. The colour blocking of the females rather simplified the character’s psyche. Blue = Simple, innocent Cordelia. Green = Envious Regan. Red = Blood thirsty Goneril. This colour blocking costuming dumbs down an audience. Am I five and need to identify a character or woman based on the colour she is wearing!? [FYI I wear a lot of black.] Also, what on earth was with the wigs, the disappearing baby bumps and Debbie-Downer performances!?! I raise issues relating to costume considering that the rest of the cast (all male) were wearing an assortment of brown, red and orange hues which did not jar in the same way as the women’s costumes.
I must admit that my favourite scenes consisted of an all male ensemble, particularly the feast scene (I don’t have the playtext at hand) and where Lear entertains / is entertained by his Fool. This ensemble wore stag-head headpieces, entering in slow-m0 and quickly shifting to a rowdy raucous, radiating testosterone and masculine energy. The animalistic movements as the male ensemble jumped onto the table, and stalked the Fool as he educated Lear, were beautiful and continued to highlight the wonderful energy of this play…
In the two performances I saw, the company received a full standing ovation, which I think it rightly deserved. The energy and ensemble were magnificent if only dampened by the dowdy damsels.
Moving onto Fishamble’s, Tiny Plays for Ireland 2. BORING. I had rather hoped that this round of tiny plays would expand on what had been attempted with the first set. How disappointed I was. Themes and issues addressed included the banking crisis; recession; abortion; suicide; drug use; and the oh so hippy optimistic future. ZZZZ… Did I not see this the first time round!? It was as though many of the writers simply drew a bubble, wrote a theme in the middle of the bubble and then wrote a few buzz words around it. Not impressed. I have to express my disappointment at this set of tiny plays as I think it has the capability to produce some incredible and exciting theatre sound bites but simply what we got was some repetitive, rip offs! The dramaturgy was boring. The ideas and words and scenescapes were boring. The concept is potentially captivating! 25 mini plays, four minutes, anyone can contribute – well-known or the unknown… Next time – if there is a next time – someone better do something nuts. Maybe something IMAGINATIVE. What this set of tiny plays revealed was how self-centred and recession obsessed Ireland is. Whilst many of us still have our head in the sand or are suffocating under duvets of bank statements, we should perhaps consider that theatre has the potential to offer escapism. It doesn’t need to be a venting space to hit us over the head with what we already see on a daily basis. Whilst some tiny plays may have attempted the idea of irony = think critically, a lot of the time this was completely missed and fell down like a lead balloon. If I see another abortion skit where a confused woman is about to get on a boat, I may just give up completely.
Finally, Krapp’s Last Tape at the Gate was a beautiful if disappointing production. As I had seen Robert Wilson’s Krapp last summer, I knew I was not going to get bells, whistles and clowning of the same effect in John Hurt’s performance. What happened to Krapp falling on his banana skins?! Is this Hurt and co’s attempt at breaking protocol and giving the two fingers to the Beckett estate!? If it is, then we got issues. What I rather think is that Hurt wasn’t up to falling down on a regular basis and thought, ‘HOHO! We’ll throw these skins in front of the audience instead and make them the new Krapp fallers’… Brg. The love scene in Krapp was particularly beautiful and did evoke the sadness which was absent in Wilson’s production. Whilst the sadness and comedy element was present I think I would wish to see a production which stinks of loneliness and further absence. With so many of Beckett’s work there is a void and I think this was missing in the two productions of Krapp. Whilst some may wish to get the audience on board and get “plebs” to like or somehow “understand” Beckett, I think it is important communicate the loneliness and lost in a meaningless space… We don’t need to understand anything. It doesn’t have to mean anything. We don’t need to be entertained. Sometimes feeling - feeling something - is enough. A production should not have to appeal to the greater good that is the audience. Maybe it should just exist and happen. They were good productions. But I don’t want to see a performance to see an actor. I want to see the essence of a play. And this is what was missing.
Sigh. Don’t know when I’m next seeing a play written by a woman though.