Sunday, 18 October 2015

REVIEW: Olympia by Pygmankenstein at The New Theatre

I review things a lot. I try not to do it too much. But I do review things on a regular basis. These are usually product or collection reviews. This time, however, I've got something a little different. I was asked along to the opening night of "Olympia" in The New Theatre in Temple Bar. Intrigued, I agreed, even though - and, perhaps, because - it was well outside of my comfort zone and what I'm used to doing.

Firstly, I'd like to confess that I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a regular theatre-goer or someone particularly well-versed in the artform. However, I've been a student of literature and a lifelong lover of storytelling in any form. When I learned that this particular play was a proper Gothic tale, took inspiration from Gaiman and promised to be scary, it sealed the deal.

Bringing along my best friend, Sarah, who has the best reactions ever to anything frightening, we ventured into the theatre, which is fronted by Connolly Books. Upon entering, I had a burst of social anxiety and embarrassed myself while trying to explain who I was and why I was there. Memo to self: just give people your name in future, you'll be on the list, no further explanation is necessary.

Moving on from how excruciatingly embarrassing I am...I didn't really know what to expect. I came in with the prejudice that a play wouldn't be able to be really scary but a recent theatre experience that had me looking forward to what was about to happen, none-the-less. Plus, I always hear such great things about the scene in Dublin.

Very quickly it became apparent that I was, indeed, going to be frightened. Nothing beyond what I could manage but there was a note of that Gothic sensibility that pervaded and wasn't merely an aesthetic but an eerie atmosphere that left the room heavy with tension. The combination of lighting, visual effects projected on a screen at the back of the stage and sound effects á la American Horror Story's title sequences, a few minutes in set my heart pounding. I was immediately uneasy and the recurring motif of eyes didn't help with this. They are so precious and delicate that anything to do with them is utterly terrifying, especially for someone who has had their eyes cut up by lasers - even if it successfully gave me perfect vision.

The lead, Nathaniel, (as played by Michael-David McKernan) is a young medical student who is a typical figure in such tales; talented, intelligent, too Romantic for his own good, obsessive - in this case about the well-being of his eyes. McKernan embodies the nervous, single-minded energy of such a character to a tee, though seemed shaky in moments. A nervousness that seems to be his own, at times, lends to the tone of unease but, ultimately, only helps in building tension. His best friend, Lothaire (Shane Robinson), as the comic relief, is brilliant, charismatic and the ideal counterpart to Nathaniel. He steals the stage every time he steps on it.

Nathaniel and Lothaire meet Professor Coppola (Aenne Barr), an expert in transplantation and Nathaniel is taken on as an assistant in her research. Her motivation is the ethereal Olympia (Claudia Kinahan), her daughter, who lost her sight in an accident and who the research ultimately aims to cure. Clara (Erin Gilgen), Nathaniel's fiancée and Lothaire's sister, rounds out the cast as one of the voices of reason and one of the heroes of the piece. Barr is perfection as Coppola, a grand dame who seems to have it all together but slowly unravels, and upon her introduction it seems obvious that something is amiss.

The tale is set up nicely with immediately identifiable "types" of the genre, yet Pygmankenstein (the writing duo of Nora Kelly-Lester and Lauren-Shannon Jones) make sure that we're constantly surprised and guessing. And, yes, very afraid. I was genuinely scared several times and, in a relatively quiet theatre, Sarah gasped pretty damn loudly. I would definitely recommend giving this a goo, especially for the season that's in it!


(Thanks to Insight and the company for having me!)


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