Sunday, September 20, 2009

Two short Brian Friel plays

A short little Friel festival here in the Gate, confusingly I think it has nothing to do with the Theatre Festival, which also starts around now.
Anyway, it comprises 3 plays - Faith Healer and two one act plays - Afterplay and The Yalta Game. Having seen Faith Healer recently - I decided to go to the other two. Conveniently one was at 6.30 and one at 8.30, thus allowing for a quick'n'spicy Korean meal in Dublin's nearby new Chinatown area.
First up was Afterplay, a nice piece imagining if a character from Three Sisters met up with the niece of Uncle Vanya. The pair meet in a Moscow cafe, about 20 years after the events of the earlier plays. It's obvious from the start that they are both not over those events, and that she copes with her loneliness with drink and he copes with his (and other problems) by deluding himself and those around him.
Nothing much happens, but it's full of typical Friel dialogue, and has a resolution of sorts, and overall it works pretty well. Well acted too.
The 2nd play I saw, The Yalta Game, I preferred by some margin. Also very well acted - this one is also a 2 hander, with Risteard Cooper and his female companion, both very convincing and engaging.
The play is based on an episode in a Chekov short story, thereby completing the evening's Friel tribute to his Russian hero, and has even better dialogue than the earlier play. Cooper's character is holidaying alone in Yalta, and has his eye out for romantic distraction. Well, he soon finds it, and the play concerns their dialogue with each other and with themselves. I've never seen such overlapping between solilaquay and 2-way dialogue work so well, and there are some very funny lines. I won't spoil the ending, but suffice to say the short flirtatious affair turns into something more serious, allowing Friel to introduce theme's such as obsession and over-imagination. Oh and there's a dog too. Probably.
Worth seeing, at the very least just to see Risteard Cooper, who one would have thought would have only been good as a comic actor (his most famous role is as a TV mimic), but this is the 3rd time I've seen him in a straight acting role, and bloody good he is at it..

Friday, September 4, 2009

Wilco - review of the 2 Dublin shows, August 2009

So, another two stunning nights from the band that keeps getting better!

Having always loved music but being unable to purge a constant nagging feeling that all the best music was really made long before I was born, Wilco perennially manage to put this feeling on hold.

They really are our generation's Beatles. With a splash of Dylan. And Neil. The Band, etc. Even Radiohead. However, there are plenty of other decent (and not so decent) bands around who hark back to those sort of roots; but what Wilco bring to the table is something much more original, adding their own contemporary twist to forms of music that have never really been bettered.

Anyway, to the music. Touring on the back of their 8th disc, 'Wilco (the album)' a decent follow up to what I think was their career best ('Sky Blue Sky'), this time they have achieved even better results than usual in the live incarnations of the new songs. Only out a few months, the new songs have evolved naturally into really fine arrangements, and all fit in well alongside older material. Songs like One Wing, You Never Know, I'll Fight, Sonny Feeling were all excellent, and not surprisingly went down very well with the Dublin crowd - a town Wilco play so much, these almost feel like being at hometown gigs.

The Sky Blue Sky songs continue to impress, from the by now show stopping 'Impossible Germany' to gorgeous quieter country-ish numbers like You Are My Face.
I think all 8 albums got a look-in over the 2 nights, with I think about 15 different songs the 2nd night, and some real rarities, such as John's turn on lead vocals ('It's Just that Simple') to 'Magazine Called Sunset' and older ones like 'Passenger Side'.

As has been well covered in the media, this is the most stable Wilco lineup to date, and each musician brings something to the table, with the music wonderfully layered, yet never sounding convoluted. From amazing vocals, guitars, drums , to swirls of 60s sounding keyboards, combining everything from exquisite country to experimental rock blow outs; plus the two Krautrock-esque regulars ('Bull Black Nova' and 'Spiders'), there's never a dull moment seeing such a genre-bending band. And most importantly, I really don't think there's ever been a band who know how to 'build' a live version of a song better than Wilco, using dynamics that always feel natural, yet avoiding some of the (slight) self indulgence of the 'Yankee' and 'Ghost' tours. The longest song (excepting 'Spiders') is about 6 minutes, and both Dublin setlists just work perfectly, playing a good smattering from the new album, some rarities, plus all our favourites really. And Jeff was in very good form, funny and engaging, actually the whole band looked to be having a great time, not to mention the audience.

I know I write a lot of positive reviews, but this time, believe me! Two great shows! Both now available for download on

Finally, a positive mention also for support band, Blitzen Trapper, who are well worth checking out.


Recommending 'Present Laughter' in the Gate Theatre

Another cracking light summer play from The Gate, extremely well produced as we've come to expect.
Most of the acting was pretty good, notwithstanding the occasional accent lapse or descent into hamminess, and the set and costumes absolutely top notch, but the main reason for recommending it is the stunning performance by Stephen Brennan, in the lead role.
I don't think I've ever seen him in anything other than comedies, so have no idea of his range, but seeing him last week just confirmed that I wasn't imagining how good he was in Private Lives some years back.
Present Laughter is probably my favourite Noel Coward play (of the 3 or 4 I've seen), and Gary Essendine is no easy role. A massive amount of dialogue and I don't think the character is ever off the stage, but Brennan handles it with the ease of a really great comic actor.
Anyway, the run is nearly over, so if you're in Dublin, don't dither, go to it..