Celtic Tiger – The Show Must Go On

Directed and Choreography Michael Flatley

Rating: 2 out of 5.

With no ill intent, Americans will love this. Which will probably answer any questions for anyone watching Celtic Tiger. Lord of the Dance, the flashiest of toe-tappers and a bonified Irishman performer, Michael Flatley has an exceptionally acute sense of over-the-top style, panache and gusto when it comes to dance for the masses, and those families who are 100% certain they have Scottish or Irish heritage. Claiming to be his most ambitious piece to date, there is no denial about the bloated excesses of Celtic Tiger – a production which seeks to promote a sense of spiritual awakening and a fight for freedom.

When first hearing Michael Flatley, initial thoughts are of hideous emerald leotards, legs akimbo and Flatley at the head parading topless, for some reason. But it’s oh so much worse than this. Often insulting, more often confusing, Celtic Tiger tackles ballet, salsa, cheerleading and yes, Riverdance, amidst a myriad of tacky, gormless strutting.

From highland clearances, Bloody Sunday (no, seriously) and Al Capone, to Flatley single-handedly defeating the English Redcoats – Celtic Tiger feels like a mid-life crisis on overdrive. Raunchy strip-teases sit in the same category as ‘tributes’ to the Irish struggles and unrest. Marvellous choreography from the industry’s finest professionals, with some world-class string instrumentals and live bands, are upstaged by bikinis and fireworks. Little makes sense in Flatley’s direction of the production, nor does David Malley’s direction of the camerawork.

A particular issue is that it’s too cinematic, there’s an edit every few seconds which distract immeasurably from the snippets of genuine talent, the training, precision, and effort. These dancers are extraordinary, and the framing fails to allow this to be the focus – instead, drawing our eye to what else? Flesh. Flesh, glitter, and banners. Occasionally the camera-crew realise a necessity of Irish stepdance is to allow the audience to witness the mesmeric speed and articulation of footwork, but it’s usually for a moment before cascading back down the neckline of a young dancer.

Throughout ravaging Celtic history, with dashes of obtuse stereotypes, something mind-boggling beautiful happens. Twice, in fact, for as talented as the dancers can be, two vocal performances halt any snorts of derision. Irish singer Paul Harrington performs Four Green Fields, with control and impact which silences the riled-up audience, who have their fieriness doused with Harrington’s glorious rendition, sublimely sung with no distraction. Similarly, Una Gibney’s solo rendition of the Banshee’s Cry, a haunting melody of pitch-perfect tonal proportions is a set which stands out from the rest of the scattered production.

And this is the definitive issue with Celtic Tiger, its ambition is a killer. The production has such a gluttonous need to cover a vast array of genres and methods that it completely misses the mark on what Flatley has always been known for. When taking a moment to reflect, there is an ignition of brilliance. Take the Highland Clearances, the brutality of the redcoats as the flaming buildings unearth dancers, smoked out and wrought with emotion. The tremendous potential is then oversaturated with crocodile tears by a director who sees the faux-emotion, but not the significance.

Repugnantly, this is a five-star extravaganza of variety and movement – reduced to nothing but a pandering mess of cultural appropriation, mickey-mouse history and chauvinistic showboating. Elements of genuine Celtic mythos or haunting aspects of modern Irish history are painted over, glammed up and slapped into the gaping maws of a hungry audience who want their quality technique smothered in Hollywood schlock.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/celtic-tiger-the-shows-must-go-on/

SceneToSeen – Permanent Scar

Written by Rachel Flynn

Directed & Edited by Ryan Alexander Dewar

Rating: 4 out of 5.

How far would you go for love? Not just any run of the mill kind of crush, but a genuine connection with someone. Would you wait? Would you be their shoulder to cry on? Or would you allow this ‘love’ to taint, decay and rot into an obsession. It’s more common than you would suspect, and easily ‘written off’ or hidden – as even the ‘nicest’ guys can be the fiercest wolves in sheep’s clothing.

A couple of best pals having a night out. One of whom is in the pangs of a break-up, her life in need of a few comfortable nights, some self-care and one hell of a hangover. The other seeks to help – or so he claims. Rachel Flynn’s Permanent Scar seeks not to place women in the role of victim, lord knows we have enough of that form of media, but instead subvert the expectations and quivering underbelly of rejection, masculine ego and the lifelong effects it leaves. 

Perhaps most concerning, and a testament to Cameron Fulton’s performance, is the credibility of the character, we know this boy, most of us have spent a night in the pub with this chap. Cheeky, charismatic, and garbed as genuine – a distressingly familiar person. A knot sits in your stomach as you reflect, realising that, to begin with, you found Fulton funny, you enjoyed the character, even though something felt off. Direction on the part of Ryan Alexander Dewar, who has already turned a trick with editing, is entirely on point, tight and refraining from grand gestures of unrequired emotion. There’s an unnerving correlation between the distinct lack of overwrought emotion, which could easily have tipped the balance, underpinning Fulton’s controlled performance.

We’ve come to expect awkward greenscreens, bathroom walls and less than stellar framework during lockdown, with various production relying on storytelling over aesthetic, but good lord – hats off to Interabang and Dewar. Those who have followed the company behind-the-scenes will understand how the team re-created the sweaty, neon-dazzled floors of a night club, hopefully without the sticky floors. Their method? Incredibly simple, the effect? Astonishingly convincing.

A distinctive piece of commentary on the part of Flynn – the authenticity of the narrative is repulsive in its accuracy. Living with terms such as ‘friend zone’, empty manifested words to preserve egos, is a tiring experience for women. The assaults, threats and gas-lights of supposed friends, family and companions are not only tiring but dangerous. More than this, there’s a poetic bounce to Flynn’s writing. As slippery as Fulton’s performance, it reinforces him by a deceptive structure where the writing is so charged with imagery and emotion, that it too surprises the audience when it shifts.

Flynn’s language is ultimately accessible, but occasionally, due to the film’s length, Flynn’s use of language has short-cuts for the exposition – which is entirely understandable. The fluid movement drops, only briefly, before thundering into a darker abyss, of brutal – needed – honesty surrounding ‘white knights’ with tarnished armour and selfish goals.

Starting their SceneToSeen season smashing expectations, Interabang productions champion a method of storytelling many are growing more accustomed with. While the short film is nothing new, the wealth of theatrical talent pouring in to maintain their creativity and promote a sustainable online platform is a brief glimmer in the ensuing bleakness. Permanent Scar is a terrific leaping point, which promises others in the series which aim to be clear, concise and thoroughly engaging. Here’s to a successful five-week run. 

Permanent Scar and subsequent ScenesToSeen videos can be found here

Birdsong – Online

Written by Sebastian Faulks

Adapted by  Rachel Wagstaff

Directed by Alistair Whatley & Charlotte Peters

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In the bleakest moments of atrocity, even war, stories of the human ability for kindness, compassion and endurance offer lifelines. 104 years, to the day, since the Battle of the Somme, one of modern Europe’s most horrific events, Rachel Wagstaff’s adaption of Sebastian Faulks 1993 novel Birdsong pays tribute to the tremendous valour and sacrifice of so many while streamlining their theatrical production for a digital medium – hoping to not only maintain the embers of theatre but promote The British Royal Legion and grasp the world’s focus, on the precipice of such inward destruction, that the lesson we seemingly have yet to learn about conflict.

For those lucky enough to catch the 2016, or subsequent 2018 touring production, fond memories will flood back of a dauntingly poignant show, and this returning online version contains enough deviation and difference to feel entirely innovative and individual. Set shortly before, during and after the Battle of the Somme, Faulks’ story revolves around the Tommys, miners who would dig the trenches and attempt to uncover enemy tunnels, focusing particularly on Jack Firebrace, and of his commanding officer Stephen.

Amalgamating the video format into a live performance, Alistair Whatley and Charlotte Peters’ direction refrains from cheap gimmickry, and while other productions find difficulty in modifying their narrative to a digital format, Birdsong excels. The intensity of the close-ups, only achieved with direct video, convey a rich connection with the performers, particularly Tim Treloar’s Firebrace. Fixated, it’s difficult to look away as the black knot in your stomach grows as Treloar’s words enrapture you, gripping the audience. In the silence of your own home, away from the distractions of a theatre, Treloar’s performance breathes humanity into Wagstaff’s words.

And this silence is paramount to the enjoyment of Birdsong – where possible, try to avoid watching this on a tablet or small screen, the editing process and visual quality has been crafted for no different an experience than a feature film. Dynamically staged, with multiple screens and the occasional fourth-wall break, Birdsong adapts to the medium, rather than accepts limitations. Where there is no physical set, it makes do, focusing on background designs, audio tricks and score. A composition played and designed by musical director James Findlay manages to almost evoke an intense response as hearing it in the heart of a theatre.

Additionally, combining elements of theatre and film, Faulks narrates the interceding scenes, offering a transition in place of a theatrical one which would enable time displacement or location changes. Swerving between the trenches, the earth-laden tunnels beneath the German troops or in the bright, fresh lands of provincial France, Tom Kay, Madeleine Knight and Liam McCormack all play their part in engaging with the audience, strengthening the believability of the digital production. Transformation is imperative, and each cast member evolves as the production moves forward. Kay’s status dynamic with Treloar shifts, as too does his emotional chemistry, resulting in powerful moments of silence, as he comes face-to-face with the enemy.

Are there insignificant issues of audio or effect warping? Certainly. Does this cause issue with enjoyment or appreciation? Not in the slightest. The tenacity, ingenuity and momentum propelling this unique performance of Birdsong forward are precisely what theatre thrives on, what empowers its creators and drives the audience to follow the siren calls of our treasured artform. Wagstaff’s adaption of Birdsong seeks to reignite our respect, recover a sense of waning history and demonstrate a significant reminder of the imperative words; “Never Again”.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/birdsong-online/

Available here to rent from 7pm 1 July until 3 July