A Fringe play that lets you choose your own plot, and a sharp take on autism

Two plays that are tricky and smart in very different ways

 

The Friday Night Effect

Smock Alley Main Stage

★★★★★

Jamie, Sive and Collette are flatmates in Dublin city. By the end of the night, Collette (Eva O’Connor) will be dead, but we, the audience, will be guiding her story. We’re divided up into teams and it’s a choose your own adventure (by majority vote).

Drinks are had, drugs are taken, fights break out, stuff gets stolen, relationships break down: there’s a lot of drama, or at least, potential for drama. We are told at the start to guide the girls not by the morally correct thing to do, but what we would actually, honestly do.

It’s a fun format, and the episodic structure of the play helps keep the pace lively. It intercuts between short scenes, flashbacks and debates without it feeling too fragmented. The script is brilliantly written, absorbing, and finds opportunities to explore Collette’s bipolar disorder naturally, in ways that are both funny and respectful. All three women are convincingly portrayed; you feel like you almost know them by the end, making the final decisions where we hold their lives in our hands, hotly debated votes.

Cleverly conceived and well acted, as a social experiment it works, and as a story, it’s one worth hearing.

Runs until Sept 23

Aoife Valentine

Normal

The Lir Academy

★★★

A slow-burning two-hander that takes autism as its main theme, Caitriona Daly’s play balances concern for its central subject with pleasing dramatic tension.

Clearing up the detritus of a party, Phil (Karen Ardiff) and Helen (Caoimhe O’Malley) indulge in verbal skirmishing, the petty nature of their early exchanges – the price of upscale supermarket pastries, for instance – masking the true bone of contention. Gradually, it emerges that Helen is in a relationship with Phil’s autistic adult son Gary, whose birthday bash has ended prematurely.

As the two women argue about the depth and durability of their respective bonds with Gary, we learn more about them. Under the direction of Maisie Lee, both actors nicely flesh out their roles: Ardiff’s passive aggressive Phil with her spiky but unshakable maternal love; O’Malley’s defensive, vulnerable Helen with issues of her own.

That Gary is never seen or heard means that the story is ultimately about the impact of autism on others rather than on the condition itself. This, however, gives the piece a wider resonance than its particular subject might suggest. With an anti-climactic ending that offers no easy answers or indeed much comfort, Normal is nonetheless an arresting portrait of love in difficult circumstances.

Runs until Sept 23

Mick Heaney

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