Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

A night in Funderland

It’s nearly a year since OTR last went to the theatre. I know, I’m as much a philistine as most of you suspect I am. You’re supposed to go to the theatre if you’re writing about culture of any sort, …

Tue, Apr 24, 2012, 09:29


It’s nearly a year since OTR last went to the theatre. I know, I’m as much a philistine as most of you suspect I am. You’re supposed to go to the theatre if you’re writing about culture of any sort, right? But as I’ve noted before, theatre and me parted ways many, many years ago after too many nights spent watching writers using a script and the stage to work out issues with their alcoholic fathers.

I went my way and it, well, it didn’t really seem to go anywhere. Theatre gets an incredible amount of attention and coverage compared to other forms of culture, yet there’s rarely anything which pokes its way into the world which appeals to anyone beyond the hardcore. Occasionally, it does happen, but that’s the exception which proves the rule. Sure, the dedicated hardcore who go to opening nights and always check out what’s on in the Abbey (the women with scarves, to coin a phrase) are to theatre what Mogwai fans are to live music, but there are times when you surely have to go beyond the heartland.

Alice In Funderland is one of those occasions. I’d wager that the vast majority of people who were in the Abbey last week for the performance I saw are not regular theatre-goers. You can tell that by their hands-in-the-air reaction to the pumping house music which played during the interval. In fact, I reckon most of the people who were there wouldn’t consider the theatre when it comes to a night out.

But this is Alice In Funderland, a colourful tale of camp magic, mischief and machinations in an acid-trip Dublin you’ll recognise with a grin, and this is why we’re here. We’re here to be entertained (even theatre audiences want value for money in 2012) and we get that. We’re here for some pokes at the pantomine villians who landed this country in the mess it’s in and we get those. We’re here for a big night out and, yep, we get that in spades.

Yes, there are flaws. It’s far too long and some of the text needs to be reworked (there are a couple of clanging one-liners which even Oliver Callan would have deleted and we’re not just talking about the bizarre Scissor Sisters’ tune). It also pulls its punches a bit when it comes to addressing the state we’re in, which is often mentioned but never properly articulated. However, it is a musical and we were never going to get beyond mere surface in that context. On the other hand, there’s nothing flawed about the energy of the performance. Everyone on the stage works their butts off and it’s that magnetic, passionate energy – and the Damien Dempsey taxi-driver – which keeps you entranced for nearly three hours. For once, the groupthink is right: it’s a hit.

Kudos therefore to Fiach Mac Conghail and the Abbey for bringing Thisispopbaby and Funderland to the big stage. It’s a brave, bold move which needs to be recognised and saluted and you hope that it won’t be the last time the Abbey takes chances like this. The Abbey needs to take chances. Wouldn’t it be great if we got more challenging, interesting and unorthodox works like this rather than safe fare designed at filling the stalls over the summer months with tourists?

I can already hear the Abbey spinners say that they need to be all things to all men and women (and Americans), but it’s a national theatre and the concept of what a national theatre is must change, just as the notion of what this nation is has changed. After all, Ireland today is more Funderland than Playboy of the Western World. More pieces like Funderland will mean a performance like this on the Abbey stage is the norm rather than a novelty. It will also see the theatre full of people who might – might – increasingly see a night at the theatre as their idea of a good night out.