Dublin Fringe Festival and other reviews

Cat Lady/Human Jukebox ***

International Bar

No, the show is not about B-list superheroes. Instead, multi-talented Joseph Keckler performs a tribute to his wacky but much loved mother: stories about her slightly obsessive love of cats, her life-threatening aneurism and her "semi-savant" ability to sing anything she's ever heard. Because of the language and meandering pace and direction of the stories, they might work better read than recounted. But Keckler's voice, with its extraordinary range, richness and malleability, as he sings from low baritone to glass-shattering falsetto, gives the stories a new dimension.

There's so much going on, presented with lashings of wry New York wit, that there's a sense Keckler might still be looking for a performance direction in which to settle. I hope to see him in another Fringe in a show with his own humorous songs and playing more piano himself - he only gave us one tune on the ivories. Until Sunday CHRISTINE MADDEN

All Around My Head **

Bewley's Café Theatre

Daniel Reardon's new play, a lunchtime snippet of 35 minutes, opens with an alcoholic drop-out lurching into a Dublin laneway. He is soon assailed by a group of drunken youths bent on violence, but is rescued by a talking seagull. It speaks in rhyming dialogue, as does the tramp, Peter, played by the author.

The bird takes its protégé under its wing - oops! - on an extended aerial tour of Dublin, identifying prominent landmarks in lyrical prose. Finally, they land at Peter's family home, a prosperous middle-class abode. Egged on (I can't stop it) by the gull, he decides to reform and be a good guy again.

The author and Neilí Conroy are seasoned actors, and bring a natural authority to their twee roles. But the play is a low-flying affair, and there's not much they can do about that. Until Sat GERRY COLGAN

City Breaks *

O'Shea's Hotel, Talbot St

Shane Carr's play lasts for just under an hour, but it is still interminable. It is set in a small hotel bedroom on the night before the hotel is due to be sold. The audience is seated on chairs on one side of the room, and the cast of two leads and two walk-ons (silent maids) take up the rest of the space.

The male lead plays a night porter, a receptionist and a reveller; the woman plays the owner (she is far too young), a young drunk brought in from the street, and a Polish cleaner. There is some bathetic chit-chat, and the odd snippet of philosophy, such as the one about hotel rooms: you go in and come out, just like life - but speeded up. Eh? There is a mild voyeurism at work, too, in this squirm-inducing no-no. Until Thur GERRY COLGAN

Susan and Darren *****

Smock Alley

This production is so creatively original, so technically assured, and so successfully unlike anything in this reviewer's experience that it merits a five-star rating. Exploring and celebrating the relationship between real-life Susan Pritchard, a 50ish cleaner from Manchester, and her gay dancer son Darren, the Quarantine production is set against the backdrop of a party in their suburban council house, where they dance with each other and members of the audience, chat about their lives, change their clothes and question each other in the way of parents and their children (Susan: "Darren, what will you miss most about me when I'm gone?"). There's also a Q and A session for the audience. Add music, party food, a glitter ball, and a lot of feeling. It's intimate, life-affirming, utterly magical and unmissable. Until Fri NOELEEN DOWLING

Rhapsody in the Park ****


It was a night of jazzy big band and swinging, swaggering brass in the Spiegeltent, courtesy of the Royal Irish Academy of Music's 22-piece jazz ensemble, directed by Kevin Hanafin. The programme was heavy on the Gershwin, with some choice cuts by Pat Metheny giving plenty of groove and complex interplay to the mix before the interval. Guest pianist Conor Linehan brought an assured, theatrical authority to Rhapsody in Blue. Throughout the night, though, it was the tenor saxophone of Matthew Halpin doing most of the driving - despite being all of 17, he is a truly exciting player to listen to, and Karl Ronan brought rich subtlety and colour to his trombone solos, even if the sound mix didn't always make it easy to appreciate. A cracking closing encore of Milestones brought out perhaps this big band's best. Show concluded LAURENCE MACKIN

Mad Mabe and the Lost Girls: Better than a Black Hole *

Bosco Theatre

Mad Mabe and the Lost Girls feels like a production your 10-year-old cousins might stage in your aunt's living room to rapturous applause from relations. A less than freakish freak show about circus performers who can stand on their hands (as can many 10-year-old cousins), there's not much here to keep adults amused, although children who have yet to learn that humour requires more than a hissing baddie and a simpering clown will crack a smile. The whole thing hangs on a storyline of sorts about two girls who happen upon a circus, though any attempt at narrative cohesion is abandoned, along with a baby that was stolen at the start but failed to reappear for the happy ending. There's an awfully good juggler, though. Until Sun FIONA McCANN


Joan Rivers

Vicar Street, Dublin

Seven outta five nuns are lesbians, Hillary Clinton is a dyke, Venus and Penis Williams are grunting tennis players, and Olivia Newton-John still thinks she's cute - one guess as to who's been treading the boards in Vicar Street.

Joan Rivers, petite, bejewelled and spangled, and described by her crisply invigorating vaudevillian warm-up act, Kit and the Widow, as looking like a Siamese cat in a wind tunnel, received a rapturous reception from a packed auditorium as she began the first of two shows in one night.

Rivers is, or maybe was, a phenomenon, a byword for irreverence, a caustic, deeply un-PC and fearless gladiator, running her mordant blade through just about any sensibility you care to imagine. Fat, old, gay, disabled, Chinese, Polish, Christian or Jew, Rivers will be obligingly offensive (on somewhat less than attractive Christian fundamentalists: "'Jesus loves me' - if he loved you so much, he'd give you a chin").

But a couple of sparky one-liners aside ("at this age, men dress me with their eyes"), it was Rivers's reputation rather than her material which seemed to sustain the somewhat mild-mannered audience. Much of it was a rehash of recent television talk-show appearances: her 9/11 routine was achingly familiar, as was her diatribe on sex and ageing, and, overall, the gags felt fatigued. Disappointingly, given the comedic playground provided by the US election, there were barely any contemporary political references, Rivers instead choosing to riff, a little tediously, on Michael Jackson and Barbra Streisand. Funnily enough, the most daring material was from Kit and the Widow, who happily pushed at the boundaries of good taste with a Sound of Music parody about young Austrian girls in cellars.

At €65 for a set that came in at just under an hour, you'd really want some fresher Rivers to splash around in. HILARY FANNIN


Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical biography Evita trundles through the barren landscape of civil-war-torn Argentina, weaving a sensationalist tale of political celebrity that seethes with modern relevance.

The opening image is of a funeral, but as narrated by the somewhat tenuous guide - Che Guevara - the entire life of Argentina's first lady Eva Perón is gradually revealed. Her humble origins, her ambitious promiscuity, her charitable arrogance, her canonisation at death are all dissected against a backdrop of political intrigue. However, the whirlwind pace gives little time for reflection (or, at times, historical accuracy.) Lloyd Webber's score (notable, of course, for its leading number, Don't Cry for Me Argentina) makes little use of Latin-American influence, and many of the songs are more indebted to pop-rock standards. Matthew Wright's design neutralises Latin-American influence too, the sparse sliding columns and balconies evoking time and place in the most abstract of ways.

However, this is an efficient touring production from Bill Kenwright, with the compact cast and chorus of 20 supplemented with a score of local children. While Louise Dearman makes for a fiery Evita, like her co-star Seamus Cullen (Che), she struggles with the higher end of the vocal register, and the standout number is actually delivered by Nikki Mae, who sings Another Suitcase in Another Hall with show-stealing passion.

Meanwhile, Cullen makes for a charming revolutionary hero, even if his purpose as guide is not clearly revealed by Rice's somewhat laboured lyrics.

Overall, this production is more competent than inspiring. However, despite the sensational real-life events from which it was created, much the same could be said of this Lloyd-Webber musical itself. Until Sept 27 SARA KEATING