Fringe festival: to Hell and back


Straight to DVD

Smock Alley Theatre ****

Sometime in the past a critic bemoaned Ponydance’s “pointless group numbers”. He or she now gets pride of place in the opening video in Straight to DVD. This is pure Ponydance: irreverent, self-effacing and knowing. Not only that, but pointless group numbers are exactly what makes the Belfast-based group such a hilarious hit with festival audiences, judges and every other critic.

Bitchy and competitive, the four dancers clown together in comedy sketches, from synchronised swimming in paddling pools to a reality television dancing competition. Disasters abound, but the comic pacing is spot-on so the slapstick never flags. Even set changes are choreographed with kitschy humour and 1970s sit-com music.

Dance, when it does break out, is executed with precision but always with an ease that leaves room for winks and nods to the belly-laughing audience.

Until Saturday

– Michael Seaver

Adventures of a Music Nerd: One Man, Two World Cups

New Theatre **

Adventures of a Music Nerd is back with a different set list: a selection of the World Cup anthems that provided the soundtrack to Ireland’s soccer glory in the early 1990s. Our DJ, Ronan Leonard, is dressed in a lab-coat, ready to “deconstruct and reconstrue” the songs for us; from the inspired pop-rock jangle of the Adam Clayton-produced Put ’Em Under Pressure to the random architecture of Watch Your House’s appalling rap Ooh Aah Paul McGrath.

This is stand-up comedy of the Dave Gorman school, but, despite his own charm, Leonard lacks Gorman’s technological inventiveness. The necessity of operating his own sound makes for a stilted performance, while an iPad is no substitute for a Powerpoint display. That said, there are the seeds of something much better buried in Leonard’s rambling script, which offers glimpses of personal history and snatches of broader social statements, but not enough of either. At the moment, alas, Adventures of a Music Nerd is for football fans only.

Until Saturday

– Sara Keating

All Hell Lay Beneath

Cassidy’s Bar ****

This production is built around the Steppenwolf story: a loner, Harry Haller, despairs at the modern world, and at bourgeois society in particular. But at the behest of a woman he meets in a dance hall, Haller plunges himself into gratification. It is this hall of mirrors, and Haller’s struggle with the dualities of his personality, that this ambitious, short-run production attempts to recreate, and if you want this production’s surprises to remain unimpaired, then read no further.

The audience begins the evening in a speakeasy-type basement before making its way through several storeys of dance, music, minor interactions, imaginative ideas, unsettling altercations, tiny rooms and cold balconies, all to be explored as each audience member prefers. It’s ambitious and grand on what scale that a no-doubt punishing budget allows - and oh so very Fringe. As theatre, there is no staggeringly original development of the Steppenwolf myth; but as a diverting night’s entertainment, it’s a blast.

For those willing to abandon themselves to the piece, this will be a four-star delight, but for those who cannot check their self-consciousness at the door, it could well prove a two-star test of endurance. But when given a choice, who won’t go down the rabbit hole?

Ends tonight

– Laurence Mackin

A Wine Goose Chase

37 Dawson Street ****

From JM Synge’s loosened tongues to Tom Murphy’s miserable tipplers, the Irish stage has rarely had an easy relationship with drink. Refreshingly, Susan Boyle’s performance, a brisk history-lesson- cum-wine-tasting, is breezily enthusiastic about 2,000 years of Irish wine appreciation. Boyle can be sensual and coy, the kind of oenophile who detects notes of wet wool in a Riesling, overtones of forest fire in a claret, and any opportunity for a gag in its finish.

The history, decanted along with increasingly potent tastings, is fascinating then fuzzy; from international supply lines forged by early Christian monks (an elegant Riesling) to the great-craic- altogether-sounding 18th century “Wine Geese” families who influenced Bordeaux’s production (a ripe and earthy Pinot Noir), then something about this Irish guy in Mexico (Réserve Médoc, yum . . . ), and – hey! – the Fringe is 18! Let’s sing and have a brandy! “There is wine in our blood,” argues Boyle – convincingly – although, seemingly quaffing throughout, she might have played more with the subversive implications.

Please enjoy it sensibly.

Until September 19th

– Peter Crawley

Anna in Between

Players Theatre TCD **

Anna has not been feeling herself lately; sleeping late, withdrawing frequently, overwhelmed easily. What difference this makes to her personality is anyone’s guess, as the protagonist of James Hickson and Rosemary McKenna’s new musical for Pillow Talk is more condition than character: symptoms of depression in search of a person. Spinning through a fractured depiction of her generic path from adolescence to adulthood, where scenes involving family, friends, school and work each warp towards the surreal, Anna is somewhere between Wonderland and heavy sedation, owing conspicuous debt to Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia.

Representing mental disorders onstage is a challenge, equally prey to alienating sullenness or glib escapist fantasies. Sara Joyce works hard to find flesh in her character, assisted by Anne Gill as her supportive mother, Gerard Adlum’s teasing/caring brother and Jane Deasy’s sensitive compositions. But for all the production’s ambitions Anna seems distrusted and finally abandoned, endlessly circumscribed by wearying comic caricatures, worthy of sympathy but rarely a more humanising struggle.

Until Saturday

– Peter Crawley

Mag’s Tail

Smock Alley Theatre, Boys School **

A French bag lady (Mag, played by Marie-Geneviève Linotte) welcomes a Fringe Festival audience into her world. She is wearing a red clown nose and has fashioned an upside-down lampshade into a hat. Over the next 50 minutes, she’ll lasciviously scoop cake icing into her mouth, she’ll whirl around the room doing a good banshee impression, and she’ll shudder to orgasm clutching a dusty soldier’s uniform to her groin. She’ll reveal that she has daddy issues and that she’s a single mother. She’ll cajole (very willing on this night) audience members into joining her on stage. There will be some text (in French and in English), there will be some pre-recorded narration and there will be lots of physical play.

If this sounds incoherent, that’s because, unfortunately, it is. Linotte is a brave performer, unafraid of looking stupid, but the project lacks the discipline that could have granted the madness meaning.

Until Saturday

– Lynn Enright

The Circus of Perseverance

The Back Loft ****

Tonight will be a night of “rambling prose with no end in sight”, bellows the charismatic if sinister Ringmaster (Shane Carroll) opening The Circus of Perseverance. Never a truer word. For, despite strong performances (Paul Marron and Amy Kellett in particular), sharp dialogue, a wonderfully ambitious use of the setting at the Back Loft (Mike McGovern), and a rich soundscape provided by a live band in the gallery, the Circus tumbles head first into one of the Fringe’s deadliest traps: it was far too long.

Billed as a 75-minute “high-spirited, comedic tribute to Dublin city”, Gonzo Theatre’s production was laugh-out-loud in (many) places and could have been a five-star show with some judicious editing of the seven interwoven stories it used to hold a mirror up to the capital.

As it is, a pacy start (and end, when it is finally in sight) is let down by a sagging middle weighed down by superfluous storylines.

Until Saturday

– Emma Somers


The Lir ****

The set is cluttered with arcane instruments and vintage bric-a-brac, but Little John Nee’s one-man show is marked by an economy of musical score and storytelling style, as he sketches an offbeat portrait of Donegal life. The plot, such as it is, concerns the eponymous handyman who falls for a bohemian Belfast artist, living in her late father’s improbably dry-docked boat, while competing for with attentions of a dastardly ex-cop. The story takes second place to mood and tone, however. Nee conjures up an atmospheric soundtrack, his array of ukuleles, melodicas and accordions amplified by imaginative audio techniques, audience interactivity and his own bluesy vocals. The understated monologue is similarly characterised by evocative vignettes, distinctive wit and wry references to political foibles. Imagine Garrison Keillor relocating to Ulster’s northwest in the company of Tom Waits and D’Unbelievables and you get an idea of Nee’s singularly enjoyable production.

Until Saturday

– Mick Heaney

The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle

The Lir ***

Mismatched lamps illuminate a space filled with retro furniture. Attractive twentysomethings play folky songs on their guitars. You could be in a Dublin 8 café. But you’re not; you’re in limbo. The Life And Sort Of Death Of Eric Argyle is a quirky (it would be impossible to review it without mentioning the Q word) tale of a recently deceased 58-year-old who is forced to look back on the events and decisions that led to there being only two mourners at his funeral.

The cast of eight are energetic and enthusiastic, whizzing through their multiple roles with humour and zeal. Nobody seems to mind that old, irascible Eric has a strong country accent while his younger self has a suburban drawl – we’re in a zany afterlife, remember, it’s not supposed to make sense. At times, though, one wishes they would all stop shouting writer Ross Dungan’s zingy one-liners at each other and allow us, the audience, to fill in the gaps for ourselves.

Until Saturday

– Lynn Enright

Lauren White Goes on a Date

New Theatre ***

Lauren White is seeking a boyfriend. Tired of waiting for cupid to strike, she inventively creates an entire performance to arrange a post-show date, eradicating almost completely the line between theatre and reality.

The audience makes all the decisions for her; choosing potential outfits, music and locations. We also interview the two shortlisted candidates (chosen from a dating website) when they arrive in the theatre.

It’s very entertaining with much humour coming from the audience participation. No two performances will be the same, but Lauren is charismatic enough to take on any audience. Why is she single? Why is anyone: unrealistic expectations from reading novels and bad luck.

Don’t expect a traditional play with a set, a plot or even a script. It’s more of an interesting online-dating experiment than any deeper comment on it. The search for love in the digital age is given a theatrical twist and it’s great fun.

Until Saturday

– Meadhbh McHugh