Going out with Magill - Feb 1978

Theatre, film, galleries and restaurants



WHEN SOMETHING goes so far wrong with a production - despite the abunndance of talent that has put hand to it - as to turn so admirable a playas Stewart Parker's Spoke song into a shaddow of itself, it may not be possible for a member of the audience to idenntify the underlying reason for such failure. That a tragicomedy filled with a strange mixture of music, menace wisdom, atmosphere and sheer delight should become or have been changed into a clumsy, if mildly amusing tract for the times, is something for which the Irish Theatre Company will have to account, to itself if to no one else.

For a start, the play has been cuuriously mis-read as a 'play about Belfast'. The audience is forever confronted with a piece of setting in the form of a half-cylinder, papered overall with a gigantic blow-up of a street plan centred approximately upon Donegall Place and, so that we shall not escape through ignorance of street names, overprinted with the name of the city writ exceeding large. Granted, Spokeesong is probably the best play to have been written touching Belfast's erupption into self-destruction, but someeone has overlooked the fact that the playwright sees this urban violence not as something unique, sui generis or peculiar to his own city, but as an extension to extremes of a universal plague - mankind's creation by accellerating degrees of an intolerable ennvironment-in which communities are sacrificed to motorways and the greatter glory of a doubly lethal mode of transport that alienates its users from contact with those among whom they pass. This theme is as relevant to the cities of the outside world as to the one in this island. Stewart Parker's key line is possibly the one to the effect that the bicycle was the last technological development that everybody understood.

Thus the director and designer, Patrick Mason and Gerard Crosson, mislead us from the outset. That might be excusable if only the limited and particular interpretation were well carrried. Unfortunately, and despite the acknowledged reputations of the memmbers of the company, the flaws run deeper. That a director of proven sensibility witness Talbot's Box should turn the gentle, often witty and almost casual philosophising of Frank Stock into a static and didactic Jim Bartley. Gerard McSorley and Maire Hastings in Spokesong address to the audience, instead of letting it emerge as the musings of an expert cycle mechanic steeped in a tradition and otherwise intent on, say, an exact and apparently delicate piece of work, is clumsiness of the first order. Nothing in this production will convince anyone that Emmet Bergin, and therefore Frank Stock, knows anything more about bicycles than is needed to turn one upside down and spin its wheels. The very key is thrown away, seemingly by choice.

There's worse, however, in a reecognisably fundamental form. The playwright has created a character, the Trick Cyclist, who serves as Chorus, confidant and in a number of supporrting roles at the veritable drop of a hat. His first en trance is an allegory in itself, in the form of a minor tour de force quite within the capacity of a young actor with a sense of balance and the preparedness to acquire a new skill. It requires a brief act of equilibrium - it need only last a few seconds, but it must suggest infinite authority - upon a one-wheel machine. In the premiere production, the actor involved declined the challenge. Here, Jim Bartley, otherwise sparkling as the World War I Drill Sergeant, as a Mime or as the Cowboy who has exxchanged his horse for a pair of wheels, anchors himself to some convenient scaffolding before mounting. Even so he wobbles uneasily as he addresses us from that unadventurous position. When he does essay a short run to centre stage, he parts company with his mount, unintentionally, albeit graceefully enough. He has gone through the motions, as it were, but the thing has not been done and is seen not to have been done from the very outtset.

Either one does the thing or one does not. Shakespeare's Histories demand sureness in simple sworddwork, by which we are convinced of a thorough martial expertise. F 0011ling around with dummy swords is best restricted to one's school-days. In a theatre, the contract of illusion must be carried out in full.

One wonders at the inability of those concerned to work a simple trick where the Mime, squatting cross-legged upon the table, appears to balance his cane upon one corner of it - a trick reequiring no strange skills of the stageecarpenter, of the property department, of the stage-director, or of the actor. Yet some nights after the opening perforrmance, the actor still fumbled at finding the socket let into the table's surface. When he did eventually plant the ferrule to his requirements, with distracting concentration, the cane stood insecureely. After a short time it toppled to the ground, taking all remaining credibility with it.

It is not enough that prior to his exit Jim Bartley should have recoverred his cane with a grace in keeping with his part. In the Circus, the acrobat and the high-wire artiste rig their own equipment with infinite care, work at perfecting each move in the knowwledge that their limbs, their' livelihood and ultimately their, very lives depend upon a thorough-going discipl1ne' in which there is no room for carelesssness or miscalculation.. The actor's life may rarely be at risk - what is ever in danger is - his' reputation, and that - of the company as a whole. Of so precious a possession, Irish theatre is too often' careless to the point of irresponsibility.

Comparisons, it is said, are odious.

So be it. The members of the English company, Paines Plough, who came briefly to the Project with two oriiginal plays, are likely enough possesssed of no more natural ability as actors than are those who work with the LT.C. Where they outreach these to the point of astonishment and admiraation is in regarding their work as a constant challenge to acquire new skills, rather than muddle through with half-measures. Such challenges  and they are considerable in kind €they meet. On the evidence of Spokeesong, reduced to an intermittently entertaining pedestrianism or worse, and ultimately far less than the sum of its better parts, the Irish, Theatre Company as an institution will have to ask itself some exceedingly painful questions.

Meanwhile let us at least be thankkful that this production is not scheduled to represent our theatre abroad .


Below is a list of films currently on general release throughout the country, with. comments to help you select what to see and what to avoid. Most of these films should, hopefully, reach your local cinema during the next six weeks.

Audrey Rose - Demonic possesssion no longer clicks at box office, so Horrorwood is dabbbling with reincarnation in the form of a little girl born again after a car crash and then claimmed back from unsuspecting parrents by her 'real' father. Diirector Robert Wise, capable of making even The Sound of Music tolerable entertainment, achieves a compelling chiller by playing down· far-fetched eleements and emphasising instead the human dilemma.

Bobby Deerfield - A 'Love Story' for· grown-ups, set in the Swiss Alps instead of an American campus, with racing driver AI Pacino and impulsive Marthe Keller, overfull of zest for life, discovering yet again that death too, can be the beeginning of a beautiful underrstanding, particularly when photoographed so undisturbingly by Henri Dacae.

The Crimebusters - Spaghetti western superstar Terence Hill (They Call Me Nobody) hits the American cops and robbers scene, felling hoodlums with Puck-like clowning and Douglas Fairbanks acrobatics. Moments of inane charm.

Equus - Essentially a filmed play. Impressionable stable-hand (played with intense conviction by Peter Firth) worships horses to the point of mistaking them for God, then blinds them with a metal spike to escape their all-seeing eye, an awareness of which has been inhibiting his love-making. Richard Burton is the psychiatrist who attempts to unravel his tortured psyche. Director Sidney Lumet never quite finds a credible cinematic language for Peter Schaffer's stylistic theatrical tour de force. Golden Rendezvous - About the only thing less convincing than a recent Alistair MacLean adventure yarn is its movie version. With Richard Harris blusstering about on the high seas in search of the point of the plot, the dismal decline of a good writer is here yet again confirmed.

Julia - Perhaps director Fred

Zinnemann's finest movie, a deefinite treatment of his theme of conscience versus the Establishhment, with Jane Fonda worthy of an Oscar for her moving portrayal of the inner conflict of a vulnerable woman overrcoming fear in order to live up to the expectations of others. Based on a true story by playywright Lillian Hellman. about a close friend (Vanessa Redgrave) who became involved in smugggling Jews out of Hitler's Gerrnaany in the 1930s, but less about history than the power of meemory and of shared experience. Lenny Dustin Hoffman is Lenny Bruce, the scatalogically courageous American night club sa tirist who believed society could be only as liberated as its public language. Flashback and crossscutting, plus the documentary feel of black and white photoography, enable director Bob Fosse to pull off an exhilirating cineematic tour de force with essenntially verbal material that would normally have defied visual expression.

Leopard in the Snow - A careefully packaged 'He· looked at her, she looked at him and she knew!' love story, intended by . Mills and Boon, world's biggest publishers of romantic fiction, to arouse a vast untapped female audience scared away from cineema by the embarrassment of explicit sex and social polemics. The Other Side of Midnight €Mills and Boon plus 'six fulllscale sex scenes'. Based on Siddney Sheldon's best-seller about a woman wronged bu t evenntually after many years getting appropriate revenge. Irene Shaaraff is credited with co stumes but coyly erotic France Pisier is given little opportunity to wear them.

The People That Time Forgot (Standard Edgar Rice Burroughs dinosaur fare. Plane load of stock characters, a ttacked by pterodactyl, crash land on myssterious lost island. Special effects does the rest. Good fun for children.

The Sicilian Cross - Peculiar hybrid thriller, half-shot in San Francisco, half in Palermo, half American produced, half Italian, with Roger Moore incongruously thrown in as a Mafia lawyer with a conscience, presumably in the hope that his 007 image will lure in audiences.

Slapshot Humour through colourful obscenities and black farce as a nondescript American

Jane Fonda in Julia, based on a story by Lillian Hellman

ice hockey team rocket to fame by their lunatic foul play. Yet another stylish success for George Roy Hill, who again, as in Butch Cassidy and The Sting, owes much to Paul Newman.

Stroszek - German cult direcctor Werner Herzog, again using Bruno S (the unknown he disscovered in Kasper Hanser), this time as a simple man, released from prison and trying to cope with the world, who eventually seeks a new life in the U.S. But the inevitable logic of capitalism gets the better of him.

Suspiria - Stylish surreal treattment of standard horror cliches. Set in menacing German baroque mansion where everyone chatters politely while all hell (literally) breaks loose. Violence is grueesome but is distanced from actuality by superbly disorienntating stereo score.

Valentino - Rudolph Nureyev is sufficiently look-alike to fake the necessary mannerisms, so Ken Russell's deliberately vulgar direction is never more than a crude illustration of a legend tha t can still be better underrstood in the flickering images of The Sheik and Blood and Sand.



The Dawson Gallery, Dawson Street.

Now capably run by John Taylor in the wake of the incomparable Leo Smith. The gallery has come up with an unusual pairing in the Painter-Sculptor combination of Grace Henry (1868-1953) and Martin Dixon (1863-1938). Grace Henry, first and later estranged wife of Paul Henry, was midway between being a good, though not academic traditional painter, and a Paris Modernist.

Her talent was not a major one perhaps, but she had style, a fine colour sense and an uninhibited sense of paint. The pictures, by the way, were very reasonably priced. Dixon's few sculptures we were less striking and less personnal, but interesting as a sideline to a rather neglected period in Irish sculpture.

Next show February 7-28, is that of Maurice MacGonigal, now the doyen of Irish academic painters, since the death of Sean Keating. MacGonigal is, in every

'Self' by Alan Jones - David Hendricks Gallery

sense; one of Ireland's best-loved artists.

David Hendricks Gallery, St. Stephen's Green.

Show of international graphics. An impressive roll call, including Picasso and Vasarely. Huge section of artists, with most styles represented. The Irishmen includded --Cecil King, Theo McNab,

Robert Ballagh--show up well in such imposing competition. Runs until late February.

Tom Caldwell Gallery, 31 Upper Fitzwilliam Street.

The Northern artist, Malcolm Bennett is here in force. A white hope of the 'sixties, he has not developed as some might have hoped, but this is still a show with style and occasional accomplishhment. He is succeeded by Clive Wilson, little known here but a figure of some acclaim, The big news is that Patrick Collins, one of the leading Irish artists of tooday - the best living Irish painter, in the opinion of many good judges-is to show from February 28.

Oliver Dowling Gallery, Kildare Street, Dublin.

Show of gallery regulars. This gallery is ultra-refined, precious, and very sixty-ish. It is also, perrhaps, rather pallid. But with the big swing against abstract art, it is good to have it. In February, Alan Green, who has taken a solid place in this Gallery's roll call, shows paintings and drawings. Bank of Ireland, Baggot Street. Luigi Dallapicolla, the Italian

avant-garde composer; is the subbject of a retrospective exhibition here. Depends largely on whether or not you regard him as an immportant musician. The George Collie art group will have a showwing from February 17.

Neptune Gallery, South William Street.

Mixum-gatherum show of past and present, combining Mainie Jellett and Martin Gale, Danny Osborne and-perhaps most interresting of all-Patrick Tuohy, the friend of Joyce.

Lad Lane Gallery, off Baggot Street.

Allsorts exhibition of paintings, etchings and sculptures. Mixed, but lively, and affirms that this gallery is a coming force. Starting February 6, Irish landscapes and still lifes by Nicholas Carracciolo. Project Arts Centre, 39 East Essex Street.

John Smith's paintings are fairly symptomatic of the kind of exhiibition in which the interest lies more in the catalogue than in the exhibits. In spite of its pretennsions and its naivete, there is real promise here. Its successor for February is 'Art and Women.' •

Restaurants By ULICK O'CONNOR


I ATE at the Greek resstaurant, the Atheneum in Richmond Street, with an expert - Cahir O'Doherty fresh from singing twentyynine Elvis songs at the Olymmpia. I need an expert to eat Greek food because I grew up in an era when Chinese restaurants suggested . boiled cat and Greek food, curried stra w. Cahir explained to me what Kleftico- was - young lamb done in wine with artichokes. Then there is A tie tis, which . is . chicken with a slight flavour of lemon and totally unlike the frozen leather served up in many Dublin restaurants today.

O'Doherty's generation are really into food. They talk about Indian dishes as macckintoshed students used to talk a bout girls at Kelly's Corner coming home from Earlsfort Terrace. When Cahir mentions squid, his eyes roll in the back of his head and you almost expect him to swivel hip like he had been doing an hour before on stage. I still haven't got round to squid. Some day I'll join the kids and dip my fork.


This is the best value lunch ii-i Dublin. You get a four course lunch for £3.10. The menu reflects the policy of the hotel, which is to give first class service and good value.

What I particularly like is that Jack, the head waiter, pays a visit now and then to your table to see if you like the dish he recommends. This sort of concern is what made Dublin restaurants in the 'fifties astonishing to tourists used to the dead-pan faces of European waiters. The roast beef at the Royal Dublin, which costs £3.40, is the best in the city.


Remember Alfredo's? It was Dublin's first late-night resstaurant in Mary Street. You banged on the door which looked like a knocking shop and a little spy hole opened like a Judas in a prison cell. If Alfredo liked you, he let you in and gave you a flower for your girl. When he didn't like you - and a lot of people who used to flash the green backs he didn't like - Alf-

redo just wouldn't open the door.

After Alfredo's came Berrnardo's and then the Trocaadero (after that, the deluge). The Trocadero has always been an actor's hang-out. It is good value and it has glamour. Around the walls, Eddie, the owner, has photoographs of Godfrey Quigley, Maureen Potter, Michael MaccLiammoir and Patrick Beddford. I sort of hoped that when I got to doing oneeman shows in the Abbey I would get up there too. But I never made it. I guess Eddie didn't go to the shows.

From the point of view of value, the Troc is the best in the city. A sirloin steak costs £2.50 and you can get out under £3.50 for yourself with wine, which is cheap, God help us, these days in this costly kip that masquerades as a capital city.

Eddie makes lovely banana fritters which are very special. You see the Abbey, the Gate and the Noel Pearson crowd at the Troc. Besides, there are curious quartets which I have never been able to figure out, of middleeaged women often with their overcoats on, talking intenseely across the wine and steak.


In Barbarella's in Fitzwilliam Lane are the most naked girls you can see in Dublin. What holds up the tiny pieces of silk that cover them only an expert in structural enginneering can explain. They float along with their tiny trays, indifferent to the gaze of hearty males who have been able to distract their girllfriends' attention, to steal a look. Then, oh golly! At 12 p.m. a girl plunges into the blue fountain in the centre of the club and writhes around to frothy airs.

Upstairs the food is exxcellent and the service by two brothers attentive. The chef is also a brother so you have a direct line of commuunication if you have a commplaint, which I have never had. This is a cleverly deesigned club, which suggests glamour. As you go in there are superb photographs by Louis Curzon of gorgeous girls, to hint at exotic times later on. If you glance overrhead you are under a ship's rigging so it is easy to imagine slipping a way to the Andes blue from the gloom and wet outside .•