Screening and discussion: RSC Hamlet on RTE2 and Cyclone Rep Q&A

Cyclone Rep, Ireland’s leading Shakespeare Theatre-in-Education Company, is trying to help Leaving Certificate students during these difficult times, coming up with interesting new online ways to interact and make the works of William Shakespeare accessible to the young audiences. Due to the current lockdown the Cyclone Rep National Tour had to be cut short, but out of this unfortunate situation the company has come up with a solution to keep their mission alive.

RTÉ has announced that they will air Hamlet for the benefit of Secondary School students, showing the RSC Hamlet (2009) on Saturday 11th April 2020 on RTÉ2, 11.25am. All of the upcoming screenings of Shakespeare productions will be available on RTÉ Player for 30 days post-broadcast.

Following this announcement, Cyclone Rep has organised a live streamed discussion and Q&A on the themes of the Bard’s masterpiece.

RSC Hamlet Yorick

Tennant as Hamlet – RSC 2008

On Saturday 11th of April at 3.10pm, after RTE’s screening of the RSC production of Hamlet (starring David Tennant & Patrick Stewart), Cyclone Rep Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Peadar Donohoe, together with Hamlet Session lead actor Marcus Balewill discuss the main themes of the play and will answer any questions posed by the viewers. The streaming can be found at 3.10pm on the company’s Facebook page (facebook.com/CycloneRep). Viewers are encouraged to contact the speakers through social media channels (commenting the stream or sending private messages to the company via Facebook or through Twitter (twitter.com/CycloneRep).

Donohoe and Bale have been directing and performing Shakespeare plays for Secondary Schools students for over 15 years and have developed several productions of Hamlet in that time, as well as all the other plays prescribed in the curriculum for Junior & Senior Cycle Students.

Cyclone Rep Theatre Company tours nationwide to venues and schools and performs each year in repertory the prescribed Shakespeare plays for both Junior and Senior Cycle students. Over the last 10 years, more than 200k Irish Secondary students have seen the works of the Bard through Cyclone’s sessions. Cyclone Rep’s plays are continuously updated for the students to keep them fresh and alive.

For more on Cyclone Rep Theatre Company, see www.cyclonerep.com

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Cyclone Rep’s Hamlet


Review: Hamlet at the dlr Mill Theatre Dundrum – October 2019

Review by Dr Ema Vyroubalová (TCD) of Hamlet, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, dlr Mill Theatre Dundrum, October 2019.

Hamlet runs from 9-25th October 2019. Tickets available on the dlr Mill Theatre website.

With this lively fast-paced production performed in modern dress on a minimalist set, Hamlet comes back to Dundrum after a three-year hiatus. It is the seventh Shakespeare production to be staged at Mill Theatre in Dundrum Town Centre. Like all of the theatre’s earlier Shakespeare productions – Macbeth (2013), Othello (2014), King Lear (2015), Hamlet (2016), King Lear (2017), Romeo and Juliet (2018), Macbeth (2018) – it is put on by the in-house Mill Productions company and directed by their own Geoff O’Keefe as part of the theatre’s educational outreach programme.

If anyone comes to the play with the notion of Hamlet as a character who spends a lot of time standing around, mulling over his seemingly equally damning options while periodically delivering long poetic speeches, Kyle Hixon’s rendering of the role quickly dispels such stereotype. Hixon’s Hamlet brims over with nervous energy and he more often than not delivers his lines walking, pacing, running, jumping, fighting, crouching, or lying down. He joins the Player King and Queen in performing “The Murder of Gonzago” in Act 3 Scene 2. One scene later, when Hamlet has an ideal opportunity to kill Claudius but decides against it because the king is at his prayers and so may avoid eternal damnation, he hovers directly over the self-absorbed Claudius and makes it physically very obvious how close this Hamlet comes to going through with the murder. The manic energy with which he performs the notorious encounter with Gertrude (Caoilfhionn McDonnell) and the murder of Polonius (Malcolm Adams) in the Closet Scene (Act 3 Scene 4) suggests that this is a Hamlet who is being driven mad both by the events around him and by his own efforts to feign the “antic disposition”. His performance in the duel with Laertes (Felix Brown) is worth mentioning too as the two actors successfully pull off a technically demanding and largely naturalistic-looking fight.

Laoise Sweeney’s Ophelia presents a clear contrast to Hixon’s Hamlet, with her primarily inward-oriented grief and verbally rather than physically expressed descent into madness. While Hamlet in particular has often been played by experienced and so inevitably older actors, it is worth noting that the actors playing Hamlet, Ophelia, Laertes, and Horatio (Harry Butler), are all comparably young (early to mid-20s). Geoff O’Keefe’s choice to cast a genuinely young Hamlet gives the intergenerational conflict at the heart of the play a naturalistic expression, and hopefully also makes it easier for the young target audiences to relate to these characters.

Due to the company’s small size, the production included several instances of double and triple casting: Claudius/the Ghost, Bernardo/Guildenstern, Player King/Grave Digger/Sailor, and Player Queen/Grave Digger/Messenger. The doubling of Claudius with the Ghost naturally raises a host of questions about the nature of both kingship and kinship in the play and makes us wonder whether the two kings are ultimately that different. The doubling of the Gravediggers (as purveyors of a comedic interlude in the play) with the Player King and Queen (as presenters of a tragedic interlude) in turn raises questions about mixing and interchangeability of comedy and tragedy and ultimately about Hamlet‘s genre. Among the inevitable cuts, most notable is the  elimination of Fortinbras: given the length of the play and the need to cut it down quite substantially to make it presentable to school groups, this seems like a reasonable choice, especially since this production focused on the family drama aspect of the play rather than on the play’s larger political context.

Hamlet 2019 ensemble Mill-Productions dlr Dundrum

Ensemble – Hamlet by Mill Productions at the dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum

Compared to the sets and costumes of Mill Productions’ previous Shakespeare adaptations, especially last year’s visually rich Macbeth, I found the costumes (Susan Devitt) and the set (Gerard Bourke) a little disappointing but conceptually still fairly interesting. The costumes were a relatively inconspicuous modern dress affair in a black/grey/red/orange colour scheme, evocative of a postindustrial drabness and the oppressiveness of the Denmark Hamlet has found himself in. Only the eclectic colourful outfits of the Player Queen and Player provided a welcome visual respite.

The otherwise minimalist and similarly drab set was anchored by a trio of prominent elements: a half-torn screen on the back wall, used to project footage of Old Hamlet’s face at points when he speaks to Hamlet, as well as the contents of Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia read out by Polonius; two white plastic cantilever chairs used as thrones; and a set of spheres suspended above the stage at different heights and variously illuminated in order to appear in different colours at different points in the production. The screen (decorated along the edges by splashes of colour vaguely reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s art) underlined the importance of omnipresent surveillance to the play’s plot. Its association with Old Hamlet’s image raises the question whether Hamlet is just replaying memories of his father in his own head or whether what he is seeing (and hearing) is a genuine ghost of his father independent of Hamlet’s imagination. The legless plastic chairs seemed to be hinting that Claudius’s kingdom may not have the proverbial “leg to stand on”. Finally, the suspended spheres changed their colours along with the changing moods and events of the play and certain colours seemed to be associated with certain characters. The setup was evocative of heavenly bodies, serving as a reminder of the uncertain relationship between an individual fate and the universe as a whole. At the same time, a touch of drabness – the larger of the spheres appeared to be rubber exercise balls dabbed with splashes of paint – visually tied these heavenly bodies to the very much earthly rest of the set.

Although the production is aimed primarily at students reading the play for the English portion of the Leaving Certificate, the almost entirely adult audience at the evening performance I attended on the whole seemed to genuinely enjoy it. In fact, one thing I could not help noticing throughout was how many of my fellow spectators appeared genuinely gripped by the story and how some were even eager to see how the plot would play out. This observation probably indicates that the story of Hamlet has been becoming, at least in contemporary Ireland, a less prominent part of what might be termed ‘general knowledge’ than it would have been some years or decades ago. But it also suggests that directors and actors may not have to worry about audience expectations shaped by previous encounters with the play as much as their predecessors had done, which can have a certain liberating effect. Geoff O’Keefe’s production of Hamlet fits this trend: with its sparse modern aesthetic and focus on combining energetic physical acting with clear and naturalistic delivery of Shakespeare’s lines, it will definitely appeal to anyone watching Hamlet for the first time, as well as to students watching the play as part of preparation for exams. More experienced theatre-goers and Shakespeare fans can still find plenty of interest, such as the colourful symbolism of the interplay between the lighting and the set, or the wealth of interpretive possibilities in the production’s multiple doubling and tripling casting choices.

Review by Dr Ema Vyroubalová (TCD), with thanks to Mill Productions.

Hamlet runs from 9-25th October 2019. Tickets available on the dlr Mill Theatre website.

dlr Mill theatre Dundrum

 


 

Free screening of Kaliyattam (based on Othello) – Indian Shakespeares project

As part of the Indian Shakespeares project at Queen’s University Belfast, a free screening of the 1997 Malayalam language film Kaliyattam (based on Shakespeare’s Othello) will be held on Friday 20th September.

The film with English subtitles will be screened at 3pm in QUB’s Lanyon Building, Room 0G/074, and will be followed by a Q&A with National Film Award-winning director Jayaraj.

For more on the Indian Shakespeares project and upcoming conference, see the project website here.

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Theatre: Romeo and Juliet at dlr Mill Theatre Dundrum

From the dlr Mill theatre Dundrum website.

Directed by Geoff O’Keeffe for MILL PRODUCTIONS, this abridged version of Romeo and Juliet is an ideal opportunity to expose Junior Cycle students to their first live Shakespeare experience.

Throughout the year the venue also offers you and your pupils (at all levels) the opportunity to really engage with your chosen text by offering Drama Workshops to bring these texts to life.  Workshops are led by experienced facilitators and designed to engage the student creatively by exploring characters, themes and language of your chosen text. Mill Productions has produced 2 Shakespeare plays every year for many years – including Macbeth in 2018, King Lear 2017 and Hamlet 2016. For booking details see the dlr Mill theatre Dundrum website here.

FULL CAST:
Jack Mullarkey                        Romeo
Gillian Buckle                          Juliet
Michael James Ford                Capulet
Serena Brabazon                     Lady Capulet
Evelyn Shaw                            Nurse
Brian James Gilligan               Friar / Tybalt
Rachel O’Connell                    Mercutio
Ethan Dillon                            Benvolio

Gillian Buckle and Jack Mullarkey in Romeo and Juliet - Mill Productions 2019

Gillian Buckle and Jack Mullarkey in Romeo and Juliet – Mill Productions 2019

Review: Macbeth at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum

Review: Macbeth at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum, Dublin, October 3rd-26th, 2018, directed by Geoff O’Keefe

Review by Ema Vyroubalová, Trinity College Dublin.

This was an engaging and fast-paced production, notable particularly for its rendering of the Witches, intriguing choices of doubling, tripling, and even quadrupling of roles, as well as an imaginatively conceived yet also very functional stage set. Because the play opens with the three Witches on stage, how a particular director chooses to portray this trio helps set the tone of the rest of the production. O’Keefe’s Witches were dressed in loose black garbs and hooded capes, designed to enable the actors to see but to prevent others from seeing their faces. The effect of these costumes (designed by Olga Criado Monleon) was quite eerie, especially as it gradually became clear to us in the audience, from the changing voices and the varying statures of the black-clad figures, that the roles of the witches in different scenes were being rotated among different actors. A look in the programme indeed reveals that five of the nine cast members play a witch at some point: Shane Quigley Murphy is both a Witch and Lennox; Andrew Kenny, Matthew O’Brien, and Ailbhe Cowley are triple-cast as Witch/Banquo/Doctor, Witch/Malcolm/Murderer, and Witch/Ross/Gentlewoman respectively; and Eanna Hardwicke gets to be Witch/Captain/Fleance/Young Siward. I suspect that the bundling of parts was to some extent prompted by budgetary constraints and/or availability of actors. But the unusual implementation of this bundling in regards to the Witches presents these figures as ubiquitous forces that not only shape the play’s events but that also somehow emanate from the world of the play’s human protagonists rather than from a separate supernatural realm.

It is worth noting that the production avoided the more common double-casting of Lady Macbeth with one of the Witches—likely because it would have implied the kind of too specific pre-emptive power dynamic between the human and the supernatural worlds this production sought to steer clear of. The Witches appeared as silent characters in a number of scenes where Shakespeare’s playscript does not call for their presence. They hovered in the background or foreground, watching the others’ actions or enacting inscrutable ceremonies around the cauldron (which stood at the front of the stage for the whole duration of the performance) and over a miniature replica of a semi-derelict medieval castle hall (or perhaps the nave of a church?) (which was located near the right-hand stage exit). As they did so, they periodically emerged out of dark corners of the set only to blend back into them. This underscored the witches’ omnipresence in a very physical way, by literally keeping at least one of them on stage for the majority of the show. A Witch thus watches as Duncan receives Macbeth to give him the good news of his newly gained title; a different Witch listens as Lady Macbeth reads out the fateful letter from her husband and then observes from the background the meeting between the Macbeths. The resulting integration of the Witches into virtually every moment of the play, whether through the overlapping in the casting of the majority of the roles or their insertions into most scenes as silent figures, ironically makes it very difficult to hypothesize about their roles in the play’s moral universe. They can be seen as representing everything, anything, and nothing at the same time—similar to how the dark void of the colour black results from absorbing all frequencies of light.

The remaining double and triple casting choices would seem to confirm this production’s refusal to locate the source of evil in the play somewhere in the triangle of usual suspects constituted by Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and the Witches. Jed Murray plays both MacDuff and one of the Murderers while Damien Devaney plays Duncan, Porter, and Seyton. Only the roles of Macbeth (Neill Fleming) and his wife (Nichola Macevilly) are spared from this production’s love affair with doubling and trebling of roles, which ultimately emphasises the couple’s isolation and self-consuming despair. The set, designed by Gerard Bourke, creatively utilised the whole available space both vertically and horizontally as it included tree trunks, rocks, and caverns that the actors could variously position themselves on, in, or under. The set also featured a human skeleton and a partially burnt cadaver ominously suspended above the stage and periodically lit (lighting design by Kris Mooney) so as to cast shadows on the actors and actions below. I was a little disappointed by the elimination of many of the passages from the so-called Hecate scenes, especially since the witches and their ever-present cauldron otherwise play such a central role in this production. Another slight disappointment was the beheading of Macbeth’s corpse at the very end of the production, which prompted confused laughter from a portion of the audience as the special effect looked rather cheap and came across as almost comical, which did not appear to be the production’s intention.

Review by Ema Vyroubalová, Trinity College Dublin.

the-three-witches-by-henry-fuseli

Henry Fuseli’s 19th c. painting of the three witches

 

“Macbeth” at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum

Mill Productions present one of Shakespeare’s most intense tragedies. Directed by Geoffrey O’Keeffe and featuring a talented professional cast, this is a traditional production, with genuinely gripping and often affecting performances which sharpen our understanding of Shakespeare’s analysis of human folly and strive to do justice to this greatest of plays.

Evening Performances: Wednesday 10th and Wednesday 24th October at 7.30pm – Tickets €18/€16

Contact the Box Office directly to book your school or group in – info@milltheatre.ie / 01-2969340. Play running time: 2hrs 30mins with a short interval.

School Performance times weekdays at 10am and 1.30pm. A Study Guide will accompany the production. Schools/teachers please see the website for details here.

 

 

 

Review: Julius Caesar – National Theatre Live

The National Theatre’s Julius Caesar, screened in cinemas around Ireland on March 22nd, opened with the usual live screening announcements. Microphone in hand, the announcer informed us of the running time, advertised upcoming NT events, and cautioned us about the show’s use of strobe lighting. Rather than being bland or routine however, these pronouncements were presented in the manner of a roving reporter caught in the middle of Caesar’s raucous political rally. Standing amongst the audience, and almost drowned out by the rock band playing in the background, the announcer even signed off by declaring that she was “off to join the rabble. Hail Caesar!” With the camera moving amongst the audience, the action seemed immediate and pointedly familiar. From the get go then, this production of Julius Caesar was captivating and creative.

The early scenes smoothly introduced the main players. A triumphant Caesar entered surrounded by flags and banners espousing his campaign slogan “Do this!”. Sporting a leather jacket and baseball cap, and assuredly pressing the flesh, Caesar resembled the American presidential candidates we’ve seen on our screen in recent years. Wearing a “Do this!” t-shirt, Marc Antony was clearly in Caesar’s camp and had a strong filial bond with the elder statesman. Brutus, ever the intellectual, signed copies of his book, worked late in his study, and emphasised his thoughts on tyranny by gesticulating with his spectacles.

Michelle Fairley as Cassius - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo Credit Manuel Harlan

Michelle Fairley as Cassius – Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre – Photo Credit Manuel Harlan

As strong as these performances were, by David Calder, David Morrissey, and Ben Whishaw respectively, Michelle Fairley’s Cassius was an absolute revelation. Fairley will be familiar to many as Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones, and her performance as Cassius was no less compelling and formidable. On several occasions, Cassius’ scenes were the stand out moments of the production. The gender switch enabled Caesar’s complaints about Cassius in 1.2 to assume new significance. Cassius rolled her eyes as Caesar, for the umpteenth time we imagine, commented openly on her appearance and qualities, begging to have “men about me that are fat” rather than slim women who think too much and are hungry for freedom. Meeting the sardonic Casca, played by Adjoa Andoh, the conspiring pair seemed to channel both the femme fatales and hard-bitten heroes of film noir to produce a scene heavy with gloom and menace. When Cassius and Brutus squabbled after the assassination, they recalled the Macbeths, dismayed at the turn of events and unable to wash the blood from their hands. (In the squalor of their ruined shelter, Brutus still found time to apply some hand-sanitiser!) In her suicide, Cassius was as proud, defiant, and pitiable as Cleopatra in her death.

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David Morrissey as Antony – Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre – Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

As Brutus ascended the stage of the Forum to explain the conspirators’ actions, it seemed his work would be cut out for him. Citizens – co-opted members of the audience and stagehands – waved posters of Caesar and shouted their displeasure. Gradually though, as Brutus’ speech continued, the posters were lowered as if the protesting citizens were won over or, more likely, the audience was simply tired holding the images aloft. Whereas Brutus had gripped his microphone like a TV evangelist, Antony quickly discarded it, preferring to speak his eulogy directly to the audience. In his pose as a simple man reluctantly moved to defend Caesar, Antony was wholly convincing. Only later, when he was pleased at the citizens’ planned “mischief” and when he swaggered in his combat gear with Octavius, did Antony suddenly seem two-faced. With deafening gunfire, the debris of urban warfare, and the uniforms and weapons of modern armies, the production’s battle scenes recalled those of Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011). These action scenes came to a swift end as Antony and Octavius discovered the bodies of Cassius and Brutus. With victory secured, Octavius showed himself to be every inch the arrogant commander. Standing at the stage’s highest point, he stripped off some of his combat gear and, Nixon-like, gave peace signs to his people as celebratory balloons fell. The production ended as it began, with a PR exercise by a savvy politician and Rome’s fate standing on shaky ground.

It was evident that the NT Julius Caesar gripped the theatre and the cinema audience from beginning to end. With superb performances from the main players, supporting cast, and the co-opted audience members (volunteers? victims?) and with a running time of just over 2 hours, this is a pacey and timely production certain to entertain.

There will be encore screenings of the National Theatre’s Julius Caesar at:

Light House Cinema, Dublin, on Tuesday 27 March.

Cork Opera House on Wednesday 28 March.

For tickets here and in other locations, see the NT Live website here.