Monthly Archives: July 2023


(Clare Brennan’s article appeared in The Observer, 7/30; Photo: ‘Ophelia-like’ Sophie Lenglinger as Nora, with Liam Heslin as Jack, in The Plough and the Stars. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh.) 

Town Hall theatre, Galway
O’Casey’s three plays of working-class Dublin life encompass conflict, grief and the human spirit in Garry Hynes’s fine production

 A highlight of this year’s Galway international arts festival (GIAF), DruidO’Casey is a new play cycle by Druid theatre company of the “Dublin trilogy” by one of Ireland’s greatest playwrights, Seán O’Casey (1880-1964). The three plays are presented back to back, in chronological sequence, over one day. The experience is revelatory. O’Casey grew up in working-class Dublin, and his portrayal, here, of life in the city’s tenements during the years of conflict between 1915 and 1922 becomes an expression of the wider world, its yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.

This fine production by Druid’s co-founder and longstanding artistic director, Garry Hynes, probes the ambiguities and indeterminacies of O’Casey’s texts, ultimately requiring us to take seriously a laughter-raising line: “There’s no such thing as an Irishman, an Englishman, or a German or a Turk; we’re all only human bein’s.”

Actors, revelling in the richness of O’Casey’s Dublin demotic, bring his impoverished characters to rumbustious life. Francis O’Connor’s design roots their tenement homes in reality with smoking ranges and solid props, but backs them with walls that have the sheen of pale-green marble, rising in slabs – like a memorial pressing on to the living.

As The Plough and the Stars (1926) opens in 1915. Fluther (comically brilliant Aaron Monaghan) is fixing a lock on to a door for a young wife, Nora, who wants to keep the world beyond at bay (an inverted echo of Ibsen’s bourgeois Nora, slamming the door as she leaves her “doll’s house”). She cannot: a door is always both entrance and exit.

In a pub, Nora’s neighbours are drinking and wrangling. Beyond the window, a speaker addresses a rally: “Without shedding of blood, there is no redemption!” Hynes’s direction highlights O’Casey’s ironic juxtaposition. Pausing their shenanigans, light streaming on to their upturned faces, drinkers are disciples looking for guidance, sinners longing to be saints (lighting, James F Ingalls).

Nora’s husband, Jack (swithering, Liam Heslin), follows the “Starry Plough” flag to 1916’s Easter Rising and his death. Nora flees her home, miscarries her baby and loses her mind (Sophie Lenglinger, Ophelia-like). Bessie, the aggressive, swaggering, Rule, Britannia-singing neighbour against whom Nora wanted to lock her door, becomes the play’s improbable martyr (Hilda Fay, soul wrenching), shot trying to protect Nora. Soldiers in the street mistook her silhouette in a window for that of a sniper.

This indeterminacy of appearances is at the heart of The Shadow of a Gunman (1923). It is May, 1920, the Irish war of independence is being waged. In a room in a tenement sits Donal, fashioning a poem. His roommate, Seumas, is getting up (blustering Rory Nolan). Maguire (Heslin) breezes in and out, leaving a bag behind. A stream of neighbours follows, in awe of Donal. All imagine he is on the run, including “lovely little Minnie”.

“Minnie is attracted to the idea, and I am attracted to Minnie,” smiles Donal to himself (self-indulgently self-centred; Marty Rea). “And what danger can there be in being the shadow of a gunman?”

When danger appears, Donal and Seumas cower, quivering on a bed, Laurel and Hardy-comical. They leave the fearful Minnie (butterfly-like Caitríona Ennis) courageously to assume the role Donal no longer wishes to pretend to.

Closing the day, Juno and the Paycock (1924) at first seems disappointing. We have come to expect hilarity and theatricality, balancing outrageously against tragedy. Initially, the presentation of the Boyle family feels flat by comparison, staid and standard naturalism. In fact, it turns out to be the magnificent culmination of what has gone before.

It is 1922. The Irish civil war is under way. Juno struggles to feed her family: workshy husband, a “captain” who has never been to sea; maimed son Johnny (Tommy Harris, haunted), former Irregular turned informer, waiting fearfully for retribution (although the family does not know this); and daughter Mary (Zara Devlin, from pert to crushed), on strike because “a principle’s a principle”. News of a legacy brings hope, credit, material goods. It’s a mistake. There is no inheritance.

(Read more)


(Marion Chaval’s, Magali Faure’s, and Eve Jackson’s article appeared on France24, 7/26.)

Just over 100 years ago, painters, sculptors, writers and musicians battled for gold, silver and bronze at the Olympics in the French capital. To mark a year until the Paris Games, we’re looking at the artistic side of the world’s biggest sporting event. FRANCE 24 brings you an exclusive interview with highly acclaimed theatre director Thomas Jolly, who’s directing the opening and closing ceremonies. Also on the programme: the new Olympic sport of breakdancing and the Michelin-starred chefs cooking for the athletes.




I got a show to do, remember, baby?  Oh baby, I got a show to do. (Dreamgirls)

I’m all right, right now (from The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle)

I love my enemy in theatre (I do not have to go to lunch with them). Louise Hay paraphrase

It is never too late to be alive in/for/to theatre. Penelope Chatterton paraphrase

I take the time needed to express my creativity—and it is always in demand.

Inspiration and invention lead me, and my ship comes in now.

I can easily solve any problem and correct answers come to me easily. I know what to do.

My projects complete easily and automatically—and I am pleased with my process and results.

All right resources are mine now–and I am grateful.

I am worthy of success.

My path is important to myself and our community.

I am most truly successful, as an artist and otherwise, when I am my most authentic self, openly and honestly.

I adapt my vision to the new theatrical reality—and it has all positive outcomes for me.

Theatre comes back strong in 2023—and heals us.

(Many of the above affirmations are from or based on work by Teri D. Mahaney, Florence Scovel Shinn, Louise Hay, and others.)



(Mark Lawson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/20; Photo: Gripping … Sarah Slimani in Grenfell: In the Words of Survivors at Dorfman theatre, London. Photograph: Myah Jeffers.)

Dorfman theatre, London
Piling up devastating detail, this play with a remarkable cast shockingly lays bare the abject failures behind this disaster

During dramas about a national catastrophe – in films such as Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough (1996) and Paul Greengrass’s United 93 (2006) – viewers have the sickening sense of watching real people doomed to die horribly. A variant comes in the National Theatre’s exploration of the 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in west London that took 72 lives and devastated hundreds more. The subtitle reveals that the nine residents depicted all got out.

It begins with the lights up as the cast, out of character, explain that if the content overwhelms us, we can leave and return. No images or sounds of fire will be used and the residents dramatised have consented to the words used having been taken from interviews with novelist and writer Gillian Slovo.

This culturally kind prologue made me fear that the show might not be cruel enough to the architects of this disaster of politics and construction. But Slovo – with directors Phyllida Lloyd and Anthony Simpson-Pike – piles up devastating detail from the verbatim survivor accounts, public inquiry transcripts and TV interviews.

The central charge is that the conflagration at Grenfell Tower started with sparks from a promised bonfire of regulation and red-tape by David Cameron. Tory ministers failed to heed a coroner’s warning after an earlier block blaze killed six. Cladding materials that failed safety tests (one flare-up almost torching the laboratory) were banned elsewhere but allowed in the light-touch UK.

It is convincingly suggested that local authority housing policy resulted in a sort of social cleansing with tenants – often diverse or disadvantaged – isolated and ignored in a corner of a super-rich postcode. Residents who raised concerns were told in terms to be grateful for having a potential inferno over their heads. Such prejudice led to a police riot squad being dispatched to Grenfell, in case local people kicked-off about the dangers.

(Read more)


(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/23; Photo: Gertrude Robins, pictured in 1911: she depicted women’s often limited choices between second-rate marriages and independence. Photograph: National Portrait Gallery London.)

Powerful dramas that speak to today’s audiences, retrieved after British Library discovery, will be performed in London next month

It was a chance discovery in the British Library that has led to a change in fortune for Gertrude Robins – though she has had to wait more than 100 years after her death to achieve it.

In the early 20th century, Robins was among the female playwrights seen as up-and-coming rivals to George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy and JM Barrie, but over time her work was gradually forgotten.

Now two of her one-act socially conscious plays – Makeshifts and Realities – are being revived. Andrew Maunder, a scholar of early 20th century theatre, stumbled across them in the library after researching plays of the period and was struck by their quality.

He told the Observer these works were not “historical curiosities” but plays that spoke to modern audiences through lead characters who faced dilemmas over double standards and the expectations placed on women.

He described them as “so well crafted” that they did not need to be updated or edited for the performances that he is producing at the Finborough theatre in London from next month.

Robins, who was also an actor and one of the first female pilots, wrote at least 14 plays before her life was cut short by tuberculosis. Her death in 1917, aged just 37, sparked speculation over what might have been had she lived to write more plays.

A host of female playwrights have been overlooked in favour of male dramatists but, in their own day, they were as celebrated

Andrew Maunder

In 1908, Makeshifts premiered to great acclaim at the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester, whose then artistic director, Annie Horniman, described it as “one of the best one-act plays … performed at my theatre”.

Noting that, by 1908, votes for women was among the significant issues of the day, Maunder said that the plays touched on suffragist ideas and that Horniman encouraged plays written by women or about them, arguing that they “have not yet risen to their proper position”.

Set in a London suburb, Makeshifts is about thirtysomething sisters Caroline and Dolly, with uncertain futures unless they can find husbands. They must choose between settling for second-best men and independence. Dolly, who is “inclined to brusquerie and superficial sharpness”, tells her sister: “Men fight shy of girls like me. They think we’re too clever.”

An immediate hit, Makeshifts led to thousands of performances across the world, from Australia to South Africa. In 1913, one reviewer wrote: “It is a perfect little work of art worthy to [rank] with JM Barrie’s The Twelve-Pound Look.” Others described it as “brilliantly written” and said of her characters: “Her people are real people, which means that they talk and do real things.”

In the sequel, Realities, which premiered in Manchester in 1911, Caroline has married one of those disappointing men and finds herself tempted by a former suitor who wants her as his mistress.

Maunder is head of the department of humanities at the University of Hertfordshire and editor of the series British Literature of World War I.

He believes that the two plays were last performed at the end of the first world war: “I haven’t found any record apart from that – although possibly by amateur groups, because they’re very actable.”

(Read more)



(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/20; Photo: Jose Llana, left, and Arielle Jacobs as Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in “Here Lies Love” at the Broadway Theater in Manhattan.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

Jesse Green saw “Here Lies Love” in 2013 at the Public Theater (standing) and on Tuesday at the Broadway Theater (sitting)

Here Lies Love

It’s the applause — including my own — I find troubling.

Not that there isn’t plenty to praise in “Here Lies Love,” the immersive disco-bio-musical about Imelda Marcos that opened on Thursday at the Broadway Theater. The infernally catchy songs by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, performed by a tireless and inspired all-Filipino cast, will have you clapping whether you want to or not. Their chunky beats, abetted by insistent dance motivators, may even prompt you to bop at your seat — if you have one.

Because the real star of this show is the astonishing architectural transformation of the theater itself, by the set designer David Korins. Opened in 1924 as a movie palace, more lately the home of “King Kong” and “West Side Story,” the Broadway has now been substantially gutted, its nearly 1,800 seats reduced to about 800, with standing room for another 300 in the former orchestra section and a 42-inch disco ball dead center.


The folks upstairs, if not the mostly younger standees below, will surely recognize the visual reference to Studio 54, the celebrity nightclub where Marcos, the first lady of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, danced away the last decade of her reign while impoverishing her people. That she would probably adore the over-emphatic atmosphere of “Here Lies Love” — with its lurid lighting by Justin Townsend, skittering projections by Peter Nigrini and earsplitting sound by M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer — is, however, equivocal praise.

For here we are, at the place where irony and meta-messaging form a theatrical-historical knot that can’t be picked apart. Which is why, as you clap, you should probably wonder what for.

Is it for Imelda (Arielle Jacobs), the beauty queen who rose from “hand-me-downs and scraps” to become the fashion-plate wife of the Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos? Is it for the ruthless Ferdinand himself (Jose Llana)? (His landslide election in 1965 elicited some Pavlovian cheers the night I saw the show.) Or is it for Ninoy Aquino (Conrad Ricamora), the opposition leader who was Imelda’s former beau? (Having spurned her in their youth, he was later assassinated by forces thought to be close to Ferdinand’s regime.) All get equivalent star treatment here.

The confusion of sympathies is just where Byrne and the director Alex Timbers want us. Avoiding the near-hagiography of “Evita” and yet unwilling to bank a commercial production on a totally hateful character, they aim for a middle ground that doesn’t exist, yet mostly hit it anyway. Their Imelda is a victim of poverty and mistreatment, dim despite her cunning and innocent by reason of inanity. When Filipinos fully turn against her during the People Power revolution of 1986, she is more mystified than crushed. “Why don’t you love me?” she sings.

(Read more)



(Via Emily Owens PR)

Barefoot Shakespeare Company




Written by Melissa Bell

Directed by Emily Gallagher


Presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival

August 3rd – August 19th at

UNDER St. Marks

Barefoot Shakespeare Company will present Lady Capulet written by Melissa Bell and directed by Emily Gallagher. The production will be presented as part of the 2023 Little Shakespeare Festival at UNDER St. Marks (94 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009) with performances on August 3 at 9pm and August 5 at 4pm and 9pm. Tickets ($25 in person; $20 streaming) are available for advance purchase at www.frigid.nycThe performance will run approximately 100 minutes. 

What caused the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets? This prequel to Romeo and Juliet follows the story of Rose from country girl to lady of Verona and explores the betrayal, revenge, and manipulations that set the houses of Capulet and Montague against one another in a time when the influence of family, money, power, and gender determine everything. Using evocative language, Lady Capulet asks large questions about women’s place in culture today through a Shakespearean lens.

Twice nominated for “Best Modern Update & Adaptation” in 2000 & 2021 by New York.

“Tantalizing … juicy” said, and Time Out said: “Melissa Bell reimagines the life of Juliet’s mother in the years before the events of Romeo & Juliet in this classical prequel.” 

The title role of Rose Capulet is played by Jianzi Colón-Soto, recently seen as young Sonia Sotomayor in Atlantic Theatre’s She Persisted, based on the stories by Chelsea Clinton. Ms Colón-Soto originated the role of Rose in Barefoot Shakespeare’s 2019 Central Park production. She is joined by the other originating players: Andrew Dunn, (Barefoot’s Titus); Preston Fox, (Off Broadway’s The Importance of Being Earnest); Jefferson Reardon, Fight Captain, (Proslogian On-Demand); Heather Sawyer (She Persisted) and Emily Thaler, Production Manager for Barefoot Shakespeare Company. Melanie Ryan Stage Manages, with Fight Direction by Robert Aronowitz, and Regina Renée Russell as Barefoot’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

LADY CAPULET, a Henley Rose Playwriting Competition Finalist, was written by Melissa Bell (Honored Finalist for the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition’s Collaboration Award 2019) and is directed by Emily Gallagher, Founder and Artistic Director of Barefoot Shakespeare Company, the producer of these performances. Original music by Graham Russell of Air Supply.

Barefoot Shakespeare Company strives to make the works of William Shakespeare accessible to everyone, with an eye towards modernization to reflect the world we currently live in, and our recent past to examine how we got here. We continue to try and educate both ourselves and our audiences on the histories and struggles of topics such as race, gender equality, politics, and self-expression with the Bard’s works as our baseline. We value our relationships with our audiences, and encourage them to participate in our productions, blurring the lines between spectator and participant. 

Photo: Jianzi Colon Soto as Rose and Preston Fox as Montague in the 2019 production (c) Emily Hewitt





(Michael Billington’s article  appeared in the Guardian, 7/18.Photo: ‘The power to draw the audience together’ … the Swan Theatre at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

Not all buildings are created equal. From sightlines to acoustics to the alchemy of actor-audience rapport, the physical facts of a dramatic space are fundamental

What makes a good theatre? Critics are not the most reliable guides. We sit in the best seats, don’t have to pay, and are there to assess the performance rather than the building. If ever I have wanted guidance on architectural issues, I have turned to Iain Mackintosh, who from 1973 worked for Theatre Projects Consultants, has designed many successful theatres and has now put his encyclopedic knowledge into a book called Theatre Spaces 1920-2020. But the revelation comes in the subtitle: Finding the Fun in Functionalism. At the heart of the book lies an assault on modernist concrete buildings and a celebration of any theatre where actor and audience enjoy an easy rapport.

Mackintosh covers a lot of ground and tells a number of good stories, two of which relate to the old Shakespeare Memorial theatre in Stratford, which opened in 1932. Derided at the time as a “jam factory”, yet capable of infinite adaptation, it has long been attributed to a 29-year-old modernist architect, Elisabeth Scott. But Mackintosh implicitly endorses the view that it was the work of her employer, Maurice Chesterton (cousin of the famous GK). He also quotes a story about Tyrone Guthrie, on being offered co-directorship of the theatre in 1950 by Anthony Quayle, saying he would only accept if they built a new theatre with the audience on three sides. Asked what should be done with the existing theatre, Guthrie replied, “Bulldoze it and push it into the river.”

In seeking an antidote to modernism, Mackintosh rejoices in two things. One is spaces built of brick and plaster, which, unlike concrete, are adaptable. The other is what came to be known as the “courtyard theatre”, modelled on rectangular, galleried 18th-century playhouses such as the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond in North Yorkshire. This was the inspiration both for the Cottesloe (now the Dorfman) at the National Theatre, and the Tricycle (now the Kiln) in Kilburn, which owe everything to Mackintosh’s design. But Mackintosh also singles out the Swan in Stratford, where he was not involved, and where the architect, Michael Reardon, was inspired by galleried churches whose architecture “had the power to draw the audience together in a way that modern theatres do not”.

(Read more)


The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

It is important to know what you are feeling on the stage, because it often happens that even the most experienced actors work out at home and carry on to the stage something which is neither important nor essential for their parts.

Delicate and deep human feelings . . . call for natural emotions at the very moment in which they appear before you in the flesh. They call for the direct co-operation of nature itself.  (AP)


(via France24, 7/14/2023)

We bring you a special edition from the 77th international theatre festival in the southern French city of Avignon, where change is in the air under its new Portuguese director Tiago Rodrigues. As the first non-French leader to take the reins of the festival, Rodrigues has brought in a majority of first-time performers and female directors, and introduced English as a guest language. One of the British artists joining the line-up for the first time this year is actor, director and playwright Tim Crouch. He sat down with FRANCE 24’s Alison Sargent to talk about his experimental work exploring grief, technology and the nature of performance.

Meanwhile, the festival’s opening night put social justice centre stage, with an adaptation of the 1973 documentary “Welfare” and a roving dance performance choreographed by French hip-hop pioneer Bintou Dembélé.

In addition to the official 44 shows, there are nearly 1,500 taking place in the fringe “Off” festival. FRANCE 24’s Natacha Milleret followed one young troupe as they made their debut at Avignon

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