Summer theatre in Dublin

Imagine you are coming to Dublin this summer, perhaps for a giant science fiction convention taking place from the 15th to the 19th of August, and you are also interested in going to the theatre. What theatres are there in Dublin and what are they showing around then that might tickle your fancy? Here for your delectation is just such a list of Dublin theatre venues and what they have on in the middle of August.

Founded by WB Yeats and Lady Gregory, the Abbey Theatre is Ireland’s national theatre and is located close to the Abbey Luas stop on Abbey Street. By tradition it is always mired in controversy of some sort. It has two things listed for August, The Hunger (not an adaptation of the film but a new opera about the famine of the 1840s), and on its second stage, Ask Too Much of Me, a play from the National Youth Theatre.

Also long-established, the Gate Theatre is where Orson Welles made his acting debut and is located on Parnell Square at the northern end of O’Connell Street. In August the revival of Roddy Doyle’s adaptation of his popular novel and film The Snapper will be nearing the end of its run.

The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre is located across the Liffey from the the Convention Centre in Grand Canal Dock. It hosts big touring productions, which may be your thing even if they are not mine. In the middle of August the theatre will be staging The Bodyguard and Kinky Boots.

The Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar has two stages and puts on work that is generally of high quality but also a bit alternative. It also hosts art exhibitions. At time of writing they appear not to have programmed August yet.

The New Theatre is also in Temple Bar and can be found at the back of Connolly Books, Dublin’s premier communist bookshop. This is a small theatre that puts on more intimate productions. In the middle of August they are staging Skin Tight, an edgy sounding play from New Zealand, and An Evening with Great Irish Writers, a one-man exploration of the great writers of yore.

The Smock Alley Theatre can be found at the western edge of Temple Bar. In mid August they are staging The Roaring Banshees, a tale of Irish women gangsters in 1920s Chicago.

As the name suggests, Bewley’s Café Theatre can be found in Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street. It occasionally stages plays in the evenings but is best known for lunchtime theatre productions. In mid August the theatre is staging To Hell in a Handbag, which appears to be about two minor characters from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Gaiety Theatre dates back to Victorian times and can be found off Grafton Street on South King Street. In August they are staging Riverdance.

The Olympia Theatre on Dame Street also dates back to the Victorian era. In mid-August they are presenting an adaptation of Little Miss Sunshine and then Tinder – A Musical Comedy.

images:

Poster from the Abbey’s opening run in 1904 (Wikipedia)

Publicity shot from 1914 Abbey production of The Playboy of the Western World (IrishCentral: Today marks the anniversary of riots over Synge’s Playboy of the Western World)

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April 20, 1949 Ship’s Cat

Today in History

Mankind first crossed the line from hunter-gatherer to farmer, some ten thousand years ago. The earliest civilization known mainly for agricultural subsistence is the naturally well-watered region around Jericho, circa 8000BC. From that day to this, grain stockpiles and domesticated livestock have attracted vermin.  With that came the wild ancestor of the common house cat, Felis silvestris catus.

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From the earliest times when man took to the sea, food stores were an attractive free ride, for rodents.

Rats reach sexual maturity in as little as four to five weeks and complete the act of procreation, in the blink of an eye. Litters average 8 to 14 “kittens” and run as high, as 21. With an average gestation period of only 21 to 23 days, rat infestations get out of hand with shocking rapidity.

Left uncontrolled, rats and mice can destroy ship’s stores in a matter of weeks. The “ship’s cat”…

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European Parliament Elections in the UK: A Guide

Interesting post on the mechanics of the European Parliament elections in the UK. It is written from the perspective of one seeking to maximise the numbers of Remain-supporting candidates elected but I think would be instructive regardless of your view on that particular question.

Europe Votes

As the UK sails past one ‘Brexit Day’ after another, it looks increasingly certain that the country will take part in this year’s European Parliament elections. Now it’s still not a guarantee – Parliament could pass and ratify a deal in theory before 22nd May. However, given the state of cross-party discussions between the Conservatives and Labour, that outcome does not look particularly likely. So, how will these elections work and what is the best approach for those who support the UK’s place in the EU?

First, the basics.The UK elects 73 MEPs to the European Parliament. This places the UK joint-third with Italy in the size of its representation. There is therefore no doubt that the political direction of the UK can have a significant impact on the political shape and direction of the Parliament. If this has been less obvious in recent years, it has only been…

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13/4/1919 The Amritsar Massacre

World War 1 Live

As you’ve probably noticed, this blog has fallen a bit behind and is a few weeks behind events from a hundred years ago. I project that I will catch up with by late April or early May and then will be on track until the conclusion in June.

I am breaking sequence now to mention a terrible event that happened a hundred years ago today, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, India. India at the time was experiencing an upsurge in nationalist agitation, with Indians hoping to secure the kind of self-governing status that the white dominions of the British Empire had already achieved. Some disturbances had occurred in Amritsar and Colonel Reginald Dyer decided on extreme measures to restore order.

On the morning of the 13th Dyer proclaimed a ban on all public meetings in the city. In the afternoon crowds were gathering in the Jallianwala Bagh square in…

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1943 Comics and the Retro Hugos

I wrote some pieces on 1943 publications for the Dublin Worldcon blog, as a guide to people who are nominating for the Retro Hugo awards, which will be awarded at the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin this year. One of these posts included a discussion of 1943 comics. Comics are a visual medium but I did not include images there for fear of getting Worldcon into copyright trouble. I have no such fears regarding my own blog, so here is a discussion of 1943 comics, with added images.

Comics have sometimes been a bit of a problem category for the Retro Hugos. Lots of people like comics and lots of comics were published in years eligible for Retro Hugo recognition, but many 1940s comics were extremely ephemeral, never reprinted and only read in more recent years by serious collectors. There are online databases containing scans of vintage comics now in the public domain, notably Comic Book Plus and the Digital Comic Museum, but they are a bit terrifying in the amount of material they offer. The Digital Comic Museum unfortunately does not have an obvious means of searching its database by year, but Comic Book Plus does at least allow readers to see comics published month by month in 1943. If readers start here they will see comics books whose precise 1943 cover date is unknown. Clicking on next brings up January 1943 comics, and so on. Comics here can be downloaded (after registering) or viewed online. So, trawling there might uncover comics worth nominating, but beware: many big comics of the era are still in copyright and are not included in Comic Book Plus (or indeed in the Digital Comics Museum). Batman and Superman appeared in a variety of titles and formats in 1943 but neither of them are to be found in these datasets.

One comic that is not in either of those databases, presumably because it remains in copyright, is The Victory Garden, which appeared in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #31. This sees a popular anthropomorphic duck’s attempts to grow vegetables being thwarted by some greedy crows. The Victory Garden is noteworthy as the first Donald Duck comic drawn by Carl Barks. Carl Barks also gave us The Mummy’s Ring (originally appearing in Four Color Comics #29) in which Donald and his nephews find themselves caught up in Egyptological adventures.

Wonder Woman and Plastic Man have appeared separately in two 1943 comics that have received some praise. Plastic Man and the Game of Death (by Jack Cole for Quality Comics) sees the stretchable superhero take on a death cult, Japanese spies (with the usual problematic stereotyping) and cowboys in a series of bizarre adventures. Meanwhile in Battle for Womanhood (by created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter for All-American Publications and appearing in Wonder Woman #5) Wonder Woman faces up against Dr. Psycho, who attempts to undermine the US war effort by creating a spectral George Washington who warns against the employment of women in war industries. Dr. Psycho’s motivation seems to be straightforward misogyny rather than axis-sympathies, with this villainous genius wanting to reverse the gains women have achieved in American society. Marva, his wife, is bound to him by his hypnotic powers and he is keen to reduce all women to a state of servitude, something Wonder Woman is keen to prevent (although she is briefly enslaved by Dr. Psycho herself). As befits Marston’s feminist views, the story ends with Dr. Psycho’s defeat and Marva freed to receive a message of female empowerment.

Newspaper strips were an important part of the comics firmament in 1943. The year saw the conclusion of the Flash Gordon series Fiery Desert of Mongo (by Alex Raymond for King Features Syndicate).

Two Buck Rogers strips concluded this year, Martians Invade Jupiter and Mechanical Bloodhound (both by Dick Calkins for National Newspaper Syndicate); these were subsequently collected as Volume 9 of the Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: Dailies.
The Brick Bradford newspaper strip On the Throne of Titania, created by Clarence Gray and William Ritt for the Central Press Association, finished its run of more than two years in 1943. Like Flash Gordon, Brick Bradford started life as a Buck Rogers knock-off before embarking on his own travels through both time and space, eventually becoming better known in Europe than in the USA. As well as the daily strips, Gray and Ritt also produced a weekly Brick Bradford strip for the Sunday newspapers, with The Men Of The North and Ultrasphere both finishing in 1943.
1943 also saw the conclusion of the Sunday newspaper strip John Carter of Mars, adapted by John Coleman Burroughs from his father’s books and distributed by United Feature Syndicate. The strip was less successful than Rice Burroughs’ novels and was sadly cancelled in midstream in March 1943; readers never did get to see Dak Kova’s prize).
A more popular newspaper strip in 1943 was Prince Valiant, created by Hal Foster for King Features Syndicate. Readers may have encountered Fantagraphics’ reprints of Prince Valiant, volume 4 of which includes stories from 1943. Little Orphan Annie (by Harold Gray, for Tribune Media Services) was also widely read.
In 1943 as now comics were not just being published in the Anglophone world. In Nazi-occupied Belgium, Hergé was writing Tintin comics, with Secret of the Unicorn published in book form by Casterman and its sequel Red Rackham’s Treasure serialised in Le Soir. Unlike some other Tintin titles, neither of these deal particularly with science fictional or explicitly fantastic themes, yet there is a strange outlandishness to all of Tintin’s adventures that could slide them into Hugo eligibility.

Another noteworthy Belgian comic of 1943 is Le Rayon U (translated much later into English as The U Ray) by Edgar P. Jacobs (more famous for his subsequent Blake & Mortimer comics). Le Rayon U appeared in the pages of Bravo and is a fantasy/science fiction tale in the Flash Gordon mould, which it was produced to replace, as the US entry into the war meant that Flash Gordon comics could no longer be imported into Europe.

image sources:

The Victory Garden (The Disney Wiki)

The Mummy’s Ring (Pencil Ink)

Battle for Womanhood (The Wonders You Can Do: Doctor Psycho: One of Wonder Woman’s Vilest Villains)

Flash Gordon & Desira (Black Gate: Blogging Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Part Nineteen – “Fiery Desert of Mongo”)

Brick Bradford (Comic Art Fans)

John Carter of Mars, the final episode (The Daily Cartoonist: First and Last – John Carter of Mars Comic Strip)

Prince Valiant (The Comics Journal)

Tintin & co. land on an island (Tintin official site: Red Rackham’s Treasure)

Le Rayon U (Cool French Comics)

1943 Science Fiction and Fantasy Art

As you know, the World Science Fiction Convention is coming to Dublin this year. At this the Hugo Awards for science fiction (and fantasy) works produced in 2018 will be bestowed, but so too will the Retro Hugos, for works produced in 1943. I wrote blog posts for Worldcon on eligible 1943 material, as an assistance to nominators. One of these posts included a list of professional artists who had produced eligible work in 1943. Because I was unsure of the copyright situation regarding hotlinked images and did not want to set the intellectual property cops onto Worldcon, I did not include any pictures in that post. However I do not really care about the copyright cops coming after me, so here are those Retro Hugo eligible artists again, this time with samples of their work. Unless otherwise stated, the images are either from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database or from Galactic Central (which was in turn linked to from the ISFDB).

Many science fiction and fantasy artists of 1943 earned their living creating covers for magazines, some of which could be pretty lurid.

A. R. Tilburne: Weird Tales, January 1943, Weird Tales, September 1943, & Weird Tales, November 1943

Earle K. Bergey: Startling Stores, June 1943 Captain Future, Summer 1943, & Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1943

George Gross: Jungle Stories, April 1943, Jungle Stories, February 1943, & Jungle Stories, Summer 1943


George Rozen: Planet Stories, Fall 1943 & Planet Stories, May 1943

Harold W. McCauley: Fantastic Stories, May 1943, Amazing Stories, May 1943, & Fantastic Adventures, June 1943

J. Allen St. John: Amazing Stories, January 1943 & Amazing Stories, February 1943

Jerome Rozen: Planet Stories, March 1943

Lawrence: Famous Fantastic Mysteries: December 1943

Margaret Brundage: Weird Tales, May 1943(pretty tame by Brundage’s usual standards)

Milton Luros: Astonishing Stories, February 1943, Future Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 1943, & Science Fiction, July 1943

Robert Fuqua: Amazing Stories, March 1943, Amazing Stories, April 1943, & Amazing Stories, August 1943

Robert Gibson Jones: Fantastic Adventures, February 1943, Fantastic Adventures, March 1943, & Amazing Stories, November 1943

Virgil Finlay: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, March 1943, Super Science Stories, February 1943, & Super Science Stories, May 1943

William Timmins: Astounding Science Fiction, February 1943, Astounding Science Fiction, June 1943, & Astounding Science Fiction, October 1943

Mervyn Peake would subsequently gain a measure of fame as the author of the Gormenghast novels, but in 1943 he was attempting to earn a living as an artist. His eerie illustrations for an edition of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner appear to be Retro Hugo eligible.
(image from Mervyn Peake, the Official Site)

Children’s book illustrations might also be the kind of thing that appeals to Retro Hugo nominators. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s own illustrations for The Little Prince are a big part of that book’s appeal. Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree would not be the same without Dorothy M. Wheeler‘s illustrations.
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry image from Faena Aleph, Dorothy Wheeler from The Enid Blyton Society)

Boring disclaimer: this list of Retro Hugo eligible artists is not definitive and there may well be other, better artists whose readers’ own researches will uncover.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”: a morning at the cinema

As you know, there is a film currently in the cinemas called Bohemian Rhapsody, which purports to tell the story of popular band Queen. It has been out for a while and I only got to see it recently. Discussion around the film had made me interested in it, with the most intriguing aspect of this being that generally its critical reception had been a bit lukewarm while reaction from audiences was extremely positive. Not everyone can be right on this and I was curious as to where sound judgement lay. So eventually when a morning gap in my incredibly busy life presented itself I sneaked off to the cinema to see it.

I mostly see films in the Irish Film Institute or the near-to-me Lighthouse, both of which have pretensions towards being art house cinemas even if they sneak a lot of mainstream fare onto their screens. But Bohemian Rhapsody was on in Cineworld, which is part of some big cinema chain, and while Cineworld does show some stuff from the edges it is unashamedly a commercial cinema. The trailers before Bohemian Rhapsody were an interesting reminder of how terrible the great morass of mainstream films can be, with our options for future cinema trips including some terrible piece of heartwarming gloop about a couple who adopt three children, an Oscar-tipped formulaic buddy film about a white guy driving a black concert pianist around the South (a film which in premise had at least the potential to be interesting but which in realisation appears to have gone for the laziest and most Academy Award friendly approach to its subject), and some film about a British woman who takes up wrestling (which might actually be semi-OK just maybe, as it features impressive rising actor Florence Pugh in the main role). But my overall sense from the Cineworld trailers was that Cineworld is generally best avoided if you actually like films.

Bohemian Rhapsody itself… well, it starts with the 20th Century Fox fanfare and logo, but something does not seem right about the fanfare, with the music sounding distorted, somehow different from the original… and then it hits: the fanfare is being played on guitar by Brian May. Enveloped by Queen’s Live Aid performance, the film then goes on to tell the story of the band or rather of its singer, Freddie Mercury (played by Rami Malek). The plot is pretty formulaic in some regards: the band forms, becomes successful, then tensions lead to Freddie heading off to record solo albums only for the band to then reform to play their triumphant Live Aid set. However because of the focus on Freddie there are other angles that maybe would not come up in more usual rock biographies: his Zoroastrian upbringing and conservative family background and then his coming to terms with his own sexuality.

Focussing the film on Freddie makes obvious sense. His charisma makes him more interesting than the other band members and his personal journey lends the film a narrative focus that one based on “And then we released another record” might lack. That said, the other members of the band still get enough screen time to be established as actual people rather than Sleeperblokes, with John Deacon (played by Joseph Mazzello), the slightly forgettable fourth member of the band (for all that he wrote some of their biggest hits) coming across as particular roffler, playing against the character’s boring reputation. I was also impressed by the way even minor characters seemed to have a bit of depth to them, with Paul Prenter (the film’s main villain, a shifty music biz type who starts leeching off Freddie and turning him against his bandmates) still getting an impressive speech about growing up gay in Belfast. Likewise, ending the film with Live Aid also makes narrative sense, as Queen’s concert performance then was a triumph and ceasing at that point avoids the embarrassing slide into shite of the band’s records in the latter part of the 1980s.
The film’s musical numbers still pack a punch. Even if you found the narrative a bit trite the short plot interludes before the next big tune would be worth the wait (assuming you are not one of those people who hate Queen). But the dramatic side I nevertheless found very powerful, with the contrast between the still pretty reactionary times in which Queen flourished contrasting with Freddie’s own flamboyant yet masked sexuality. Much of the scenes involving Freddie were to me extremely moving, whether his discovery that he has HIV and his revealing of this to the band, his relationship with one-time fiancée and close friend Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton), or his reconciliation with his parents on the morning of Live Aid. Readers may have me down as a hard-bitten cynic, but I have not cried so much at a film since the opening of Up (the Disney-Pixar film, not the Russ Meyer classic). I also liked all the cats.

The film is of course not without its critics. It does rather downplay the bacchanalian excess of Queen in the 1970s, or at least suggests that bacchanalian excess was Freddie’s thing and a matter that the other band members found a bit tiresome. The film does not feature any dwarfs carrying trays of cocaine on their heads (perhaps due to political correctness). That said, the film does pretty much establish that no cracked plate was safe from the attentions of Roger Taylor, but there is still a sense that apart from Mercury the other members of the band were more interested in nights in with a cup of cocoa than the temptations offered to successful rock bands. But whatever. There is also the criticism that the film is tacitly homophobic, focussing over much on Freddie’s relationship with Austin and peddling a gay = sad line. I’m not sure I buy this; Mercury’s relationship with Austin genuinely does seem to have been the defining relationship of his adult life (she minded his cats while he was on tour and he also left most of his money to her), so it would be strange for the film not to feature her. And the times when the film was set were not necessarily great ones for those drawn to same-sex love, with decriminalisation still recent and then disease cutting a swathe through the gay community. As far as I can recall, Freddie Mercury never actually came out as such, though gradually people came to register that he was not actually the heterosexual action man that some of his followers saw him as; I wonder if perhaps that might have been because like with George Michael the public adoption of a gay persona would have caused familial ructions.

There are other oddities with the film… like it being a complete work of fiction. It presents the Live Aid concert as a triumphant reunion for Queen, with the recently HIV diagnosed Freddie playing the gig to give himself a legacy (‘Right thoughts, right words, right actions’, as he says to his father, quoting a Zoroastrian motto). Yet Queen never actually split up, playing the last gig of their previous tour only two months or so before Live Aid. And Freddie appears not to have told his bandmates that he was HIV positive until 1989 and may not even have contracted the disease until after Live Aid. But hey, real life is complicated and often too messy for narratives.

The film has also attracted controversy because its original director Bryan Singer has attracted Bad Person accusations; Singer was sacked as director for other reasons and the film finished by Dexter Fletcher, but his name remains on the picture. I know people jump different ways on issues like this, but for me an art work is separate from the person or persons who made it and these credible allegations are not going to stop me enjoying a film. With film in particular I am always struck by how they are a collective endeavour produced by a great many people, and to me it seems deeply problematic to junk a film because one of those people has been credibly accused of bad things. But as they say, YMMV.

So yeah, don’t believe the rumours (unless you have heard rumours that the film is v good). Go and see Bohemian Rhapsody, it is amazing. Maybe like me you will leave the cinema and rush off to buy a copy of the band’s greatest hits.

image source:

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury (Film Comment – Film of the Week: Bohemian Rhapsody)