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.
– 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.
– 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?
– 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.