Fringe Festival Reviews


As the Fringe enters its second week, reviewers round up the new shows

The Helix, DCU

Julia Furay

Caravan opens with two of its puppets in the throes of an orgasm, and only gets raunchier from there. Australia's Black Hole Theatre Company has created some seriously demented sex-crazed puppets. They're the cast of a circus come to town, complete with acrobat, clown and stripper. This nearly wordless piece follows them as they spiral downward from dancing and strong-arm contests to dismemberment and murder. And all this to the beat of a seedy and evocative soundtrack. What's surprising, however, is the amazing depth of expression Black Hole's expert puppeteers manage to convey. In addition to lust and rage, we also get glimpses of convincing fear and despair. Which is good, because after an hour of watching the puppets have a go at each other, it starts to seem childish. Sit at the front, or you'll be craning to see what these murderous puppets are up to.

Runs until Saturday

Chocolate Monkey

New Theatre

Rosita Boland

We all endlessly tell one story, the tale of our lives.

Zambian-born and Australian-based writer and actor John-Paul Hussey has turned elements of his life in Melbourne into this experimental one-man autobiographical show, directed by Lucien Savron. Woodcuts and photographs of Melbourne's urban landscape are projected onto the back wall as Hussey takes us through key scenes from his past. He breaks up from his girlfriend, moves in over a funeral parlour, gets a job measuring Melbourne's train-track lines, gains weight, tries to put on a show and fails, writes cover stories for The Big Issue. . .

Too many Melbourne in-jokes pass over our uncomprehending heads in the process; this show was a hit there, but the local points of reference don't work here. Chocolate Monkey is a theatrical scrapbook, with some clever vignettes, but it doesn't add up to a satisfying, or cohesive whole, in the same way that looking at other people's photographs eventually tires you out.

However, Hussey has a truly superb lighting designer and operator in Mark Benson; this show is a five-star masterclass in the use of lighting.

Runs until Saturday

City Arts Centre

Susan Conley

Locus Theatre Company's one-act falls between a rock and the hard place of experimental theatre. The rock is the use of Viewpoints, a range of compositional tools developed by American practitioner Anne Bogart; the hard place is the use of those techniques in combination with Sam Shepard's 1975 play.

The manic qualities of Shepard's early writing is heightened by the use of this precise gestural and corporeal language, and not necessarily to either's betterment.

Director Caroline McSweeney and her able ensemble craft several visually beautiful and physically rigorous moments (such things being the cornerstones of Viewpoints), while also creating recognisable characters - but the sum total is something that is neither fish nor fowl (even though examples of both are fragrantly present onstage).

Too much story to be avant-garde, too little narrative to tell a full story; nevertheless, the company shows a taste for the challenging work that is promising.

Runs until Saturday


SS Michael & John

Belinda McKeon

Three crag-like structures, plastered with ragged pages ripped from diaries, from secret histories, from documents of concealment and conspiracy, loom over the stage as Quiconque's Lynne Forbes and Nadia Morgan dart their way through a riveting exploration of the ways in which we choose, and are forced, to hide from the world.

The narrative is a rich tapestry made from four true stories: two Jewish sisters hidden in an attic for four years, two Cuban teenagers stowed in the undercarriage of an aeroplane, the abandoned children in the sewers of Moscow, and Catherine de Medici, hidden in an Italian convent for the entirety of her childhood.

While slightly overlong, this is a deeply enjoyable and engaging piece, frequently hilarious; the physical and imaginative dexterity of the performers, and their sensitivity, even at this rapid pace, to the dreams, fears and vulnerabilities of their characters, makes for one of the most satisfying shows you're likely to see at this year's Fringe.

Runs until Saturday

The Tenants

Project Cube

Fíona Ní Chinnéide

Like the alarming statistic about rodents in cities, no one in Paul Kennedy's The Tenants is ever more than six feet away from a born-again Christian. Yet whether this is a good or a bad thing remains unclear at the end of this Female Parts production - the character motivation and overall purpose are still less clear.

Made up of too many scenes, with clumsy scene changes, the main offender here is the script: a few genuinely funny moments don't quite make up for the failure to enlighten or entertain. Even the cast seems unsure whether to play for laughs or pathos, offering slightly self-conscious performances as the tentative Therese (Bairbre Scully), her beer-swilling lover Roy (John Carey), ex-tart-with-a-heart Selena (Suzanne Lakes) and evangelical Tony (Padraig Denihan), who at least brings "a little bit of hope" and not a few laughs with his dog- eared copy of The Cross and the Switchblade.

Runs until Saturday

The Mysterious World of Birds

Bewley's Café Theatre

Tony Clayton-Lea

William (Duncan Lacroix) and Karen (Lisa Hannigan) are based in New York. He is away for lengthy periods of time touring with a rock band he has no passion for; she remains at home haunted by the death of a former lover and troubled by the fragmentation of her relationship. The play opens with William preparing to leave Karen for the last time; trust and faith have been replaced by blame, while the potential each initially sensed in each other has turned into a series of broken promises and unspoken doubts. Director/writer Jessamyn Fiore's bleak yet optimistic play is long on word count and short on light relief, and is a two-hander that could have buckled under the weight of its own verbosity were it not for the superb performances of Hannigan and Lacroix, each of whom stitch a tensile thread in and out of the play's highly emotive fabric.

Runs until Friday

Audience with the King

New Theatre

Belinda McKeon

Peadar Ó Guilín's comedy of an unlikely liasion between a brassy psychiatric nurse and a straitjacketed patient who believes he's a king is a clever experiment in self-referential theatre, peppered with reminders of the artificiality of the form, of how plays glean their meaning from the individual perceptions of audience members. And there are moments during the story of Nora and Jack when this sharpened awareness of subjectivity and its changing stances delivers a gutsy and provocative exploration of the fine line between sanity and insanity, and of entrenched attitudes to mental illness. But spirited as the central performances are, too often they are snagged by the raw edges of Ó Guilín's script, which comes across as though it would have benefited from a longer treatment to rid it of cliché and easy jokes - and an ill-advised AIDS storyline, which comes from nowhere late in the play - and instead draw out the subtle, challenging piece which might lie beneath the word games of this slighter one.

Runs until Saturday

The Tender Mercies

Crypt Arts Centre, Dublin Castle

Anna Carey

In a stark prison cell, a young man is being forced to denounce everything he's ever loved. Alex is a prisoner of the forces which are occupying his (unnamed) native country, forces from a country ruled by a Stalin-esque figure known as the noble Kommandant. The Tender Mercies is an unflinching look at the ways in which war robs everyone of their humanity - from the prisoners to the soldiers who captured them. The three cast members are all excellent, although David McCorry is best when playing the interrogator Zig as a cringing buffoon - he's a little over the top in the opening interrogation/brainwashing session, and one feels that the part would have been much more menacing if played with icy detachment rather than bluster. Jimi McKillop brings a quiet dignity to the role of the imprisoned Alex, and Andrea Murphy ismagnificently sinister as the soldier who represents the brutal ruling regime.

Runs until Saturday

The Untitled Series

SS Michael & John

Helen Meany

The titles of this double-bill by Haresh Sharma suggest the atmosphere of an art gallery and this is precisely what Singapore's Necessary Stage company creates. In Untitled Women Number One, Noorlinah Mohamed and Nora Samosir bring a sense of stillness to their elliptical dialogue. Two women face the audience demurely, holding hands and exchanging memories and reveries, as the light from five paper lamps fades. Everything is ambiguous - except the frankness of their erotic fantasies.

Untitled Cow Number One is a ritualised performance in which a female creature - half-woman, half cow - played by Samosir holds a vigil over her husband's body. She moves through stages of anger and despair until she attains the liberation of the mystic who wants "nothing from this world and nothing from the next". Although her costume and gestures assume some familiarity with Hinduism and Buddhism, the theme is universal and the text has the incantatory quality of a prayer.

Runs until Saturday