“Varda par Agnes” reactions at Galway Film Fleadh 2019

“Apoptosis” in the Galway Town Hall Theatre

The play for you “if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have a five year plan.” (Director Rebecca Spelman)

Directed and written by Calamity Theater’s founder, Rebecca Spelman, what started out as a one act play at the Galway Fringe Festival has now developed into a full length comedy drama three times the original size. It was now performed from 25th to 28th February 2019 in the Town Hall Theatre by Claire Ahearne, James McKenzie, Lucy Pollock, Sean Gandolfi, Joe Bohan and Tim Meaney. Its 80 minute run time packs in some big themes on the meaning of life as it relates to past, present and a bit of the future. Particularly, the options available to Baby Boomers and Millennials regarding work, love, society and religion are explored.


Its depiction of modern friendship includes an adult coach squatter who doesn’t pay rent, can’t hold down a relationship and doesn’t have a job. His working friend, Claire, however doesn’t fare much better, having to deal with a skiving boss and unclear duties. We see her fending off the unreasonable customer entitlement of of an older woman and the inappropriate attention of her husband. The latter could have been better dealt with in my opinion. It is laughed off later on and those in charge do not properly hear this part of her account, something she reports only after the couple apparently make a complaint and she is called in.

In this scene, she tries to explain the rest of the affair and the hopelessness of her life situation. Trying to secure retail jobs without the unattainable “three years experience,” rejecting the dole as inadequate, compromising her ideals and barely surviving are things many young people today might relate to — right down to living off apples and pasta packets. It’s no wonder that she and her mooch of a friend come back to the emotional safety and moral simplicity of childhood TV shows and the nostalgia they evoke.


The disruptive older couple have problems of their own as the traditional marriage-and-kids formula doesn’t pan out. The wife doesn’t work and “contributes” to the household, but cannot have children. The husband has cheated with an affair that lasted years and doesn’t seem to listen to her. They are clearly estranged yet for some reason still live together in bitterness. In the past, meta narratives were supposed to provide purpose through life’s trials, but it’s evident they didn’t always work.

Between scenes, we are in the hands of an indefatigable narrator with slides, a poster boy for Powerpoint presentations. He introduces and addresses the various topics, providing commentary on cultural trends and expectations. The treatment of religion is not completely objective, rather toting the secular side. That said, the comedic narrative maintains its distance from the plot, except when the narrator himself breaks down on the topic of loneliness. Cue, the annual get-together with the two Millennial friends where they drown their sorrows, knock back pills and blare nightclub music to reach a state of stupor and oblivion. It also seems the concept of a dystopian, fictional future is more comforting than the present.

The play doesn’t provide immediate solutions; it simply tells you to do whatever makes you happy. It’s the message that the narrator feels is worth dying to tell. The production has been called nihilistic, but perhaps Apoptosis is really about nipping destructive paths in the bud and living in the now.

Rebecca Spelman
Playwright and director Rebecca Spelman studied BA Drama & Theatre Performance Studies in NUIG before founding Calamity Theatre.

Apoptosis cast
The cast of Apoptosis at the Town Hall Theatre. All photo credits Piotr Łyszkiewicz.

Interview with Rena Bryson: “The Way It Is”

It’s been pleasure getting to know the projects of the Eva’s Echo Theatre Company. They’re part of the new, upcoming theatre scene in Galway, having won “Best Emerging Artist” at the Galway Fringe Festival with their debut production. This month, on the the 22nd February at the O’Donohue Theatre during NUIG’s Theatre Week, their newest drama, “The Way It Is” is expected to make audiences think about the complexities of human nature, relationships, male victims of domestic violence and the dilemma of women’s life choices today.

Among the budding talent to be found at this year’s NUIG Theatre Week will be an incisive one-hour play, aptly entitled The Way It Is, written by American playwright Donna Hoke, adapted for a Galway setting and staged through Eva’s Echo Theatre Company. It promises to deliver a complex, many-layered exploration of the problems in a couple’s relationship that can come to light after a break-up. It will be held on the 22nd February 2018 at 8.00 pm in the O’Donoghue Theatre, University Road. Tickets are €8 at concession or €10 general admission and can be purchased at the SocsBox and on their website http://bit.ly/2BLj00D

In an interview on the 1st February 2018, director and co-founder of Eva’s Echo Theatre Company, Rena Bryson said that out of nearly 100 submissions, The Way It Is stood out as quite a meaty script with many twists and turns, chosen for its compelling emotional drama which fits in with the overall themes the company tries to address. They aim to “express the modern soul of Ireland,” voicing the challenges present in modern Irish culture today. They also strive to help other emerging artists through involvement in their shows and by always crediting and paying everyone committedly.

“The play focuses on the relationship between two characters, Yasmine and Cane, and they’ve been together for eight years, they’ve been engaged for four and Cane leaves Yasmine and then has to go back to the house they both shared together to collect the rest of his things. The drama kind of ensues from there and in real time we get to explore the issues that were in relationship and really kind of look at issues through that, like the pressure on women to, you know, have the career and the ring and everything by thirty and that there’s that kind of ticking clock thing. We get to look a lot at domestic abuse towards men, verbal and physical and sexual abuse towards men.

“What I’ve been kind of looking at through the lens of is a lot of media, especially sitcoms and television, and the stereotype of the nagging girlfriend or the nagging wife and where that can go from a stereotype, a fun comedy character into something that people think is okay to do because it’s a woman doing it.

“I do feel that those issues do speak to that age group, like, student age group and that people of this generation are looking at those kind of things that were never looked at before. We’ve been in contact with Amen and with the Galway Rape Crises Centre so we’ll have information and support numbers there on the night in case anyone’s affected by anything they’ve seen in the play.”

The male lead Cane will be played by Michael Reed, a professional actor for 13 years and the voice behind Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon and Speed Racer in Croatia. He’s written a few things too and is expected to appear in the new Irish film Black 47 and Red Rock.

It will also star the company’s second founder, Hazel Doolan as Yasmine. She is very much influenced by the works of Shakespearean drama in her acting. She featured in The Big Wall with Bob Kelly and Pygmalion. She and Rena Bryson graduated from IT Sligo where they studied Performing Arts before coming to Galway and setting up Eva’s Echo. The upcoming production company is best known for their debut Match, a romantic comedy that earned them Galway Fringe Festival’s ‘Best Emerging Artist’ award in 2017.

Rena is now a student in NUIG and started the MA programme in Drama & Theatre last September where she learns theatre directing. She has nothing but praise for the quality of drama coming out of NUIG. In particular she’s looking forward to the Jerome Hayes one act plays as well as “Dead Set” by Cathal Ryan during Theatre Week.

Date Night

Springboarded loosely from an article written for This is Galway (2017.)

Whether you’re an old married couple or you have just started seeing each other, Date Night is important. For me, it’s mainly about three things. You want to be somewhere cultured where you can discuss ideas and interests you both share; casual corner or fine-art museum, it doesn’t actually matter. Second thing; laughter, or at least some connection and chemistry, because were would you be without that? Three; good food never went amiss. You don’t have to order dessert or a five-course meal, and be sure to always split the bill. No one wants to come across as a mooch!

Gifts or offerings of interest

Usually, these take the form of a pint or cocktail hinting your attraction to the other person. Other times, it can be more flamboyant. Whatever you choose, make sure it comes from the heart or at least is genuine. It doesn’t have to lead to anything more, but you might have to make this clear, especially, for example, if you’re on the receiving end but already in a relationship.

If you’re giving, don’t make the other person feel like they’re under any obligation other than to maybe return the favour. Of course, the best gifts are things that you know will really fill a need or make the person happy, so put some thought into it — just don’t overthink.

What to expect in the long-run

If you’re constantly interacting with other people, the pace of life can move fast. As far as commitment goes, if you live a relatively slow-paced life or both belong to a regular, close-knit group —such as a base class, workplace or hangout — there might be more you owe to each other, although you still have certain responsibilities towards people you chance into.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with going with flow, in and out of brief encounters, as long as everyone knows where they stand.


If you’ve arranged a date with someone do not start flirting with that cute bartender or waiter. It goes without saying,  your date should have you undivided attention at least for the hour or two you’re together. Keep an open mind, but there’ll be time enough for sowing other oats — just do it one at a time.


This seems like a peculiarly modern dillema. How soon do you text a person after a date? Should you thank them straight away?

If you’re relationship has become predominantly carried on via text or instant messaging for months at a stretch,  especially at fairly long-distance,  it’s most likely going to get lost in translation unless you meet up soon. Avoid the digital vacuum and pick up the phone — to call or video chat them, that is.

With regards to the early stages,  it’s better to have a lot of face-to-face sightings and I always prefer to initiate and make important decisions in person. Use social media only as tool to the main event.

End on a high 

You’ve had a great time, enjoyed each others’ bants or had some tender moments. You want to end right. That elated feeling should go home with them at the end of the night even if you don’t. Be natural, maybe let the feels flow and, ideally, keep ’em coming back for more.

If you feel it just hasn’t worked out, show your appreciation for their time and treat them like you would another friend. A cordial hug or handshake might be in order.

Don’t kiss and tell

Some people are more okay with this than others. Personally, getting other people involved in your dating is a nightmare. Analyse the situation and judge for yourself. If unsure, ask for and respect the other person’s wishes. That said, it’s important to be honest about the number and nature of any past physical relations you’ve had. Your current partner needs to know what they’re getting into health wise and, perhaps, emotionally.


Next week — When rivals arise or you get double – crossed, How To Fight Right.


Interview with JP McMahon & Claudio Cruz

I talk to the chef who brought us the ‘Electric Picnic’ of food symposiums as he opens his new café in Galway. Coming at his profession in a very organised yet new Nordic way, Tartare will continue the trend set out in Michelin-star Aniar of localising Ireland and bringing it just to the mid-West.

JP McMahon is an Irish food ambassador currently working towards making Galway a 2018 European Region of Gastronomy. It’s a challenge he feels we’re up to with our small chain of supply but which involves convincing the public that good food comes at a price and that it’s worth it. He is similarly the director of the successful “Food on the Edge” symposiums in Galway where high quality discourse finds a platform, chain-restaurateur behind Eat Galway Restaurant Group, outgoing chairperson and co-founder of Galway Food festival. This comes of his participation in international community projects and he is now a speaker at numerous cookery demonstrations, seminars and classes promoting the new Irish culinary scene and food provenance.

With his busy schedule, I had time before our interview on the 6th November to take in the stark, simple surroundings of his new terroir-based café and wine bar Tartare, situated across the road from Aniar on Dominick Street. When he arrived at about 2:30pm he was just back from a meeting with Fáilte Ireland and holding a small Bell Lane paper cup. It’s an Irish-based coffee company which can be obtained at the café.

At this year’s annual “Food on the Edge”  symposium on the 9th and 10th October 2017, many local suppliers put up stalls at the FOTE Artisan Food Village outside the Black Box where speakers from around the world came to share their food stories and experience. Among the Irish produce to be found were Galway Hooker beer, Simply Milk from Tuam, Cocoatelier from Dublin, cheeses, oysters, preserves and ice-cream. It also featured the finalists of his educational primary school venture on the “Future of Food. ” High-quality discourse from FOTE costs about €300,000 to put on and Super Early Bird tickets for next year’s event can be bought now at a reduced price of €250. After the fact, making FOTE a democratic conference is something he seeks to accomplish, so recordings of the talks are later available to watch on YouTube and online when the event is over.

‘”Food on the Edge” we set up three years ago and that was very much inspired by a lot of the travelling I had done and taking part in some of the culinary excursions with different international chefs, specifically a department event called “Cook It Raw,” which was the coming together of different chefs to cook and explore a place; also a symposium in Toronto, called “Terroir,”’ he explained. ‘I suppose I wanted to bring people to Ireland to try and showcase what we have here, but also to try and influence the next generation of chefs to be inspired to push a little bit further.’

His encouragement of Irish producers is something he is foremost dedicated to with his eateries Cava Bogeda Tapas Bar, Aniar Restaurant and Boutique Cookery School, Tartare and Eat Gastropub located at Massimo. In fact, all of his produce is sourced from the Emerald Isle except for white flour, sugar and olives. With regard to young or upcoming suppliers, he says he encourages them to go out and find a market themselves rather than waiting for one. Some of them he seeks out, but a lot of them come directly to his door, such as Castlemine meats.

His restaurant Aniar has also won a prestigious Michelin star in 2012 as well as various other awards, in terms of Best Restaurant in Connacht and an Overall Best Award in Ireland. Moreover, it’s now one of La Liste‘s top 1000 Most Outstanding Restaurants in the world. http://bit.ly/2hmkwMn

Cara won Best Ethnic Restaurant, despite it serving predominantly Spanish food. To top it off, JP has written columns in the Irish Times and published a cookery book available to purchase online and at Aniar.

While JP is in charge of the food side of the business, his business ventures are actually part of a joint team-up with his wife, Drigin Gaffey. She takes care of front of house, finance, interior decor and administration.

He finds it hard to pin down what first sparked his interest in cooking.

‘I almost left school to become a chef at 15. ’

Perhaps his coming from a large family, his grandmother’s dishes, baking bread and taking Home Economics at secondary school made him discover he enjoyed this. In later life he would be very influenced by the Nordic food movement, which, he says, looks at things from a specific place.

‘I suppose the idea was to try and draw on Ireland and the food of Ireland in the same way as the Nordics had.’

Basically, it is a system of preparing food using only ingredients found in your environment, which can be a challenge. Another aspect is being in touch with your chef and those you eat with.

It can be seen in the relaxed, contemporary décor of his restaurants and the communal, shared eating to be found at the popular Cava. It’s an alternative style where food is passed around the table, designed to encourage communication.

The philosophy behind Tartare was to bring good food into every area in the manner of Danish franchiser Christian Puglisi. Inspired by his travels to Copenhagen, this café is a smaller, luncheon version of Aniar, with a lower price point. It offers sandwiches, soups, organic salads, small portions of oysters, beef tartare, the cream of Irish craft cheeses as well as biodynamic, organic and natural wines. There’s a casual, modern hatch where I had caught the chef’s eye as he worked and received a smile.

Claudio Cruz is the sandwich chef at Tartare and hails from Calagary in Canada, the home of Poutine. He met JP there in 2014 during a “Cook it Raw” culinary conference. Claudio asked if he could do a stage with him and worked in Aniar for 3 months, which he says is ‘as local a restaurant as I’ve ever worked in.’ He has also attended the previous two years’ “Food on the Edge” and describes it as ‘highly organised.’

‘[JP]’s a very nice man. I would go with him for a pint or a glass of wine, because he drinks wine. I think he’s a red wine guy.’