Dublin Fringe Festival: hits and misses from the opening weekend

Including a war-trauma dance show, a disabled-sex monologue and a Shakespearean shitstorm

Soldier Still
Project Arts Centre

Military life may mirror civilian life in its range of activities – from medicine to logistics – but it is unique in codifying violence and its application though barrel-chested language and hyper-masculine ideals. Soldier Still opens with security analyst and former soldier Tom Clonan donning his uniform, a metaphoric cover for acts of brutality antithetical to the human condition. Slowly the shield crumbles, as he witnesses violence and trauma spoken and danced by Lucia Kickham, Julie Koenig, Geir Hytten and Fernando Balsera Pita in a succession of solos, duets, and trios and quartets.

All are held in the grip of previous traumas, trapped by the past and isolated from the present. This is Junk Ensemble's most visually focused work to date, delivered with the coldness and immediacy of a report. In the end, Clonan performs a gestural solo, which although missing the visceral punch of earlier movement, depicts a haunted and hollowed out loneliness. - Michael Seaver
Runs until Thursday

Why Won't You have Sex with Me?
Project Arts Centre


A media discussion on the sexless lives of disabled people unfolds, and journalist Louise Bruton lifts her brows high with astonishment. Seen here, in her acerbic and risqué monologue, it’s clear that an inappropriate probe into intimacy deserves an equally indiscreet rebuttal.

From her wheelchair, Bruton sharply paints a picture of a superficial society, all digital dating and surface judgments. Journalistic devices are quaintly deployed, such as satirical cartoons by Emmet Kenny (a giant wheelchair intimidating a male suitor, for instance), which accompany eye-opening passages mixed with humour. The production, directed by Laura Bowler, is nicely spry, covering the expanse of the stage with a ramped platform, slyly nodding to accessibility in the arts.

Despite those efforts, this piece can be disappointingly analogue, resembling more an instructive Ted talk than a suggestive performance. Bruton gives a rare voice to individuals ignored by society, with facts that could that could make for a stirring production, but that potential remains to be harnessed. - Chris McCormack
Runs util Sept 11

Neon Western
Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin

The den of iniquity in this Wild Western rave, The Soiled Dove, has a steep price of admission. “A death for pleasure,” the preacher/MC (Aine Ní Laoghaire) howls. In that case, she should demand a refund. Or else, standing in a clammy theatre space for 75 minutes, and swivelling to observe a gaggle of club-gear-wearing frontier types shouting unhappily over thumping techno, you might be tempted to chip in a few more deaths.

Intriguingly conceived, but poorly executed, this collaboration between Conflicted Theatre and composer Peter Power pursues a threadbare narrative, light on detail but heavy with Christian motifs, through disparate design elements, little of which come together. Beginning in Cork as a promenade piece, it is here stuck still, decked up in practical lights and plywood stages, with few ideas about how to involve its audience. Drinks are served halfway through, in a novel communion but a party fail, sapping an already drawling pace.

Powers's soundtrack has some absorbing ideas, from deliciously dark Daphni-inspired beats to church organ house music. Allied with George Hanover's slinky cue-calling Devil, and some striking vignettes of lost paradise, the lusty fall of man, various floggings and sacrifices, that suggest something between a medieval mystery play and a dayglo tribute to Sin City. The results are less a nest of pleasure, than a pit of guilt. - Peter Crawley
Runs until Sept 17

The Shitstorm
Peacock Theatre, Dublin 

Shakespeare, like his character Prospero, has always been a hard act to follow. Still, informed theatre makers must experiment, so why shouldn't Simon Doyle rewrite The Tempest under a knowingly surly title? In this confined new version, reduced to a four-character fractious Dublin family in exile, Miranda (Fionnuala Gygax) struggles to emerge from her father's shadow. When Bryan Quinn's Prospero abjures his rough magic, drowning his books and – it seems – himself, Miranda, sitting at a hot-pink piano, seeks out her own material and forms of expression. In Doyle's play, these are contested stories of the island, teased out among the grumbling comedy of Pom Boyd's Ariel and Ian Toner's fuming, needy Caliban, ready to assist with the telling.

Director Maeve Stone is similarly aware of theatrical inheritances, from fragments and classics through to the innovations of Beckett, punk and Pan Pan. A stew of allusions and in-jokes make for a closed-shop appeal, less het up on making sense (which, Ariel insists, can't be avoided anyway) than trying on styles: word games, insult jokes, a struggle to decide on a band name, and finally a needlessly horrible punk performance, which even Doyle's reliably flip sensibility finds hard to palm off as an ironic gag. It's a cultured squall but not every storm is progress. - Peter Crawley
Runs until Sept 16

Lords of Strut: Absolute Legends
Upstairs space, Project Arts Centre

The Lords of Strut have brought their acrobatic dance comedy to the Fringe again this year, and this time brothers Famous Seamus and Seantastic are looking to put together the perfect dance routine.

The show might centre on two men strutting around semi-naked most of the time, but it’s a family-friendly event. The pair get on the kids’ level without dumbing down their act.

It’s high-energy and slightly chaotic, but well paced with belly laughs all round. The kids are mesmerised by the comedic bickering as much as the acrobatics, and there’s no shortage of willing volunteers to shout out panto answers as required.

It’s all tightly choreographed, with a deliberately amateurish vibe that disguises how clever their physical comedy is. Even if a bit doesn’t totally land, the show moves at such a frantic pace, you’re mere seconds away from the next laugh.

Don't take my word for it. The friendly heckles of the six-year-old boy behind me declared that the pair had "really good dance moves" and "this is just too funny". High praise indeed. - Aoife Valentine
Runs until Sept 23