A fresh blast of the Fringe

 

With a wave of new shows hitting Dublin in the second week of the Fringe, our reviewers take a breath and dive in

Before Colour **

Bewley's Cafe Theatre

Set in 1930s Hollywood but splicing together the narrative tropes and twisted psychodramas of later, distrusting decades - think Sunset Boulevard meets Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? - writer-director Peter Dunne's play for Wicked Angels aims to scratch the underbelly of Tinseltown, but can't meet its cinematic cynicism with contemporary theatrical flair.

Rachel and Laura Brookes (nicely played, along with every other role, by Jacinta Sheerin and Georgina McKevitt) are the damaged daughters of a psychotically self-centred fading starlet and a craven movie mogul, whose world is shattered when third sister Jane goes missing. Dunne's heavy-handed mystery seems to disappear up its own flashbacks ("Three days earlier", "Three weeks earlier"), with few surprises and still less comfort on the stage. Both talented performers must contend with a clumsy mock-proscenium frame, equally fettered by a random parade of silver-screen accents and throwback performance styles. Not everything is black and white, I guess, but here we never really get the picture. Until Sat PETER CRAWLEY

Bouffon Glass Menajoree ****

Filmbase

One word, delivered each time with a raspberry blow, reduces our three bouffon clowns to dirty little sniggers: "Theatre". True, it's code for Tom's nightly debaucheries (and Lynn Berg's frat-boy Quasimodo has brought enough for everyone), but it announces the nasty fun of wickedly subversive and electrifyingly interactive parody from Ten Directions.

Aimee German's neurotic Amanda is less faded Southern Belle than trailer-trash walrus, while Audrey Crabtree's blonde tendrils and blood-spattered nightie make her hilarious Laura look like Kurt Cobain on one of his better days. Tennessee Williams's delicate memory play appears grotesquely misshapen, but, like the characters, it's still just about recognisable.

A little off-off-Broadway iconoclasm goes a long way, with each plot point or dark subtextual layer served as a walloping punchline. Even the Gentleman Caller is plucked helplessly from the audience. On opening night this poor guy - loose on his lines and dramaturgically shaky - happened to be me. Future "volunteers" can decide the ending before being offered the chance to run away with these theatrical vandals forever. How could anybody resist? Until Sun PETER CRAWLEY

Grasping the Floor With the Back of My Head*****

Project Upstairs

There's no grasping at the start of this piece, rather the sickening thuds of skull against ground that rephrase a house-light-dimming voiceover: "We always manage to make a living hell of our life."

Drawing on mythology and the similarly ancient thin line between comedy and tragedy, Mute Comp. Physical Theatre from Denmark ritualise our obsessive, defensive, insecure and emotionally complacent selves. But they don't just hang their artistic coat on grey-skied nordicisms. Their brutal physicality, hammered out over 22 episodes, makes us appear both hilariously and guiltily familiar. Coupled with the excellent electro-folk sounds of Valravn (who gleefully throw themselves into the physical mix), this takes a swipe at the most universal human conditions.

The production is thoroughly slick - both technically and dramaturgically - and there is probably even more poetry undiscovered within singer Anna Katrin EgilstrØd's beautiful broad Nordic vowels. Show concluded MICHAEL SEAVER

Love 2.0 ***

Project Cube

Sex and property are two subjects to electrify any Irish gathering. Or so one would have thought. Yet the current flows sluggishly in these two plays, Two Houses, by Belinda McKeon, and Investment Potential, by Phillip McMahon. In the first, a young girl questions her drunken brother about the identity of his secret, pregnant lover, and the reason for his marriage failing. In the second, a couple tries in three locations (their flat, a bookshop and a Las Vegas hotel) to rediscover the magic that brought them together. Both plays, which were commissioned by the Abbey, are competently written, well-acted (by Kathy Keira Clarke, Brendan McCormack and Jenn Murray), and directed with precision by Deirdre Molloy. Yet both fail to catch fire. There's a feeling that, while they might have started a conversation, they have failed to reach a conclusion. Until Sat NOELEEN DOWLING

Moonflight ***

Samuel Beckett Theatre

A piano rolls across the stage, spheres spin through space, and actors mimic the revolutions of earth and moon, their monkish harmonies coupled with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata giving a ghostly seriousness to this chaotic flight of lunar fantasy. An inflatable mattress is used to ingenious effect, a collapsing inflatable chair (performer attached) echoes a collapsing star (maybe), and a recreation of the moon landing is made compelling thanks to a travel cushion. A crackling bit of theatre then, which orbits around the audience without ever quite touching down into sense - but then again, who doesn't need a bit of chaos in their universe when the Fringe moon is waxing full? Until Sun LAURENCE MACKIN

Pinocchio ****

Project

After being dropped off on a seedy sidestreet by an eight-year-old in a blue wig and her Pinocchio-nosed passenger, it's hard to work out exactly what was so charming about the previous hour spent careening around in a crammed Suzuki Swift. Perhaps the undeniable magnetism of the girl in the passenger seat, whose urgent night-time run along Shelly Banks Road, flashlight dancing in her hand, was unaffectedly poetic, or the random, kinetic nature of a performance that dragged in passers-by, toll-booth operators and, inevitably, the back-seat audience members.

The real star of Pinocchio, however, is Dublin itself, made strangely new and wondrous as its skewed landscapes filter through the smudged windows. No lying puppets either, which is always a bonus. Until Sun FIONA McCANN

Red Bastard ***

Bosco Theatre

There is an enthusiastic but slightly nervy buzz as Red Bastard (New York comedian Eric Davis) makes his belated appearance, lurching wild-eyed around stage and auditorium in his imposing buttock- and belly-enhanced body-stocking. The former Cirque de Soleil clown's confrontational reputation has preceded him, and as he instantly turns the spotlight back on the audience, it is clear that some are well up for it while others are going to spend the next hour avoiding eye contact.

In his persona as a bitchy, narcissistic acting teacher putting his class through its paces, Red's act depends for much of its impact and humour on the quality of his audience's contribution. But once the initial frisson of this interaction has subsided, the material itself, mocking celebrity obsession and theatrical pretentiousness, begins to reveal itself as a little unoriginal.

Clever performer though he is, even Red's closing diatribe against US government surveillance doesn't seem substantial enough a satirical point around which to build a headline show at this atmospheric temporary venue. Until Sun GILES NEWINGTON

Reptilian ****

Filmbase

Shona McCarthy's play is a surreal exploration of familial dysfunction which constantly surprises. Structured as four interweaving monologues, which occasionally cross into dialogue, it is full of suspense and revelations that ensure the soliloquies never lose their vibrant edge.

McCarthy's writing is stylised and poetic, full of internal rhymes and Irish idioms that call to mind Enda Walsh and Mark O'Rowe. McCarthy's brightly coloured production and Mike Byrne's acid lights further echo the former, but this story is vividly original, with the reptilian metaphor coiling itself around each encounter like a turning snake.

Although the tree-stumped positions the actors maintain while at rest are clumsy and forced, Siobhán Donnellan, Carla Bredin, Paul Nolan and especially Fiachra Ó Dubhghaill give excellent performances. Recommended. Until Sun SARA KEATING

The Cat's Miaow Part II *

Spiegeltent

Giving the notion of curating a bad name, Camille O'Sullivan reprised her role, established last year, as chief cook, bottle-washer and kitty, overseeing a motley gathering of guests, all of whom, she insisted, were "fantastic", "wonderful", and "lovely people".

Apart from Vyvienne Long's Björkian turn, Sharon Shannon's sharp box-playing and Mario, Queen of the Circus's rib-tickling Freddie Mercury tribute, this was an unkempt evening of mediocre performances that swung from the egocentric self-indulgence of singer and pianist Paul Melia to the lame drag duo, The Ladies Blue. O'Sullivan, in thrall of herself as much as her guests, rollicked her way through a dud repertoire that stretched from maudlin to bawdy without a hint of subtlety or flair in between. Oh well, at least she seemed to be having the time of her life. Show concluded SIOBHÁN LONG

The Dark Room *****

Players Theatre

There is beauty as well as despair in Neil Watkins's painfully caustic cabaret play, a sordid tale of suicide, rape, and HIV, told through song and an occasional graphic sex scene. Scored

by the scars of casual sexual encounters and unrequited love, Watkins also plays our guide through this underworld. His gradual transformation from boy into drag queen, and the collapse of this disguise, is a poignant metaphor for the sadness that pervades this exquisitely realised piece. Karl Shiels's production allows the tone to settle gently rather than drown in melancholy, while Sarah Jane Shiels's dusty lighting seethes in the play's stifled air. DJ Ciccone's score completes the atmosphere of sensual gloom.

While the bleak fumblings in The Dark Room don't follow anything like a conventional plot, this moody meditation on love and pain needs nothing as cliched as narrative to succeed. Until Sun SARA KEATING

The Evolution of Lauren Begaun ***

International Bar

This was a brave effort in the circumstances by Broken Doll Productions in a piece written and performed by Clodagh Downing, and directed by Kate Cotter. However, it could not compete with the deafening sound of beer barrels bouncing off the pavement outside as a delivery was made or with car alarms and sundry other street noises.

Downing, who has poise and a strong stage presence, showed remarkable composure while her work was mercilessly submerged. Clearly, she has talent as both a performer and a writer.

This is a mother-daughter tale with a difference, confusing in spots, which has humour as well as a few longueurs. Will do better. Until Sat PATSY McGARRY

The Four Horsemen Project *****

Project

Right from the start, when a moving video projection about poetry and art travels down to the stage floor and dancer Naoko Murakoshi stamps on it, disintegrating it, you know this is an exceptional and exciting piece.

Inspired by experimental sound poetry group The Four Horsemen, active in the 1970s, this avant-garde production painstakingly and exuberantly deconstructs language, only to reconstruct it and almost create a new artistic entity. Dancers Andrea Nann, Jennifer Dahl, Graham McKelvie and Naoko Murakoshi gleefully interrogate all aspects of language, visually, aurally, physically, in a refreshing work into which multi-media video projections are expertly integrated. Thought-provoking and a joy to watch, this show returns the viewer to a childlike delight with words, a welcome reminder that language, as the core of human experience and exchange, is based on fun and wonder. Until Sat CHRISTINE MADDEN

Twelve Treatises on Memory **

T36

John Crutchfield's play reunites a former student couple, Mark (Seán O'Neill) and Beth (Nicole Rourke), as they have a night out together 15 years after breaking up. While melancholy Mark mourns his poetic aspirations, brassy Beth bangs on about the noisy sex she has with her new boyfriend in intervals between earning loadsamoney as a lawyer.

The pair drink, play games, fall asleep, wake up again, and every now and then disappear behind the main prop (a bench) and turn into sock puppets, enacting obscure scenes of courtship.

After a while, it is difficult not to start counting down the 12 scenes, waiting for Mark and Beth to get it over with. The actors make no mistakes , but seem lost in a bland, unlocated script that rarely sparks into life. Until SatGILES NEWINGTON