Dublin By Lamplight

Michael West
A Dublin Corn Exchange Production
The Lowry, Salford, and touring

Production photo

Dublin's Corn Exchange has brought its 2005 Edinburgh Fringe hit Dublin By Lamplight by Michael West to Salford as part of the company's first major UK tour.

The play is set in Dublin in 1904 when the King was paying an official visit to the city during politically volatile times. A group of actors is trying to put on a play called The Wooing of Emer—mistakenly advertised in the newspaper as The Wowing of Emer—in an attempt to found 'The Irish National Theatre of Ireland'. However while writer and producer Willy is seducing rich lady Eva, who enthusiastically leads protests against the British and is to play the title role in the play, to get her to fund the company, Willy's brother and leading man Frank is loading a bag with explosives to protest in a rather different way.

The play is difficult to divorce from the production as it has a very distinctive visual and performative style, mainly due to its origins in devising and improvisational methods that director Annie Ryan brought from her native Chicago. The six actors wear white faces with fixed masks painted on them in make-up which never change, but they change their costumes, voices and physicality to create around thirty distinct characters between them.

The whole piece is set on a Victorian or Edwardian stage, designed by Kris Stone, with a very realistic brick wall filling the back of the stage and elaborate footlights casting large shadows onto the wall from the actors. The actors perform as masks, always facing the audience fully to speak but then turning to the person they are speaking to afterwards. Props and locations are all mimed, and sound effects are all provided verbally by the actors, except for the impressive ground-shaking explosion at the end of the first act.

The actors narrate the whole story to the audience in the third person, acting it out as they tell it. The play itself is certainly flawed as it jumps about a lot and there are elements in the plot that are underworked or slightly confusing. However the pace never lets up for long enough for the audience to dwell on these parts.

The actors are absolutely superb, with such impressive vocal and physical skills that they can transform themselves into an entirely different person almost like magic, sometimes without leaving the stage. Willy is played by Louis Lovett, who was in another wonderful Irish production at last year's Edinburgh Fringe called Improbable Frequency. His brother Frank is played by Tadhg Murphy, upper class Eva by Karen Egan, Maggie, the pregnant costume girl who ends up taking the stage to save the production, is played by Janet Moran, over the top actor Martyn Wallace is played by Tom Jordan Murphy and jealous young stage hand Jimmy by Paul Reid. The whole production is accompanied throughout by Conor Linehan's silent movie-style piano score played live by Danny Sheridan.

Although the play does lack some depth, the production is slick, superbly performed and extremely funny at times with some quite sad, poignant moments at the end. It is fast-paced and entertaining, and the skills of the actors alone make it a fascinating piece to watch. Even if you have read the programme, it is still surprising and impressive to see just six actors walk out at the end to take a bow.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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