Ireland’s improvisers: not just having a laugh

Dublin’s improv scene is growing beyond slapstick with truthful stories, new talent, and fresh concepts, reports Hannah Lemass 

A catch up with Enda McGrattan, AKA Aunty Ben

Better known to the patrons of the George as Lady Veda Beaux Reves, Enda McGrattan is now also the star of Ireland’s very first LGBT play for children, Aunty Ben. The City caught up with McGrattan to discuss the play and Ireland’s changing attitudes to gender politics.

Tell us a little bit more about Aunty Ben, it seems like a really interesting story.

“It’s really fun, the idea is that due to a break up of a marriage I, as Ben, end up helping [my] sister raise her child Tracy, who is around nine-years-old. She really enjoys Ben and all of his drag and all of his ways until she changes school and realises that because of Ben she becomes the subject of controversy and bullying from the kids in her class.”

A lot of people would know you from your performances as Veda in the George, how much of Veda is in Ben?

“Ben is very Veda, I think that’s the reason that I was approached. I’m not an actor or a theatre actor or anything so Ben is about as Veda as it comes, but at the same time Veda is very Ben. I have nieces and nephews and they’ve come to see me perform so it actually reflects my life pretty accurately. [And] although I’m far too old to be the subject of any kind of bullying by school kids at this stage in my life. I definitely can relate to it from when I was younger.”

Seeing as it’s a play for kids, has it been performed in schools? 

“We’ve done a couple of shows in Educate Together schools. It hasn’t happened yet that we’ve done shows in Catholic schools but we have been to St Pat’s teacher training college twice … and we performed it for the students there who’ve loved it just as a kind of demonstration of how these issues can be dealt with in a school setting.”

Has there been any backlash to the play? 

“There has been no backlash of late. Last year there was a couple of things online but lately I think those people are just cowering in the corner somewhere now. I don’t expect to be hearing from them. I think that essentially the mood of the country has really changed throughout the referendum and I feel like we’re in that strange position where we’ve experienced both. The atmosphere and support for the show is definitely clearer and more forthright than before. I think people are less afraid to say ‘yeah, that’s a great idea, let’s bring a drag queen into the school’. We’re definitely getting more interest from schools and youth groups”

Since Jonathan Rachel Clynch of RTE came out as gender fluid, has there been more of a conversation about gender issues in Ireland?

“It’s been a huge year really. Part of it is to do, I think, with the very public transition of Caitlyn Jenner. And also here, especially here, with the referendum and everything that came with it. It definitely feels like there’s something going on with drag queens at the moment. We’re in the zeitgeist, there’s something about gender going on, gender politics and that we’re all sort of freedom fighters for people that want to exist beyond gender.”

Aunty Ben is in Axis Ballymun 17/18 November.

Halloween arrives early in The New Theatre

Last week celebrated the opening of Pygmankenstein’s latest show ‘Olympia’ in The New Theatre.

The show focuses on Nathaniel, a bright medical student who is heavily burdened from tales told to him as a child of a monstrous creature who comes at nightfall to steal the eyes of children who would not sleep.

The jittery Nathaniel lives with a peculiar ocular obsession, and visits every optometrist within radius of his home. He is best friends with his roommate and fellow student Lothaire, and fiancé to Lothaire’s sister Clara.

Apprenticed by his idol Doctor Coppola, it is she who introduces him to her beautiful, blind daughter Olympia.

The performance, described as ‘gothic-horror’, lasts for 70 minutes and is sure to leave your spine tingling.

The cast includes Michael David McKernan, Shane Robinson, Aenne Barr, Erin Gilgen, and Claudia Kinahan, all of whom executed their roles with precision and emotion.

The production, based on 19th Century horror literature, runs from the 12th to the 24th of October. Ending just before Halloween, there is a special fancy dress after party for those attending on October 25th.

Tickets range from €12 to €15 and are available at tickets.ie

Dancing at Lughnasa at the Gaiety: the perfect tribute to a literary legend

‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ made its highly anticipated debut at The Gaiety Theatre on Tuesday, October 6th. The play celebrated its 25th anniversary this year so it was an obvious choice for the Dublin Theatre Festival. The play’s debut coincided however, with the sad passing of its author Brian Friel, so inevitably this run of performances has been especially poignant.

However, Friel’s passing has clearly motivated the cast to put on a show-stopping performance and it was undeniably the perfect tribute to one of Ireland’s greatest playwrights.

The opening monologue was delivered by Michael Evans, played by Charlie Bonner, and with ease he transported the audience back to 1930s Ireland where he was at home with his aunts, the Mundy sisters, in the small town of Ballybeg.

The Mundy sisters were then left to their own devices on stage, and with the same back drop throughout, they managed to show a repressed, close-minded Ireland within their small house, reflecting Friel’s ability to make the local universal.

The infamous ‘wireless’ served as a focal point throughout the play, representing the freedom they yearned for. One of the most memorable scenes of the production is when they all lose themselves to the music coming from the wireless and dance around the kitchen.

To them it is not just any dance, it is a moment in time when they are free from repression, free from the restrictions this life has forced on them. All of the actresses completely lose themselves within this scene and it is obvious they are thoroughly enjoying this form of self-expression on behalf of the Mundy sisters.

This spontaneous form of expression is swiftly cut short by Kate Mundy, played by Catherine McCormack, who serves as the voice of reason throughout the play, when she reminds the sisters of what society expects of them.

Catherine delivered an incredibly apt performance of strict national school teacher Kate Mundy, her authoritarian role complimented by Rosie Mundy, played by Mary Murray, who provided much needed comic relief throughout the play.

However, the show was undoubtedly stolen by Cara Kelly who plays Maggie Mundy. Cara embraced her character to the fullest, showing Maggie to be the reasonable, emotionally intelligent and the humorous woman that Friel intended her to be.

Religion played a pivotal role throughout the production as it does in most of Friel’s work. Declan Conlon did an outstanding job of portraying the conflict of ideas surrounding religion through his character Father Jack.

The Gaiety stage served as the perfect backdrop to the play, the set and costumes all helped to give the best Dancing at Lughnasa experience.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the play ended and director Willie White delivered a moving tribute to Brian Friel. It was clear the playwright meant a lot to the production team, as well as the actors, and this was undoubtedly reflected in their performance.