Posts Tagged ‘Caoilfhionn Dunne’

I’m not sure I’ve seen anything by German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz before. This one, translated by acclaimed Irish writer Conor McPherson, hails from 1975, though it’s a pretty timeless tale, and a rather good play.

Kurt & Martha are about to have their first child. They tally the expenses they are about to incur, insisting as they do that there’ll be no hand-me-downs. Martha works from home making market research calls, earning a pittance, so lorry driver Kurt takes all the overtime he can get, until a secret assignment brings consequences he could not possibly have predicted. It threatens his marriage, he’s wracked with guilt and remorse and he has to make a big choice about whether to keep the secret or not, with potentially dire consequences whatever action he takes. The pressures to do the best for your family are all too real, and the lengths people will go to very believable.

It’s beautifully performed by Laurence Kinlan, who navigates his character’s emotional roller-coaster really well, and Caoilfhionn Dunne, who’s character’s challenge is how to respond to her husband’s dilemma. There’s an atmospheric soundtrack by P J Harvey no less, which I thought added much to the tension, and both Ian Rickson’s direction and Alyson Cummins’ design serve the play well, bringing you into their home and out into the countryside. 

A very thought-provoking piece which is definitely worth catching.

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I’m a big fan of both designer Miriam Buether and director James Macdonald, but why on earth didn’t they check the audience sightlines when they were creating this? Their failure to do so certainly spoilt my evening – from my top price seat! If you’ve already got side seats, change them now. If you haven’t booked, make sure you’re in the centre.

Mike Bartlett’s new play takes Edward Snowden as its starting point. We’re in a Moscow hotel room with the Snowden-like character Andrew and a woman who appears to be his ‘handler’. She’s rather off-the-wall, playful and cheeky. In the next scene there’s a male ‘handler’ with the same name, much more earnest and serious, but the woman’s back for the next scene. Assumptions are made by Andrew (and us) about who they represent – Wikileaks he hopes – but ambiguity reigns as we explore the ease and consequences of leaks and the idea of identity. Nothing is what it seems, which is the theme of the rest of the play and it’s coup d’theatre. Sadly on the night I went a technical glitch halted the final scene and by the time it restarted people were playing with their phones, then the sight lines (which hadn’t been good at the sides from the start) got so bad (particularly on the right facing the stage) it rather spoilt it, but I won’t spoil it for you by saying more.

I’m also a big Mike Bartlett fan, but this isn’t his best work. It’s a good rather than great play, like many of the others. Notwithstanding the sightline issues, it’s well staged and very well performed by Jack Farthing as Andrew and Caoifhionn Dunne & John Mackay as the ‘handlers’. It’s hard to ignore my personal experience and no doubt it affects my view, but I’m a full-price paying punter so I’m entiltled to it and to share it. Sorry, Hampstead, but you need to see things from the audience perspective if you want to please them.

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The reason I liked this more than Conor McPherson’s other plays is because it’s got less words! For once, he allows his characters to breathe and to interact, and his actors to to act with more than mere words. No monologue(s) here.

Tommy is separated from his wife (and children) and now occupies a room in his Uncle Maurice’s house. It’s a real tip into which he brings Aimee, who has been attacked by person(s) initially unknown. He protects, comforts and befriends her. His friend and fellow odd job man Doc (the explanation of why he’s called Doc is a hoot) seems to stay much of the time. Uncle Maurice pays the occasional visit from upstairs. Aimee’s arrival turns this bachelor world upside down.

Not a lot happens in 105 minutes. It’s very Beckett. The characters, their relationships and their predicament, though, are enough to carry it. Four lonely people co-habiting randomly. It’s got real atmosphere in Soutra Gilmour’s big, tall ramshackle room. There’s something very intriguing and enthralling about it all, due in no small part to the performances of Ciaran Hinds, a big man with real presence, as Tommy and Caoilfhionn Dunne as the hapless Doc.

It seems to me the reason why most people like his earlier work more than this is the reason why I prefer this. I look to the theatre for drama not literature; if I want the latter, I read a book.

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There are lots of interesting strands to this Conor McPherson play. It’s set in colonial Ireland in the early 19th century where the landowners and their tenant farmers are struggling, the former to maintain their aristocratic lifestyles and the latter to survive. Against this sociopolitical backdrop, there’s the story of one family’s solution to their economic crisis (marry off the daughter!) and the hopelessness of love across the class divide. Add to that a supernatural layer, and you have the recipe for what should be a very good play.

Where it goes wrong is that it doesn’t make enough of the sociopolitical background and over-plays the supernatural, with a touch of implausibility in the way it handles the infatuation of a member of staff for his mistress. A lot revolves around the defrocked priest and his chum, who come to escort the daughter to her wedding in England, but I never really believed in them. The daughter’s relationship with her mother also seems a lot less respectful than you would expect at this time, as was the over-familiarity between the staff and the family.

Rae Smith’s design brilliantly evokes the stately home in decline, just grand enough but just shabby enough too. The performances of Brid Brennan, Peter McDonald and Caoilfhionn Dunne as the staff are excellent, and Ursula Jones is terrific as the virtually wordless grandmother with a nice range of expressions from indignant to wicked and everything in between. The rest of the performances didn’t convince me though.

It kept my attention but it didn’t really satisfy me. This may be another case where the playwright should not be allowed to direct his own work – no challenge and all that.  A bit of a disappointment, I’m afraid.

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