Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Portia Coughlan Review

Published online for The Irish World newspaper 20/05/2015

It is rare that a play can resurface triumphantly after 20 years away from the stage. Marina Carr’s play  Portia Coughlan has emerged from such an absence at The Old Red Lion Theatre under the direction of Bronagh Lagan.

The story of Portia Coughlan is a heavy one, laden with emotions and idealised memories of the past.  Set in the Irish midlands, Portia seems to have what many would assume to be the perfect family life. As a mother to three children and a well-kept wife to a loving and wealthy husband, it seems that Portia should be more than elated on her 30th birthday. However her overly romanticised recollections of the suicide of her twin brother Gabriel still constantly haunt her and dominate both her thoughts and actions.

Portia fantasises about death and her reunion with her twin. The audience is made aware of her many moments of deep  despair by the accompaniment of her deceased brother’s version of “She Moved Through the Fair ” delivered by a haunting young man behind a darkened curtain.
Portia is an Ophelia-type character, beautiful yet classically tragic. Her intimate obsession with the Belmont River, the place of her brother’s demise, becomes uncontrollable and manic which in turn affects her relationships with those around her.

Portia is played by Susan Stanley, whose piercing blue eyes and willowy mannerisms add to both the beauty and frenzy of the character.

The play deals with depression and hopelessness and so it is hard not to become somewhat drained as an audience member in such a small theatre. The constant heated arguments between Portia and her family can, at times, be both exciting and exhausting. This is softened occasionally by some very witty one-liners from her bitter Grandmother, played excellently by Anne Kent.

With it’s dark themes, Portia Coughlan is not for everyone but it does provoke thought
The stage was small and simple, comprising of a kitchen setting and a small square filled with water-signifying the river. This worked well, given the limited space and the actors manoeuvred themselves skilfully around both sides, allowing the audience to truly imagine each contrasting setting.
However, it does not seem that Carr was ever setting out to create a fun-packed evening of theatre when writing this play. Her work raises the important question of why it is that we go to the theatre? Is it with the intention of improving our mood and to leave feeling entertained or does it take a more powerful play to teach us lessons and unmask harsh social realities we might usually avoid?

As plays go, this is certainly not one that everyone will enjoy. It’s script is littered with aggressive arguments, often with colourful language, and it’s characters are dark and past hope. This play will suit theatre-goers who enjoy being challenged, pushed to the limits and who have a taste for the dark and romantic.
Portia Coughlan plays at The Red Lion Theatre in Angel until May 23rd.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Review of Death of a Comedian

Published in The Irish World Newspaper 06/05/2015

It is commonly assumed that the test of a comedian is in his skill for comedic timing. Belfast born Owen McCafferty’s play Death of a Comedian, challenges this assumption and focuses more on the moral importance of their content rather than their style of delivery.

The play centres around a struggling Irish comedian called Steve Johnston, who is repeatedly questioning his ability when the stage first lights up- “What if I’m not funny? What if I’m just not funny?”

His girlfriend Maggie, whose job it is to reassure and guide him in his chosen career, tries to keep him calm before he’s called on stage to perform.  McCafferty immediately opens us up to the fragility of the performer and the contrasting character of confident comedian we are so often used to seeing on stage.

The role of self- conscious comedian is played brilliantly by Brian Doherty, who has the range to stretch easily between boisterous performer and self-doubting fool.

Steven Johnston’s troubles begin when an obnoxious and fast talking agent, named Doug Wright, enters his life and feeds his ego with a vernacular of showbiz lingo and ambiguous promises of fame.

McCafferty’s honestly written play shows us how a mix of self-doubt and hunger for fame can be a lethal concoction as it creates vulnerability in the performer and leads them to a tormented battle between their own success and morality.

Gradually we begin to see Johnston change as a performer and morph into a different type of comedian from that with which we were first presented. His material is heavily affected, his set is safe and unimaginative and his accent becomes more anglicised.

Johnston’s original material focused more on social and political views as he monologued about corrupt politicians and the insincerity of television hosts. This honesty in performance is diluted later in the show by both Johnston’s own vulnerability and his agent’s dismissal of the importance of identity and individualism in performance- “A good comic can make anything funny.”

A joke which is heavily altered as his comedic set evolves is that of one about a racehorse galloping ferociously across a field until it hits an oak tree and knocks itself out. It may be that McCafferty is likening the evolution of this final joke to that of Johnston as a performer, galloping unwittingly fast into a life of fame that he doesn’t realise is actually his demise.

The message this play has to make is clear and requires no unpicking on the part of the audience, so its 80 minute duration seemed perfectly fitting.

Although the repetition of certain jokes might test some people’s patience, essentially, Death of a Comedian is a play that will get you thinking. The mixture of McCafferty’s honest script, Steve Marmion’s punchy direction and a well-chosen cast makes for a refreshingly humane piece of theatre.Overall it is a cynical yet justifiably critical portrayal of fame and those who offer it.

Death of a Comedian, which is presented in association with Lyric Belfast and The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, plays at the Soho Theatre in London until Saturday 16th May.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Ballyturk:The review

Published in the Irish World 13/09/2014

By Leah Quinn

Ireland’s golden boy of the theatre world, Cillian Murphy, made his second only appearance at the National Theatre this week in Enda Walsh’s, much talked about new play, Ballyturk.


Having impressed audiences back in 2011 with his solo appearance in Misterman, also under the direction of Enda Walsh, Murphy had already set the bar quite high for himself and his fellow actors. This performance saw him joined on stage by academy award nominee, Stephen Rea and the lesser-known Mikel Murfi.


The stage seemed set for a night of theatrical tension from the start as it opened to Murphy’s face lit only by a flashlight in centre stage. Murphy immediately displayed his vast range of acting skills through an energetic impression of what seemed like an overheard  two-way conversation between various rural characters. His face and change of voice informed the audience of the lunacy that was to follow and of the quick pace with which we were expected to keep up.


The intensity of his ominous spot lit face was diffused when the stage became fully lit and we saw that he was not alone, but accompanied by a very pale red-haired man, dressed only in his briefs as he listens to Murphy’s ravings whilst finishing off a packet of crisps-a bizarre image but none-the less amusing.


The lighting of the stage in full not only presented the audience with Murphy’s odd companion, but also with the bizarre setting in which they found themselves. Situated in a self contained room, the duo were surrounded by crude teak cupboards nailed at different heights on the walls, a small shower, an old record player and a wall covered in strange sketches depicting faces and urban scenes.


It was when the record player started by its own accord that the physicality involved in this play really took hold as both Murphy and Mikel Murfi began to race about frantically dressing and undressing, bursting balloons, hopping in the shower, opening and closing cupboards, throwing stacks of shoes about and high-fiving each other in between.


Up until the first 30 minutes into the production, it seemed Walsh was going for a Beckett style of dialogue which had no obvious end or beginning and ran desperately into itself leaving sense and reason behind. The audience were evidently bemused and exhausted from the trying to keep up not only with the actor’s conversations but also from trying to keep both actors in their eye line as Murphy would often move from centre stage to a foetal position on top of a cupboard in the flash of a stage light.


It seemed this play may be all too obscure to stomach until Stephen Rea’s character entered and opened up its meaning which was a huge twist and put this production on another par to what we would have previously expected.


Rea entered, as he often tends to do, like a foreboding plume of smoke onto the stage, meandering his way around the actors and creating a delicious tension that could be felt in any seat in the house. His excellent delivery and careless expressions set him apart from Murphy and Murfi’s characters as they became more vulnerable and childlike in his presence. It was through the presence of Rea’s character that we began to put sense to the frantic twitchings and sporadic spiels of the nervous duo that dominated the start of the play and awash of excitement and fear could be felt as this strange tale began to unravel in front of your eyes- “It’s normal to feel nervous when you’ve lost yourself, it happens but it passes.”


Overall this was a play like no other, the sheer energy and dedication to delivery and physicality required by the story was a wonder to behold. Walsh has managed to write a play that makes us question ourselves and our fragility as humans in a dark but also very intelligent kind of way. It is also hard to imagine any actors other than Cillian Murphy and Stephen Rea playing their parts as Murphy brought both intensity and innocence to his complex role. Stephen delivered what any fan would expect and all of this translated wondrously from the stage to the audience.


Ballyturk plays at The National Theatre until October 11th.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Bring up the Bodies Review

By Leah Quinn- published in The Irish World newspaper

The story of King Henry VIII and his many wives is one which has fascinating the world for centuries. Although, on most occasions, it seems to feature a greedy larger than life tyrant who seduces and destroys most of the women who are unlucky enough to receive his affections.


Hilary Mantel’s books owe their huge popularity, in some part. to the original angle at which she tells the story we all already know. Mantel keeps the main body of events intact but shows a more humane side by portraying King Henry’s women as wilful and ambitious rather than victims who are overwhelmed by his enormous stature and status.


The Aldwych Theatre currently shows Mantel’s version of events under the direction of Jeremy Herrin.


Bring up the Bodies focuses on the part of the story when Anne Boleyn begins her demise and Thomas Cromwell is growing in power within the English monarchy. The play began with the dramatic killing of a stag at the hand of King Henry’s arrow, he then begins to dismember the animal and reap glory in its blood- an image which no doubt symbolised the brutality of the time and the man himself.


It is not long into the play when his affections turn towards Jane Seymour. At this point he is waiting for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to die and has grown tired of his second wife Anne Boleyn who has also failed to give him a son.


From this point we begin to see the fall of Anne Boleyn as queen and the part in which Thomas Cromwell played in her gruesome end- “It’s as if I don’t exist…it’s as if I never had Elizabeth and Catherine is still queen”.


The characters and script showed how, although Anne was no wilting flower, her trial was grossly unjust as all evidence seemed to be based on the King’s personal intentions to rid himself of her and general gossip among her ladies maids.


Although this play dealt with some very dark periods in history the excellent script and skilful unwinding of the story made for a thoroughly enjoyable performance. Despite the often dark undertones and continuous looming threat to Anne’s life, there were many causes to laugh as unexpected wit seemed to filter through in many scenes. This is certainly an important play to see as it puts a different perspective on the characters of a story we all think we know.


Tickets are still available to buy for Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, with best availability in July and August. Day Seats are available to purchase in person at the Box Office from 10.30am on the day of performance.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Fatal Attraction review

Fatal Attraction, Theatre Royal Haymarket- published in The Irish World newspaper 02/04/2014
FATAL Attraction, the chilling tale of the darker side of love which Glenn Close brought to the screen so spine-chillingly in’87, has come to the stage under Trevor Nunn’s direction.
It’s fair to imagine that many who do go to see this show are fans of the now 26-year-old film. In its day, this twisted tale of love gone sour, earned its popularity from the intensity of the actors performance, a feature which was integral to its success. It also coined the phrase “bunny boiler” for overly eager girlfriends!
This particular stage adaption, however, doesn’t quite hit the mark in that respect as many of the climactic moments in the play were diminished in impact by less than believable acting performances.
Set in fast-paced modern day New York, an attractive business man seems to have it all. However his perfect wife, daughter and career fail to satisfy his excitement and he soon becomes lured by the opportunity of love from elsewhere- “It was about curiousity, the possibility of a different life.”
However, his idea of a thrilling, yet short lived, one night stand quickly turns into a drawn out hell as he finds his choice of lover to be more demonic than divine- “I literally want to put my hands around her neck and squeeze.
Mark Bazeley played the lead male and for the first act he fitted well into the part of a confident business minded New Yorker. It was when the role was stretched to require a more emotional portrayal that his efforts fell flat.
Sex and the City’s Kirsten Davis played his perfect wife. A role, which from what could be seen, was the exact same as that of her sitcoms character Charlotte. As one would expect, Davis brought a genuine sweetness to the role but, similar to Bazeley, was unable to deliver when pushed to another emotional level, often delivering scenes of distress which made her look more confused than genuinely at her wits end.
The part of Bazeley’s psychotic lover is played by Natascha McElhone, whose performance certainly lifted the play as she skilfully portrayed both the alluring beauty and chilling predator which her role demanded. Her striking features and large, piercing eyes translated well on stage; their intensity could be felt from the stalls.
Overall, it failed to deliver too often at key points where the audience should have been on the edge of their seats. A particular scene that involved some intense violence aroused only uncomfortable laughs from the audience as the awkwardness and choreography of movement was quite literally laughable.
By all means, go and see this play if you haven’t seen the movie as your expectations may be at the appropriate level. Perhaps it just needs more time to find its feet and become comfortable in its own skin as a stage adaption.
Fatal Attraction is at Theatre Royal Haymarket, London until June 21. To book call 0207 930 8800 or
By Leah Quinn
Check out the trailer to the original movie starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close

Monday, 3 March 2014

Happy Days review

By Leah Quinn

Published in the Irish World Newspaper February 26th 2014
Beckett’s tendency to lean towards the absurd in his plays does not always sit too comfortably with people. His exaggerated characters who rarely finish a sentence, let alone a singular thought, can awaken frustration and confusion in those who prefer a more narrative performance.


Happy Days directed by Natalie Abrahami at The Young Vic may well persuade certain sceptics otherwise as Juliet Stevenson’s portrayal of the lead character Winnie is a classic example of stage acting at its best.


The play takes place in a baron landscape, filled only with rock and sand. Winnie is submerged up to the waist in sand and evidently unable to escape. She has few possessions, one being her handbag and the other being her husband, both of which prove to be equally lifeless companions. Winnie starts and ends her day to the sound of a hugely unsettled bell. Although her situation is bleak, Winnie tries to make the most of the days and often sighs and exclaims “Oh it is another heavenly day”.


Although Winnie tries frantically to recall happy memories, most of which she had forgotten, and make the most of the mundane items she has left, you constantly get the feeling her fate is sealed and only tragedy can befall her.


It is quite likely this two act play is unlike any you may have encountered before, and perhaps that is enough of a reason to go along. However it is truly Olivier-award winning Stevenson’s skillful portrayal of such an absurd and tragic character that must be admired. More and more sand could be seen tumbling down on Winnie as she tired desperately to get her husband to engage, Stevenson’s talent for comedic acting brings out the underlying irony which is quite refreshing in what has the potential to be a heavy play.


It once suggested that this play was written for Beckett’s wife who wanted him to write a happy play. The result of which is quite ironic still as it focuses on the determination of many women to make the most of a hopeless situation by finding the good in the little things, a trait perhaps which Beckett’s wife might have had.


Happy Days plasy at The Young Vic until March 8th.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Tommy Tiernan Stray Sod show review

Published in The Irish World newspaper 05/02/2014

By Leah Quinn


Tommy's career has taken more twists and turns than your average country road. In previous years he has made the unusual journey from comedic king to villain in the eyes of many the critic as his often risky choice of material and energetic outbursts have turned more than a few heads and not always for the rights reasons.


His latest performance in Dean Street’s Soho theatre, however, proved that his best days may still lie ahead of him as Tiernan boisterously returned with a whimsical charm, a trait of his which originally attracted a very large following.


His rugged features, yet childlike mannerisms  brought not only comedy wisdom but also sheer lunacy, a concoction for which few comedians seem to have the ingredients.


His material for Stray Sod seemed to be mainly focused on the absurdities of human nature and  the bizarre cultural differences encounter as we travel.


Although this current show is much safer than some of his previous stuff, Tiernan still brings a refreshing daredevil approach to the comedy stage and in no way holds back with his opinions. Judging by his witty yet careful handling of a quite raucous heckler in the front row, Tiernan is still not afraid to speak his mind but has now mastered doing so with a pinch more affliction.


In what felt like a very fast moving hour and a half, Tommy  touched on a variety of topics. Some of which included the Irish in Australia, ignorance in the Irish countryside ,French lessons in school, his ginger-haired child, his thoughts on Londoners, how to distinguish which county an Irish woman is from, the news and weather, his offensive jokes in the past and the backlash he has faced since, celebrity magazines, the noises fields make at night and his mother’s funeral. All of which were delivered in Tiernan’s usual mischievous yet alluring style of delivery and had the audience hanging on his every word.


Stray Sod not only proved that he has surpassed the dark cloud that once hung over his career and triumphed out the other side by staying true to his original style but that ,more importantly, Tommy Tiernan may be a comedian by profession but he is story-teller at heart.
Check out Tommy a few years back...