The first five-star of the Fringe

Fri, Sep 14, 2012, 01:00

The Irish Times critics review the latest plays at the Dublin Fringe Festival

Briefs

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

U-R-Hamlet

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

A Dangerman

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.

Until tomorrow

Lynn Enright

  Bypass

Block T


****

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.

Until tomorrow

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.

Until tomorrow

Caomhan Keane

  Maybe If You Choreograph Me You Will Feel Better

Meet at Absolut Fringe Box Office

****

A one-on-one performance between a female performer and a male spectator, Tania El Khoury’s playful riff on gender politics and Western perceptions of the Middle East manages to be both disarming and provocative. Led to a high window to discover El Khoury among the oblivious passers-by below, we get our introductions and early trials out of the way. I am then given a series of options to dictate El Khoury’s movements. Where is she coming from? How should she dress? Should she be purposeful or passive? – and our relationship shifts from fun conspiracy to something more loaded.

You don’t need to be Germaine Greer or Edward Said to recognise a binary of restrictive cliches here (should she be chic or militant, have a crying spell or throw a hissy fit?) and implicating her male observer in their persistence is unlikely to challenge anyone’s politics. Still, there’s a lightness of touch and ambiguity in her performance, enough ironic humour in a scripted male mea culpa– with illuminating details of life in Lebanon, and, in our final mutual recognition, a sense of equal participation in the performance. The choreography may be a chauvinist trap, but collaboration made me feel better.

Ends today

– Peter Crawley

Broadening

The Lir, Studio 2

****

What are the limits of our endurance? What are we willing to accept in order to be accepted? These are the questions posed by Peter Dunne in his absorbing play Broadening. Composed of short staccato scenes played out in random order, the audience becomes complicit in the intriguing unfolding of a psychological trial. What exactly is the point of the power games we witness, we are asked to consider. Who is in charge? And to what extent are the researchers themselves the subjects of this social experiment?

With flickering fluorescent lights and the sound of heavy doors slamming, Ronan Phelan’s production capitalises on the palpable sense of unease in Dunne’s accomplished script, while the vague 1970s setting gives us just enough context to believe what we see (these were the years of the Stanford Experiments after all) without labouring any particular political point. A convincingly suspenseful evening.

Until Sunday

Sara Keating

Dogs

Project Arts Centre

****

Emma Martin’s new work illuminates those instincts in humans which draw us closer to the animal kingdom, moments of explosion that transform emotional lyricism into ferocious anger, a gathering of individuals into a mob, a cultured salon into a pit of rage and back again. Her company of six expressive dancers energetically run the gamut of her language from a phase of grace and symmetry to the frenzied urging of a street gang, a pack of hounds baying for blood.

They kick up a storm, arms and legs flying and flailing, creating their own primal barefoot crescendo, counterpointing Bryan O’Connell’s drumming. The musicians and dancers brilliantly parallel one another throughout; the baroque rhythms of Tom Lane’s harpsichord become more discordant while soprano Elizabeth Wood’s operatic voice takes to free form jazzy mouth music till finally the strains of Mozart soothe the crumpled exhausted bodies as they fall to the floor.

Until tomorrow

– Seona Mac Réamoinn

  Bandit

Bewleys Cafe Theatre

***

Actor (and writer, and runner) Brian O’Riordan looks pretty fit; if he wasn’t before he starts this lunchtime show, he would be by the end, as for large sections of it he is running on the spot. The “bandit” is Peter, who has snuck into the elite runners’ section of the Dublin marathon as a runner without a number. The solo performance (directed by Bryan Burroughs; part of Show in a Bag strand) is a bit of a marathon in itself, a feat of physical exertion and memory, with the narrative jogging (sorry) back and forth between the race, his childhood and later, working in a bank and disappearing to Mexico for years.

A tad confused at times, it clarifies, illuminating what he was running from in the first place. O’Riordan is an engaging performer (the main protagonist less so), who slips very nicely into a characterisation of his arch rival (complete with a switch in running style), less well into a female co-runner.

Until September 21st

Deirdre Falvey

Pop

Smock Alley Theatre

***

Theatre company Come As Soon As You Hear has a new, original and fun game show concept – but it’s not the kind of thing Noel Edmonds would host. Five semi-naked players – who have name badges bearing titles like Homophobe and Racist – take turns embarrassing each other. By gradually forcing opponents to surrender in shame, ie to concede a loss because a story or task is just, like, too embarrassing – one participant from each round emerges victorious. Dirty tactics abound as the onstage players, who reveal themselves to be nihilists in brightly coloured American Apparel underpants, pose increasingly difficult questions (“Which of your parents would you rather kill?”).

Sometimes Pop descends into disorganised squeals when it could be a more interesting examination of humiliation, but this is a spirited and funny show turning the confessional theatre genre on its head.

Until tomorrow

Lynn Enright

The Lehane Trilogy

Players Theatre

****

It’s not an easy life for the female clown and Ruth Lehane knows it. Teetering between memories of happy times, astute observations, blithe remarks and a thousand and one idiosyncrasies, The Lehane Trilogy is disarmingly charming.

As she plays Waiting for Roger, the swarthy Mexican cowboy who is going to protect her “when the revolution arrives”, we are introduced to her world of synthetic grass, potted flowers, tea-sets, self-help books and we encounter the ill-fated Mr Cat. But the imagined Roger never appears and the barely perceptible fears rise to the surface – “They can all see that I’m the wrong way round.” Each time an expectation develops, Ruth Lehane avoids it with relish, imperceptibly manipulating your feelings till the last minute. But it’s when Lehane undresses to reveal a woolly bikini to general hilarity that the core discipline and rigour of her art are exposed in the form of her muscular body.

Until tomorrow

– Roisín Agnew

Just in Time

Meet at Absolut Fringe Box Office

***

It is the year 2212, where time travel is possible, the rich can purchase immortality and, less plausibly, Dublin has completed work on a third Luas line. This is the setting for Máiréad Ní Chróinín’s entertaining smart phone-assisted adventure, in which you roam through Temple Bar to infiltrate a ghoulish terrorist cell, La Muerta, before they topple the corporate behemoth that holds the key to anti-aging: like an epic battle between the Goths and L’Oreal.

Exploiting the full functionality of our handsets – GPS maps, mp3 communiques, interactive tasks and lovingly doctored video files – Ní Chróinín’s treasure hunt modestly augments reality so that the quiet square we visit erupts with smoke on our touch screens. If the plot becomes clotted with 12 Monkeys-style time hopping – or interrupted by iPhone glitches – its most absorbing elements are tellingly simple: the pulsing soundtrack that hurries your pace or the giddy shiver of seeing a character in the flesh. “Our time is now,” say the emissaries of the future, and – immersed in your smartphone and eternal youth sci-fi – you can see their point.

Until tomorrow

Peter Crawley

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