Theatre Times: ‘The spinning heart’ and ‘Hero’

Yesterday evening I went to the theatre. Not an unusual occurrence for me – as anyone who reads this blog on a semi-regular basis can confirm.

The show was being held in Smock Alley in Temple Bar – Ireland’s oldest theatre – dating from 1662. For many years it lied empty until it reopened as a theatre six years ago after extensive renovation.

The performance last night was ‘The Spinning Heart’ by Donal Ryan. It’s the stage adaptation of his 2011 novel of the same name. It’s the story of Bobby Mahon –  a pillar of the Tipperary town in which he lives with his wife Triona. Everyone loves him except his Dad. He’s the foreman on the building site being run by Pooky Burke. Then the economic crash occurs. The town is devastated. Tragedy strikes.

It’s an excellent play – capturing the stifling claustrophobia of small town life with the twitching curtains, and the Teapot Taliban passing judgement on all who don’t fit in with its preconceived ideas of acceptable behaviour.

Performed in the style of the book it features a range of characters, all of whom speak in monologue about the unfolding events – how the town has been gutted by economic despair. How depression and poverty bring strong people to their knees. How the struggle to survive becomes an almost insurmountable grind.

The cast of ten played various characters in the local town very effectively. My favourite was the actress who played Realtin – a single mother living in the only occupied house in a ghost estate that was abandoned, unfinished after the crash. She also played the sourfaced woman who owns the local creche, angry and bitter at her husband for leaving the financial burden on her shoulders alone.  I also loved the character of Seany Shaper – father of the baby living with the single mother in the ghost estate. I was almost in tears as he described his character’s feeling of utter hopelessness and despair at his impotence to change anything as the world’s collapses.

I’d name check the actors if I could – but not knowing their names prevents this. Oops.

The actors all gave superb performances. A flaw I found however was the despite playing characters of various ages, aside from one, all the actors were young. A wider age range would have been more effective for certain roles.

What was refreshing also was that the play was about rural Ireland. Living in Dublin is fantastic in terms of theatre, and it’s only natural that plays seem to have a Dublin focus. I’m a country boy however, so it was exciting the see a play about a village whose nearest big town is my stomping ground of Limerick.

I hope this plays goes on tour – it deserves as wide an audience as possible.

Waking from my slumber this morning,I decided that another matinee show was just what I required this Saturday afternoon. Today is that last show day of a play named ‘Hero’ by Ken Rogan; and is being held in the Theatre Upstairs on Eden Quay. This would be my second matinee in the space of a week (after ‘From Eden’ on Monday)

The tagline on the flyer asks ‘What happens when you don’t know how to lose?’. It’s a one man play starring Daithi MacSuibhne.

As I entered the theatre he was already on stage in front of a curtain made from wine glasses threaded together at the back of the space. It was an interesting look.

The character of John begins his tale – boasting of his prowess on the football field, and how he is such a great guy and captain of the team.He tells the tale of meeting Marissa, falling for  her, hard, and how this relationship has ruinous consequences.

The performance was  intense – as one man shows tend to be. It was a tour de force. I found it quite unsettling at times. As I was in my usual spot in the front row, and as the theatre is small there’s less than a metre between the audience and performer. The performance was excellent, although I didn’t particularly like the character being played. The bravado, the aggression, the underlying threat of violence. As the actor is alone, he sometimes speaks directly to an individual audience member. I squirmed on occasion when he spoke to me.  I think I was subconsciously dreading him hissing ‘faggot’ at me – these unreconstructed macho types can be quite nice people, but experience tells me that this is not always the case. Then I remembered. It’s a play – interaction with the audience won’t happen. Dodged an imaginary bullet there

The musical background throughout the piece was 1950s swing music – Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and their like.

I enjoyed it very much and kudos to the actor for bringing such an intensity to the performance. Quite unnerving though.

Today is the last day of the run – but if it goes on tour I’d recommend it.

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