Life Behind The Venue

‘Life Behind The Venue’: There is an ‘Us’ in ‘Usher’
Project Arts Centre
Nov 19-23

My review of Life Behind The Venue coming up just as soon as I get an office with a balcony …

It’s a bad idea to wear jeans and runners on your first day of work, I’m reminded as a stern supervisor throws me a look of disapproval. The audience are fresh meat in Clinic Media’s promenade performance exploring identity in the workplace, as we are trained to be ushers in the performance’s venue. The backstage of Project Arts Centre is thrown open as we’re split into separate tours, led by eccentric guides teaching us the trade. Rip off that ticket stub. Escort the tall man to the back row. What do you wish to gain from this experience?

We have the stock workplace characters: the recently promoted exile, the competitive co-worker, and the downbeat employee who brings his personal problems to work. The exceptionally clever Mary Lou Mc Carthy sneaks us into dressing rooms and offices, responding with such expert timing and wit that it’s hard to tell if she’s improvising or not. Bumping into other characters along the way reveals her determination to sidestep the hierarchy (as well as a comical office she’s self-fashioned under the staircase), in what is a meticulous planning of interactions mapped by director Eoin Ó hAnnracháin.

This promenade romp through the workplace rolls with charm and hilarity. Its only drawback is its ending, as it scrambles for a dramatic collision to bring the performance to a close. Mc Carthy’s whistling narrative crashes into the that of the melancholic co-worker played by Danny O’Connor. The effect of it isn’t tonally consistent. For all the play’s allusions to how individuals are institutionalised, it doesn’t escort us to any new or powerful examination of such.

Chris McCormac, Musing in Intermissions. November 20th 2013

Theatre: Life Behind The Venue – Project Arts Centre, Dublin ☆☆☆☆

Inspired promenade theatre, Life behind the Venue is a play that unfurls as the audience tours the Project Arts Centre.

The venue is a Mecca for the Dublin performing-arts set, so this sneak-peak into the innards of the building is a rare treat.

Directed by Eoin Ó hAnnracháin, the play’s conceit is to cast the audience as applicants for an usher’s job at the building.

It works beautifully — facilitating the tour while allowing the actors to interact.

The play hinges on the relationship between four characters, each one guiding different sections of the audience around the building. Three of them are ushers, and the fourth, Marilyn (Pauline O’Driscoll), is their newly appointed supervisor. As they pass one another in the building’s assorted nooks and crannies, there emerges an entertaining narrative that combines farce and melodrama to good effect.

While the story is amusing, Ó hAnnracháin is more interested in the way one’s personal life and one’s workplace inevitably bleed into each other.

The fraught energy in the performances of all four actors tangibly demonstrates that.

The piece’s other strong point is the celebration of the space itself. Life behind the Venue is a lovely tribute to a building and its quirks. Yet, while it deals well with the building itself, it could get under the skin of the institution of the Project Arts Centre more.

A second home to so many Irish theatre companies, the Project would be ripe for some knowing references to its own community. Some small examination of that community, and the work it produces, might have proved fruitful. But it’s only a wee niggle, in an otherwise very charismatic show.

Pádraic Killeen, Irish Examiner, Wednesday 20th November 2013.

Life Behind The Venue ☆☆☆☆
– Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Presented by: Clinic Media in association with The Everyman Theatre.

The audience of Life Behind the Venue get an unusual and rare glance behind the scenes in the Project Arts Centre in what is a comical and entertaining performance.
The production framed as an usher “training-day” for the audience sees them split into four groups lead by one of the play’s four characters. As the tour commences; Brian, Gerard, Stephanie and Marilyn lead their charges through ‘The Venue’ and also on a rather personal journey full of insight about their own personalities and workplace relationships. Each of the character’s many eccentricities come to the fore in this piece and it seems that no matter whose perspective the audience experiences, it is a great evening for everyone.
The characterisation is strong in this piece, and it is just as well as the whole production hinges on the believability of the play’s four characters. Intertwining with the other audience’s “training groups”, staff at the venue and other uninvolved theatre-goers give the production a unique angle. Comic timing and a certain amount of improvisation go a long way as the group leaders encourage their audience members to participate in their schemes.
This is a performance that illuminates the notion of identity in the workplace and the persona that is represented to our colleagues. This representation of office politics and personalities is so entertaining because of its accuracy. It would be difficult to find any audience member who has not encountered characters like; the over eager Stephanie, the superior Marilyn, the rough around the edges Gerard and the superbly incompetent Brian, in their own work lives. It is the way that these characters interact with each other, the audience and other members of the public throughout the piece that makes it both authentic and hilarious.
What Clinic Media and The Everyman Theatre have done is allow their audience to influence the production, by welcoming them to participate so thoroughly in this play. Life Behind The Venue seems to remain alive even after the audience has been dismissed. You can’t help but wonder what is happening next.

Runs until 23rd November.

Ciara Murphy, The Public Reviews,19th November 2013.

Office-style show a hit
Life Behind The Venue
Everyman Theatre

This devised piece of theatre reviewed on Monday, takes small groups of people around the backstage areas of the Everyman on the comical pretext that the audience members are attending an induction course for ushers.
Mary-Lou Mc Carthy charms us with her gauche mile-a-minute rush of enthusiasm that we are all so going to be best friends forever at the end of this.
Pauline O’Driscoll as senior usher moves between her posh theatre voice, to hints of her character’s real self when the Cork accent comes through.
Charlie Kelly’s character is a picture of smiling ineptitude and finally, there if Danny O’Connor who cracks very persuasively as the guy who is not happy to play a role in the shadows.
Director Eoin Ó hAnnracháin blends the improvised material effectively and finds a comical tone that begins in cheesiness and the comedy of banality and finds an unexpected and very real sense of angst.
Very much in the style of The Office, trainee ushers in the hall approaching the auditorium doors are told this is their stage and encouraged to get their game face on. It’s comedy where lame is the name of the game.
The 80-minute piece is an impressive and entertaining experiment that represents a significant advance on Clinic Meida’s first outing.
Handled awkwardly it would be a cringe-worthy mess but they pull it off with style.

Liam Heylin, Evening Echo, October 2013

Life Behind the Venue ☆☆☆☆

Founded in 2005, Clinic Media is a theatre and film production company based in Cork. Following the success of Life in the Venue comes Life Behind the Venue, the second instalment of the company’s interactive exploration of the individual and the pressure to fit neatly within the accepted parameters of society and the workplace.
Clinic Media take us on a personal tour of the Everyman Theatre. We follow the cast on a trail throughout one of Cork’s most celebrated venues. Taking us backstage and exposing us to areas typically concealed, we are given an all access look, exploring the secreted nooks and alcoves hidden throughout the building.

Devised and created by Eoin Ó hAnnracháin and Mary-Lou McCarthy, the performance is largely improvised to adhere to the intimacy of the piece and adapt to the diverse audiences each evening. The audience which is made up of approximately 20 members play an interactive role in this promenade production. Acting as trainee ushers the audience is inducted into their new role with the help of Stephanie, Gerard and Brian, all full-time ushers at ‘The Venue.’
The performance begins in the theatre bar where the audience is greeted by Stephanie, one of The Venue’s longest standing employees. As Stephanie diligently indicates the nearest exits and outlines the safety measures to be undertaken in the unlikely event of an emergency, supervisor Marilyn enters and introduces herself with an authoritative giggle. This rallies Stephanie and sends her into a flurry as she breaks the audience into four groups. It is from here we embark on our journey with Brian, Gerard, Stephanie and Marilyn.

Initiative, an idea which is fundamental to ones success in the work force today takes centre stage in this production with each usher showcasing their understanding of the word; Stephanie’s buoyant idea to sell a ‘half price seat’ (a gap between the wall and chair), Brain’s masterful undertaking of the opposite task to which he is assigned in an attempt to show he is capable of doing ‘more than what is asked of him’ and Gerard’s budding urge to work the stage, not the aisles.
Clinic Media experiment with the issue of the invisible worker in society today and create a vibrant picture of the individual in the workplace. With memorable performances from the entire cast, Mary-Lou McCarthy and Danny O’Connor especially, all four knit together effortlessly; Brian, mellow yet strategic, Stephanie, efficient but absentminded, Gerard, lovingly vain and Marilyn, a uniformed eccentric.
Life Behind the Venue is frantically funny! Let Clinic Media take you behind the scenes!

Laura Noonan, Plays To See, 10th October 2013

A Serving of Pinter

A brisk foray into the world of Pinter

A Serving of Pinter
Half Moon Theatre

The Menacing world of Harold Pinter is on show at the Half Moon Theatre, with three of his short plays.
Like the old joke about a dog called Pinter – because he had long paws – the pauses in last night’s production weren’t actually that long at all.
Director Eoin Ó hAnnracháin gets all three pieces moving relatively briskly.
Trouble In The Works is little more than a five-minute one-trick-pony of a sketch were the shop steward tells the boss that the factory workers no longer like the products. Nicholas Kavanagh and Frank Jackson ratchet the accents up to Monty Python pitch for this one.

Victoria Station is a little bit longer and a much more involving piece as the base operator tries to get to grips with a taxi driver who seems to be in the throes of an existential meltdown, not knowing where he is or where he might be going.
Kavanagh catches the edginess of the humour in this fraught little piece.
The most substantial of the three short plays is also the best known of them, One For The Road. A lot of Pinter’s familiar shtick is here: the interrogation scene, the suggestion of torture, the debasement of language, the cruelty and of course his most defining attribute, menace.
A husband and wife are reduced to gibbering wrecks by a kind of Guantanamo-style cruelty from an unspecified regime.

Looking at this last night the whole thing felt oddly familiar, not because Pinter is so frequently staged, but because his articulate terrorist character placating his victims in the depths of their degradation is a style that has been usurped by screen-writers for any number of British gangster movies in the past decade.
For devotees, this Cork/Waterford co-production from Clinic Media and MooCow Theatre is a calm if somewhat reverent rendering of the world of Pinter.

Liam Heylin, Evening Echo, 28th September 2011

A Serving of Pinter

One of the most chilling moments in Harold Pinter’s One for the Road is when the almost silent, battered-looking prisoner realises that his wife and son are also being tortured. He looks up at his interrogator and says “kill me”. It comes across as a plea – one human being to another – to end the nightmarish suffering he is going through. One for the Road is the centre-piece of A Serving of Pinter, a co-production by Clinic Media and MooCow Theatre of three short Pinter plays. It serves as an uncomfortable reminder of how potent Pinter’s political plays continue to be in challenging their audience to look again, to think again, about the political systems and political actions they endorse, support or tolerate. As the revelations continue about “Special Rendition” (what twisted manufacturer of NewSpeak thought that one up?), about Gaddafi and his friendly relations with those who now denounce his evil regime, and the surreal terminology of torture (“extra-judicial prisoners”, “enhanced interrogation techniques”), Pinter’s play seems as pertinent and disturbing as when it was first produced over twenty-five years ago.
The strangest thing about A Serving of Pinter, perhaps is the assortment of pieces Eoin Ó hAnnracháin has chosen to place together. Perhaps it was the intention to reflect the writer’s journey from absurdist comedy to nightmarish visions of political oppression, but it makes for an odd and rather incoherent evening. In the opening piece, Trouble in the Works, a factory manager (Mr Fibbs, played by Nicholas Kavanagh like a John Cleese with a hernia) tries to deal with the outrage of workers who have taken a dislike to their products. This unfamiliar piece draws heavily on the English 1950s comic tradition which permits any unfamiliar word or phrase to become a double-entendre and its entertaining premise is that the workers have become alert to the double meanings of the objects they are producing and have developed a moral or aesthetic objection to them. Through their spokesman Mr Wills (played by Frank Jackson) they refuse to have anything further to do with “spherical rod-ends”, as it were. As played, it comes across as Benny Hill or Kenneth Horne rather than Monty Python (which is the connection the programme suggests). But it does underline Pinter’s very particular alertness to the strangeness of the English language, the odd conventions of English comedy and the particular repetitive music of English conversational sounds.
That same characteristic runs through the second piece, Victoria Station, in which a taxi-controller (Nicholas Kavanagh) vainly tries to coax a reluctant cab to pick up a passenger, only to become progressively enmeshed in the cabby’s slightly off-centre world. Once again, Pinter plays with double-meaning (the cabby is “cruising” near a darkened park), but this time he moves into his central territory: the inversion of power-relations, and the seductive nature of power itself.
These two lightweight pieces sit uneasily beside the nightmarish One for the Road and do little to prepare us for the darkness and intensity of that work. As always with Pinter, the whisper is more threatening than the shout, the torturer’s apparent concern more frightening than his aggression. This is by far the most demanding piece and it was a wise choice to ditch the comedy English accents of the other two in favour of a more neutral register. For this reviewer, although the victims (Gila and Victor, played by Ruth Hayes and Nicholas Kavanagh) were movingly stunned and pathetic, the key performance (Nicolas, the interrogator, played by Frank Jackson) lacked subtlety and depth. As directed, his rapid movements around the stage, repeated downing of large gulps of whiskey and tendency to play towards the audience robbed his character of the appropriate focus, power and menace. With Pinter’s really dark figures, the disturbing edge is in the way threat is wrapped inside a display of charm, emotional engagement and sweet reason. Here the aggression was played so much on the surface that the seductive power and threat of the interrogator was dissipated. Even the choreography and the positioning of the furnishings seemed to conspire to reduce the power and force of the character.
Some other choices by director Eoin Ó hAnnracháin also seemed a little baffling: using a stripped-out stage with the theatre’s back wall acting as the frame for all the pieces seemed smart in one way but sat oddly with the rather fussy and old-fashioned use of side-flats and furniture. While the lighting was sharp and decisive, sound and sound-design seemed somewhat underused as an instrument for generating contrasting atmospheres. (The exception to this was the wonderfully spooky sound of the offstage cabbie – played by Frank Jackson – in Victoria Station.)
For actors Pinter represents a huge challenge. His dramatic dialogue picks up and plays with the very particular tunes, textures and repetitive tropes of English speech to make the banal and familiar seem comic or strange or disconcerting. In order to try to capture this, most productions play Pinter in English accents, but with non-English actors, precision of inflection and region is always a challenge. In this case, it may be that the extreme tonal contrasts between the pieces chosen made stylistic coherence impossible but it still seemed like a lost opportunity not to have explored how Pinter might be played with Irish voices, or to investigate the resonances that might create. Nevertheless, a curious and occasionally very disturbing evening.

Ger FitzGibbon, Irish Theatre Magazine, 27th September, 2011

Night Swimming

Dark Side of the Family

This new play at the CAT Club is a response to the terrible stories of fatal tragedies related to parents and young children.

Night Swimming is an exploration of the raw and harrowing material of extreme domestic stories where the family seems to spiral almost inevitably towards a sad end.

Rather than presuming to know how to tell it as it is, writer Kenneth Hickey imagines his way in and around this difficult material. What he comes up with is deliberately self-conscious in its style in that it is like a board-game for two players.

The husband and wife move around a predetermined space, landing on various set-piece scenes that they play out.

The characters all but say: “C’mon, your turn.”

Though it has this carefully wrought and contrived structure, it manages to avoid being trite.

And, even though it is a monotone of pain and sadness, it is quite theatrical.

Director, Eoin Ó hAnnracháin applies a subtle hand to the text, nicely modulating its frequent wavy moves from naturalistic scenes to moments that are more harsh and expressionistic.

James Browne catches the troubled and deeply broody layers of the husband while Kate McSwiney O’Rourke wrestles with the fragility and anger of a woman marginalised as a woman “suffering from her nerves.”

Better than Hickey’s Autopsy which featured in the CAT Club last year, this time he has found a style that suits the more lyrical and dramatic flourishes of his writing.

As a representation of a family melting down into dark and awful destruction who knows how true it is?

But, as a response to stories that have become part of a netherworld of Irish contemporary life, it is a legitimate, intelligent and honest engagement.

Liam Heylin, Evening Echo, Wednesday the 12th of November, 2008.

Howie The Rookie

Monologues Work Well For Howie In Granary Production

Review Howie The Rookie Granary Theatre

Two monologues on either side of an interval might not be everyone’s idea of a good play, but this one works well – not least because of the quality of the production it gets in the Granary.

The only real pity about the enterprise is that such a small audience turned up to see it. The new talent on show deserves a warmer welcome in Cork over the next few nights.

Given that this was the first production in the latest New Directors’ Festival at the Granary, the most noteworthy thing about it was the top-drawer performance from Nick Kavanagh.

For a young actor it was an expertly modulated performance, flicking between characters at ease and finding an easy and assured tone over a 45-minute monologue.

Mark O’Rowe’s acclaimed play is like a film eagerly described from a barstool.

Director Eoin Ó hAnnracháin builds on the queasiness and intensity towards a slow release of tragic and twisted consequences.

The second monologue is given quite a convincing performance by Stephen McCann as his character’s story overlaps with Kavanagh’s.

It is the kind of play that could be sound-tracked to death but Ó hAnnracháin wisely lets the script make the music through the talents of the actors.

A new director could be forgiven for falling to the temptations of staging a production that draws attention to itself in all the worst ways by attaching all kinds of bells and whistles and directorial signatures. But the collective talents at work on this piece seem to be too cool to fall for that.

Good work, deserving a good audience.

Liam Heylin, Evening Echo, Thursday October 11th.

New Directors Festival 2007
The Granary Theatre

Howie The Rookie
by Mark O’Rowe

Directed by Eoin Ó hAnnracháin
With: Nick Kavanagh, Stephen McCann
9-13 Oct 2007, Reviewed 12 Oct.

By Claire-Louise Bennett

The New Directors Festival at The Granary Theatre in Cork was initiated in 2006. This year a further four directors, furnished with a small but facilitating budget, were given the opportunity to promote their directorial skills. At first glance, the selection of material seemed familiar and undaring, however each text presents the director with significant challenges.

The festival kicked off with Mark O’Rowe’s Howie The Rookie. Since Eoin Ó hAnnracháin’s production was the ice-breaker it inevitably established a standard for the festival; an accomplished opener, it raised the bar high. The monologue is a form very familiar to Irish audiences. However, oration in a theatre space is a notable challenge for even the most seasoned of actors; in lieu of a world represented on the stage, the actor’s task is to create images that are at once fantastic and credible.

O’Rowe’s visceral descriptions of the body in action make such tricky simultaneity possible. Director Eoin Ó hAnnracháin did well to cast Nick Kavanagh in the role of the Howie Lee. Kavanagh displays a physical awareness and dexterity from the word go; stalking the stage on the balls of his feet like a ravenous cougar, we feel the range and potential of his appetites. His embodiment of physical activity and restlessness successfully highlights the primeval element of O’Rowe’s portrayal of young male energy, so that alongside the urban landscape of a Dublin estate is an inner space made up of pulsating veins, white-knuckles, twitchy wrists, throbbing lungs, spittle, blood and sweat.

The depiction of the body in a hostile environment reveals Howie Lee’s vulnerability and the necessity of remaining alert, perched on the brink of violence, and at the same time magnifies the materiality of that environment, its textures, lines, temperature and moods. Together these create a sensory odyssey, a privileging of the external, and creates an exhilarating contrast to psychologically motivated drama which tend to prioritise inner states. Kavanagh’s was certainly a hard act to follow and Eoin Ó hAnnracháin prudently opts for a more insouciant pitch in his direction of Stephen McCann in the role of the Rookie Lee. In contrast to Howie Lee’s restless flexing he has adopted casualness as a subterfuge; despite the persistent smirk it is soon apparent that Rookie Lee’s nonchalance is feigned. Interestingly, this lack of verve alters the focus somewhat so that Rookie Lee’s presence and stature is much less substantial than Howie Lee’s; this is unexpected and succeeds in imbuing the second monologue with a pathos which anticipates the horrific but somewhat inexorable ending.

Fantastic and entirely credible, Ó hAnnracháin’s rendering of Howie The Rookie is a fine achievement and on its own was enough to convince me of the value of the New Directors Festival.

Irish Theatre Magazine, Volume 7, Number 33 Winter 2007


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