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Review: The Poor Mouth at The Project Arts Centre

It’s been years since I read an uttering from Flann O’Brien and more’s the pity. With a uniquely Irish, twisted and convulted but so irrestibly lyrical turn of phrase, O’Brien is, despite opinions to the contrary, a unique Irish writer.

Yes, he did follow on from Joyce which was an enormous struggle in itself for any writer not least one who shared the same alma mater and stomping ground with the writer of the world-famous blue books of Eccles, and while I’m not entirely convinced O’Brien did enough to stay away from Joyce, he did carve through a style and niche of his own.

His imaginative meanderings through dark and unknown worlds led by the careful hands of colourful and insightful characters marks a new dawn in postmodern writing for Irish literature. At Swim Two Birds being his most famous novel, other works such as The Third Policeman and An Béal Bocht can boast an enormous amount of literary achievement.

While these quirky pieces of literature have found themselves enjoying somewhat of a resurgence in popularity in recent years; they have also taken to the stage thanks to the impressive and careful work of dramaturge Jocelyn Clarke. Blue Raincoat are currently staging Clarke’s stage adaptation of O’Brien’s novel An Béal Bocht in one of the Sligo company’s newest productions – The Poor Mouth.

Having seen Blue Raincoat’s productions of At Swim Two Birds and The Third Policeman, I thought I knew what I was in for – imaginative staging, energetic performances and complete dedication to appreciating the writing style of Flann O’Brien. I didn’t expect however, for a completely new imagining of a book I thought I had already made my mind up about.

To me, An Béal Bocht is a cleverly constructed parody of the island literature that was prominent during the Celtic Revival era – it’s packed full of lots of fun pastiches of over-enthusiastic gaelgóirs, ignorant peasants and the general misery and hardship we’ve come to expect in plenty of Irish literature. Blue Raincoat keep all this wonderful humour and very astute observations on the ridiculous over-simplified attitudes of the Celtic Revivalists, but also manage to extract the beautiful humanity of the novel’s story. The sadness as well as the uplifting and joyous moments throughout the story are treated with enormous reverence and create extremely poignant moments throughout the production.

The company have never failed to impress me and with a great cast led by the extremely talented Ruth Lehane; The Poor Mouth is both a respectable tribute to Ireland’s greatest postmodern writer as well as a celebration of his wry wit and cruel and unmistakably Irish sense of humour.

Newcomers to O’Brien’s work may find it hard to get used to the long rambling sentences full of clauses and roundabout ways of getting to the point and the production keeps perhaps a little bit too close to the text resulting in quite a lengthy performance, but these minor issues aside The Poor Mouth is well worth the visit to The Project Arts Centre for what, I personally promise will be a clever, creative, moving and most of all, fun production.

Plays until November 24 – more details here >>

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Review: All That Fall at The Project Arts Centre

The multitude of bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling dim, a wall of spotlights lights up slowly, and the audience relaxes in their custom made rocking chairs complete with skull embossed cushions. The story of Maddy Rooney begins…

Last night’s performance of All That Fall was probably the most unusual piece of theatre I’ve ever been to, not in terms of content, but in terms of its method of deliverance. As I’ve previously mentioned, All That Fall is Beckett’s first ever radio play, and in my opinion, it’s probably one of his most accessible plays. Simply put, it tells the story of Mrs. Rooney who meets a variety of characters along her journey to meet her husband off the train. However, this piece of theatre is told only through the medium of sound. The actors involved have long since finished their performances in recording studios, and the performance comes to the audience through the speakers located around the theatre.

Pan Pan have really tried something new with their production, and the lighting and sound effects were really spectacular, particularly in the closing scenes – that bit really freaked the beans outta me!!

Putting together a production that relies solely on lighting and audio is a massive challenge for any theatre company, and I reckon Pan Pan had it pretty well taken care of. I do feel like the actual recording they played could have done with upping the ante in terms of the ways in which the actors delivered their lines. Nowadays audiences are used to having both audio and visual mediums to entertain them in a theatre production and when there isn’t a physical actor on the stage in front of you, it becomes difficult to tune yourself in completely to the audio in order to fully follow a story.

I spoke to a friend afterwards about this, and he put it pretty well – “they underplayed it in parts”. I think to engage an audience fully when relying on just one main medium – audio, this medium needs to compensate for the lack of the actors’ physical presence, for example stressing words stronger than you would usually or varying the tone a bit more.

My friend will kill me for publishing this, but she fell asleep during it and I spoke to another person afterwards who took a bit of a snooze also. I found closing my eyes helped me to really concentrate on the actors’ voices. I think this was because during theatre productions I’m used to following the actors around the stage with my eyes, so I was looking around too much and not listening to the audio. However, closing your eyes in a darkened room, whilst well settled into a comfy chair is likely to lead you off into the land of nod!

It was also very weird not clapping for a troupe of actors  taking their bows at the close of the performance … I think the audience didn’t really know what to do at the end and just stood around awkwardly and then gradually drifted out.

I’ve seen two of Pan Pan’s other productions, and this one came across as their most polished production to date, there were some stunning effects with the lighting and for the most part the audio was great, I just wish it had been more of an engaging production.

The production runs until Sept 2nd and you can find out more about attending on the Project Arts Centre website.

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All That Fall @ The Project

At the outset I should say that I haven’t experienced an enormous amount of Beckett – just a brief dalliance with his work as part of an M.Phil in Anglo Irish Literature course and a trip to see the magnificent Michael Gambon as Krapp in the Gate. However, I know enough of the playwright to say that I can take him or leave him.

However, the one play of Beckett’s that I really loved when I first read it is All That Fall. It’s probably one of the most accessible of Beckett’s plays and his first written for radio. I’ve heard a radio recording of it before (by the BBC I think) and it’s excellent, laugh out loud humour. So, needless to say I can’t wait to see Pan Pan’s version of it at the Project pretty soon. I read an article by Eithne Shorthall in the Sunday Times’ Culture magazine last week and it looks like a match made in heaven, with all the darkness of Beckett and the weirdness of Pan Pan. And I have heard from a very unreliable source that they’re installing super comfy chairs in the Project for the “projection performance” of the recording, designed to recreate the experience of family and friends gathering around the radio or wireless years ago.

In direct contrast to that desire for the old fashioned way of life, is the Project’s new marketing technique – discounts by tweets! If you tweet about buying a ticket to the show, you get a 10% discount (and that can even be on top of a student discount) – fantastic stuff! Click here to tweet and book, or just book. Show runs Aug 22 – Sept 2.

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