Wednesday, 4 April 2018

THEATRE | GRIEF IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS STARRING CILLIAN MURPHY


I have a confession to make. I was actually guilt tripped into seeing this play. You could call it peer pressure. But boy am I so glad that I ended up making the journey to Dublin to witness this magnificent piece of theatre. Okay so let me explain: I would never willingly miss a chance to see Cillian Murphy (one of my favourite actors) on stage, I've always found him to be an extremely compelling and versatile theatre actor and he often shows sides that you never see in a lot of his television and film work. On the other hand, I've never actually travelled out of London just for the sole purpose of going to see a play. You could say I'm a little stingy when it comes to the expenses side of things and I had almost decided to hold off and pray for the play to transfer to London in the future when I started receiving messages on social media asking me if I was going, and that some of my followers might see me in Dublin as they had planned trips from different countries all over the world to catch it. I took a moment to reflect on my standing as a long time fan of Cillian's when I knew there were others who were going to fly from as far as America. Who was I kidding, of course I had to go! There was no guarantee it would even come to London anyway and the experience would be priceless. Lucky for us, not only did we manage to score tickets to the play, we found flights to Dublin for £30 which I thought wasn't bad at all. 


Not going to lie, I was more than a little nervous to return to Dublin after my last experience being stranded there, especially since I heard reports that there might well be a round three of #TheBeastFromTheEast. I'd learnt many lessons though and this time I overpacked with extra clothing and brought along my laptop and DSLR in preparation for a worst case scenario. We planned to stay in Dublin for three nights and two full days. On the night we landed I took a walk to familiarise myself with the location of the O'Reilly theatre where the play was being held and I ended up bumping into Cillian, who was standing on the corner of the street with some friends. I was a little shocked but I'd brought him a present and thankfully hadn't unpacked it in my hotel room so was able to give it to him. He said he remembered me from London which really made me happy because although we've met more than a few times before, I always think out of the thousands of people he encounters, why would he remember me? Also my hair seems to change every time I see him so there's that as well haha. Anyway I told him I was going to see the play tomorrow and then we went our separate ways. 


I'd heard rave reviews from Grief Is The Thing's run in Galway and my friend who'd read the book it was based on by Max Porter said it was a really well written story about grief, symbolised by a crow moving into the family home and that she'd be interested to see how they adapt it. The O'Reilly Theatre is a venue on the smaller side, approximately seating 350. There's no elevation between the first three rows either (I was sat in third row) but luckily the stage is quite high and there were no hats, top knots or afros in front of me. I'm going to proceed with mild spoilers ahead (none about the plot though) because it's going to be impossible for me to discuss my thoughts about it otherwise. Stop reading here if you plan on seeing the play and going in completely blind. The production opens with a sudden loud noice and throws the audience into complete darkness. My friend jumped out of her seat next to me and I'd say this was a good indication of the way the play was going to progress. The setting is a simple interior depicting a small London apartment living space but a lot of the story is conducted through projections on the white walls. It's quite a clever design, scratchy writing and sound effects really gave the overwhelming claustrophobic sense of a large entity approaching us. It's basically a one man play, with Cillian playing the grieving father who's just lost his wife, and also the crow which is a metaphor for what he's feeling. I was astounded by how quickly he could switch between the two characters, often in a split second if he was depicting a conversation between them. As the father he is shaky, broken and uncertain, speaking in a soft yet familiar Irish twang, a performance that plays on your sympathy strings and pretty much steals the audience's hearts from the get go. When he moves into the crow, his posture and movements immediately mimics the hunched and snappy black bird, his manner of speaking changes and transformed further by a mouthpiece that gives a harsh, croaky, booming effect that's quite frankly, terrifying. I can imagine it must be so emotionally demanding to play these roles but physically too as there are moments where Cillian jumps off high objects (even into the crowd once) and climbs up walls. Seeing his expressions up close meant that I caught even the slightest widening of an eye and it truly dawned on me again, just how great of an actor Cillian is. He can do anything, literally anything. There was absolutely no trace of the steely-eyed, cool-as-a-cucumber figure we often see at premieres and public events. He becomes these characters. 


His performance was complimented perfectly by two young actors who played his sons and seeing their relationship as a broken family dealing with the crow/grief was heart-wrenching to say the least. I think everyone can relate to these feelings, whatever form of loss they've experienced. The play is a brilliant study of grief, and I'm definitely intrigued to read the book now. Grief Is The Thing With Feathers is (correct me if I'm wrong) Cillian's fourth collaboration with playwright Enda Walsh and I think their trust in each other means they can truly create unparalleled magic on stage. Might I add that each collaboration has been so completely and utterly different from one another, it's awe inspiring. The play runs for 90 minutes without an interval and will have you on the edge of your seat before concluding ever so beautifully (seriously the last scene is one of my favourites). Needless to say, there was an enthusiastic standing ovation as soon as it finished and Cillian and the kids took their bow. I even spotted Ronnie Wood from The Rolling Stones in the audience along with Irish actor Stephen Rea, who starred in Ballyturk with Cillian.


I feel totally blessed to have seen this production and Cillian back on stage again so I do have to thank all the other Cillian fans who pushed me to go. Speaking of fans, I had a few people come up to me at the theatre saying they knew me from social media and it was so lovely to meet fellow fans, especially hearing that most had also travelled from different parts of the world to see it. I know I talk a bit about the bitter, jealous side of fandoms sometimes and cyber-bullying, but meeting genuinely friendly fans in real life really brought to the forefront how wonderful it is that a shared interest can bring a whole community together. I hope this play has been as worth it to the others who made the effort to see it as it has been to me, and those who haven't get the chance to in the future, as I've heard they might transfer this production to London and the US since the Irish runs have been doing so well. 

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