Sun, 21 June 2015 persistence and endurance

It’s the summer solstice, and the weather has proved diffident. But where is it written that on the longest day in Ireland we shall be gifted with sunshine?

An island buffering the Atlantic’s whims is never granted predictability.
Summer solstice sky 2015

Yet, towards the evening the continuous clouds thinned in places so I ventured into the woods, in search of beauty. I was not rewarded with a triumphant, sunny breakthrough, but there were dramatic skyscapes. Conventionally pretty? Perhaps not, but arresting nonetheless.

The woods were dotted with one of my favourite summer flowers, which returns each year to a glad welcome by me: dactylorhiza fuchsii, the common spotted orchid.

Common solstice orchid

We tend to associate orchids with strange shapes, bright colours, and hot, humid climates. Not the mild temperate woodlands of Ireland. But here it thrives, among the grasses, buttercups, and dandelions. It does not disdain common company.

During my walk I paused for a while, perched upon a stone seat, and contemplated an old, rough wall, inscribed with ivy.

Stone wall and ivy

How long ago was this stonework erected? Perhaps before I was born. And the rock from which it was hewn has existed long before any ambition of my ancestors.

The ivy is not daunted by the age or the endurance of the wall. It follows its nature, despite inhospitable surfaces, and exposure to elements.

It persists, and climbs.

I get up, and go.

Fri, 19 June 2015 Showcasing Shakespeare

Aisling O'Sullivan as King Henry V rallies the troops in the rain at the Battle of Agincourt

On Wednesday evening I attended the Druid Theatre Company​’s DruidShakespeare, directed by Garry Hynes, which was a wild tour-de-force experience. I’m still processing it a couple of days later.

It consisted of the entire Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & II, and Henry V), edited by Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe down to 6 1/2 hours or so.

The atmosphere was set prior to our procession into the theatre, with a small burst of period-appropriate choral music. We filed in along a path that was bordered on either side by plots of fresh earth, with a gravedigger about his business. Death is coming, we were being warned.

The Druid Theatre is an intimate size, and the ground was also covered in earth so the rich aroma filled our nostrils. We were arrayed around on three sides, and because I was sitting in the front row my feet rested in the soil throughout. We were all planted in the fields of England and France for the night.

As soon as Richard II began we were off on a gallop through the personal and feudal power struggles of England powered by the vigorous performances of a hugely talented company of actors, many of whom were playing multiple roles, and with women acting many of the significant power players of the Henriad.

Bosco Hogan as Bishop of Carlisle and Marty Rea as King Richard II

Marty Rea played Richard II in a costume that harkened him as a kind of Pharaoh. A figure appointed by God to govern the people of England, thus to topple him is to overthrow the natural order. This deposing of the King weighs heavily upon the mind of both of his successors, Henry IV and Henry V. To overthrow a ruler sets up a potential for further ruin… if mere people appoint a ruler, then what is to stop them from toppling their next monarch?

Rea gives a tremendous performance as both a manic royal egotist and later as mere ordinary man when he is stripped of all title, and life. His body does not arrive in a coffin, but is unrolled from a tarp and ignobly flung at the feet of the usurper King. Death is no fine deed. It is ugly and DruidShakespeare doesn’t dress it up. As we exited from the first play, rather dazed, the gravedigger had returned, but was now filling in a grave. When we returned for the start of Henry IV Part I a simple cross engraved with Richard’s title was erected in the fresh earth as a marker of his reign, lit by a candle.

Derbhle Crotty as King Henry IV and Aisling O'Sullivan as Prince Hal

Henry IV Parts I & II are essentially about the journey of Prince Hal from a somewhat feckless prince into a responsible monarch, and how freedom is swapped for duty. Significantly, Hal’s famous soliloquy in which he lays out his plans for redemption is stripped out, so his path from the drinking, wenching reprobate to the serious, dignified king is somewhat more straightforward, although not without emotional impact.

Derbhle Crotty’s King Henry IV begins as a courageous, confident noble, but when he attains the crown is increasingly troubled by the burdens of kingship and parental disappointment. The ripples from his riotous ascension to the throne continue throughout the two plays, lending it the plot points, but much of the heart of the plays come from Prince Hal and his merry band. Aisling O’Sullivan is magnificent, and plays Hal as the arrant prankster who hides his love from his fretful father until almost too late, and after he reluctantly takes up his father’s mantel, later goes on to prove that he wears the crown well.

Charlotte McCurry (Peto), Clare Barrett (Bradolph), Rory Nolan (Falstaff) and Aisling O'Sullivan (Prince Hal)

Rory Nolan is wonderful as the sack-loving Falstaff, whose bombast and storytelling is constantly undercut by the ribbing of Prince Hal and his cohorts. The bawdy pub scenes are bursting with life and humour. We observe the strengths and failings of Falstaff and his coterie of con men and women, which heightens the tragedy as we advance into Henry V. The contrast between the slapstick scenes and the sections devoted to the royal power struggles are mostly handled very well, although there is some wobbling in Henry IV Part II, which is the weakest play, and also in this version, the shortest (a wise decision).

And striding through Henry IV Part I is the charismatic Garrett Lombard as Hotspur, whose voice booms with contempt for the Prince. Lombard is the perfect foil for O’Sullivan’s Prince Hal: muscular, hot-headed, and always ready to fight. When the two face off for their inevitable battle, Hal looks the underdog with his lithe frame taking a battering from Hotspur’s unrelenting blows. Yet, the cannier of the two succeeds.

Aisling O'Sullivan as King Henry V prepared for battle

As we advanced through the plays the crosses and their accompanying candles proliferated in the temporary graveyard outside the theatre. A reminder that the conflicts of rulers have terrible consequences for both commoner and noble. And this point is driven home in the final play.

Henry V starts like a shot, with the new King proving himself capable of dealing out the terrible justice of kingship and staking his claim to his title in France. Shakespeare was an incredible playwright, but he was a propagandist for the Tudors of course. This is particularly evident in his depiction of the French, which this version uses for light effect.

Yet, even when Shakespeare lauds a King for embarking upon a war into a foreign land, he counts the cost for such ambition. King Henry V has ousted his former selfish self, Prince Hal, and he has repudiated his old company of sots and thieves… yet they are mustered to war, and trail after him onto the battlefield like ghosts of his previous follies. They do not survive the conflict.

In such a confined theatrical space the Battle of Agincourt is dealt with in convincing fashion: water streams down throughout the scenes of carnage, turning the ground into mud.

When the news arrives that the Battle of Agincourt has gone to the English, O’Sullivan falls to her knees in a convincing, spontaneous display of relief.

What was most amazing about the night was how quickly it passed. The taut, judicious streamlining of the plays and the nimble progression of the scenes carried the audience along so there was no sense that life existed outside the theatre. It was strange to leave the room, and return again to Galway, Ireland for a few minutes, before immersing ourselves anew in the world of Henrys.

John Olohan as Mistress Quickly

In Shakespeare’s day men played every role, so there was always a fluid notion about gender inherent in the women’s roles. Hynes has exploited this from a different perspective in her casting of the characters. Nothing is overtly made of the women playing men’s characters in the Henriad. The question is merely: are they convincing?

And the answer is a resolute yes.

Jack Olohan as Mistress Quickly brings an added dimension to the tavern scenes. Her description of Falstaff’s death is poignant, adding to the numbering of the dead at the end of Henry V.

I could spend much longer discussing the plays, the characters, and the staging but I won’t overstay my welcome. However, I must mention the costuming, which evoked the era by way of the 21st century. Quite frankly I’d be happy to wear anything Prince Hal/Henry V wore – sexy, studded and shiny, tight and flowing, a modern monarch indeed! A marriage of glamour and pragmatism. You might have to ford rivers and climb muddy troughs, but ’sblood you’ll still look good afterwards!

Yet, none of this overshadows the true star of the plays: Shakespeare’s language. It had me in a trance from the sheer power of its eloquence for over six hours. O’Rowe and Hynes have wrought a wonder through judicious editing, modern, evocative sets, and a stellar company of talented actors.

If you are lucky enough to be in the vicinity of this staging of Shakepeare’s historical plays, I highly recommend you seek it out.

Tue, 16 June 2015 non-spoiled day

Yesterday the last episode of Game of Thrones aired on this side of the Atlantic. When I woke up I remembered to be careful before I started my daily scan of my various feeds. The previous Monday I’d forgotten this precaution and had stumbled into a spoiler quite quickly.

I noted on Twitter:

Within two minutes someone tweeted a spoiler directly to me.

For a couple of moments a red mist descended… and then, I shook it off.

I closed my social media feeds, and looked out the window at the glorious, sunny morning. I did some work, received a package with a pair of bluetooth headphones I’d ordered for when out walking/running, charged them up, and ventured out to test them. I huffed and puffed under the green, heavy branches of the woods, which swayed to a brisk wind, while listening to upbeat music.

I felt gratitude for being able to buy the headphones, for having the mobility to be outside, and for the beautiful weather.

What a great life we can live, when we let go of the petty actions of sad people.

Sun, 07 June 2015 ComicCity Festival in Derry/Londonderry

Irish Comic News has passed along the news that ComicCity, Derry/Londonderry’s new festival of comics, illustration, and storytelling will be taking place from 12 – 13 September, 2015 in the Millennium Forum. The event is being organised in partnership with CultureTech, The Millennium Forum, and The Nerve Centre.

There will be a packed programme celebrating Comics and the Creative Arts, as well as showcasing some of the top UK and Irish talent working in the creative industries today, including:

  • Declan Shalvey (Deadpool, Venom, Moon Knight, Injection)
  • Jordie Bellaire (Eisner award-winning colourist with Marvel, Image, Valiant Comics, etc.)
  • Stephen Mooney (Grayson, Half Past Danger, CSI, Teenwolf).
  • Maura Mc Hugh (Witchfinder, Jennifer Wilde).
  • John McCrea (Judge Dredd, Hitman, JLA, Mars Attacks, Mythic).

With many more guests to be announced, ComicCity promises to be an unmissable event. For further details contact: info@comiccityfestival.com.

The 2D Festival in Derry/Londonderry was one of my favourites, so I’m thrilled to see another comic book festival rise up to take its place.

Wed, 22 April 2015 Witchfinder trade out

A bevy of Witchfinders

Another lovely day in Ireland, and gosh don’t my contributor copies of the Witchfinder trade paperback collection glow in the sunlight.

This is the collection of the five-issue Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder story, which I co-wrote with Kim, with art by Tyler Crook, coloured by Dave Stewart, with a cover by Mike Mignola, lettered by Clem Robins, and edited by Scott Allie, published by Dark Horse Comics. All set in the Hellboy universe created by Mike Mignola.

As well as the five issues, the trade paperback also includes a Sketchbook section, and a small comic book short story, ‘Beware the Ape’, by Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck, Dave Stewart, and Clem Robins, which originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents, #36, May 2014.

I was over in London last week and we had a signing in the Forbidden Planet megastore. Thanks to everyone who turned up! I really enjoyed chatting to new and old fans of the comics, and Kim and I signed the entire stock of trade paperbacks in the shop.

It’s unlikely there will be many chances in the future to nab a copy with both our signatures, so pop by Forbidden Planet in London if you want it.

Afterwards we went for drinks in the Seven Dials Club, which was a great venue, and more people turned up for that part of the evening. Hurray for all the trusty souls who came along!

There have been a couple of interviews with Kim and me recently about Witchfinder:

We really appreciate all the support for the comic, and those who have blogged, tweeted, and interviewed us about it. Kim and I had a lot of fun writing the series, and it’s been great to know that so many people enjoyed our story.

Mon, 16 March 2015 Reviewing Cell

Writer Mark West began a intriguing project in 2015, a blog called King For A Year, in which a reviewer discusses one of Stephen King’s works each week. 52 Reviewers, 52 novels, 12 months.

Mark asked me to participate, and today you can read my exploration of King’s 2006 novel Cell.

There are extensive spoilers in the piece, just so you know…

Thu, 05 March 2015 discussing Trigger Warning

I’ll be discussing Neil Gaiman’s latest short story collection, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, on RTÉ Radio 1’s culture show, Arena, this Monday, 9 March, at some point between 7pm – 8pm.

Wed, 25 February 2015 Signing in London for Witchfinder

I’m delighted to say that I’ll be signing copies of the trade paperback edition of Witchfinder: The Mysteries of Unland with Kim Newman at the Forbidden Planet in London on 15 April.

This is the collection of the five-issue Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder story, which I co-wrote with Kim, with art by Tyler Crook, coloured by Dave Stewart, with a cover by Mike Mignola, lettered by Clem Robins, and edited by Scott Allie, published by Dark Horse Comics. All set in the Hellboy universe created by Mike Mignola.

There will be some extras in the trade paperback, including early concept sketches by Tyler, and replicas of all the original covers by Julian Totino Tedesco.

I’m already looking forward to seeing some of my friends and colleagues in London again!

Thu, 05 February 2015 a new road to an old house

New road to an old house

The modern curve of asphalt brings new traffic to the castle – but will it be thankful for the company, or ponder methods to return to its solitary ways?

Wed, 04 February 2015 keep flying

Bird silhouette

I took this picture in Galway city, down by the Spanish Arch and looking across the River Corrib, at the weekend.

We’d been experiencing bouts of sleety downpours, but in between there were blasts of sunshine.

I lucked out with this shot of a seagull frozen as it passes across my view of the sun.

A moment of freedom, in between wintry squalls.

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