Bardot Bites - TooDog Theatre at The Linenhall

Having raved last week about the spectacle and power of Danny Boyle’s ‘Frankenstein’ at NT Live, this week presented a golden opportunity to remind myself that theatre is as much about intimacy and proximity as it is about the ‘Big Show’.

TooDog Theatre arrived at my beloved Linenhall Theatre to present two new comic one act plays which were both written and performed by highly-talented Denise Quinn.  The plays were ‘Bardot Bites’ and ‘Lucy Bastible’.

Having experienced the full ‘bells and whistles’ show the week before, I was perhaps more aware than usual of the danger of live theatre and how it is perhaps this aspect, more than any other, that sets it apart from cinema or television drama.  The audience and the performers lock themselves in a room by mutual agreement (and, by golly, it is hard to get out again until it is all over) the performer undertakes to entertain/challenge/provoke the audience in return for their time and attention and the audience, in turn, subliminally agrees to be receptive and not to rustle sweet papers.

This contract is an edgy one – you can tell this by the buzz of an audience beforehand and you will certainly feel it in the dressing room out the back.  A sort of ‘roller-coaster ride’ is about to be embarked upon and nobody gets to stand underneath and watch.  Everybody is on board.

This, I think, is why a couple of one-act plays, performed by one solitary actor, can be every bit as huge and moving and funny as the full force of the National Theatre in London.

I say it ‘can’ be.  This, of course, isn’t always the case.  For this intimate firework to go off, the ingredients all need to be in place.  You need, first and foremost, the writing – if that isn’t there then we are banging an empty vessel.  Then we need the Audience – a rare spice these days.  Most critically, on the night, you will need a performer of the highest quality to see you through.  This actor will be the catalyst for everything else in the dish and, if the mix is going to explode, it is going to be down to that person to make it happen.

And that is primarily where TooDog Theatre ‘won’ the other evening at The Linenhall.  Yes, they brought the writing.  Yes, they assembled a fine warm audience.  Yes.  But, make no mistake, it was Denise Quinn who gathered it all together and made it work.

With Denise, we knew our theatre-contract was in experienced, fearless, hands and that we would be rattled  through our evening without fear of falling.  Denise Quinn is a fine actor.  Because she also wrote the plays, she brought an intimate knowledge of the subtlety of both pieces and it showed.  She played a markedly different woman in both plays – one struggling with social disadvantages, the other over-burdened with social success.  They are indeed very different but it is within the discovery of those things which bind them together that the centre of the plays lie.  Both are rather lost and bewildered within their particular circumstances, both must act to reverse their fortunes and both will ultimately reap very different results from their actions.

Wait.  I’m making it all seem fuddy-duddy now.  Both plays are great fun.  Both are delivered as lively, fast-moving monologues which are sometimes reminiscent of Alan Bennett.  Denise veers from a character who evokes great sympathy and warmth to one who almost pushes these things away.

There is considerable subtlety in the playing, particularly in the first play where the heroine, Bid, grows visibly from being a lost, manipulated soul into a sophisticated happy person who has delighted in finding her true place in the world.  The audience loved Bid – she was a little fighter who bore all her responsibilities alone yet danced exuberantly at the prospect of an evening out.  It was hard not to love her.  The second play presents more of a caricature, I thought, an elegant, highly-mannered lady who is driven to memorable action.  Again, the audience greatly enjoyed this larger-than-life character and the highly-comedic but nonetheless tragic situation she found herself in.

Live theatre is indeed edgy and Denise had a couple of edgy moments in both plays with props and such.  The effortless manner which she took these on board and integrated them into her performance was, for me, one of the highlights of the evening and a masterclass in professionalism and composure.  One felt there was little which Denise could not do on a stage.

TooDog is a new theatrical endeavour with a stated objective to bring new writing before the national audience.  I hope it will reach a wide audience and continue to challenge itself and its audience with new and varied works.  I look forward to their return visit to Castlebar and will be sure to be there.

Frankenstein at the National Theatre at My Local Cinema

My only regret was that I went to see Frankenstein, on St Patrick’s Night, on my own.  
When it was over, I longed for someone to effuse with.  There was other people there, of course, but it didn’t seem right to burst in on them and try to share with them how bloody awesome I thought it had been.

So I just left.

The lady who sells popcorn seemed amenable to a chat so I told her what a great experience I had just had.  She said she had dropped in for five minutes, expecting nothing, and would have loved to stay for it all.

Then, in the car park, where was a lady getting into the car beside mine.  I am aware that one can scare people, striking up conversations in darkened gravel-topped parking areas but I still ventured a quick word across the car roofs.

“It was good, wasn’t it?” I said.

She smiled.

“It was extra-ordinary,” she said, “quite extra-ordinary.”

She had put it better than me.

It was.

    *        *        *        *

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been adapted into a new play by Nick Dear, it has been directed by Danny Boyle and Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller have been cast in the roles of Creator and Creature – roles which they swap every show.

It was, for me, a mouth-watering prospect and if I had still been living in London, I would have queued long-and-hard for my ticket to see it.  But, of course, I don’t live in London anymore and budgets do not easily soar to a quick nip over to The Big Smoke to catch a play.  So I couldn’t see it.

Except, of course, I could.

It’s this new thing, you see, where the National Theatre beams a live performance to cinemas all over the place so that anyone can easily come and see the play.

I was very excited at the prospect but my expectations were a bit lowered too.  I’ve watched my share of theatre on the telly and it never seems to work well for me.  Something - the intimacy, the urgency, the danger - gets lost along the way and one often seems to be left with a poor-man’s telly-show.  What I expected was a chance to get a least some diluted feel for the new production and the greatly-praised performances.  In actuality, I got so much more than I bargained for.

I put much of that down to the sound.

The audience in the huge auditorium were very much a part of the broadcast.  Before the play started, they were there, chatting and murmuring, finding their seats and opening their toffees.  It was a buzz, literally, and it created a buzz, figuratively.

The play was expertly shot from multiple angles with close-ups, veering zooms – the lot.  The overall effect, I reckon, was to elevate the cinema viewing to a place almost beyond being present, in the flesh, at the event.

So I enjoyed this immensely – and I really mean immensely.  I was elated for hours afterward that I was permitted to see it as I did.

Then I got to thinking hard about it, letting the logical brain work at it rather than just the gut reaction.

So much for the Event, what of the play?

The central performances and the production were simply phenomenal.  That’s my view.  I saw Cumberbatch as The Creature and I was astonished at the balletic and moving performance he gave.  Jonny Lee Miller had the slightly less showy part as Frankenstein but both brought great integrity and no small measure of spittle to their work.

The lighting and general production-values are like nothing I have ever seen.  Astonishing.

Now, let me be critical.  I always think it’s important to try to be a bit critical.  It’s like proof reading a text – if you only look for the good stuff you will not learn of the improvements which may need to be made.  So…

The writer – Nick Dear – has invested great passion and insight into his central duo.  Unfortunately the supporting characters often come out of the deal as sketchy and somewhat caricatured at times.  Frankenstein’s Dad was the worst – he just seemed to be an impotent deliverer of occasional dismay.  The Scottish assistants made Willie from The Simpsons look like a Caledonian Documentary Figure and the Blind Man’s Son and Daughter in Law were quite Twee and Predictable.

But Dear is not a weak link here.  He pulls some masterstrokes – one, in particular with his treatment of Frankenstein’s thoughtful new Bride which left me quite shocked at the very audacity and brilliance of it.

Danny Boyle is a visionary and his vision here is a clear, faithful presentation of Mary Shelley’s perhaps overly-lauded book.  It is, at times, visceral, tragic, philosophical and funny.  It is really quite special.

In summary - after I calmed down a bit, I may have seen some flaws with the play and with the supporting roles.  But to hell with all that!!  I came out of that cinema on a complete high, thanks to that play, and - clever-clogs reservations or not - that makes it a One Hundred Percent winner for me.

They are doing this all over again, in many venues, on Thursday 24 March, with Jonny Lee Miller taking the Creature role.  I recommend most highly that you try to see it and then please come and tell me what you think.

Let Me In – A Review

When I finally got to see the film ‘Let The Right One In’ last year, I blogged about it, then read the book then realised I had fallen in love with it a little bit.

So when I heard the inevitable news that this wonderful little Swedish film - from the novel and screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist – was to have a Hollywood remake done… well, I immediately resolved to give it a wide berth.  The original was not one bit broke, why try to fix it?

But it hasn’t been that easy to stay away.

Word has trickled down that the remake is a respectful and faithful one, that the people involved have the highest credentials and that the end product is indeed a film of value in itself.


That, on its own, might not have been enough to encourage me to watch it - to risk tarnishing the memory of the original - but there was one other factor.  I wanted my son to see it.  I have written for Teens quite a lot myself and I happen to think, despite the 18 cert here in Ireland, that this is a great teen movie.  I knew he wouldn’t mind watching the subtitled original but I also thought that this shining -new remake might be the best way to win him over to what I feel is a masterpiece of bittersweet teen storytelling.

So last night, we all sat down and watched it.  I figured it would be worth a tweet at the end; ‘It was good’ or ‘It was not as good as the original’… something typically profound like that.  As it turned out, I couldn’t do it that ‘concise’ so here I am, trying to tell you what I think.

So here I go.

The remake is far better than the original, in one key respect.  It has a vastly superior screenplay.  Matt Reeves co-wrote this with the original writer, Lindqvist, and it’s a novel adaptation masterclass in my book.  The novel had a wide scope with many characters who interwove, some more successfully than others.  Then ‘Let The Right One In - The Film' came along and pared this excess but, critically, I always felt that it never pared them as much as it should have.  The side stories; the guys in the bar, the policeman on the trail, these only seemed to detract from the fascinating central theme.

The new screenplay pares it all away and brings it down to what really counts, the two central kids.  Everything is made to revolve around them and quite rightly too.

I would love to see the original film made to this tight, focused script but that’ll never happen.

The new film has two high-power teen leads playing their little hearts out.  It also has an apparent agenda to do the very very best it can with the source material.  So it’s a fine film, in itself.


There is just something about the original film that makes it so much better than the remake, the same 'something' that makes it better than the novel too.  It is, I believe, with the exception cited above, an almost-perfect capturing of the story.  I ask myself what it is that makes it so and I came up with the answer that it is some ‘X-Factor’ which is largely indefinable which makes one version resound and another version not.

But that’s just too lazy, isn’t it?  Not good enough at all, Ken.  So I thought and thought and now I reckon there are two particular reasons why the original film wins.  Wait… three… one of them less important than the other two.

The less important one is the setting.  The new film is set in America and, let’s face it, we are familiar with movies set in America, it sets us immediately on firm ground.  The original setting – the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg – by contrast, is like another world to us.  No matter how much the new film tries to mimic the locations (and, by gosh, it does) we never feel we are in an uncharted land.  That feeling of dislocation, in the original, helps with the other-worldiness of the story, helps to make it seem possible.

The second reason is the casting of the two teen leads.  The remake casting is superb. Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (who was dynamite in ‘Kick Ass') are both already-seasoned performers who play their parts beautifully.  But the casting of the original, for me, is nothing less than inspired.  Little Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli simple ‘live’ the parts for me.  I don’t know much about film acting, an expert might say that the American actors are streets-ahead of the original players and I couldn’t disagree.  But, for me, one of the key elements of the original actors’ success was that I didn’t know them, I had never seen them before.  Always, with the remake, there was that niggling, ‘where have I seen them before?’ question.  One never quite escaped the knowledge that they were actors playing a role.  Remarkably, the actors in ‘Let The Right One In’ have never been seen in any other film (as yet).  That is key.  They weren’t just seen to be playing the parts, they ‘were’ the parts.

The final difference – don’t underestimate it ever – the Music.  The original soundtrack for ‘Let The Right One In’ by Johan Söderqvist may be a bit derivative at times but it remains a delicate thing of beauty.  The remake music seemed displaced and forgettable to me.

Finally, I must report that my little plan, to win John over with this new version, has pretty much failed.  My son didn’t really like the film, he found it slow and a bit hard to follow.  He was tired, I’ll let him off.

All in all, the new film is an honourable film and well worth a few hours of your time.

But ultimately, when I ask myself, “if this was the only version of this story that you ever saw, would you love it as you do?” the answer to that would be “No.”

Sorry but no.

Memories of Eldest

I’ve written here before about my current view of this blog as a sort of a ‘Pensieve’ where my memories and thoughts can be chucked in and hauled out in silvery snot-like threads at some later date.  One might say, “why not stick it in a notebook?”  Good idea but it’s not me.  Although fewer and fewer people read this stuff, I tend to need at least the possibility of an audience in order to do something with the appropriate level of care.

So here I am.

Today I’m looking at my Eldest Son, who will be fifteen next week and who, to my delight, is now considerably taller than I am.  My memories of him, from now, will be of this clever, gentle, considered guy rather then the bump, baby and toddler who came before and who filled our lives so completely.

Perhaps it’s time, then, to chuck something into the Pensieve, lest it get lost along the way.  Perhaps when I am old and my mind has gone, someone might read this page out to me and I might smile a moment, imagining these things really happened.

Three memories of J:

When he was a toddler, we had a date every evening, after work and before bedtime.  We used to wrestle.  We’d meet up on our bed and square up to each other.  Toddler would employ sophisticated Half-Nelson techniques and invariably dad would be chucked off the bed and onto the floor.  Three falls were sufficient to win the battle and toddler never conceded a single fall in all the time that this violent and giggle-ridden rendezvous was kept.

Every evening, once tucked in, a book was read aloud by me to him.  We read very little every night, perhaps only a page.  In this way, we read all the Harry Potter books (except that last one which he was old enough to read himself), all of Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, Watership Down, Swallows and Amazons, Witch and the Wardrobe… it is truly amazing how much can be read, one page a night, over the steady trickle of a childhood.

Finally, almost Benjamin Button-like, we sneak back to the earliest moments.  The tiny baby.  At weekends, I used to take the night feed.  I would watch half of some video movie and leave the second half for the middle of the Friday night.  There, in the insular twilight of the living room, Dad and bottle-suckling infant, lay on the couch, wrapped themselves up in a patchwork quilt and watched Candyman together.

I couldn’t ever forget that, could I?

Just in case I do, perhaps it’ll be here.