I made my way to the airport in an almost fugue state. A 6.20am flight meant arrival at the airport at 4.30am – not the time of day that I want to live, laugh or love. After I made my way through the security screening I realised that I had lost my ring – between the metal detector / X-ray machine and the point when I was on my way to the gate. My father’s wedding ring had slipped off my little finger. Perhaps it was when I removed my belt and jacket, or took the liquids and laptop from my bag for screening. This was unfortunate. I have worn the ring intermittently over the past twenty years. I received it after my father died in January 2003, while I was on holiday in Melbourne. Having noticed that the ring was slipping off my finger more easily in recent months I had made a vague commitment to being more careful with it. Fully awake now I went back to the screening area. The guards re-Xrayed my bags and in an apologetic but firm manner told me that they could do no more, and gave me a card to report it to Lost and Found, who updated their website with missing items daily. I was peeved. I am not somebody who is sentimental over physical things, so I wouldn’t be weeping into my pillows over the missing ring. Save for the ring though, and a brown leather box, these were the only items I possessed that belonged to my father.
There was no point in stressing. It had happened, it couldn’t be undone, and I’d have to get on with my trip (after an email to Lost and Found). My first ever journey to the cradle of western civilisation – Athens. I’d been to Greece’s second city Thessaloniki a few times previously with work, and to the beautiful island of Mykonos, but this would be my first trip to Athens. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there would be magnificent, ancient ruins for sure, but had been told by various people – Greeks included – to be careful, as it was a fairly grungy city where petty crime was sometimes a feature.
Travelling on Friday 3rd March, four days earlier Greece had experienced its worst ever train disaster when a packed, passenger train travelling at full speed from Athens to Thessaloniki had a head on collision with a freight train coming in the opposite direction. Fifty seven people (at the most recent count) had been killed. Greece was a county in mourning, while also seeking answers from the government who had privatised the rail network without securing the rail infrastructure’s safety.
Ireland and the UK seem to be the countries in the world with the most unbreakable attachment to the pantomime style of theatre – whereby an old fairy-tale is adapted into a musical comedy for all the family; where the performers onstage interact with the audience; where middle-aged men dress up as pantomime dames; where a young hero or heroine finds true love (with assistance from the audience). Targeted at children, there is plenty of topical, adult humour for the grown-ups. Staged from before Christmas to the New Year, it can be an extremely lucrative endeavour, when for a period of several weeks, there will be two shows daily, where former soap stars and TV entertainers can top up their income, or indeed earn enough to keep them in greasepaint for several months to come. The shows staged tend to be the same – Cinderella; Sleeping Beauty; Puss in Boots; Mother Goose; Peter Pan; Aladdin; The Jungle Book; Jack and the Beanstalk; Hansel and Gretel.
May 22nd 2015 is the day that Ireland became the first country in the world where marriage equality was legalised thanks to a popular vote, when 62% of voters said that we were equal.
On 24th May 2015, the day after the count Limerick woman Ann Blake received a text from her brother, asking ‘How’s the morning after the life before?’ This question became the title of the play ‘The morning after the life before’ which subsequently toured the country and the world. I saw this play in Bewleys Theatre in Dublin in March 2018. This year for Limerick Pride, Dolan’s Warehouse in Limerick staged the reprisal. As my move home to Limerick will be finalised by next month I thought I’d pay a return visit. I am happy to have done so.
Yesterday was Bloomsday in Dublin. In 1922 the novel ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce was published and recounted the activities of a man – Leopold Bloom – over the single day 16th June 1904 in Dublin. Since that time that day has become a day for commemoration and celebration of the book, and the life of the writer. There are cultural and literary events all over the city, with particular attention on the locations around the city mentioned in the book. Devotees dress up in Edwardian outfits, and everyone has a jolly good time. I enjoy the festivities.
Yesterday I decided to mark the event by attending the Bewley’s Café Afternoon Theatre to see ‘Little Cloud’ – an adaptation of the short story ‘Little Cloud’ which had originally appeared in Joyce’s 1914 collection ‘Dubliners’. Adapted for the stage by Patricia Browne, directed by Vincent Patrick and produced by Judder Theatre, it tells the tale of office worker Tommy Chandler (played by Stephen Kelly) who is meeting his old college friend Ignatius Gallagher (Vincent Patrick) for drinks in the Shelbourne Hotel. Tommy is a dreamer and had great dreams of becoming a writer. Meanwhile it is Ignatius who has achieved literary success in London and New York with his celebrity interviews.
Over the weekend I travelled to the West of Ireland for a cabaret show. On Friday afternoon I took the tram out to the Red Cow. The Red Cow is on the outskirts of Dublin and marks the point where country people know they have arrived in the Big Smoke. I was being collected there from where we would drive to our ultimate destination – Galway city. The tram journey was surreal – firstly a very polite sixteen year old offered me his seat. I know that my hair is white, but surely I retain some semblance of youthful effervescence, remaining as I am, in my forties. A few stops further a woman boarded with nine children. All were hers it would appear. Some of the older children were carrying cooked chickens in brown paper bags. The chicken grease leaked all over the floor. I offered her a plastic Marks and Spencer bag which she gratefully accepted. When the ticket inspectors boarded the tram, it was discovered that none of the party of ten had a valid ticket. I have no idea what happened, as the next stop was the Red Cow where I disembarked.
We weren’t travelling to Galway that night. We were spending it in the midlands just outside Athlone – a town on the River Shannon that I had heretofore never visited. We had a drink in Sean’s Bar overlooking the river. This is one of the many bars in the land that claims to be the nation’s oldest. I was impressed by the sight of Linda Gray and Larry Hagman (Sue-Ellen and JR Ewing) in a photograph taken of them sometime in the 1980s, standing outside the bar. We each gave our impression of a drunken Sue-Ellen. Our AirBnB was located on the Roscommon side of the town, and was a very lovely old farmer’s cottage. The following morning I opened my curtains to the sight of a grey horse who had wandered into the garden overnight. The cottage owner knew who owned the beast so we bid farewell to our breakfast companion when his owner collected him.
This May bank holiday Monday sees the welcome return of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, for the first time since 2019. Now in its 19th year, the pandemic of the past two years had thwarted its occurrence for two years. It’s back for the next two weeks, featuring twenty-three productions in various venues around the city. Check out the 2022 programme on http://www.gaytheatre.ie.
For my matinee viewing today I went to the Main Hall in the Teachers’ Club on Parnell Square to see a comedy double bill ‘Quarantine’ and ‘Three Queens Stuck in Dublin’.
As the pandemic (or at least the lockdown) draws to a close, the theatre world is back with a vengeance. It was with great anticipation that I attended Chaplin’s Bar this evening, where in the upstairs space Judder Theatre is staging the one act play ‘The Great War’ by Neil LaBute.
Judder Theatre has been producing plays since 2018. After the two year plague, this is Judder’s first production since the world reopened. Originally its plays were staged in Doyles, before moving to its present home upstairs on Hawkins Street. The upstairs theatre is a comfortable and intimate space – the audience is like an observer in the room immersed in the action, rather than the distanced onlookers in a more traditional. For a play like ‘The Great War’ this is very effective.
The lights come up. A man and a woman emerge onto the stage and sit on the sofa. From the first words it is clear that this is a couple at war. Or to be more accurate, this is a soon to be ex-couple. In the process of obtaining a divorce they decide to bypass the lawyers for an evening, to decide among themselves, how to split the marital estate. There’s one, rather overwhelming problem however – they cannot stand the sight of each other. As they down hard liquor, barbs and insults are traded. They lament the nine years they have wasted on this broken relationship. Nothing is off limits. Bitterly condemning each other for squandering each other’s youth and beauty, neither seems ready to forgive or forget, using this meeting as yet another chance to tear a strip off each other.
It’s hilariously funny. Anyone who has endured a breakup will identify with the frustration and regret that is on display here – although perhaps not to the same vituperative effect.
To complicate matters, they have two children. How will the decisions they make on their future affect the boys? I won’t give any spoilers but what they reveal to each other about their thoughts and feelings isn’t precisely what the marriage guidance counsellor would consider mature or responsible.
The couple is played with relish by Gertrude Montgomery and Vincent Patrick. The onstage chemistry between them is electric – although you’d be in fear for them with the toxic atmosphere and brutal insults. Funny, sharp and with great timing they are a very effective couple in conflict.
Directed by Shaun Elebert this blackly comic play runs until Saturday at 6.30pm in Chaplin’s Bar on Hawkins Street.
In May 2008, Democratic Unionist Party MP Iris Robinson gave an interview to the Stephen Nolan radio show on BBC Northern Ireland. In it she expressed sorrow that a gay man had been beaten almost to death in a homophobic attack in Belfast. Homosexuality was still an ‘abomination’ to Iris however, but homosexuals like murderers could be forgiven by accepting Jesus. She had a lovely NHS psychiatrist, who worked with her who could help those suffering from the ‘abomination’ to be cured. To say that the interview caused a reaction is quite an understatement. Universally condemned for her religious and homophobic extremism, neither Iris or her political party backed down. Her party colleague Ian Paisley Junior (son of the Reverend Senior who in the early 1980s campaigned against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the north with the catchy slogan ‘Save Ulster from sodomy’) supported Robinson. Iris’ husband Peter Robinson – then the First Minister of Northern Ireland remained silent – possibly too busy shouting ‘No, no, no’, at any questions being posed to him.
She later stated in parliament that “There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children” (although she later claimed that this direct quote had been misinterpreted. )
The BBC started doing some investigation into Mrs. Robinson’s background and in January 2010 a Spotlight documentary was released which revealed that throughout the previous year’s controversy, 60 year old Iris had been conducting an extra-marital affair (I’m assuming said affair was ‘torrid’) with a 19 year old named Kirk McCambley, and that she’d been using her political influence to get loans approved for him to open a cafe. Iris checked herself into a psychiatric unit and announced her retirement from public life.
I had previously only seen Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ which I had modestly enjoyed. Last night I felt it was time to go the theatre with new eyes, to experience the Gate Theatre production of ‘Endgame’. Surely this was a work that needed to be seen in its original form, and not through the medium of a surly, jazz-hands, interpretive dance version.
This latest production was directed by Danya Taymor and has received state funding through the Arts Council and RTE. It stars Frankie Boyle as Hamm – a surly, blind and wheelchair bound man living in a grotty room in a post-apocalyptic world. He is cared for by a limping Clov (Robert Sheehan). Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell (played by Sean McGinley and Gina Moxley) have no legs and live in a pair of dustbins in the corner. Hamm spends the play insulting and berating Clov, who threatens to leave Hamm, but never does. There are long speeches (it’s ‘an absurdist comedy’). There’s repetition in the lines and the actions – poor Clov is the only character that moves on the stage (Hamm being wheeled about notwithstanding) throughout the play.
Last night I went to the Abbey’s Peacock Theatre to see ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe and starring Amy Conroy. First and foremost, this wasn’t an entirely awful show, but one that has major problems.
Written in 2013, about a woman whose mother suffered from mental health issues, attempting suicide for the first time when her daughter was only seven. To cope with this horror, the little girl starts a list of all the lovely things in life – hence the play title ‘Every brilliant thing’. From a seven-year old’s perspective this involves things like ice-cream; sunshine; the colour yellow; being allowed to stay up late to watch television. The story progresses to various points throughout her life where her mother’s continuing struggle with her mental health impacts on her daughter, whose own mental health is challenged. The list of numbered brilliant things continues as time progresses – reaching into the thousands. Clearly mental health is a serious topic, and one that affects every family in the land. This is not where the problem lies.