Queen's Student Reviews

Five students on the 2010 theatre criticism course give their verdicts on five different productions

Afterlight - Review by Shireen Azarmi

Behind a thinly veiled black screen the first dancer (Daniel Proietto) appears from darkness and, barely illuminated by a pale light, he begins to move. Raising his arms, he twists, slowly, as though moving through liquid. He swirls round and round, like a doll trapped on a music box.

This is Afterlight, Russell Maliphant’s sixty-minute dance spectacle, performed tonight at the Waterfront Studio. Michael Hull's light design projects dancing shadows across the stage, imploring the dancer to explore its vast space.

Afterlight is a story of struggle and isolation based around a classic love triangle. The tension, juxtaposed with the delicacy of movement led by the two female dancers (Silvina Cortes and Olga Cobos) is stirring.

A gauze screen downstage allows Hull to overlay vivid images as the dancers as they move. This is strikingly displayed when the two female dancers face each other as though they are to commence in a duel, while the lighting constructs a definite rectangular shape to restrict they're space.

The shapes projected onto the screen change with the mood of the piece, flowing from images reminiscent of autumn leaves fluttering in the wind to those of dark clouds contracting and dispersing. These haunting, visually captivating images evoke an dark fairytale-like quality, drawing the audience into a strange yet alluring world.

The beauty of Maliphant's production is in its ability to emotionally engage an audience by using the most intimate tool in the contemporary dance arsenal: the body. The dancer’s ability to expose their emotions through movement leaves a resounding ache in one’s heart. This is spectacular production that uses the best of dance, design and music to create a unique show like no other.

Hurricane - Review by Danielle McGleenan

'I was the greatest thing that ever happened to snooker. Snooker may have been the worst thing that happened to me.' Richard Dormer’s one-man-show paints an emotional portrait of the life led by snooker champion, Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins.

The play takes its audience on a fast-pace journey through Higgins’ life, from backstreet snooker halls in Belfast to the finals of the World Snooker Championship in 1972 and 82, his two failed marriages and final demise due to throat cancer.

Dormer was a huge fan of the snooker legend, and in 2002 Hurricane premiered in Belfast and, thereafter, enjoyed success in the West End and Broadway. However, as it is a physically demanding role - an intensely harrowing performance - and Dormer vowed to quit the show in 2005 due to exhaustion.

Therefore, the resurrecting of this 2011 performance is extremely special, occurring, as it does, six months after the death of Higgins. Dormer decided it would be a 'poignant goodbye to his snooker legend pal'.

Dormer’s respect for his friend is evident in his perfect portrayal, from Higgins’ younger years to his fall from grace. In the scenes depicting a man suffering from throat cancer, moving into a hoarse voice seems effortless for the actor/writer.

A one-man-show was, perhaps, the best road to take for Dormer and his director wife, Rachel O’Riordan. Higgins was always travelling alone to every game and was proud of the fact that he 'made it on my own'. Unfortunately, on July 24 2010, he died alone in his Belfast home.

Higgins was the best snooker player of his time, yet he was constantly under scrutiny from the press and snooker officials. The ‘bad boy’ of the sport, he never wore the required uniform and believed 'I am what I am and I don’t give a damn…' Pulling off his bow-tie at the beginning of the show, Higgins’ attitude is immediately conveyed to the audience.

Dormer’s imagery in his writing is remarkable. Opening a suitcase full of cash, he lifts it high, turns it around and lets the money fall over his scrawny physique, symbolising how Higgins let his £4m fortune slip away, devouring his winnings by drinking and gambling them almost instantly.

At the end of the play, Dormer chillingly beckons toward the audience, as if calling for someone. This is, of course, a direct representation of Higgins calling his wife and child from the audience after his long-awaited win at the 1982 World Championship. One of the happiest moments of his life, it is the perfect ending to a play exposing his personal anguish and love for his sport.

The Old Lady Says No - Review by Kathy Moore

The 1803 uprising, led by Robert Emmet, has disintegrated in to a large scale riot. In the aftermath, the shamed Irish rebel Emmet, flees from certain death. Denis Johnston’s play opens to reveal Emmet’s sweetheart, Sarah Curran, lamenting his fate from the window of her family home in Harold’s Cross near Dublin.

When Emmet arrives and loquaciously asserts that his uprising will not have been in vain, he is quickly followed by a squad of British soldiers enter, who knock our hero unconscious. Pandemonium ensues, with the stage manager running in to the action and an actor calling to the audience for assistance.

Here, the meta-theatrical nature of Johnston’s play is exposed and we subsequently follow our protagonist, in a dream-like state, as he envisions an intermingling world between the failed uprising of 1803 and 1920’s Dublin.

The confused actor struggles with his personal identity and the identities of those around him, as his fellow actors reappear onstage with new personas. The stage manager is now the Irish Free State's Minister for Arts and Crafts, for instance.

The thespian becomes increasingly distressed. Through the eyes of Emmet, he sees the post-independent Irish society that he worked so hard for indulging in materialism and hypocritical modern politics.

The large cast copes well with the multi-roling and non-sequitur plot, managing to find some clarity, communicate meaning and above all entertain amidst the chaos. Emmet is remembered, ironically perhaps - in light of his monumental failure - as a symbol for old ‘Romantic Ireland’ and is famously immortalised as such in WB Yeats poem, 'September 1913'.

However, Johnston uses the character of Emmet to juxtapose ‘Romantic Ireland’ and the ideal nationalism of the era with a vastly disaccording image of modern Ireland. Director David Grant states that this play has ‘startling relevance for today's Ireland'. Specifically, the instability of the Irish economy, the parliament’s failure to rectify national financial problems and the recent resignation of Irish Taoiseach, Brain Cowen, which has undermined public confidence in the Irish government.

Johnston's play is an entertaining fusion of the most popular styles in Irish theatre, even borrowing the character of Cathleen Ní Houlihan from WB Yeats and Lady Gregory’s own play, this time representing Ireland as a beggar woman and ‘strumpet’ who plagues the young rebel throughout and mocks his idealism.

Tosca - Review by Conor Madden

It is an unfortunate sign of the times when, 30 minutes before the curtain goes up, the first act of this site-specific production of Tosca has to be abruptly moved to a different location in Derry City due to a bomb alert.

Although Derry has gained the title UK City of Culture in 2013, it is disappointing to arrive in the city and find that elements of its dark past still haunt the streets. The first act, originally supposed to be staged in St Columb’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, is hastily shipped to the Guildhall as the director, Oliver Mears, explains to the audience how the scene would have been played out in the Cathedral.

Despite the last minute change of venue, however, the cast cope well in the surrounds of the Guildhall. Unfortunately, the opera is poorly sung in English, with the words by most of the singers impossible to decipher at times, therefore proving that the production would have worked just as well had it been sung in Puccini’s original Italian.

The plot of the opera concerns Tosca (Lee Bisset) and her love for Mario (Jesús León), which is prevented by the jealous Baron Scarpia (Paul Carey Jones). The final scene of Act One is impressive, as the Guildhall fills with a choir and procession of liturgical figures singing the famous 'Te Deum'.

Act Two is (tonight, at any rate) also staged in the Guildhall, as was originally intended. Set in the palace of Baron Scarpia, an important political figure, the Guildhall - the centre of civic activity in Derry - is an appropriate venue.

At the end of this act, Tosca stabs Scarpia to death in a convincing moment, with blood pouring from his side. Tosca delights in her killing of Scarpia. Overlooking his trembling body she proclaims, '... and this was the man before whom all Rome trembled'.

Perhaps the defeat of cruel Scarpia and his harsh political views echoes the hopes of many in Northern Ireland today, while outside people intent on pulling Northern Ireland back to the dark political past send the city into chaos.

For the final act, the audience makes a short journey to St Columb’s Hall – a fairly traditional space with a proscenium arch stage and fixed seating. However, the reasons for the staging in this space never becomes clear.

There also appear to be problems with time settings for the production. Mario’s costume, for instance, resembles a 1960s style - with brown leather jacket and flared trousers - while, in Act One, Scarpia’s army wear Nazi uniforms and later mafia figures in dark suits smoke cigars. These problems became more obvious and more frustrating as the production goes on.

When Tosca learns that Mario has been assassinated, she sees no other option than to throw herself from the window and plunge to her death. Derry is once again stained with the blood of an innocent victim. In this scene the uniforms of the gunmen resembled the uniform of RUC officers.

Considering the fact that Northern Ireland Opera promoted production as site specific, each act could have been staged exactly the same way in a traditional theatre space and worked just as well. Nevertheless, as the first ever production by Opera NI - a company that hope to bring opera to audiences in innovative ways - this is a good effort.

Shoot the Crow - Review by Kirsty Reilly

Tiling materials are strewn over the glimmering white floor as a grey-haired man dozes on the job. Owen McCafferty’s Shoot the Crow is an homage to the working man.

The play depicts the story of four Belfast men brought together by a job they all equally dislike. However, the group are divided when the monotony of everyday work gets too much. It’s every man for himself when everything doesn’t go as planned, as they plot to steal some leftover tiles to earn some extra cash.

First produced by the Druid Theatre Company in 1997, and after touring all over the world, McCafferty’s play has finally made its way to Belfast for its first ever performance in Northern Ireland. Opening at a time when unemployment is on a high, McCafferty’s no doubt strikes a chord with this Waterfront Studio audience.

With unemployment so prominent in the Northern Ireland at present, you would believe that those who are in work are the lucky ones. McCafferty, however, allows a keyhole glimpse into Ding Ding (Ciaran McIntyre), Socrates (Stephen Kennedy), Petesy (Fergal McElherron) and Randolph’s (Rhys Dunlop) world, where making a paycheque is harder than it seems.

McCafferty wanted to 'explore the codes men use to disguise their feelings and how they handle things when the codes break down in a display of emotion'. After pairing off, both groups of men decide to steal the tiles, because a share divided between two men means more ‘ready’ than one divided between four.

Calamity ensues and tempers fly as the men discover each other’s plans to dupe the other, resulting in violence and harsh words. They all unveil their true feelings about each other. 'I hate work,' shouts Petesy but then retorts, 'but I need work, I need to earn, there’s no choice there'.

What McCafferty is offering to his audience is a chance to view the interactions between men at work; the trials and tribulations they face and how each one reacts differently. When left with no other options, in an economy where 'you get nothing for nothing', we are shown the actions people resort to to ease the strain in an insecure economical environment.

McCafferty is asking his audience to feel compassion for the men in this situation. When work is sparse, and the work that is going is horrible, you have to make do with what’s given to you. But the real question is, who will pull through - will you? - and who will crack under the pressure?