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Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: The Crow's Way
The Crow's Way by Moonfish. Image by Pato Cassinoni **** Myths speak to our shared humanity in ways history never could. But even myths get old. Their rituals stale and stiff. Life moves on and myths need to evolve. The myth of humanity’s mastery over animals being a case in point. Its re-evaluation forming a through line through the multi-disciplinary The Crow’s Way , devised by Moonfish . A fairytale in which friendship with animals and being true to yourself might lead us all on a new dance. The Crow's Way by Moonfish. Image by Pato Cassinoni Not that everything needs to get thrown out when reshaping a myth. It’s also an opportunity to reclaim things. In this case, the Irish language which functions beautifully to link new and old, the modern and the mythical. Marvellous captured in Lian Bell’s set, as confined as a radio booth and as cavernous as a forest. Made mesmerising for being married to Blú Hanley astonishing lighting design; lanterns burning like eyes in the dark, or home fires behind bright village windows. A village protected from wolves by an annual ritual that cannot be deviated from. Until the misfit Cuán puts everyone in danger. Fleeing to the forest, he’s pursued by best friend Gerda. On a journey writ large in almost every comparative myth and fairytale. A hero’s journey through darkness and danger to find the treasure they need. Looking to undo what’s been done so they might fashion a new tomorrow and a better self. A journey made all the more marvellous for meeting mischievous crows, some merry mice, and a pack of wise wolves along the way. The Crow's Way by Moonfish. Image by Pato Cassinoni Theatrically, The Crow’s Way owes much to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town , with an added touch of Brechtian distance as performers double up, the props table is visible off stage, and the cast operate as stage hands. And a bewitching cast it is. Jeanne Nicole Ní Ainle, Seoirsín Bashford, Christie Kandiwa, Seán T Ó Meallaigh and Zita Monahan McGowan outstanding whether being troublesome humans or anthropomorphically morphing into loveable animals. True, the crow’s hint of Disney’s Dumbo , the wolves of Jungle Book , and the mice from Cinderella . But The Crow’s Way is aimed at young and old, though not the very young. Proving again that some things in fairytales are worth keeping, even if it is Disney. Proving again that Moonfish make compelling theatre that never skimps on quality, no matter what age it’s aimed at. If anything, The Crow’s Way sees them raising their game knowing myths shape young minds that can shape the future. It’s a fertile field, with many companies exploring similar ground. On the evidence of The Crow’s Way, Moonfish have few equals and none better. Myth makers. Theatre magicians. Storytellers. I defy you not to fall a little in love with Moonfish’s The Crow’s Way. Especially the mice. The Crow’s Way by Moonfish, co-presented by The Abbey Theatre and Dublin Fringe Festival, runs at the Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 until September 23. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or The Abbey Theatre
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Persona Metropolintina
Persona Metropolintina. Image Elena Costa *** The Swedes have cycle lanes. Dublin has psychopaths on cycle paths. The Swedes have effective public transport. We might have it by around 2123. Meanwhile, those who need cars to access the city, such as the old, disabled, and those living with poor public transport, have become persona non grata. Ironic, because while Dublin now strives to be a generic space, the best cities are unique spaces arising from their architecture, history and, most importantly, their people, homegrown and foreign. A generic space being more in mind in Annachiara Vispi (writer and director) and Giulia Macrì ’s (choreographer and dancer) Persona Metropolintina . Where Giulia worries that fifty five percent of us live in cities. The number expected to rise to seventy percent by 2050. Two thirds of the planet. Will there be space for each of us? Are those IKEA apartment blocks stacked like glamping kennels the way to go? Informing our dreams on the buckets seats of trains, if you’re lucky enough to get a seat?
If its political interrogations prove lightweight, it has much to do with Persona Metropolintina focusing on transport. Ever present courtesy of Jack Stanley, sitting on the floor, cueing Hannah Bloom’s uninspired, fly on the wall video design, played on an hypnotic loop. Meanwhile, composer Lorenzo, on the opposite side of the stage, mixes some modest music. The stiffness a striking contrast with a captivating Ciara Berkeley as narrator. Welcoming the audience, she puts everyone at ease, the living embodiment of what’s best about a city; reaching across distance to make friends of invisible strangers. Reciting spoken word lyrics like a calming Mike Garry, infusing proceedings with a beguiling cohesion by way of a cleverly understated performance. A perfect foil for silent dancer Giulia Macrì, whose stuttering, stressed choreography suggests the distressed pull and bump of the city. When she’s not sitting, or negotiating with chairs. Then it’s exhausted, lonely daydreams, or worried nightmares, of what might be. A clever comedic moment which sees Berkeley alone onstage speaks to the show’s greatest truth. Before it sells its soul along with its five o’clock crush hour for the fresh, evening air of acceptance. Macrì’s endgame choreography, infused with freeing celebration, looking less like dancing into the future so much as dancing away from the problem. Who makes the decisions on how and where we live? Why do people move to cities? Persona Metropolintina’s interrogation of urban planning offers some pointed insights, but has few pressing ones. Asking lots of questions but never really questioning anything. Settling for ‘don’t fence me in too much’ without ever defining how small the fences are. In the end Dublin, like all cities, will be shaped by political will. By what gets willed politically. Political agendas, of course, are never neutral. Nor, for that matter, is art. Which, in this instance, serves up cold comfort for the disturbed.
Persona Metropolintina by Annachiara Vispi and Giulia Macrì, runs at Smock Alley Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 until September 23. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or Smock Alley Theatre
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Columbia March
Joe Wright in Columbia March. Image by James Doyle *** Don’t let them fool you: Columbia March , written and performed by Joe Wright , co-performed with Eoin O’Sullivan, is really a three hander. True, the mop has a non-speaking role, but Cecil could give both its co-stars acting lessons. Indeed, to accuse them of overacting would be an understatement. Similarly, to call Columbia March a show is something of a stretch. More a comedy sketch stretched way past its snapping point. About the gormless Ger, fifty cards short of a deck, manipulated into believing the chores he performs for shop owner Martin are vital for the reunification of Ireland. The Protestant hating, mop wielding, seagull fearing Ger longing to impress his Northern star, Nadine. Finally getting his chance when hurled onto the front lines. Tasked with ensuring the safe delivery of a package of Columbian marching powder across the Irish Sea to Scotland. Enduring hell and high water, all for the cause, in a small, orange dinghy. Daft, delirious, and divinely entertaining, Columbia March has a million things wrong with it, and only one or two right. But the rights outshine the wrongs in this wildly hilarious comedy.
A generous sprinkling of meta-theatricality informs this shambolic delight. A superb Eoin O’Sullivan as Wright’s stage manager longs for his moments in the spotlight. Seizing his opportunity to shine, and introduce a few ideas of his own, when the rest of the cast fail to turn up. Reminiscent of The Play That Goes Wrong , the deceit proves hilariously and theatrically smart with O’Sullivan hamming it up beautifully. Meanwhile, Wright mops and talks, unafraid to touch on political tensions for the benefit of the comedy, making it all the better for it. Clearly liking his film references with Jaws, Titanic, Taken and Castaway all getting a mention. The last informing almost half the play when Ger gets lost in a fog. Highlighting a problem of not knowing when a scene has overplayed its hand and needs something inventive and fresh rather than looping back on the old material. Not helped by a racing pace. One that often misses the curves and ploughs through walls to keep going. Not realising that all that creates are lines missed and an unwavering straight road, which can make for a monotonous drive. Something else a good director might have ironed out. As it stands, Columbia March displays talent in its raw, unrefined state. Just as some compensate for talent with an excess of craft, talent benefits hugely when honed by craft. A little editing here, a little direction there, and Columbia March could be a serious comedy contender. When the show not so much ends as runs out of steam, the feeling lingers that these comedy punks actually know how to play their instruments. They should. The really should. If they’re this funny being wild and crazy, heaven help us if they start learning chord progressions.
Columbia March , by Joe Wright, runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 until September 23. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or Bewley’s Café Theatre
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Shauna Carrick Wants A Dog
Shauna Carrick in Shauna Carrick Wants A Dog. Image by Earl Echivarre **** Shauna Carrick wants a dog. Not really. What Shauna Carrick really wants is to be the central character in her own story. Or her own musical, aptly entitled Shauna Carrick Wants A Dog , with a book cowritten with Conor O’Rourke. Thirty, tired, still troubled by teenage angst, Shauna has moved back home from London having failed to become a musical superstar. Anxious about going outside, believing her future is already behind her, Shauna makes an existential to-do list to change her life. Planning a hero’s journey to being her bestest, Bridget Jones styled self. Making lists, projected as Powerpoint, affording her an illusion of control. Forgetting that if you want to make God laugh, tell Her your plans. That self improvement is like smoking, scratching an itch you probably created in the first place. Resulting from not accepting the cold, hard facts about yourself. Including, in this instance, that Shauna Carrick is utterly, completely and shamelessly obscene. It being utterly, completely and shamelessly obscene that one person should have this much talent. The likeable Carrick - playwright, songwriter, singer, performer, comedian - leaving lesser mortals emerald with envy. Not that Carrick always lives up to her talents. Despite a cast of three, and two live musicians, book again serves up the ready made formula of the one person play. Another quirky, funny confessional aspiring towards a happy ever after. In which, despite her self-deprecations, it’s all about Shauna. No bad thing as Carrick is smart, funny, and endearingly unsure of herself. Yet the balance gets skewed, like listening to a pubescent teen trapped in a thirty year old body. Even her friends are all about Shauna. The yoga loving Clare, a scene stealing Ciara Lyons, downing her dog while messaging Shauna relentlessly with updates on her own successful life. Clare, in Shauna’s mind, fit in all the ways she will never be. More likely to attract pretty boy barista Sam, who Shauna is developing a crush on. A complying Seán Mac Dhonnagáin less a character so much as a device. A cardboard cut out of the perfect boyfriend. Saying all the right things Shauna needs to hear, most of the time, like a pre-recorded android. But will that be enough for Shauna to follow her dreams, fall in love, find her dog? Or will the same old story see her writing the same old story? Like the rest of the cast, Carrick’s voice is never as full as her brilliant songs; voices frequently muffled beneath two musicians playing live onstage. Even so, Carrick’s songs are exceptional, funny, smartly constructed and eminently singable. If Niamh O’Farrell-Tyler’s set risks it all looking like a show tunes singalong at Marie’s Crisis, under Mollie Molumby’s accomplished direction the whole is elevated into something robust. Molumby’s use of props, composition and movement ensuring it all coheres into something charmingly irresistible. Even though, with Carrick straddling an uneasy divide between adult and teenager, the ending sticks in the throat. When Carrick explores her personal depths in songs about struggling to sleep, or pathetic first dates, they resonate with recognition. Yet the tidied up, psychobabble ending, as if read from a questionable self-help pamphlet, feels forced and imposed. As if switching to Next to Normal from The Sound of Music . Even as it’s careful to avoid a musical big finish. Carrick might be relatively unknown, but those with their nose to the musical theatre grind will have heard of her promising Tír na nÓg at Mill Theatre, Dundrum that sank prematurely due to COVID. A bad break, but it got the rumour mill started about a serious new talent. Like God, if you want to laugh, check out Shauna Carrick making plans in Shauna Carrick Wants A Dog . Knowing it utterly, completely and shamelessly obscene if we’re not all singing Carrick’s show tunes in the coming years.
Shauna Carrick Wants A Dog , presented by Aon Scéal Theatre, runs at Smock Alley Theatre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 until September 18. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or Smock Alley Theatre
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Mosh
Mosh by Rachel Ní Bhraonáin. Image Richard Mooney and Luke Carparelli. *** Metallica. A mayhem of recklessness. James Hetfield’s roar a clarion call for the lost and lonely, a summons to the wild and the damned. Head shakers scattering dandruff as drum beats explode and guitars soar. Of course, that was before Metallica took to regurgitative cameos on Billions , and sharing emotional cuddles with Elton John. Like U2. Whose lamentable love letter to Letterman disclosed them as shadows of their former selves. Lost in a Disney Dublin to promote once great songs repackaged as artistic washouts. Or Mosh . A dance work by Rachel Ní Bhraonáin. Serving up modest interrogations, with just a hint of celebration, of a craze and sub-culture within Metal. Another shadow of the real deal. Another not so great, rock ’n’ roll swindle.
For the uninitiated, moshing involves a tornado of bodies colliding in a controlled, exuberant frenzy to a cacophony of Metal. A swirling of sweat and muscle ricocheting towards a communal bacchanal of joy, release and connection. Fall, you get picked up. Cause someone intentional hurt, you’ll likely get floored. Afterwards, most embrace, smiling ear to ear whatever their bruises. Many believe it began with Motorhead. A progression from punk’s anarchic body slamming, minus the gobbing. Becoming one of Metal’s signature cultural traits, no gig worth remembering without the mosh pit. Using snap soundbites, macro science and micro statistics, Mosh’s limiting insights arrive via the jargon of social anthropology. Its academic voyeurism pandering to the predictable via Vox pop declarations. Hitting its target with snippets of interviews, it often lands seriously wide of the mark. Dancers Emily Kilkenny Roddy, Ben Sullivan, Toon Theunissen, Jack Bain and Alex O’Neill suggesting Fight Club for deranged cowards. Metal’s safe unsafe riot sanitised and gentrified only to be conventionally sensationalised. The violence! The violence! If you cross the line you better be ready for it! Too many asinine, and not always accurate assumptions supported by some occasionally interesting choreography. Established from physical cliches, solos are often deconstructed into signature phrases, recurring in brief tableaus with lots of running in circles to suggest the whirlwind. Group work varying from what looks like simulating a consensual orgy to a rehearsal for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the former overplaying its hand to establish physical connectedness. Only when nearing the end, with the suggestion of a front man in a gimp mask and dreadlocks, half Predator, half Slipknot, is something deeper and relevant evoked. Similarly, the final, euphoric segment fuelled by communal, sweat soaked exhaustion. But by then it’s too late. Mosh having half made its points, never fully makes its case, despite John Gunning’s impressive lighting. The relationship of moshing to music hardly getting a serious look in. Compositions by Joe Love and Richard Durning serving up generic Metal derivatives interspersed with a moody sound design for a documentary special. Which, should you want one, Sam Dunn’s Metal:A Headbangers Journey serves up the anthropological, sociological and musical real deal. Metal heads talk about memorable mosh pits like battlefields survived. Korn, supported by Static X at The Point. Killing Joke’s electrifying set at the Academy last year. Machine Head anytime, anywhere. Like listening to someone who heard about the gig talking like they’d been there, Mosh might shock the sheltered but it fails to get to grips with its subject matter. Less Master of Puppets so much as a second rate cover band trying to emulate the once upon a real deal, often reinforcing misplaced myths. It’s not just what’s not there, it that what is there, artistically and thematically, isn't enough. Mosh never digging deeper than its facts. Skirting in the dark past its truths. Momentarily glimpsed, flickering in its shadows. Mosh , by Rachel Ní Bhraonáin, runs at Project Arts Centre until Sept 17 as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or Project Arts Centre
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: The King Of All Birds
Martha Knight in The King Of All Birds. Image by Owen Clarke *** She says thirty minutes, but it’s an hour. An hour before a new king of the birds will be crowned. In the meantime, the woman shrouded in the black Kinsale cloak and pointed bird mask has a lot to say This strange woman resembling a druidic troubadour travelling through the mists of time. Harbouring notions about wrens and mythical men and modern aviation. Oh, and she likes to sing. Short snippets, like bird calls. Excerpts from Wild Mountain Thyme with guitar, or flute, remixed with a little reverb onstage. The mystical and modern colliding in a vocoder. Making for a clever juxtaposition, echoed in the ancient attire and the aerial photo of a farm in Mayo projected onto the back wall. Echoed again in the juxtaposition of myth and machinery that runs throughout Martha Knight’s eccentric curiosity that is the delightful The King Of All Birds. It begins with the wren. Knight recounting the mythical tale of its rationalised skullduggery to become the King of the Birds. Till it was slaughtered each December 26th by the Wren Boys, who displayed its body on a stick for money before burying it. Yet the wren has a peculiar backstory and symbolism, as have many birds in Irish mythology, which Knight doesn't do justice. It was the beating of its wings against Irish shields that revealed their whereabouts to the Normans. Neither tale doing the wren any favours in the popularity charts. Similarly, the tale of Mad King Sweeney which Knight also selectively interprets, cursed to wander as King of the Birds before meeting his prophetic demise. Leaving a job vacancy with a poor record of happy ever afters. Interspersed are textual tidbits, most read from a thick tome. And musical sound bites, like snatches of bird song, mixed at the pace of Ed Sheeran suffering a hangover. Serving up a New Age soundtrack that wouldn’t be amiss at a progressive spa. As she sings and plays her instruments, Knight looks upwards as if serenading the birds. At such times you might think she is one for the birds, but Knight is much smarter than that. Even so, when it all comes home to roost, the whole offers less a birds eye view so much as a Did You Know Fact Book filled with Google gleanings. A deft costume change shifting focus to tales of Irish aviation, women aviators in particular, as it finally comes in for a landing and the strange, new king is revealed. What might have made for a cute curiosity at thirty minutes often feels like self-indulgence at an hour. Its scattering of theatrical bird seed not quite the satisfying snack. Yet what keeps you riveted is not the tales, or the music, but Knight’s piercing, calming presence, whose deadpan, matter-of-fact directness is a little bit irresistible. The performer outshining her performance. Like Jackanory meets an episode of the Open University , The King Of All Birds is a weirdly wonderful combination that yields most when surrendered to. Plodding and ponderous, or wonderfully eccentric? The King Of All Birds is a little of both. Either way, it offers definitive proof that one person shows needn't slavishly follow the same worn out format.
The King Of All Birds by Martha Knight runs at Project Arts Centre until Sept 16 as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or Project Arts Centre
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: HOTHOUSE
HOTHOUSE by MALAPROP. Image by Pato Cassinoni ***** Often, with theatre, the message overwhelms the medium. Indeed, a production is more likely to emphasise its themes and trigger warnings rather than its theatre. All very noble, I’m sure. Only some shows can feel like being trapped on a joyless cruise with someone who never tires of telling you how tired they are. Of the patriarchy, phobias and philistines. Of climate change, generational trauma, and the extinction of countless species of birds. The experience the theatrical equivalent of ‘are we there yet?’, as in ‘are we done yet?’ With a muttered prayer of gratitude when it’s all over. But not MALAPROP. True, they’re not averse to crawling up their own ideological back passage and getting lost there. But they never forget they are, first and foremost, making theatre. And that a cartload of humour can make even the most unpalatable of medicines all the easier to swallow. Evident in their latest offering, HOTHOUSE . A production of such unbridled brilliance it’s practically flawless. On a cruise from hell cruising through hell, HOTHOUSE explores climate change, generational trauma, and the extinction of countless species of birds. Peter Corboy’s divinely homicidal Captain introducing a wide range of entertainments and back stories for his passenger’s pleasure. Vegas floor shows, choking whale song, dancing deck chairs, each lunacy outdoing the last. Meanwhile, the bad ship Crystal Prophesy sails towards the Arctic circle to see the ice that isn’t there anymore. Running parallel is a generational tale of family trauma stretching from the 60’s into the future. A father who terrorises his child. The child, now a mother, exonerating her own brutally by claiming it’s less than she endured. Her abused, hard drinking daughter facing the demands of love, and death. Both threaded tales asking the same questions: are we doomed to repeat our mistakes or is there hope for change before it's too late? Because, like it or not, this ship is sinking. In the face of inevitable climate crisis, do we dare to dream or get ready to die? To eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow is today? Touching, tender, hilarious, a towering script by Carys D. Coburn with MALAPROP, bursts with inventiveness and insight. Conversational, observational, inspirational, HOTHOUSE interprets the present, analyses the past, and dreams of a possible future. Language, steeped in deceptive simplicity, yields untold riches. Claire O’Reilly’s superlative direction bringing it all to life. Enriched by Molly O’Cathain’s sun scorched, minimalist set and wacky costumes, superbly illuminated by John Gunning’s lights. The storm scene just one example of O’Reilly’s compositional and imaginative brilliance. Yet if these provide the fire, Peter Corboy, Thommas Kane Byrne, Bláithín Mac Gabhann, Maeve O’Mahony, and Ebby O’Toole Acheampong supply the flames with five flawless performances. True, they’re unlikely to secure a residency in Caesar’s Palace anytime soon, but each ensures there is not an ounce of detail wasted. Not a moment uninvested. Not a momentary lapse of concetration as joke follows joke, song follows song, scene follows scene. Each smarter and funnier than the last, even as their subtext proves deathly serious.
A questioning tale theatrically told, HOTHOUSE trades in text and images asking who we are, how we got here, and where we might go? Whose compelling images come hard and fast, demanding to be viewed again and again, guaranteed to reward each time. You might not buy the ending. You might not be bothered by climate change. You might not, God forbid, be bothered with theatre. But you will be seriously bothered if you miss this jaw dropping production. One of the funniest, sexiest, most thought provoking shows of the festival. HOTHOUSE. A technical and theatrical masterpiece. Like climate change, time is running out. Make sure you don't miss out on this awe inspiring production. HOTHOUSE by Carys D. Coburn with MALAPROP, runs at Project Arts Centre until Sept 16 as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or Project Arts Centre
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Girl in a Cell
Niamh Ryan in Girl in a Cell. Image byDara O'Donnell *** Another Fringe show, another one person performance. Once again quirky meets funny on a journey towards self awareness, all wrapped up in a touching, happy ever after. Niamh Ryan’s bubblegum offering, Girl in a Cell , covering familiar ground. Thankfully in a fresh and ironic way. In which seventeen year old dancer Jenna, suffering from a crippling psychosomatic illness, sets about seeking a cure before the regional dance finals. If that sounds heavy, it is. Not in a Hallmark Channel kind of way, but in a Clueless meets Heathers meets Mean Girls kind of way, had all of them been set in Dublin. Adding just a pinch of Sex Education to sweeten what is a delicious candy floss cocktail. Whose chief ingredient is the irresistible paragon of style and beauty; the gloriously vainglorious and irrepressibly amazing Jenna. Just ask her, she’ll tell you. Taking a while to get going, Jenna’s backstory overstays its welcome as we get to meet the people in Jenna’s life. The wallet that is Dad, the dance partner that’s a boyfriend, the hot nurse who’s off with the hot patient. All milling around after Jenna’s disastrous attempt at the splits during a dance competition which sees her hospitalised. Seeking a cure from consultants, nurses, and even God, Jenna resolves to partake in a residential programme in Camp Cure so she can be ready for the regional finals. Narratively, things become interesting with stakes rising as Jenna undertakes therapy, in which secrets are revealed, including the secret hidden in plain sight which Ryan handles marvellously. Ryan’s screenplay structured script, with its close-ups, wide shots and panning, handling its reveals incredibly well, even if you don’t always buy them (forgiveness, in therapeutic situations, includes offering forgiveness as well as asking for it). Girl in a Cell showing less the cohesion of a well structured story so much as a selection of diary entries crafted into a collection of interconnected scenes. Scenes which are often smartly funny, with Jenna never less than adorably self-centred. Dara O’Donnell’s set capturing the mess Jenna hides inside. Cloud shaped walls evocative of the walls of CBGB’s, had they been painted pink and the scribbled graffiti gentrified and sanitised. The writing spilling from the walls of her mind onto Jenna’s body, making for a subtly brilliant metaphor, all the more powerful for being understated. If serving up an enjoyable bowl of ice cream, Girl in a Cell relies on too few varieties of scoops and way too many sprinkles. Not that it’s all vanilla, but it could’ve done with mixing some pistachio, salted caramel, and maybe some of whatever you like yourself to enrich its contrasts of flavour. Along with a director that would have challenged and supported Ryan as both writer and performer, ensuring better balance in terms of pace and structure. Throughout, Ryan excellently shifts between her myriad of characters, crafting a lexicon of richly detailed expressions ensuring characters are much more than caricatures. Ryan showcasing her work, and talent, having taken both as far as she could. Testing them in the Fringe, which is part of what the Fringe is there for. Ryan’s transformation a genuine pleasure to behold. Her initial pensive, nervousness giving way to growing confidence and self-assurance as performance deepens with each scene. A feat made all the more impressive by virtue of two idiots in the front row. One incessantly removing items from his haversack, or impatiently shaking his outstretched foot inches from the performer. The other, his phone face-up on the chair between them, twice checking it when it brightly chimed with an incoming message. I said something then, and I’m saying something now. If you lack the courtesy to respect the performer onstage, or your fellow audience members, then with the greatest of respect, please fuck off. Ryan deserves better than your self gratifying ignorance. But Ryan’s sure to have the last laugh. True, Girl in a Cell is no way near as perfect as the inimitable Jenna. But it’s a perfectly solid and promising start, suggesting we watch this space. Who knows. Maybe, one day, Ryan will outshine even the divine Jenna. Girl in a Cell , written and performed by Niamh Ryan, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until Sept 13 as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or Smock Alley Theatre
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Once in a Lifetime
Lynette Callaghan and Deborah Dickenson in Tracy Martin's Once in a Lifetime. Image by Louis Haugh **** Three generations of women. Two middle-aged lesbians, a couple of schoolgirls, and three unborn children. Two of which are girls, the third’s future shrouded in uncertainty. If the unborn hear the world outside the womb, these children might never want to emerge. Their prospective family arguing motherhood, parenthood, refugees and responsibilities, and the functioning dysfunctional mess that is family and feminism. Tracy Martin’s superbly smart Once in a Lifetime facilitating a pause to interrogate the role of women in this brave, new, marriage equality, sensitively woke, socially responsible world. Where heavily pregnant mothers still cook dinners and clean up after the women in their lives. Not that Martin overstates the obvious. Assured of her own script’s strengths, she lets her characters and scenes do the talking. Characters like daughter Ciara, a self-righteous liar with a secret she can’t tell her mother, terrifically realised by Leah Moore. Making her friend Sarah, a scene stealing Deborah Dickenson, her unwilling, and sometimes unwitting accomplice as Ciara considers taking an abortion pill on an evening she believes her parents are out. No prizes for guessing what interrupts her plans. Mother Lorraine, pregnant with twins, returning home unexpectedly following a tough day at her charity organisation where she volunteers unpaid. Followed by her partner, Tanya, whose bad day at the office makes Lorraine’s sound like a vacation. Georgina McKevitt’s swollen Lorraine, and Lynette Callaghan’s wine swilling Tanya both magnificently realised. Martin’s women a marriage of complex opposites; best friends who would sell you out to cover their arses, heartless lawyers defending the indefensible struggling with thorns of guilt, altruistic charity workers with a hardened heart when it comes to getting what they want. As the night plays out around the dinner table secrets emerge, or bury themselves deeper. Currents of pain and anger spilling out like bile, forcing recognition and choices. And the stunned realisation that the future is not looking all that bright unless some things are bravely faced into. While Martin’s script cleverly conceals hidden depths beneath its everyday guise, not everything is as cleverly realised. Director Una McKevitt, eliciting terrific performances from a terrific cast, neglects other areas that might benefit from her rigorous eye. With Martin’s tale set in an old, family home being renovated to facilitate the new normal, with most of the action occurring around the traditional family dinner table reimagined to reflect new paradigms, the uncredited set design fails miserably to articulate what lies at the heart of Martin’s interrogations. Looking instead like a jumble of junk hauled in from a skip then tossed onstage. Similarly, Philip Stewart’s sound design, which annoyingly rears its head mid-scene or else kicks off too loudly, reminiscent of a child screaming “me, me, me,” desperate to be noticed. Knocking you out of the moment. Further impeding pace, which never feels tight enough. Some judicious pruning by Martin might have helped in that department. Even so, Once in a Lifetime is a brave, and sometimes brilliant piece of writing. If the end doesn’t tidy everything away, it’s all the more impactive for it. Leaving the audience to wonder what tomorrow will look like for feminism, family and women, and for Martin's brilliantly realised characters? Martin’s impressive script allowing her to think out loud, her vivid characters giving voice to her thoughts. Asking questions of themselves, each other, and us. Ensuring Once in a Lifetime makes for compelling and thought provoking theatre. Once in a Lifetime by Tracy Martin, presented by Red Bear Theatre Company, ran at Project Arts Centre until Sept 11 as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2023. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or Red Bear Theatr e
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Mosaic
Mosaic by Louis Deslis. Image Adrien Simonazzi *** Why is there a preponderance of one person plays? Most of which amount to quirky, funny confessionals about some lost soul coming into the self-aware light, likely featuring a song or two. Throw in a half baked, full baked, or over baked political sentiment and Bob’s your uncle (or your aunt should they so identify). The results not so much well made plays as ready made plays. The recurring format evoking Tynan’s concern for audiences always being fed the same play just in marginally different versions. Is it on account of funding? Cost effectiveness? Everyone taking the same creative writing course? True, some like Tom Moran Is A Big Fat Filthy Disgusting Liar are deserved successes of the genre. But with so many jumping onto similar bandwagons, it gives pause for thought. If you can only judge work on the theatrical terms they set out for themselves, you have wonder why they’re all setting out the same terms? One size never fits all. Take Louis Deslis’s Mosaic , which follows the formula faithfully to serve up a dull yet charming tale moderately well told. Similar to his delightful Patchwork from 2019, Deslis again jumps down the one person, autobiographical rabbit hole to re-cover many of the same themes: the tension in language and translation, being French but living in Ireland, the strains of being in love. Yet where Patchwork showed heart and humour, Mosaic presents a self regarding, self pitying monologuer who fails to notice that, narratively, nothing much is happening aside from the sound of his own voice. The heartbroken, Celine Dion loving Deslis taking a trip to stay with his injured grandmother for a week in Burgundy. The trip punctured by brief encounters with caricatures he meets along the way. Tack on an easy ending that doesn’t arise from a plot or action, yet tries to tuck everything neatly away, and the deja vu sense of been here, seen that before, have several similar t-shirts quickly proves overpowering. Throughout, characters, language, observations and insights amount to an anti story of a guy whose peroxide hair might be easy on the eyes, but his erratic outbursts are often hard on the ears. Including screaming in French and throwing out political tropes about the beige bourgeoise fuelled by his own privileged projections. Luckily director Lee Coffey understands that what keeps the audience invested is Deslis himself, who has an easy manner and presence. Coffey knowing when to rein things in, keep them tight, and when to let pace flow to realise those moments when Deslis’s script shines. Elevating this mild self-indulgence into something watchable, if not quite memorable, by resisting easy exaggeration. Granny and her infuriating habits proving utterly brilliant, holding Deslis’s less stellar moments to account. With Mosaic , Deslis appears to have lost his way a little while resting on Patchwork’s impressive laurels. Or else caught in the trap of the one person format. One which can only ever take you so far before circling you back onto yourself, trapping you in a merry-go-round of same again please. Needing to look closer and dig deeper, Mosaic suggests someone dropped into a world of cartoon characters with too little of substance being said and less of substance happening. Deslis proves something of a charmer, but Coffey and Deslis deserve a better script. One worthy of their respective talents. Mosaic by Louis Deslis, directed by Lee Coffey, runs at Project Arts Centre until Sept 16. For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2023 or Project Arts Centre.
Dublin Fringe Festival 2023: Only An Octave Apart
Only An Octave Apart. Image by Ellie Kurttz **** Keep it pretty. Keep it shallow. Keep it moving. Truths to live by for torch song chanteuse Justin Vivian Bond. Co-creator of Only An Octave Apart . A charming, musical two-hander in which cabaret and opera collide courtesy of co-creator and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. History repeating itself. The Gate following one musical with yet another musical. Dublin Fringe Festival, as in 2022, kicking off proceedings with yet another cabaret. Yet where THISISPOPBABY’S joyous Wake was last year’s fresh, subversive, adrenalin rush, Only An Octave Apart is cute and cozy. Like curling up with a cup of cocoa and a cuddly Chihuahua. A cabaret whose central subversion lies in it bordering on being wholesome. In a nutshell, Only An Octave Apart is old school kitsch. Bond and Costanzo taking to the stage in pointed, complimentary dresses; Costanzo’s as black as sin, Bond’s as scarlet as a scandal. Designer Jonathan Anderson’s superb costumes providing most of what’s pretty. Some back story about their first meeting at New York’s lauded Joes Pub soon gives way to friendly rivalry, songs of varying quality, and a scattering of seriously funny comic touches. The result an often sublime cocktail in which Costanzo’s immaculate countertenor provides the ice cool, operatic gin, with Bond’s deeper, earthy vocals supplying the cabaret warmed tequila. The heady, harmonious mix sublime at times, at others sounding like a couple of drunk regulars at Marie’s Crisis. Following set-ups as fake as their smiles, a wide ranging musical selection includes songs by Purcell, Dido, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, serving up a box of musical chocolates. Several being delicious, some not as poetically sweet. All ably supported by live musicians onstage. Under director and co-creator, Zack Winokur, kitsch spills everywhere, from melodramatic movements to Carlos Soto’s tacky set. Cheap stage lights and glitzy blue curtains echoing the shabby cabaret of Torch Song Trilogy. In which Costanzo sings like an angel. Indeed, Costanzo could sing the terms and conditions of a smartphone and you’d put it on repeat. Only An Octave Apart. Image by Ellie Kurttz
If Costanzo is the show’s singing star, Bond is the show’s superstar. Channelling Mae West’s wit, hair like Rita Hayworth, and the spirit of Barbara Stanwyck, Bond knows old style glamour never goes out of style. Knows it’s all about the face; channeling black and white movie icons from Veronica Lake to Vera Lynn. Even so, visually it resembles a mother and child double act while, musically, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia from Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West haunts the high-low musical conceit. In which songs from many revered transcestors are offset by Bond’s razor sharp witticisms. Superb when they land, yet having too many lean spells in between. As the end nears, a brief anecdote about a gig in North Carolina reminds you why queered performances are utterly essential. But it ain’t just what you do, or why, which are important, it’s also about the way that you do it. Keeping it pretty, shallow and moving only gets you so far. Especially as others have been there before and moved on to prettier and shallower things. A glitzed, kitsch pastiche of opera and cabaret, Only An Octave Apart isn’t wild, fresh, or radical. It’s retro cabaret in the era of the drag brunch. Perhaps because of that, Bond and Costanzo are that little bit adorable. Ensuring Only An Octave Apart is delightfully entertaining. Can I get an A-them to go with that? And maybe a top up of marshmallows to go with the cocoa.
Only An Octave Apart , created by Justin Vivian Bond, Anthony Roth Costanzo and Zack Winokur, presented by The Gate Theatre and Dublin Fringe Festival, runs until September 10. For more information visit The Gate Theatre and Dublin Fringe Festival 2023
Liam Wilson Smyth in Magic Play.Image by Futoshi Sakauchi ***** Do you believe in magic? Mysterious, unexplainable, irrational magic? Magician Alistair Casper doesn’t. He wants to, but he knows it’s all tricks of the trade in a trade that’s all about tricks. All set up, subtle hypnosis and suggestion. With nothing magical in disappearing hankies, vanishing balls or reading minds. Nothing mysterious about mentalism, materialising coins, or talking to the dead. It’s a lie everyone wants to believe because we really want to believe in magic. To create an imagined reality by suspending disbelief. Trusting our hopes, dreams and ideals over our experience. Like his ex-girlfriend Clare who thinks there’s more to the stories we tell ourselves than just lies. In Liam Wilson Smyth ’s Magic Play , from a story by director Paul Meade, what lies beneath the obvious proves infinitely intriguing. Enriching what you see at every turn. Funny, heartfelt, thought provoking, and featuring some cracking close-up magic, Magic Play is exactly that. A play of such magical charm it's imposible to resist. The set up is succinctly complex. Casper, about to perform his last trick and win back the girl he loves, lets the audience in on all his secrets. About his tricks, his stalking, his father’s death, his beginnings as a magician, and the toothless pensioner he once kissed. Having realised mystery is nothing more than the best gimmick you can afford, Casper is unable to believe in magic. Yet caught in the tragic pull of love, Casper is as susceptible to irrational belief as any in his audience. For them it might be disappearing coins, for him it’s a disappeared girlfriend. One he’s convinced he can magic into loving him again. Steeped in subtextual, philosophical questioning, and a ruse of such elaborate absurdity it’s mind bogglingly hilarious, what unfolds is a genuine delight. Ensuring this loveable stalker is impossible not to like. Doesn’t matter that if you look close you’ll see cracks in the philosophical arguments. They’re there to promote conversation on the nature of what’s real and what we add to reality to fashion our own realities rather than offering conclusive proofs. Liam Wilson Smyth in Magic Play.Image by Futoshi Sakauchi Like all great magic acts, the best work is not always seen. Such as the invisible voices of Molly Downey, Enda Kilroy and a hilarious Samuel Coyle as accomplice Mick. But the show belongs to Wilson Smyth who has the audience eating out of Casper’s pathetic, if rather skilful hands. Making endearing this almost-ran magician with a trim beard, tight waistcoat and purple cravat, topped off by a tied up ponytail aspiring to be a man bun. Suggesting Clare might well have had other reasons for leaving Alastair besides his belief that candles were nothing more than fire hazards. Meade’s meticulous direction doing a marvellous job of bringing it all together, with Colm Maher’s lights offering able assistance.
Do you believe in magic? Doesn’t matter a bit. Magic Play will leave you convinced of the magic of theatre. Gúna Nua Theatre Company, celebrating twenty five years with this gorgeously realised work. A perfect warm up for The Fringe. Fresh, original, and brilliantly executed, hell, The Fringe might find itself hard pressed to find something to equal it. A thoroughly enjoyable production whose simplicity belies a richness of depth. Not to be missed for any reason. But book now. Magic Play is sure to be a sell out. Marking another splendid feather in Bewley’s Café Theatre's impeccable theatrical cap.
Magic Play, written and performed by Liam Wilson Smyth, from a story by Paul Meade, presented by Gúna Nua Theatre Company and Bewley’s Café Theatre, runs at Bewley’s Café Theatre until September 9th. For more information, visit Bewley’s Café Theatre .