A look at what is happening in the Dublin Fringe Festival.
When the blacked-out bus pulls away from the Custom House and you are greeted by a young woman with wild hair and smudged mascara, you think that Semper Fi's show is about to begin. But then you sit in a bleak warehouse for almost an hour while more busloads dribble in. Nothing can excuse this kind of insult to an audience and Adrenalin, directed and designed by Karl Shiels and written by Paul Walker, doesn't come close to compensating for it.
Adrenalin is a big boy's fantasy. Lots of otherwise redundant scantily-clad young women decorate the space. The plot is a pastiche of 1970s action thrillers and blaxploitation movies, with bits of Dog Day Afternoon, Superfly and Assault on Precinct 13, all filtered through the adolescent sadism of Quentin Tarantino. A gang in clown make-up robs a bank, kidnaps a property mogul and a woman estate agent and is besieged by the cops.
There is lots of shooting, shouting, kung-fu and stunts. The young woman is tortured and gets to take her dress off.
The boys obviously have a fabulous time doing all of this and they lavish visual and physical energy on their 1970s fantasy theme night. You just wonder why they needed an audience.
Until Oct 1
Strictly speaking, this wasn't a performance. In fact, "strictly" is not an adverb that could be applied to Framemakers under any circumstances. Launched earlier this year by Daghdha Dance Company, its no-holds-barred questioning of the status quo opens it to just about anything in its "experimental talk show" presentation mode, hosted by Steve Valk, dramaturg at Ballett Frankfurt. The first evening introduced actor, director and playwright Jack Moylett (who talked about 1960s New York and psychologist Wilhelm Reich) and Belgian painter, photographer and illustrator Dominique Beyens (who invented a game you don't play against but with each other). White-suited, bare-footed writer and director Jeff Gormley read at intervals and "thought breaks" from Robinson Crusoe - an apt choice, as the ethos of the investigation was that of being shipwrecked from society, and all the props (chairs, table, decorative potted plant) were scavenged from various locations. The atmosphere was Pat Kenny takes tea with Jacques Derrida in the back room of Mrs Green's charity shop. It eludes judgment, so no stars are given. One caveat: the Framemakers hosts should draw the audience into the discussion.
Frank Pig Says Hello
SS Michael and John
Frank Pig Says Hello is the definitive stage version of Pat McCabe's disturbing novel, The Butcher Boy; unfortunately this is hardly its definitive production. Performed in the exposed basement space of the SS Michael and John, the long musical interlude at the production's opening sets the tone for the disquieting combination of hope and desperation that defines the play's central character, Francie Brady. Bob Kelly and John Rogers are an unnerving duo as the schizophrenic youth, but the succession of role changes intended to evoke the wider community lacks definition, with key dramatic props serving as shorthand where the actors often fail. Here, the lighting scheme could have been exploited to dramatic effect, but the production's failure to capitalise on the play's key metaphor - Francie Brady's orange sky - is a significant indication of a wasted opportunity.
Players Theatre, TCD
Set on a London housing estate in the early 1990s, Martin Crimp's play deals with the abuse of a child by a young couple, and the indifference and incompetence of their neighbours and the authorities. The play's style and language is already a little dated, and given the soporifically one-paced treatment it receives from Tardy Lasso, this production adds up to the kind of experience that gives issues-based theatre a bad name. Feeling seriously over-extended at 90 minutes, it offers none of the minimalist focus or edge promised in the programme notes. Most importantly, the acting confuses rather than clarifies the central situation: there is too much self-conscious performing going on, and no sense that the cast knows or can imagine the world they are trying to recreate. This is unfortunate, because there are hints in the writing that Crimp's play could make
a more powerful piece of theatre.
It's a Cultural Thing, or Is It?
Entertaining, enriching and provocative - you could hardly ask for more from a show. These engaging true tales, based on the experiences of former Glenroe actor and Traveller Michael Collins, portray the discrimination and hardship routinely experienced by the Travelling community. They vividly evoke life in encampments and on halting sites - and some good times - from the mid-1960s through the Human Rights for Travellers activism of the 1980s and the beginnings of self-development.
Collins is an effective presence and tells his stories with humour, passion and a total absence of self-pity. He is ably supported by social worker Patricia McCarthy, providing historical, political and social context for Collins's stories. Mick Rafferty's able direction adds film and music to the script. Excellent.
Orpheus, or How to Undress
Is Nona Ciobanu's retelling of the Orpheus myth a play, a dance piece, a poem, a puppet show or a video installation? The answer is all of the above. Doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice are joined by another couple who are sometimes Persephone and Hades, sometimes Dionysus and the Maenad. These wicked tricksters manipulate the lives of Orpheus and Eurydice, who express their love through gracefully acrobatic dance and the moving, surreal poetry of Gellu Naum. The performers are uniformly excellent, especially Liliana Gavrilescu as Eurydice, but perhaps the real stars of the show are the impressively inventive video projections with which the performers constantly interact. Combined with Alexander Balanescu's beautiful Michael Nyman-esque music, the result is a production of astonishing beauty and grace.
This improvised entertainment does not really constitute a play. It is a format, familiar from TV, in which the audience supplies a random selection of words from which the performers build a comic, if incoherent, narrative. An energetic MC (Joe McKinney) mediates between audience and actors to drive the show along. There is clearly a predetermined format, with a number of set-pieces embedded in it, so the improvisation is far from total. Within this framework, seven young actors and comedians work hard for their laughs, and secure a reasonable return. But this is not theatre as usually envisaged, and one must look quizzically at the claim that an entirely new play will be created on the spot each night. Maybe this one strayed into the wrong festival; isn't there a comedy one going on somewhere?
The audience for Tinylife is greeted by a silent wave from a sound technician clad in a white boiler suit. So it's easy to settle down to 50 minutes of strangeness from Mangaire & John Brown Theatre. It's billed as a clown show for the 21st century, but despite the elements of mime, contortion and an enjoyable level of audience interaction, this is not clowning as we usually understand it. Grant Hessbach (Jaimie Carswell) is a pitiful office worker, and Captain Napkin (Alexander Kipp) is his mischievous online alter-ego. Grant feels cut off and is looking for love - or connection. With his computer, he is in control, and doesn't need to worry about what is real and what isn't. Captain Napkin urges him to embrace gadgets in place of people - but he can't present an antidote for the modern condition. And we too are left a bit bereft. Will Tinylife solve all your problems? Probably not. But it might make you less embarrassedabout your fantasy life.
Tramps and Vamps
They slink on stage, these figures aren't coy; all dressed up as cats: two girls and one boy. A feline-styled musical, though quite loose on plot, with tales of louche hookers, Lloyd Webber it's not. Each entendre is doubled.
Kitties writhe all the time. And in case you don't notice, they do it through rhyme.
Sam Slater's lewd verses have numerous snags, not least in repeating some obvious gags. One laughs just so long at songs sung quite shrilly, and a dirty mind will know what rhymes with "stick", "class" or "silly". What's really quite shocking, though, is not filthy presage, but the fact that the show feels it must have a message. Now I can take jokes, without much compunction, about the brute nature of bodily function, and while John Matthew's Miss Bird was hilariously moving, a high-minded finale is hardly improving.
But with its mind in the gutter and its humour perverse, late at night on the Fringe you could do a lot worse.
Until Oct 1
Andrews Lane Studio
Short and apparently slight, Rachel Rogers's play, set in a Dublin maternity hospital, manages to cover quite a lot of ground in its understated way. The very different experiences of three pregnant women (two of them junkies from the inner city, the other a Dundrum housewife struggling to stay off the fags) are contrasted in a series of closely observed scenes that have the feel of authenticity. Respectively threatening and attempting to protect the women are two opposing male characters, a brutal drug-dealer (and prospective father) and a compassionate African ex-doctor.
The production's measured pace (which allows the actors to get away with extravagantly long, reflective pauses) somehow adds to its realism and also increases the impact of its sudden moments of violence and rage. Though the characters sometimes teeter on the brink of cliché, the restraint of the acting ensures that they remain credible.