Automobile antics and others

 

And we're off: the fourth Dublin Fringe Festival has sprung into action, running alongside the main festival, with 60 shows in venues sprinkled around the city centre, and, for the first time, in Tallaght. While the riding school at Collins Barracks and St Michan's Church promise to be atmospheric venues, Corn Exchange's Car Show (until October 17th) at Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, has the most adventurous setting: four parked cars. For backseat drivers and voyeurs this is a must, but anyone interested in imaginative theatre, well scripted, directed and performed, should get in lane. Four 20-minute scenes are enacted simultaneously in each car, with audience members (three per car) moving from one to the next, while curious passers-by look on. Simultaneously open and intimate, public and private, the short plays offer us fascinating glimpses into other lives as we huddle in the back seat, eavesdropping.

Arthur Riordan's Love Me, directed by Lynne Parker and enacted in a dark, totally sealed car, is a clever, witty, highly disciplined dialogue between a couple (Kathy Downes and Michael McElhatton) who, in the aftermath of a car crash, find themselves locked into an endlessly repeating sequence of exchanges, emphasising the formulaic, predetermined nature of communication. Each time they repeat the lines, desperately, they add a little more, so that a narrative emerges of the aftermath of a party at which the husband's behaviour had aroused his wife's jealousy.

There's more marital jealousy on display in Outside Eden (devised by Michael West, Andrew Bennett and Anna Healy, directed by Annie Ryan), an acute observation of the compromises and evasions of coupledom, as husband and wife engage in a tense post mortem of the evening they have just spent in an (adjacent) expensive restaurant with another couple, discussing golf and babies. As they negotiate the murky waters of social embarrassment, sexual jealousy and divided loyalties, Andrew Bennett and Anna Healy perform with great understatement and subtlety.

Salty Dog, excellently written and directed by Alex Johnston, brings us uncomfortably close to the vein of cruelty in women's friendship, as two young women share drunken memories at the funeral of a mutual friend, the more knowing, worldly one (Fiona Condon) constantly undermining the other (Deirdre Walsh), subtly at first, then becoming more patronising and openly insulting. 5, devised and directed by Terry O'Hagan is the most intriguing of the four pieces, leaving us wishing for more information and speculating about the lives of the characters beyond the confines of the car in which they wait, passing the time. Indulging in the comfort of reminiscence about adolescence, and answering magazine questionnaires, the two men (Robert Price and David Pearse) suddenly leave, walking purposefully with hold-alls, possibly to some innocent destination, but we're not so sure . . .

Having seen Kaos Theatre UK's Importance Of Being Earnest recently, the prospect of this inventive Cirencester-based company's adaptation of the novel, The Master And Margarita (City Arts Centre, until Saturday) was enticing, and didn't disappoint. Bulgakov's satirical fantasy which depicts the calamitous impact on Stalinist Moscow of the visit of Satan, is brought to life in an energetic ensemble production, staged with visual flair and wit, with a few well-chosen props. With cast members clambering over the walls of asylums, balancing on chair backs, flying on broomsticks over the roof-tops of Moscow and singing operatically, the emphasis is on physical versatility. If, at times, quiet, reflective moments are thrown away, especially between the lovers, the master (Oliver Parham) and Margarita (Sharon Schaffer) and the extrovert, exaggerated performance style sacrifices subtlety, these losses are compensated for by the overall coherence of script and production and the sheer talent of the performers.

Six years ago, Ken Lukowiak's memoir of his experiences as a paratrooper in the Falklands War was published in The Guardian to widespread acclaim. Coming 10 years after the war, from which many soldiers, including the author, were suffering from post-traumatic stress, it was a raw, first-hand reminder of reality of combat versus the rhetoric. A Soldier's Song was published in book form a year later, and has now been adapted for the stage as a one-man show by Guy Masterson, who also performs, directed by Tony Boncza (Andrew's Lane, until Saturday).

On a bare stage, Masterson delivers the monologue in an unvaried tone of heavy jocularity, emphasising the bravado and machismo resorted to by the members of 2 Para to cover their terror. Despite the sound effects of heavy shelling, and the outbursts that alternate with emotional confessions of numbness when confronted with the corpses of dead Argentinians - "there is no revelation, no understanding, I feel nothing" - this is an essentially undramatic piece, which hasn't been sufficiently shaped for performance. While the subject matter is undoubtedly important, it simply doen't work as theatre, and unfortunately Guy Masterson's performance remains on the surface, as if he hasn't yet absorbed the script, and falls back on a jaunty, self-deprecating, Dad's Army haplessness. Sexual conflict on a Gothic scale suffuses Trudy Hayes's Making Love To Yorick, (Players Theatre, until Saturday) in which two vampiric creatures enact a tortured after-life of recrimination, desire and loathing for a long 45 minutes. Una Kavanagh and Jimmy Watson, in sumptuous costumes, are the two unfortunate creatures doomed to make each other miserable - alternatively arch, histrionic and desperate. Literary allusions proliferate and there's a lot of posturing around the issues of sexual politics.

More levity and less self-conciousness would be very welcome, though there was one unintentionally funny moment where the man suggests to his lascivious woman that perhaps she should have channelled her energies into helping the homeless. For whose benefit, we wonder . . .

Also running this week at Project @ the Mint, which this year has joined the Fringe side, is The Derry Boat, a funny, clever and poignant evocation of three generations of migration between Donegal and Glasgow, written and performed by Little John Nee and directed by Paraic Breathnach, and reviewed on this page earlier this year (until Saturday). Also at Project, and previously reviewed here by Mary Leland, is Meridian Theatre's musical production, Craving, directed by Johnny Hanrahan, which is an inventive combination of live action and video footage, taking a comic look at advertising, politics and, of course, the meeja (until Saturday). Also previously and favourably reviewed was Fabulous Dance Theatre's The Good People, now over, which was at the Samuel Beckett Centre.

The Fringe Information office is in Arthouse, Curved Street, Temple Bar. The Fringe phone number is 01-6056833, and information is available on these websites: www.fringefest.com and www.dkm.ie/events