The first five-star of the Fringe
The Irish Times critics review the latest plays at the Dublin Fringe Festival
Meeting House Square
There are, if I’m honest, few shows in the Fringe I’d risk recommending to my mother: I didn’t expect Briefs to be the exception.
Yes, there is an act that rivals – nay, surpasses – that scene from The Crying Game, but at the heart of it, this “bunch of carnies and bearded trannies”, as ringmaster-cum-bearded lady Shivannah describes the Brisbane troupe, brings a night of old-school burlesque to the surprisingly salubrious setting of Meeting House Square in Temple Bar. It has all your old favourites, from plate-spinning (delivered with the deadest of pan) to incredible feats of rope swinging, and strongman antics from a moustachioed Johnny Domino. But, despite the amazing physical talent onstage – both in terms of skill and, ahem, aesthetics – it’s the off-the-cuff satire and brilliantly bitchy putdowns (“a three-car pile-up of Tina Turner, Donna Summer and the Flintstones”) that make this ostensibly “recockulous” show more than just a spectacle.
Until September 23rd
– Emma Somers
Bewleys Cafe Theatre
“What is an audience?” The protagonist (Conor Madden) in U-R-Hamlet asks as he moves among the audience. And so the scene is set. U-R-Hamlet is not, as its title suggests, yet another reworking of Hamlet, but a meditation on the nature of theatre itself. In case we miss the point, references to meta-theatre are everywhere. Brecht’s “verfremdung” or defamiliarisation technique gets an early mention.
While the self-reflection can seem a little forced at times, the play’s own narrative device is clever and compelling. U-R-Hamlet chooses as its own play within the play, the hour before an actor goes on stage to perform Hamlet. The banalities of the dressing room are interspersed with snippets from Shakespeare and reflections on the role of the actor. As a voice counts down to the performance, the play builds momentum, and one can’t help wishing the play was just about to start as the curtain opens and U-R-Hamlet draws to an end.
Until September 21st
– Suzanne Lynch
Black Box at Smock Alley
If he sat beside you on the bus, you’d change seats at the earliest opportunity. The antihero of Side-Show’s one-man show A Dangerman is a creep, a weirdo. He launches into (long, rambling and seemingly pointless) tales from history.
He starts at the Greeks and calls at Mao Zedong-era China, Franco’s Spain and Yugoslavia under Tito. He throws in some bible stories (featuring rape, sodomy and incest) and an anecdote from Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA.
The house lights are left on so the audience’s squirms are easily registered.
It’s all very odd. And oddly exhilarating. At one point in last night’s show, I thought he might actually kill us.
A sparse Black Box Studio isn’t the right space and there are stumbles and missteps in delivery, but this show forces you into a place far outside your comfort zone. And it turns out that it’s quite fun to visit that place every so often.
– Lynn Enright
Giant colostomy bags hang from the ceiling of a dimly-lit warehouse. The automaton with a slight German accent informs that we have five minutes to observe “archive material” – hand-bags, diaries, laptops, umbrellas, soft toys, the refuse of the world.
Where sci-fi in the theatre fails out of a lack of special effects, here it triumphs thanks to atmosphere. On Sunflower Estate 6, something has gone wrong with the life support, the situation is “critical” and there are only 80 minutes left for the survivors.
Just as the piece risks alienating its audience irreparably, it strikes back with something familiar. The “ritual” enacted is something between an old Western and a soap-opera, where a story of semi-ds, cancer and a bypass still has its place “to carry our consciousness forward”. Jesse Weaver’s original script, its strong cast and incredible use of Block T, make Bypass a vacuum-tight piece of theatre.
– Roisín Agnew
The Trick and Burning Love
An evening of grand Guignot
Try as I might I couldn’t see what director Ciaran Taylor was trying to do with this double presentation of plays inspired by Gran Guignol, a theatre in Paris known for its naturalistic horror shows. There was nothing natural, scary or even funny in either The Trick (man on the lam for murder terrorises a stripper in a lap-dancing club) or Burning Love (victim of acid attack gains revenge on lover when she visits him in hospital). The acting was exaggerated, the jokes lame and, unlike the Guignol, which placed characters that audiences were unfamiliar with on stage, here we have a list of stereotypes put through hackneyed paces. Nowhere in Mia Gallagher’s script or the performances was there grounding in reality, some form of truth to make these characters anything other than a sort of stage “zany”, which becomes increasingly tiresome to watch. Given how perfect the Smock Alley’s Boys School would be for a true Grand Guignol show, this is a real disappointment.