Tag Archives: Rory Keenan

“Shining City” at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

A ghost story that isn’t interested in the supernatural? That’s the idea that makes Conor McPherson’s play original. Therapy sessions for John, who thinks he is haunted by his wife, are combined with scenes from the life of his therapist, Ian. But Shining City doesn’t have much time for spooks… or does it?

McPherson highlights how our perceptions shape our lives – not just John’s hallucinations but Ian’s history, too. Whether they appreciate that they are deluded or believe they are taking control is open to debate. These are lives that seem lonely or stuck. The characters are indulged but interesting, and McPherson’s telling of the tale is excellent

Without doubt, McPherson writes great roles. Rory Keenan as Ian is in every scene and is fantastic. And there’s strong support from Brendan Coyle, Curtis-Lee Ashqar and Michelle Fox. 

Might Coyle’s John be funnier? McPherson is famed for his dark wit, even if this play is restrained, but humour isn’t on director Nadia Fall’s agenda. As Coyle recounts “all the silence” in his troubled marriage – behaviour that now makes him guilty – you can appreciate the depth of a skilled portrayal.

The quiet power of Ian anchors the show. A lot of time is spent listening to others talk and an unrushed Keenan becomes fascinating to watch as he suggests the slightest touches of not just boredom, but of someone hiding the fact that they are bored! Balanced with revelations (and questions) about the therapist’s past and future, showing different sides of his character, it’s great stuff. Nonetheless, Fall takes the slow pace too far, which – combined with some lengthy scene changes – dilutes tension too much.

Even if this production is a narrow view of what the text offers, the writing and performances are strong enough to earn it plenty of stars. 

As the characters try to convince themselves that their lives are getting better and their perceptions improving, McPherson wants to be clear – those perceptions are only personal. If John buries his guilt, might Ian, somehow, be about to inherit the ghost? There’s a surprise in store that makes sure you leave the theatre with goosebumps.

Until 23 October 2021

www.stratfordeast.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Damned by Despair” at the National Theatre

In case it doesn’t become apparent, Tirso de Molina’s Damned by Despair is a theological exploration of salvation. It parallels two protagonists – a vile criminal who enters heaven because of his faith and a pious hermit who is guilty of pride, then despair, and ends up in hell. In the hands of director Bijan Sheibani, it’s hard to imagine who on earth would find this interesting, but on the off chance that you have a passion for counter-reformation theology, be warned – stay at home and read your catechism, as this production is truly awful.

The first flaw is Frank McGuinness’ adaptation: full of bizarre anachronisms that prevent it sounding modern but isolate the play from its historical context, it is jarring to the point of distraction. While Tirso’s play is predictable throughout – it has to be to prove its point –what’s remarkable is Sheibani’s inability to add any drama. There’s plenty of running around in circles and shouting, and lots of violence, but no tension at all. Even worse, both the text and production rob the play of any complexity.

What adds to one’s annoyance, and surprises for the National Theatre, particularly given this cast, is that not even the performances can be praised. Only Amanda Lawrence, who plays Satan, really holds the stage, despite this being a play where the devil doesn’t get the best lines. Rory Keenan gets a few laughs as the Monk Paulo’s devoted servant but, along with the immensely talented Bertie Carvel, seems woefully miscast. The ensemble in particular, who take on the role of various criminals and the police, couldn’t be less threatening if they tried. This dire production limps from failure to failure, damned by despair indeed.

Until 17 December 2012

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Written 15 October 2012 for The London Magazine

“The Kitchen” at the National Theatre

Bijan Sheibani’s spirited revival of Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen provides audiences with an insight into 1950s catering and post-war Britain. The acting is commendable, the production values high – but it is difficult to recommend going to see it.

The 30-strong cast perform impeccably. They convince us that The Kitchen is a working environment, overflowing with rows and romances, consuming their lives and making them fight to retain their individuality. Tom Brooke does especially well as the German chef Peter and becomes the focus of the plays finale. Along the way, Samuel Roukin impresses and Rory Keenan’s comedy skills stand out.

The mechanics behind running a massive restaurant are brought to life by Sheibani quite remarkably. Giles Cadle’s set echoes the mass of the Olivier Theatre, with space for the impression of chaos and enough cookers to make you worry about the National’s gas bill. With a touch of fantasy (cue flying waitresses) the kitchen is presented as another world.

But the kitchen isn’t another world. The first act serves as an extended entrée to deeper concerns about the place of work in our lives, using the “united nations” of kitchen staff to look at life after the war – and dreams of improvement that began when the fighting stopped.

Much humour comes from the dated nature of what’s on the menu – the characters dream of chicken Kiev as an adventurous dish – but the nostalgic appeal of The Kitchen mixes uncomfortably with its politics. The first act isn’t meaty enough to make us care about the characters, while in the second the politics are too dated to engage with.

The 1950s are in vogue along the South Bank and celebrating Arnold Wesker makes sense, but The Kitchen seems so much of its own time that reviving it, no matter how thoughtfully, fails to whet the appetite.

Until 9 November 2011

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Marc Brenner

Written 9 September for The London Magazine