Tag Archive | "Ireland"

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Feature: Spotlight on Killian Donnelly

Posted on 20 November 2013 by Freya Smith

Killian Donnelly has been receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of Deco, the egotistical and bolshy front-man of Roddy Doyle’s new West End musical The Commitments. I recently caught up with him, and was relieved to find little similarity between the actor and his character…


Donnelly was raised in Ireland, where he participated in amateur dramatics. Unlike many West End regulars, he did not follow the standard drama school to agent trajectory: “Someone had seen me in an am dram show in Ireland, and people kept saying to me if you want to go professional you need to move to London. So, I moved over about five years ago. I literally knocked on doors of agents, and one of them got me an audition for Les Mis. I was offered a twelve month contract. I was gobsmacked.”

Since then, he has appeared in other West End shows, playing Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera and Tony in Billy Elliot. On the eve of taking a well deserved holiday to Greece, Donnelly received a phone call from his agent informing him of an audition for a workshop of The Commitments. “I was like, ‘Are you serious? That’s being made into a show?!’ He said, ‘It’s about a young band in …’ I said, ‘Are you mad? I know!’ He said, ‘They want to see you for the role of Dee-koh.’ I was like, ‘IT’S DECO!’ [laughs]. So I went to this audition, and they’d said don’t bring anything from The Commitments movie. I was running late, so, of course, I sang ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘Midnight Hour’. But, I got a phone call going, ‘You’ve got it. It’s in three weeks.’ I had to cancel my holiday but, obviously, I had the best craic.”

What happened next? “Two-and-a-half years later I get a phone call saying– at this point I’m in Billy Elliot – they’re auditioning for The Commitments now. I was like, I really need an audition. I’d love to audition for this show. And because I had done the workshop they didn’t need to do a first or second round with me. They just said they’d bring the people they want into the final. But they didn’t tell me that! So I’m looking at people going through the first round and second round and I’m thinking ‘Why haven’t I been seen? Have I done something wrong?!’ But luckily I was told about the final audition, and that was amazing because we got to sing with a live band.”

Based on a book of the same name by Roddy Doyle, The Commitments charts the formation and disintegration of a soul group in 1980s Dublin. Donnelly’s character, Deco, fronts the band, and his narcissism and obstinacy are the source of several disputes within the group. Donnelly acknowledges that Deco is a move away from some of the characters he’s portrayed in the past: “I was always put into the category of an Enjolras in Les Mis or a Raoul in Phantom. I briefly played Tony in Billy Elliot, which I loved, but it seemed that Deco was a completely different character to try my hand at. He’s very arrogant and he’s crude. He’s a loveable prick. It’s amazing how the audience seem to love hating him. I’m adoring it.”

With the exception of Donnelly, the cast of The Commitments is largely made up of previously unknown Irish actors making their West End débuts. He jokes “everyone’s been calling me a veteran, as if I’ve fought in a war”. Nonetheless, he seems to have embraced his new found mother hen identity: “I do sometimes have to give advice when cast members are looking to go out for a pint. I say ‘remember we’ve two shows tomorrow…’ and when they come in with a hangover the next day I’m like ‘Now, look at yeh! Look at yeh!’”

On originating the role of Deco, he muses: “If you’re in the West End in a musical, that’s the biggest thing you can do. And, having done that I’m thinking ‘where do I go from here?’ You’re ticking things off the bucket list. Some day I’d absolutely love to do a spell on Broadway. I’d love to do straight theatre. I did the Les Mis movie last year – I’d love to do more television and film. I also like writing. I’ve written some pantomimes which went on in Ireland and now I’m doing one over here in Norwich this year. There’s always so much more to do.”

Donnelly’s passion and appetite for working spills over into his advice for aspiring actors: “It’s a cliché, but I say – just go for it, and never let anyone put you down or take your dream away from you. I did go through a time when people said, ‘You need a proper job’ or ‘You need to focus on something stronger now and make sure you’re concentrating on something other than acting’, but I never did and I always just went for it. I never let anybody tell me that I can’t do anything. And I love what I do. Get singing lessons. Go train. Keep your head down and concentrate. When you go into an audition, go in with your own idea, never copy your favourite performer. Read the script and do your research. You can never do too much research. If you love it, just keep doing it. It’s the best job in the world.”

The Commitments runs from Tuesdays – Sundays at 7.30 pm (with matinees on Saturday and Sunday) at The Palace Theatre. For more information visit The Commitments website.

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Feature: Dublin Fringe – work which asks “How can we make things better?”

Posted on 07 October 2013 by Lisa Carroll

Dublin By Night



Dublin is a brilliant place to be at the best of times: in this pocket-sized capital city, one tenth the size of London, it’s nearly impossible to walk from one end to the other without bumping into almost everyone you know. The place always has a buzz about it, but every September it steps up another gear with the arrival of the Dublin Fringe Festival.

Coming hot on the heels of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Dublin’s own offering is unique. The Dublin Fringe Festival is carefully curated every year to offer audiences a wide palette of home-grown and international theatre, music, comedy, dance and more. Few fringe festivals tailor their programmes so carefully to respond to the cultural and historical landscape of a city, and that is what makes the Dublin Fringe Festival well worth checking out.

In particular, this year was special, as 2013 marks the centenary of the Dublin Lockout. This much-overlooked moment in Irish history saw thousands of industrial workers locked in a dispute with employers over harsh conditions and unfair wages. The Lockout is the closest thing Ireland has ever had to a socialist revolution, and given Ireland’s political and economic climate today this makes it an uncannily pertinent event to explore through the arts.

This year’s Dublin Fringe offered audiences the chance to reflect on this event in a number of ways, with one of the theatrical highlights being Anu Productions’ city-wide, site-specific project, Thirteen. Anu Productions is known for the immediacy of its work and for pushing the limits of form. This year’s Thirteen was no different, with the project building incrementally over 13 days, with all the pieces eventually running simultaneously, all day, all interlinking, and all in real-life locations from hairdressers, to the Luas (Dublin’s tram system) to the quayside at Liberty Hall and beyond.

I was lucky enough to bag tickets to three of these: Inquiry, Suasion, and Bargaining, each starkly different in style. Suasion, my personal favourite, saw us led into the bowels of Liberty Hall, to a room lined with GAA banners and divided by long tables spread with soup bowls. We had been brought back to 1913, and were watching figures such as Rosie Hackett (played by Caitriona Ennis) and Jim Larkin (Jed Murray), prepare to feed the workers and organise a rally against the higher powers.

Director Louise Lowe seamlessly blended movement, text and audience interaction, while also having two separate shows, Soup and Save the Kiddies, intersect with the piece at different points, which all built to a crescendo as the stories started to overlap. As a result, each audience member came away having had a unique experience of Thirteen, for only ever being given a small glimpse of the whole picture. This highlighted the complexity of the issues Ireland faced both then and now, not least because Suasion finished with the (now infamous) Anglo Irish tapes booming out over the speaker system, the sound of bankers laughing over Ireland’s debt packing a final punch. Thirteen not only offered a dramatised slice of history, but asked audiences to respond – to leave the room and take action, to get angry.

With shows as vivid and multifaceted as this on offer, the Dublin Fringe Festival pushes its audiences to question what theatre is, what the arts are for and, moreover, what the audience’s own place in all of this is today. It is thrilling to see a city producing such rich, exciting work; work which asks, “How can we learn from our mistakes?” and more importantly, “How can we make things better?” If you like work which provokes and questions as much as it entertains, then make sure you get to the Dublin Fringe Festival next September.

Photo by Flickr user Sebastian Dooris under a Creative Commons licence.


Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll graduated from University College Dublin in 2012 with a B.A International in English. She is also a playwright, script reader and director. @lisa_carroll46

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Review: I’m With the Band

Posted on 31 August 2013 by Phoebe Eclair-Powell

I'm with the BandI’m With the Band by Tim Price is an entertaining and interesting idea – the United Kingdom represented by the individual members of a once indestructible indie rock band, ‘The Union’ – you gettit? Ok, so my politics is rusty, limited to Guardian blogs and reading the Metro, so I didn’t want to get anything wrong, and yet I think my ignorance is the point. I, like Damien, the frontman of the band who represents England (the brilliantly Sting-like James Hiller), am ignorant to the potential consequences of an independent Scotland, to the feelings of the slightly ignored Wales, and to the real continuing horrors of Ireland’s uneasy status quo. For me, then, this could have been a huge wake up call, and there were moments of real clarity of thought, but then there were simply moments where the idea outran itself.

The cast are multi-talented, likeable, and there is true comic genius in Matthew Bulgo the ‘Welsh, I am a dragon hear me roar, bassist’. But they can’t make up for the fact that they are allegories, not real people – as such there is little emotional depth and no real reason to care about the splitting up of this band of faded rockers from all corners of this increasingly fractured isle. It’s a shame because in a way we only ever then scratch the surface of both the emotional and political issues at hand – the ideas of betrayal, political manoeuvring, oppression, domination and independence are somewhat drowned out. Particularly drowned out by the constant shouting over one another (yes, yes I get that Scotland and Ireland are both yearning to be heard – but hardly any of the dialogue was audible, let alone digestible). All the indie rock and angry macho aggression culminated towards the end in a bit of a mess where the whole thing threatened to fall apart. It was a shame, but at this point things really didn’t seem to be able to resolve or come together, and instead it became like a really bad piece of performance art/stag night punch up.

And yet there are nuggets of gold in there – ideas of old age and performance, the premise of being an artist who doesn’t sell out being impossible in today’s climate, the redundancy of real musicians in an world of technology, an unknown future with a potentially independent Scotland and, most of all, the idea that “some people would die to be part of our band”. The very fact that whilst we fight amongst ourselves, there are people out there who see the UK as a prospective safe haven, a sanctuary and the show begins to wonder how can we keep that prospect alive.

This is nearly a great piece of theatre, but its instability in certain areas means it falls short of being brilliant. Then again, I am a smug English bastard who probably hasn’t realised the true meaning of it all.

I’m With The Band is playing at St James Theatre at from 28 August to 7 September. For more information and tickets see the St James Theatre website.

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Want to Write? – Interview with Literary Scout Vanessa O’Loughlin

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Marése O'Sullivan

Irish writer, literary scout, publishing consultant and mum Vanessa O’Loughlin has achieved a remarkable amount in a very short time. After much success with short story writing competitions for the likes of Poolbeg and Mills & Boon, the literary guru founded Inkwell Writers’ Workshops in 2006 and it has gone from strength to strength. Her advice and encouragement have secured many writers their own publishing deal, and O’Loughlin herself has written many a captivating narrative. Her e-book True Colours is now available on Kindle under the name Vanessa Fox.

O’Loughlin says she always had a passion for literature, but it wasn’t until 1999 that she decided to properly put pen to paper. “My husband [had] set sail across the Atlantic for an eight-week trip on the Atlantic Rally Cruise race. I was left at home (no children!) with lots of time on my hands. I had an idea for a story so I just started writing, and I haven’t stopped!”

She writes both crime fiction and women’s fiction. They are two remarkably different genres, but she reveals that they are closer than they appear. “I’m really interested in people, in what makes them tick and the secrets behind closed doors. I love the romantic tension that is generated between two people who like each other, but can’t say, just as I love the tension created as cops inch closer to the truth. Secrets and lies are strong themes in both genres.” Her pen name for crime fiction is Sam Blake. Sometimes, she consciously thinks of herself as her pseudonym when she is in the process of writing a crime novel. “It helps me focus on the story and cut [myself] off from all the other things I do. It can be very handy to slip into character when you’re writing!”

O’Loughlin is well known in literary circles for establishing Inkwell Writers’ Workshops in 2006. Her struggles to find a workshop that suited her schedule inspired her to set up the one-day workshops. “I did a fabulous weekend workshop with Julie Parsons in Dingle [Co. Kerry, Ireland] – I really enjoyed it and came away hugely boosted by the fact that my writing had been well received. I felt I could do it. I knew, too, that I still had a lot to learn [but] I couldn’t commit to an evening class. I had a one-year-old and a four-year-old, so another weekend wasn’t an option. I wanted to do a one-day workshop – something really intensive – and I also wanted to hear from best-selling authors to find out their secrets! There wasn’t anything like that on offer in Ireland at the time, so I decided to set up my own. Originally it was only going to be one workshop, but like everything, the idea grew!”

In addition, O’Loughlin then created and developed the website because of the fantastic feedback she was getting from all the creative minds that were receiving Inkwell’s monthly newsletter. “They are such a wonderful, talented bunch and they really enjoyed getting information on competitions and hearing of others’ successes. I also felt that, although we are a nation of writers, there was no central point for writing information.” She then discovered the domain was available and she has never looked back.

O’Loughlin balances her writing career with being Public Rrelations Officer and Newsletter Editor for Irish PEN. The role, she says, is not that different from her day job: “Irish PEN is the association for Irish Writers, and is affiliated to International PEN, which defends free speech worldwide. Irish PEN is open to published and unpublished writers, and has a vote in the selection for the Nobel Laureate. As PRO, I principally organise events and send out the press releases.”

O’Loughlin is regularly present at literary festivals, such as the Waterford Writers’ Weekend, the Mountains to Sea Festival, the Dalkey Book Festival and the Dublin Book Festival. She declares that these events can be “hugely informative and inspiring for writers… learning how other writers’ minds work is an invaluable part of the learning process”. O’Loughlin herself often runs a Getting Published workshop. “I explain how publishing works and what authors need to do to make their work and themselves more publishable. I suggest the best people for them to approach. So far on average, I’ve met at least one writer at every workshop whom I’ve been able to help personally get a publishing deal or an agent.”

O’Loughlin has published an e-book entitled Bringing the Dream Alive: Writing to Get Published. She believes the self-publishing phenomenon offers “amazing opportunities to writers that just were never there before”. The rapidly growing industry has seen many of Inkwell’s writers, such as Maria Duffy, achieve their dream of landing a contract. “It used to be that if you couldn’t get a publisher to take your book, it ended up in a drawer or under the bed. Now writers can reach readers through print and e-publishing.”

She issues a word of warning for anyone thinking of taking that route with their writing. “I can’t stress highly enough, though, the need to employ professional editors, proof readers and cover designers,” she states. “If you want your book to compete with mainstream titles it has to be as good, if not better. Unfortunately, writers who finish their first draft and put it straight out to Kindle give self-publishing a bad image, but done properly, it can be extremely lucrative.”

Her creative process is quite disciplined when she puts her mind to it and she emphasises her determination to get the words written when she has to. “I have to squeeze writing in around everything else,  I’m quite intense. I do try and stick to a routine: 1,000 words a day when I need to get something done. The key is to sit down at my desk and do the 1,000 words before I go near the email or Twitter. Easier said than done!”

The writer who has most inspired her along the way is Daphne du Maurier – “Rebecca is a thriller and a romance rolled into one, beautifully written, thematic and multi layered. It’s a must read!” – as well as crime authors Karin Slaughter and Lisa Gardner. Her “all-time hero” is Lee Child who she interviewed earlier this year. “In terms of writing books – Stephen King’s On Writing will teach you more about voice than any other book,” she recommends.

The most vital advice she can give to prospective authors was given to her from author Sarah Webb: “She said ‘just keep writing’. I’m a firm believer in that, the more you write, the better you get, the closer to publication you will get (assuming that is your goal). Another brilliant piece of advice is ‘don’t let the words get in the way of the story’. Keep it simple [and] let the story shine.”

Her literary future is ablaze with plans. She says that she has “several exciting projects underway at the moment, including a National Emerging Writers Programme in association with Dublin UNESCO City of Literature”. The others are still a closely guarded secret. “I can’t talk about [them] yet, but one day I aim to get to the stage where I can spend at least half the week just writing!”

You can follow Vanessa (and Sam Blake) on Twitter to keep up with her fast-paced writing career.

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