Nine of the best shows to catch at Dublin Fringe Festival

The highest-rated Dublin Fringe shows to see this week, as chosen by our critics

Nine Weeks: Kennedy’s performance is composed with love and freighted with grief. Photograph: Seán Kennedy

Nine Weeks: Kennedy’s performance is composed with love and freighted with grief. Photograph: Seán Kennedy

 

The Dublin Fringe Festival is in full flight this weekend. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the festival is taking place in venues as varied as the Abbey Theatre, the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle, the Four Courts and a hair salon.

Our critics have selected the best shows to see this weekend and in the week ahead — catch them while you can.

NINE WEEKS

Black Box, Smock Alley Theatre
★★★★★
“Do you want me to sing at your funeral?” Seán Kennedy asks his mother during an emotionally turbulent visit to her home in Australia. The question is heartbreakingly urgent. Kathleen, whose convoluted recipes and angel-card readings her son both teases and indulges, does not have long left. Contending with her terminal illness and a second dysfunctional marriage, their relationship is tender but complicated.

That makes this extraordinary performance, composed with love and freighted with grief, all the more moving. In dialogue it traces human limitations: our fruitless interventions, massing frustrations, harmful patterns. But with its depiction of ritual, Kennedy’s arresting motion, the shifting space of its set, and, above all, its choral compositions and operatic song, Nine Weeks is transcendent, giving voice to the inexpressible. The journey, finally, is not despairing. “Am I killing her?” sings Kennedy, facing extreme odds as they board planes to Ireland. The strength it takes to arrive, they know, is not as important as the strength it takes to go.

Runs until Sunday, September 15th

TWO FINGERS UP

Two Fingers Up: The cast is strong and the writing is unrepentantly self-aware. Photograph: Laura Craig
Two Fingers Up: The cast is strong and the writing is unrepentantly self-aware. Photograph: Laura Craig

The New Theatre
★★★★☆
Two Fingers Up explores the nuances of female sexuality and the effect of the Northern Irish school system on adolescent sexual exploration. The title should be taken as literally as you dare. Following the story of three women from childhood to adulthood, this production is, at times, painfully universal.

The production utilises a simple set as the backdrop for decades of experiences. The cast capably travel up through the years, representing many female rites of passage in the short 60 minute run. It is a strong cast and Seón Simpson and Gina Donnelly’s writing is unrepentantly self-aware. The prose is loaded with the recognisable confusion and the creeping shame of exploring your sexuality in a conservative culture. The delivery is flawless and the frenetic energy of the piece never wanes.

Its success is in its simplicity and in the tightness of the direction. This is a raucous and unapologetic celebration of female friendship and female sexuality. One to watch.

Runs until Saturday, September 14th

SYMPHONY OF WORMS

Symphony of Worms: Mamalis moves from stand-up to storytelling and improvisation. Photograph: Eoghan O’Brien
Symphony of Worms: Mamalis moves from stand-up to storytelling and improvisation. Photograph: Eoghan O’Brien

Boys’ School, Smock Alley Theatre
★★★★☆
Death comes in many forms in Hannah Mamalis’s new solo show, where fantasy and confession overlap. A life-size blow-up doll becomes an alternative self, both more expendable and more robust than our narrator. Telling her own story of growing up as an only child in Connemara, inventing playmates, Mamalis delves into what lies behind her impulse to perform.  In an elastically hybrid form, only slightly less absurd than her previous Fringe show, The Egg is a Lonely Hunter, Mamalis moves lightly from stand-up comedy to storytelling and improvisation. Her initially ironic script becomes increasingly lyrical as she explores her fear of death, both her own and other people’s. A botched magician’s trick involving a pigeon, some terrible sex and a somewhat predictable drunken karaoke turn at the office party, lead us into more serious terrain. Beyond the charm and utter ease of this performance is a revelation of vulnerability, a surprise emotional kick.

Runs until Sunday, September 15th

SAUCE

Sauce: Maura is a kleptomaniac, Mella a compulsive liar. Photograph: Ste Murray
Sauce: Maura is a kleptomaniac, Mella a compulsive liar. Photograph: Ste Murray

Bewley’s Cafe Theatre
★★★★☆
Ciara Elizabeth Smyth’s play is a love letter to sauce, that unctuous flavour-enhancer that transforms food “from bland to bliss.” Sauce is just what poor Mella (Smyth) and Maura (Camille Lucy Ross) need to spice up their sad, lonely lives. Smyth, who delights in innuendo, might have had them roll around in some sticky sweet-and-sour paste, but instead she bestows upon her heroines’ even more extreme avenues of escape: Maura is a kleptomaniac; Mella a compulsive liar. Set in “a sharp and sour South Dublin suburb”, “the most suffocating peninsula in the county”, the play unfolds over the course of a single day, as the pair flirt with disaster and forge an unlikely friendship. Although the script loses its way towards the end – an extended scene of psychological explanation pulls the surreal comedy towards bad realism – the performances pull it together, as Smyth and the hilarious Ross, who can provoke hysterics with a single raised eyebrow, bring to life a variety of familiar character types. The result is a really funny show that is also very saucy, just not in the way you might expect.

Runs until Saturday, September 21st

ADMIN

Admin: Oisín McKenna’s cripplingly self-aware spoken word performance
Admin: Oisín McKenna’s cripplingly self-aware spoken word performance

Project Arts Centre 
★★★★☆
A story about love (“in some ways”) and money (“in many ways”), Oisín McKenna’s spoken-word performance is a vivid and wry account of precarious London living. On an impossibly high stool before a hypnotic cascade of glitter, McKenna might seem above it all: the neurotic pursuit of mindfulness, the push alerts of looming disasters, the constant tug of eBay watchlists. But, like dreary offices and dismal parties, he weaves everything together with irony and insight. “I am barely even a Marxist,” he sighs, unfulfilled by another one-click purchase.

That he does click with someone gives his story heart, soon promising Joe the support he so obviously needs himself. Throughout, McKenna is hyperalert – to wearisomely woke posers, or the complex path from Blair to Brexit – but cripplingly self-aware, conducting admin on his diet, personality, even storytelling. That makes one wordless moment marvellously effective, when director Darren Sinnott folds in politics, pop and the exquisitely personal, briefly letting Theresa May, Abba and an affecting picture of heartbreak do all the talking.

Runs until Sunday, September 15th

CHAMPIONS OF DANCE

Champions of Dance: The Lords of Strut inspire with their performance at the Abbey. Photograph: Jannik Pietzsch
Champions of Dance: The Lords of Strut inspire with their performance at the Abbey. Photograph: Jannik Pietzsch

Peacock Stage, Abbey Theatre 
★★★★☆
The Lords of Strut may have danced into our hearts, but their rise to fame is an untold story. Now, this important historical play on the stage of our National Theatre charts their rise from birth (literally) to that breakthrough performance at Danzapalooza. Full of ripping yarns, poignant monologues and bust-out moves it shows how these great dancers are also great actors: they even understand the fourth wall.

By the end, we don’t just know them, we understand them. That tiny curl of sadness that always lingers at the side of Famous Seamus’s smile? That’s the repression of the cruelty shown towards dance by his father, Mel Gibson (and his numerous attempts to murder the two brothers). Seán-tastic’s constant puppy dog eagerness to please? Possibly a deep-seated dependency on his controlling mother before her tragic death at Danzapalooza. But despite life’s knocks, they still remain committed to make the world better through dance. Inspirational.

Runs until Saturday, September 14th

MOOP

MOOP: the performance creates a universe where anyone would be delighted to live. Photograph: Aoife Herrity
MOOP: the performance creates a universe where anyone would be delighted to live. Photograph: Aoife Herrity

Black Box, Smock Alley Theatre
★★★★☆
Moop is an acronym for Matter Out of Place. In the case of Game Theory’s playful performance for an all-ages audience, this matter is a series of objects that the ensemble of five encounter, as if for the first time, with hilarious results. Bowler hats offer the opportunity for a quirky choreographic exchange, inflatable water wings provide the inspiration for a bonkers ballet, and a stick frustrates the actors with its steadfast stickiness. Moop is not about the transformation of “stuff”, but about the inherent joy in celebrating its materiality. Director Cathal McGuire gets the flow of action just right, although the actors – whose po-faced seriousness make their actions even more funny – haven’t quite nailed the timing. Alex Herring’s neon-popped design gently suggests another universe where the possibilities of play are endless. It’s the kind of universe where anyone, adult or child, would be delighted to live, but 35 minutes will do nicely too.

Runs until Sunday, September 22nd

VILLAINS

Villains: a richly textured live graphic novel presented through dance and animation. Photograph: Emily Terndrup
Villains: a richly textured live graphic novel presented through dance and animation. Photograph: Emily Terndrup

Project Arts Centre
★★★★☆
Though the staging is visually black-and-white, the morality in Luke Murphy’s dance is problematically grey. Video projections create a live comic book, framing the immediately familiar goodies and baddies. But it’s a dichotomy that is slowly unpicked through slick visuals, well-judged choreography and engaging performances. Richly textured with literary examples – from etymology to philosophy – the dance reveals how evil is not always a force to be battled, but can be conceptualised as a tool to justify wars, oppression and violence.

Villains are often simply different: scapegoats magnified in contemporary society through political populism and the bell-jar of social media. And in these polarised times, it is all the more important to look past the outward image and representation of evil. Whereas medieval forms of public humiliation once provided punishment, it was eliminated because, unlike a quick death, shame lasted forever. These days shame is an unwelcome, but easily earned by-product in the search for online attention.

Runs until Friday, September 13th

A VERY OLD MAN WITH ENORMOUS WINGS

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: a model of ingenuity through humble means. Photograph: Patricio Cassinoni
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: a model of ingenuity through humble means. Photograph: Patricio Cassinoni

Project Arts Centre
★★★★☆
There’s no lesson in this charmingly offbeat adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s children’s story, its teller warns us: “So don’t go looking for one.” Nonetheless, there is something instructive about adapting magic realism for a sceptical age and an audience of all ages.

Told by Genevieve Hulme Beaman, whose gauche narrator smiles as though new to the concept, and silent partner Manus Halligan, who shyly manipulates Andrew Clancy’s handsomely nostalgic table-top set, it is a model of ingenuity through humble means. Two wary matchstick parents discover a feeble angel (a crouching figurine, trailed with feathers) and lock him in their chicken coop. When the town come to gawp and taunt, our heroes do the decent thing – and sell merchandise. Director Dan Colley is similarly unsentimental, exposing the apparatus of DIY technology, where songs loop and cameras swoop. Whether we can trust the angel, or the people, the simple act of creation is something to believe in.

Runs until Sunday, September 15th

Dublin Fringe Festival runs until Sunday, September 22nd. Read more reviews and updates on the festival here

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