Fringe festival: the early verdicts
A Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious
Project Arts Centre – Cube **
A BLINDING Glimpse of the Obvious is about love: its physical manifestations, its emotional idiosyncrasies, and, most of all, its cliches. Citing an array of evidence – from Gay Byrne to Jacques Lacan to Fiona Sheil’s mother – the 50-minute piece is delivered in the style of an academic presentation by writer and performer Fiona Sheil and scientist-accomplice Stephen Hughes, who has been enlisted to give a more objective point of view to Sheil’s confessional. The aesthetic is minimal: a table, two chairs, a stack of notes and a pair of microphones; this University of the Heart will not stretch to Powerpoint.
Sheil’s argument is occasionally enlightening (did you know the brain experiences physical and emotional trauma in the same way?) but it is ultimately fatally unfocused. As Sheil reveals the multiple humiliations of heartbreak, the evidence suggested by this rambling performance points to one unfortunate conclusion: love is a losing game.
The CHQ Building, George’s Quay ****
YOU KNOW going in – from the title – that this is silly. Even the libretto turns out to consist entirely of those exotic Scandinavian product names Ikea gives to its ready-to-assemble furniture. And yet, amidst the silliness, composer Tom Lane offers snapshots of human situations: tension between partners, loneliness. Comic but poignant.
At the start, the audience is filtered into three adjacent rooms in the venue, each of which is kitted out and authentically lit as one of those artificially perfect Ikea showrooms (kitchen, sitting-room, bedroom). Then short stories begin in all three rooms at once, the music from each coming round the corners and intermingling in semi-controlled randomness. At the end of each story the audience is rotated and the stories repeated until everyone has seen all three. Experimental, brightly and snappily produced, gently iconoclastic, thought-provoking, absurdist and good fun.
Project Arts Centre ****
ON ONE side of the stage hangs a punching bag, on the other sits an over-sized beanbag, and so Stefanie Preissner’s solo performance provides two responses to life-altering changes and emotional pain: Fight or Flop. Through a nimbly constructed verse text, the effervescent Preissner explains the addictive appeal of analgesia, responding to the shock of leaving Cork for Dublin, or the trauma of heartbreak, or the headache of a barking dog, with a double dose of painkillers.
Preissner’s real subject, though, is a nation slowly dissolving through emigration, gently described as a chemical process of weakened internal bonds that would otherwise hold things together. Director Gina Moxley’s smart and sparing production doesn’t burden that metaphor, although Preissner’s rhetoric, much like the similarly defiant I Am a Homebird, often portrays emigration as the easier way out. Her wry humour supplies a more convincing balance, moving from gruff defence (“Medicine is the best medicine!”) to an optimistic determination to feel pain, to fight it, and to feel better.
Tromluí Phinocchio/Pinocchio – A Nightmare
Smock Alley – Black Box ****
IT’S RARE for a show to hook you straight from the start. Rarer still does it keep you enamoured throughout. Moonfish Theatre’s dark, bilingual spin on the mythical marionette matches its cheeky, rough and ready aesthetic with nimble, heartfelt performances. It’s hard not to be continually beguiled.
Pinocchio (Grace Kieley), the mail-order son of the lonely Geppetto, is “the teens” personified, denying his individuality in an attempt to be a “real boy”. Struggling with his behaviour, he gives in to temptation and suffers its consequences, learning, through living, what it is to be a man. Characters are created through broad yet intricate strokes, using facial dexterity and tone of voice to smash the language barrier; the scene is set by the live creation of sound effects on the bare stage. The performers’ commitment impresses most, with director Máiréad Ní Chróinín teasing out the basic want at the story’s core through Kieley’s expressive turn, while eliciting depth from a colourful supporting ensemble draped in a vibrant make-and-do aesthete.
CONCEIVED BY storyteller Duncan Molloy, MASS is about communion: the coming together of like-minded individuals in a shared ritual of belonging. Scheduled for the first, second and third Sundays of “Fringe Time”, Molloy borrows from the structures of the Catholic Mass – there are hymns, readings, psalms and a gospel – but the material and the message are resolutely secular. Creeds of charity, faith and mercy are revealed in everyday encounters: life and love are religious experiences that need no church to be celebrated. Ask the Beach Boys and T-Rex, who provide the soundtrack (attendees are encouraged to sing along).
If, on paper, this all seems twee, Molloy’s motives would move even a cynic, and as the high priest guiding celebrants and audience through his personal philosophy, he has considerable charm. Four stars (if you are a believer).
Runs September 9th, 16th and 23rd
Death of the Tradesmen
Project Arts Centre - Cube ***
LAST YEAR, Shaun Dunne and Talking Shop Ensemble tackled emigration with I Am a Homebird, and here, they’ve focused on the army of tradesmen who’ve moved from struggling to keep up with the work, to hustling for nixers in a car-crash economy.
Fifty-four-year-old tradesman Willy may be the core of the piece, but it is his wife, played by Lauren Larkin, who is the fuel in the fire. Dunne delivers a touching, heartfelt script; the banter of husband and wife flickers with genuine humour, and the jabs go from gently admonishing to intentionally bruising as their situation hardens and the walls close in. As Larkin struggles to maintain the small shard of domestic bliss it has taken her years to fence off, the cracks widen and the security of their home life buckles and breaks under the battery of everyday bills and pressure.
This is smart, effective and authentic theatre, with two strong central performances from Dunne and Larkin. The production might be a little too long, but an audience would want to have hearts of stone to not be touched by a story that strikes home, in more ways than one.
Project Arts Centre ***
WHAT GOES up (and whoever gets high) must come down in Phillip McMahon’s chilly depiction of the fall of hedonism for Thisispopbaby. Several beautiful placeless young things in iridescent evening wear gather for a party, like a Brown Thomas display window come to life, speaking elliptically about their suspiciously missing host, Johann. Neither McMahon nor director Wayne Jordan are keen to fill in the hollows of these characters or the plot, preferring a world of teasing surface, where Alma Kelliher’s electro pop pulses grind against a menagerie of surreal imagery and far-flung anecdotes of moral decay.
Taking its start from the doomed hurrahs of F Scott Fitzgerald or nihilistic orgies of Bret Easton Ellis, the production seems more infatuated with cold style than the human consequence of globalisation. Conor Madden’s bored libertine and Nicola Lewis’s hypnotic singing suggest untapped depths, but otherwise everyone seems indistinguishable in their descent, snorting themselves into oblivion, screwing dispassionately, forever going down, never getting off.
Circa Still, Rupture Now
Smock Alley Theatre – Black Box **
SOMETHING ABOUT the way Paul Donnelly plonks the chair in the middle of the stage is unsettling – and not in the urgent “someone’s left a pistol in the room” way implied by the play’s preamble. Katie Walsh, ostensibly the stage manager for Circa Still, Rupture Now but co-opted as part-performer, has already told us to note our nearest emergency exit before returning for an Iconic Photography For Dummies run-down on images of the self-immolation of a Buddhist monk in 1963 and a sailor kissing a nurse on Times Square in celebration of the end of the second World War.
A picture tells a thousand words, and this overly ambitious production tries to distil every last iconic one of them down to a 75-minute retelling. Despite the best efforts of an enthusiastic Donnelly and a convincing performance from Karen Connell, Lithium’s attempt to “write history” is all fur coat and no knickers.
South Studios ***
‘MEMORY IS not a filing cabinet in your brain,” we are told in this new co-production between Bluepatch and Floating World Productions. But what if it was? Georgie attends a futuristic session to experience the Lifelog (digital recording of an individual’s entire life) of her late ex-partner David. He has nine years of records and she features in 41 per cent of it. Four characterless facilitators guide her through the kaleidoscopic footage.
Our memories are naturally flawed and not everything she sees on the virtual slideshow is welcome, including scenes from the other 59 per cent of his life. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” they say, and yet too little is examined in either’s life through computerised or natural memory. The elusive connections between experience, memory and meaning are left virtually unexplored.
If lifelogging is the future, then today’s post-show talk by Dr Cathal Gurrin (the world’s longest lifelogger) may be the most interesting aspect of all.