The Lir, Dublin *****When somebody gets so caught up in details that they can’t comprehend the big picture, we say they can’t see the wood for the trees. Time and again, though, last weekend’s astutely programmed and richly stimulating “microfestival” of performance and installation lets you appreciate both.
Beginning with a carefully textured dance piece, then moving throughout the Lir along vivid personal stories, both consoling and harrowing, or pausing for audio and visual works cluttered with information, Forest Fringe might sound difficult to negotiate. There isn’t room here to describe everything on offer, but everyone can find their own trail through it.
Imported from Edinburgh, Andy Field and Deborah Pearson’s microfestival here strikes a sensitive equilibrium between Irish and British works, helpfully taking the chill off contemporary performance methods. You could call Dan Canham’s exquisite solo performance, 30 Cecil Street, a piece of documentary dance, for instance, but that doesn’t do justice to an absorbing piece of poetry in motion.
Using local recollections of the defunct Limerick theatre recorded on a reel-to-reel player, and a roll of masking tape to plot out the building’s blueprint, Canham dances some life back into the space, through sweeping or juddering steps, and its pulse quickens and slows.
It’s a short, modest performance, but it speaks volumes about the transience of art and its audience.
Hitch, a personal recollection of the Glasgow performer Kieran Hurley’s journey to the G8 summit protests in 2009, is a curious depiction of political action and personal inertia. Hurley presents himself as an amiable and nervy 20 something hitchhiking to Italy, entirely unsure of his purpose. In reality, Hurley is politically coherent and articulate (we see a broadcast of him interviewed), but his engagingly naive stage persona let him present the journey, rather than the protest, as a model of grassroots action. While he makes one perfectly judged send up of the galvanising rhetoric at a Patti Smith concert, though, he can’t disguise the fact that his own message is just as reassuringly idealistic: the people have the power.
Veronica Dyas’s extraordinary In My Bed, a story of gradual and ongoing recovery, suppressed sexuality and – pure and simple – love, is almost too beautiful, too brittle to take. The only thing working against Dyas is the space, cavernous and freezing, which swallows her quieter words. The temperature, like so much of her performance, is actually quite artful: Dyas has a tough exterior she is still learning to soften and to see the mist of her breath while her life is described in a collage of warm and chilling detail, is to appreciate both her generosity and her vulnerability. She isn’t looking for sympathy, which is why she gets something much more profound – empathy. And, when it’s all over, she asks us if we’re okay.
In comparison, the headlining show from Bristol’s Action Hero, Watch Me Fall, is a fun anti-climax; a parody of daredevil culture whose arch delivery – soliciting audience whoops for two-person stunts involving ping pong balls, bicycle ramps and several gallons of fizzy drinks – all but eclipses more probing ideas about the relationship between death defiers, death wishers and those who watch. There is plenty more to discover at Forest Fringe and its discoveries are lovely, dark and deep.