Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Silver Tassie

Sean O Casey's post-war play, originally rejected by the Abbey, for its avant-garde European influence, was taken on board by director Garry Hynes of Druid, who with her cast of some 15 characters, achieved a very striking production of the intelligent play.
Opening in the kitchen of a working class Dublin tenement, we are introduced to a tight-knit community of family and friends, and get a sense of the lack of personal space by the noise from the upstairs flat and the ensuing involvement of all around, in witnessing the 'domestic', and comforting the distraught wife. This scene involves Teddy as the cruel and angry husband, who has a rather important role to play later on. We are made aware of the change that the next day will bring, when all the young men will be off to 'the Front' in France. But first, we watch their jubilation as they return with 'The Silver Tassie', having won the football league 3rd year in a row. Here we meet Harry, the protaganist, for the first time, oozing with the power and vim of youth and love. He is in love with the pretty, but rather slippery Jessie, and is admired and rather awed by all.
The second scene shows a war tank, and the stage landscape really deserves a mention...the tank takes up most of the space, and we get a sense of its magnitiude and are drawn straight into the scene. The lighting is dark and smoky and we see a large cross of the body of Jesus on stage-right. Here the comrades chant and sing the lines, with accordion, guitar or eukalele accompaniment...this gives almost an operatic feel, but I'm not sure the style of music delivered the pathos of the scene effectively. Much of it was jaunty and upbeat, and sometimes the 'ump-ah' accordion bass drowned out the actual words.
For the third scene, we are returned to Dublin to a hospital scene, and then, for the final scene to a dance hall, for a post-war party. These two scenes come across as somewhat flat in comparison to the second scene. Harry is left wheelchair-bound without the use of his legs, and Teddy is blind. We see the resentment and bubbling anger of Harry as he wheels up and down incessently in scene 3, and his desperation for Jessie, who has left him for his former best friend, who saved him from the Front. The final scene shows a mellowing of both men, Harry and Teddy, as they poetically and prayer-like, dialogue about their present conditions and their bleak futures, which they come to profess they will face 'like men'. Prior to this, Harry, in his anger hammers the once cherished 'Silver Tassie' out of all shape, which poignantly reflects his battered body, and sense of separation from the rest of his community and family.
All in all, the play was enjoyable. The casting was good, Eamon Morissey, and John Olohan comprising an effective double-act, as the elders of the community. The hospital scene was Beckett-like in its absurdity, and presented a sharp comment on the futility of war. Harry's character was very well played also, as was the pious nurse Susie. Much of the writing and turns-of-phrase were comedic but needed to be brought to life by the actors, which they achieved admirably. If I had a qualm, it was the length of time that it took to change from one scene to the next. Each break took at least ten minutes, which did disrupt the fluidity of the play. While this is all part of the theatrical experience, I feel these transitions ought to be quicker. But all in all, a commendable performance, which called to question the validity of faith and human weakness, ambitious themes by Sean O'Casey, but universal and timeless.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Town

'The Town', directed by Ben Affleck, is set in the Boston town of Charlestown, which, as we are informed at the start, is the town with the highest number of bank robberies in the States. We are quickly drawn into the setting, as the opening scene shows a group of ghoulishly-masked robbers violently breaking into a bank, bagging millions of dollars, and taking the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage. One of the gang seems more human than the rest, and this predictably unfolds to a relationship forming between Doug (Affleck) and Claire.
In the relationship, he finds himself entangled in a delicate web of deceit, and yearns for a Way out of the life he was born into, a life lived with pride, (again from a quote at the start) by most of the criminals. Classy Claire, known as a 'toonie', acts as a foil for the low-down life he is trapped in...his fellow criminal friend, Jim, determined not to let him get away, and who has a hold over him from a prison sentence he served on Doug‘s behalf, the florist owner, the leader of the gang, played by an Irish actor, Pete Postlethwaite, with a really bad Northern accent, Jim’s sister, a messed-up junkie mother, who he sleeps with out of habit than anything else, and his father (Chris Cooper), who is serving life in jail, and who’s brief appearance shows what a poor role model he is. Doug, we see as quite a deep character, one who wants to change, and one who is kind and gentle at heart…he attends AA meetings, and reveals his vulnerability to Claire, when he talks of his estranged mother, who left when he was a young child, and whom he thought he could find, by putting up posters, like when their dog went missing.
The scenes of robbery are very well-executed, very believable, showing their experience very effectively, and the scenes of the car chases are dramatic and convincing.
However, there were a few scenes that I found rather too contrived to fit with the story. When Doug was in the laundromat, Claire ‘just happened’ to ask him for change, then she ‘just happened’ to burst into tears, giving Doug the opportunity that he was seeking to ask her out for a drink. Then, just as they were going for the drink, Claire ‘just happened’ to feel the need to get her recent experience of being taken hostage off her chest.
There is of course, one last robbery that must be undertaken before Doug can hope to become free, and it is on this final heist, in Fenway Park, home to the Red Sox, that his freedom and future ultimately lie. This is a very good device to add to the tension, and inevitably things don’t go as expected. I think this was probably the best possible outcome for the film, if it were to deliver any moral message on the futility and distructivness of crime.
The scene that most stands out for me is that where the gang are dressed up as nuns, whose humorous appearance somehow makes them even more scary. A van-load of armed nuns are stopped just beside an on looking boy, stupefied and understandably aghast. This same gang get the shock, when they think they have ‘got away with it’, and alight the van, only to be left facing a policeman, who in turn is perturbed by such a vision. This playful back-and-forth of unexpected ‘fright’ moments, is very clever in adding to the tension, and also in revealing the extent to which armed robbers (be they disguised as nuns) has become a way of life, and is almost familiar for residents of Charlestown.

Bill Bailey in the O2

Bill Bailey, best known to me as the hapless, though eccentrically intelligent bookshop employee in ‘Black Books’, took to the stage in the O2 in Dublin last week, for 2 nights. We went on the Friday night, 1st October.
He was so relaxed on stage, a considerable feat in itself, when he was tasked with making some 10,000 people laugh. His ease on stage made him a pleasure to watch, and his ability to improvise was apparent, as he took audience heckles and worked them seamlessly into his routine. However, the general outline of the show was intact, as seen by the preparation of video footage, and sound bytes that were used intermittently. Music too played a large part in the show, and his talent and obvious interest in quirky instruments was highlighted and used to effect. In fact, the ‘oud’, became part of an audience chant, which Bailey encouraged and took advantage of, and it was the most effective encore call, as he came back on stage at least 4 times.
The general theme of the show was difficult to pinpoint, but uncertainty seemed to crop up frequently, with a whole section devoted to an exposé of pictures by famous artists depicting the ‘doubting Thomas’. Each of these were shamelessly derided, but to great comic effect. Knowledge of the subject is a prerequisite to building comedy around it, and here Bailey’s intelligence was evident.
Like any good comedian, he makes observations of daily life, things accepted without question by the normal ‘Joe Soap’, and highlights their ridiculousness, eg that joggers are always the ones to find bodies (curious!), but Bailey goes further and follows through on his most bizarre imaginings, from glimpses of pixie-like people with loudspeakers inside Tesco’s self-service checkouts, calling up “Please remove this item from the bagging area”, to eating a packet of Revels from a bucket, to provide a greater challenge in identifying the type of Revel you are eating!! He also focuses a lot on stereotypes, poking fun at the difference between dealing with French and German electricity supply companies, the lassitude of the French (being put on hold to ‘Non, je ne regretted rien’), to the stinginess of the Germans, (as he feigned pathetically begging for electricity, for “die kinders”, which provoked the decisive response ’Nein’, with a stamp of the foot, for effect). He also takes apart the Australian phrase ‘too easy’, and wittily on how this can come across as insulting to the unwitting Englishman, requesting a simple favour.
His own honesty was very charming, and he spoke of his son, and how he would shuffle him along to school, disorganised as anything, with disapproving looks from the ‘Oh so perfect’ parents with all their books covered, pencils sharpened and healthy foil-packed lunches.
His use of lighting was very original, and this artistic leaning was also seen in his piecing together of internet and computer signs and symbols to make a song, commentating on the computer as the means of modern-day communication. (^_^) lol. Plus transport got a mention more than once, from bikes made out of wagon wheels and chocolate fingers, to Gary Numan cars with French musical horns.
All in all, a very inventive show!! First time in the O2 also, and it was a good venue, the use of screens providing quite a good view to those further back.