Media, Personal, Theatre

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Review

I’m a bit late with this post, but better late than never, I suppose?

My girls and I were lucky enough to score front row tickets to the  opening night of The Abbey’s current production last Tuesday. In the middle of last year, Kashmira (the ten year old) declared A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMSD) her favourite Shakespeare play. It was the first she’d read that wasn’t a tragedy and I think that may have swayed her somewhat, as well as the whimsical nature of the dream scene. Ishthara (the 12 year old) and I are still staunch Romeo & Juliet fans, but are open to good productions of any of the Bard’s plays.

From the moment we took our seats, it was obvious that this was going to be a production with a difference. The mobility aid just beyond the diaphanous curtain was a bit of a giveaway.

The play opened with a gang of elders dancing around their care home to the strains of Johnny Cash’s Ghost Riders which is every bit as amusing as it sounds. Instantly, we knew that we were in a telling of the tale that had been catapulted into the 21st century. There were several nods to modernity and technology that were as clever as they were funny (I won’t give details, for fear of spoiling the surprises).

I loved that there were so few cast members under the age of sixty, and I loved their fluidity at portraying a version of their younger selves during the dream scenes. It was a touching reminder that we are only as old as we allow our spirits to become. And that love is not the preserve of the under thirty-fives.

This was Gavin Quinn’s directorial debut at the Abbey but I sincerely doubt it is the last time we will see the work of  this talented director at the National Theatre. When I was training years and years (and years!) ago,  I learnt that a good director is one who casts well and then stands back and lets the actors do the job s/he was convinced they would do well in the first place; who has a grand overview of how they want things done, shares that with the actors and allows them to play with the script interpreting as they are moved to. A great director is one who is available, yet not intrusive; who is supportive, yet not  overbearing; who offers suggestions rather than dictates absolutes. Someone who holds the space and allows the magic to happen. A bit like a good midwife, really.

You can tell when actors have been well directed – they are more believable in their roles because they believe it themselves; so much so that they become the characters. I felt that very much with this production. The actors were so comfortable with the language that it was secondary. The language was a vehicle for the production rather than the production itself. In fact, the meaning of the language was conveyed so effortlessly that both my girls double-checked with me that they were listening to the original text and not a ‘modernised’ version. We were watching a play that had been written by Shakespeare, rather than actors ‘doing’ Shakespeare. There is a difference.

I appreciated the yellow and blue theme in costume and design that peppered the stage throughout the evening: Declan Conlon’s touch of midnight blue make-up served to accentuate his chiseled features and added a touch of menace to his Oberon.   Although I was distracted by Shadaan Felfeli’s (yellow) langota when his (yellow) lunghi fell prey to gravity in the middle of his yogic headstand. I’m still at a loss as to why the yoga was there to start with – unless it was some sort of physical metaphor for how upside-down everything was?

Anyway.

As ever, with recent Abbey productions, it’s difficult to single one actor out for praise. They work so well together supporting each other in order to allow everyone to shine that the whole is always more than the sum of its parts. That said, I loved Peadar Lamb in his final scenes. He had me crying with laughter. Daniel Reardon (who made me feel dirty just watching him in Sive) made a refreshing Puck. Gina Moxley was a delight as Helena, while Máire Hastings, Stella McCusker and Máire Ní Ghráinne were delightful in their roles as Cobweb, Peaseblosssom and Mustardseed respectively. I could not take my eyes off Áine Ní Mhuirí and John Kavnagh in their roles as Hermia and Lysander. They rendered a touching tenderness for each other that melted my heart. Fiona Bell played Titania with a lightness of touch and an elegant grace that chimed beautifully with the lyricism of her lines. (Oh! And her dress, her lovely, shiny, sparkly silver dress!)

If you put a gun to my head, however, and told me I had to single one actor out, it would be David Pearse as Peter Quince in the play within a play. For me, Mr Pearse confirmed his comic abilities in She Stoops to Conquer so I knew I’d laugh when I saw he was in AMND as well. What I hadn’t expected was to react to his efforts when he entered to deliver the prologue to the metaplay towards the end. Struck with a bit of stage-fright, he stumbled over his words, stopped, started and squirmed. I felt for him, exactly the same way I’d felt for a young Donegal stand-up comedian in a comedy club years ago who totally forgot what he was supposed to be saying and completely corpsed. I sat in the audience, all those years ago, rooting for that young lad and willing him to go on – even to repeat himself if that’s what he needed to do. For a few seconds on Tuesday night David Pearse wrangled the same emotion out of me. Until I reminded myself that it was the character not the actor who was busy dying in front of my eyes. Then, with everyone else, I chuckled, giggled and laughed. A lesser actor would have milked that bit, and played for the laughs. But David Pearse is like the gifted painter who knows that one more brush stroke will ruin his masterpiece.

Look, I’ll stop gushing now, but suffice to say that this production is a terrific evening’s entertainment for all the family. We hadn’t left the building before my girls were asking how soon we could return and which of their friends they could bring.

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Vote With Your Ears

Golden Mic

In 2010, Margaret E. Ward set up Women On Air in a response to the lack of female voices in Irish media – specifically on radio. At the time, the voices on Irish radio were nearly 90% male, according to a piece ‘Radio Gaga’ by Una Mullally. Things aren’t much better in early 2015, I’m afraid.

Women’s voices are sorely lacking from prime time radio and the number of women who present their own programmes is woefully low.

It annoys me that there are so few women presenters on national radio stations between the hours of 7am and noon. I’m starting to think, however, that being annoyed about it isn’t going to change anything. The only way that anything will change is if women and men insist on that change. So, I’ve decided that, for the next month, I’m only going to listen to women between those hours. If there is no female presenter on Irish radio, I’ll switch to the BBC or switch off. So, basically, my choice is between Morning Ireland on RTÉ (on one of the mornings that Claire Byrne or Rachel English present), Patricia Messinger on C103 or Tracy Clifford on Dublin’s Spin 103.8 (is 103 the pro-female frequency?).

While I’m delighted to hear these women on air, I despair that there are so few. I do hope I’m wrong and that there are tens more women who broadcast around the country between these hours. If I’ve missed one, would you be kind enough to point out my error in the comments box? Also – if you fancy it – why don’t you join me in my boycott of all-male radio?

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A Year on From ‘Check Myself’

A year ago, Panti Bliss stood on the Abbey stage and delivered an amazing speech. The video had us all here in Ireland talking. Within days, the clip of Panti’s oration went viral. It wasn’t just Irish people who were talking – people the world over were tweeting the link and getting in touch with Panti. Even Madonna was moved to email Panti and commend her on her honest, passionate speech.

I wrote about it at the time and I haven’t changed my mind.  I still think Panti was brave and magnificent that night. I think she deserved every word of praise that came her way.

But.

But there is something that has bothered me since I first saw the video. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it immediately. Something just niggled at me; like a word on the tip of your tongue, or seeing a photograph of someone you used to know really well, but whose face you can’t put a name to. It was a few months before the penny dropped and I realised where my discomfort sprang from.

Here’s the thing; Panti Bliss got on stage and spoke about her reality. She was lauded and applauded around the globe. Suddenly, people outside of this little island knew who Panti Bliss was, the name of Rory O’Neill (Panti’s alter-ego) became known around the world as well. At the same time, women around the world are screaming to have their truths heard. They are clamouring to have their voices listened to, their eloquently-expressed points of view taken seriously and their realities acknowledged.

A woman living in what is still a man’s world – men make the rules and women have to engage with, and play by, them – needs to be like a man in order to succeed. A woman who works in a profession learns very quickly that traits and behaviour mimicking the most male of males is what garners respect, kudos and positive comments. The professions value their creators – men – more than they value women. Men make the rules, and they make them so they favour men. Even the so-called ‘feminine’ professions – like nursing and teaching – favour men. More men get promoted, and more quickly, to senior positions than women. Every day when such a woman gets up to go to work, she is essentially dressing in drag, and trying desperately to fit in to a profession that does not value her nearly as much as it values her male colleagues.

In a nutshell, what made me uncomfortable about Panti Bliss’s wonderful address last year was nothing about Panti and the way she spoke and what she said. What made me uncomfortable was the knowledge that when a man wears a dress, puts on heels, carefully applies make-up and speaks his truth, he is is heard more clearly, listened to more carefully and applauded more loudly than a woman who does the same thing.

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