Irish Times critics review the Dublin Theatre and Fringe Festivals as well as the Peking Opera House of Beijing's performance at the NCH in Dublin.
Peking Opera House of Beijing
National Concert Hall, Dublin
Samuel Johnson defined opera as an exotic and irrational entertainment. However true this definition may seem to a European viewing a European opera or a Chinese person viewing a Chinese opera, when you cross the cultures between the audience and the work, Johnson's words seem irrefutable. I doubt that anyone who was unfamiliar with Peking opera before the weekend would be able to give a coherent description of what this art form might amount to on the basis of the Peking Opera House of Beijing's performances.
After all, the evening offered a selection from four very different works, and extrapolating from the overall experience might be about as reliable as the reports of the seven blind men in the oriental fable who describe an elephant from touch, one declaring it to be like a spear, another like a rope, another like the trunk of a tree and so on.
There was, for example, no singing in the opening excerpt from The Crossroads, which centred on a two-man fight in the dark, with and without swords, mimed to a penetrating percussive accompaniment, in full stage lighting. The unchanging lighting, no matter what's being depicted, the lack of stage scenery and the minimum of stage props are among the genre's fascinating conventions: punting a boat, and unbalancing it by stepping onto it, were among the effects portrayed by deft foot- and legwork.
Just as ballet has had its moments taking pride of place in Western opera, Peking opera finds place for some breathtakingly choreographed acrobatics, with feats both individual and collective taken a degree or two further in terms of stamina or complexity than one would have imagined possible.
In the excerpts presented in Dublin, the singing and often the music seemed to take a secondary place. Everything was amplified, the voices characteristically shrill in delivery, the small ensemble of instruments matching in style by favouring the upper end of the frequency spectrum, with very little sense of the bass extension one would find in most Western ensembles.
Rightly or wrongly, I got the impression that it's the spectacle, whether of cunningly devised mime or dazzlingly executed group juggling with poles, that travels best and that the singing, which would qualify as an acquired taste in this part of the world, was being carefully rationed. No matter. The impression of an extremely vibrant art form was well made, and the audience was not the least bit shy in voicing its enthusiasm for a sequence of remarkable performances.
Dublin Theatre Festival
You'd expect to laugh at a show in which the only character onstage is a red-nosed clown, but the sounds of children giggling and gasping in amazement at the antics of Buffo went beyond anything your average clown could possibly deliver. He came onto a stage dominated by a shiny grand piano, and he had some of the traditional clown trappings, including oversized floppy shoes and chequered handkerchief. But the red nose was painted on, the shoes were black and the suit was not a Day-Glo explosion but an oversized dinner suit. There were no squirting flowers or honking horns. This is a very sophisticated clown - well, he is from France - and the mostly seven- and eight-year-olds in the audiences couldn't get enough of him.
Buffo, the creation of Howard Buten, appeared with a bucketful of daft props that ranged from a plunger to a ventriloquist's dummy. He produced a trumpet from his trousers and a crying baby violin from a cello: there was never a moment in the hour-long show when the audience could predict what was going to happen next. Buten's pace and, more important for a children's show, engagement never flagged.
The children themselves found a point of reference: with his odd guttural sounds and telegraphed mistakes, more than one little audience member loudly compared him to Mr Bean.
For the adults and, perhaps, the older children, an added dimension was that Buffo seemed like a man trying to make sense of the challenges in his world, so there was that satisfying well of pathos bubbling gently under the surface.
This is another show that would never have made it to Ireland were it not for the festival's imaginative and ambitious programming.
Dublin Fringe Festival
Project, Space Upstairs
An accident meant 79-year-old Ivana Gottliebová couldn't travel to Ireland to perform in Question For Next Year, but its replacement, Featured, also highlighted an intergenerational cast: choreographer Kristýna Lhotáková and three men in their 50s, Vojtech Gajda, Jaroslav Synek and Eduard Cubr. Informal introductions lead to quirky movement cameos from all three men, who had not danced onstage until the work's première, earlier this year. So far, so funny. But the work soon journeys into issues around ageism, leaving a few straggling gigglers behind. There's a lot at play around self-aggrandisement and dignity. A paying audience can easily feel control over these unlikely dancers, accentuated in a section in which they clap to the music while Lhotáková leads the trio through increasingly difficult sequences. Asserting individuality through unapologetically exposed bodies and celebrated idealism, Featured is restively subtle.
The Indian Wants The Coombe***
Andrews Lane Studio
In his timely rewrite of The Indian Wants The Bronx, Israel Horovitz's 1966 play, Michael Sheridan transplants the dangerous tedium of US housing projects to Dublin's dreaded inner city. Waiting for a bus, a young Indian (Rodrigo Rodrigues) with a trusting face and worried eyes encounters two wild and wiry kids who begin menacing games. There is a well-intended but dramatically naive tilt to the dialogue ("We're f***ed," announces Stephen Kelly's psychotic Murph, "so we may as well f*** everyone."), and director Alan King lets this overamplification engulf his small space. "It's only a game," they repeat, but, despite fine performances, in simply making us witnesses to torture, the game gets overplayed.
Re-member Me & Is This It? ***
SS Michael & John
Despite the twee but neverthess violent-sounding name, Ailsa Richardson's Re-member Me is a sensitive, reflective piece with thoughtful use of video. Making a very long-limbed impression in a white costume, black underskirt peeking from beneath a slit, Richardson gracefully interacted with a celluloid previous self, dressed in the black frock now uncovered and twirling in a meadow. She frequently reached over her head, clutching an imaginary wall, almost peering over its edge - into the future or back to the past? Dance bridges time, fills gaps of memory. The second half of the double bill, by and with Jem Treays and Kevin Lewis, gave a sense of what Beckett might have done had he tried his hand at choreography - but without much training. The action line, which runs full circle and reverses the initial roles of the dancers, had physical and conceptual merits but needed honing to perfect its portrayal of the absurdity and futility of human relationships.