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Business as Unusual

Business as Unusual

There’s never been a few weeks like it. A worst of times that makes the hard times look like the best of times. Covid-19 has devastated Irish theatre, and the governments less than measured response is yet another covering of the ears while retreating into la la la la land. Arts, and artists, simply aren’t being heard. Even so, some claim artists are over-reacting. Trying to hustle the limelight by claiming people couldn’t survive the lockdown without them. Elbowing in on the medical professions fifteen minutes of fame. The arts might be vital, they claim, but they’re not essential, especially in a lockdown. They make it bearable. Like a good supply of toilet paper. The message is clear: you may be L’Oréal, but you’re not worth it. All of which leaves artists doing what artists do best: trying to survive and take care of each other. Indeed, Stephen Jones deserves all the caps tipped in his direction for undertaking a double marathon to raise money in support of artists. The New Theatre’s short season, which kicks off online tonight, is also giving most of its voluntary donations to supporting struggling artists. The examples multiple, as PR becomes everyone’s new practice as people conduct business as unusual. Leaving social media saturated with songs, dances, interviews, performances and coaching offers to say, “we’re here for you, we’re in this together, we won’t be beaten.” Even the PR event of the year, The Irish Times Theatre Awards, refused to lie down, even if it didn’t go ahead with its usual finery. Keeping it business as usual, the awards delivered some worthy, wonderful, and occasional wacky winners (well done to all), along with those curiously overlooked. And if they weren’t celebrated in their usual style, the even spread ensured almost everyone got to go home with a prize. Not everyone’s idea of how it should be done, but it would be nice if the government adopted a similar policy. It doesn’t take Covid-19 to show that the arts funding model isn’t working. Crafting viable business plans for project applications, requiring administrative this, and outcome that, and a Phd in Contract Law, has already left many bewildered or bereft. Not helped by an Arts Council who, ensuring its own running costs are covered, are trying to perform a loaves and fishes miracle with the stale crusts and soggy fish fingers handed to it. Similarly, the latest measures might look like they’re helping, but its once again a thinning out of the funding cake to look like everyone's getting a piece of the pastry. Even the language is wrong. Yes, the arts is an industry, but its most compatible business model is Research and Development. There will be outcomes, but they involve time, commitment, experimentation and creativity. Which isn’t a licence for practitioners to kick back and gather navel fluff. Any producer worth their salt knows there’s a balance. Yet, like the Covid-19 vaccine, art isn’t ready just because your funding wants it to be. You don’t get productivity without paying for it. Indeed, the more you invest, the better your chances of success. If the arts aren’t essential, they’re utterly vital. As are those who dream and sacrifice to make them happen. Indeed, the only business term that matters here is value for money. And nothing gives greater value for money that the arts, socially, culturally, and all the other -ally’s you can think of. So it might be time to kick up a storm in the middle of a storm and push back. Because when money gets thinner on the ground, as it surely will when this is all over, artists might find these were the best of times in comparison. Be strong, be resilient, be there for each other. But be careful lest your survival starts to kill you. And never forget: You’re worth it.

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Reassembled, Slightly Askew

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Reassembled, Slightly Askew

Photo credit: Ryan O'Hara **** Step out of your comfort zone ‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ unquestionably meets the criteria for art that disturbs the comfortable and comforts the disturbed. The disturbed in this case being those suffering from acquired brain injury. The comfortable being those who have no knowledge of it, wish to have no knowledge of it, or who have knowledge but no real understanding of the experience of it. Until now. Based on the autobiographical experiences of Shannon Yee, ‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ offers the audience the chance to immerse themselves in the experience of living inside the head of someone with acquired brain injury. A valuable and memorable experience for those who dare. Catering to an audience of eight, each member of the audience takes to a hospital bed where, with eye mask and headphones, they experience a sonic overload, like someone conscious trapped inside a coma. At any time they can end the process, but those who remain feel almost childlike in their sense of a being lost in a loud world that’s an alien and sometimes terrifying place to negotiate. The world revolves around you, talks around you, talks about you like you're not really there, or are a child that needs everything explained. As time goes on and Shannon awakes, things improve but don’t really change. People still speak around her as if she's not there, or as if she's a problem to be managed. But Shannon is a fighter and together with her partner is determined to put something of her life, herself and her relationship back together. Even if that means this human Humpty Dumpty undertaking the terrifying ordeal of venturing out for toothpaste alone in an act of hope, affirmation and defiance. While there is definitely a powerful sense of immersiveness and immediacy in ‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’s’ coma and operation sequences, the sense of being conscious of physical sensations, such as pin pricks when trying to find a vein, are obviously less successful. But it was never about that, but about getting inside the head of the experience, getting next to the mental and emotional sensations, from the freshness of familiar sounds to the fear your partner might be having an affair. This ‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ achieves admirably. It would be a shame if only those with a vested interest in the issue were to attend this production. For 'Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ offers all both humanity and insight, and a completely different theatrical experience. ‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ by Shannon Yee, presented by The Complex and S.Sickles runs at The Complex until September 24th A talk with the artrist takes place aon September 19th at 12.30 at The Complex For further information, visit Tiger Dublin Fringe or The Complex #Review

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: FanFiction Comedy

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: FanFiction Comedy

Photo credit: Heidi O'Loughlin *** Go get your geek on 'FanFiction Comedy' speaks to the converted. Or the deluded, depending on your position. Those obsessive types who flock to Comic Con looking for fellow aficionados and buffs. Trekkie nerds who can speak Klingon, or Star Wars fanatics who are registered Jedi Knights. The type who obviously know better than the originators how the stories of their favourite heroes and heroines should go. Or just want to simply have fun creating alternate stories for their favourite characters. So they indulge in writing Fan Fiction, the most illegal form of literature, which sees fanatics appropriate the intellectual property of another for their own satisfaction. And on the net, business is booming. New Zealand comics Heidi O’Loughlin and Steven Boyce bring their cult show 'FanFiction Comedy' to the Tiger Dublin Fringe for two nights only. It’s not revolutionary, or innovative, or likely to test the boundaries of theatre or comedy. But it’s extremely good fun none the less. Night one saw a panel of Irish comedians script their own piece of Fan Fiction in response to the Harry Potter phenomenon. In a format that resembles a TV panel show more than a theatrical production, O’Loughlin and Boyce banter with their guests and the audience about owls, Muggles and what would happen if Snape got laid. It’s all low key and meanders along at an easy pace, but it’s incredibly good fun, made all the more so if you’re one of the devotees. Yet even if you don’t know your Hufflepuff from your Gryffindor, 'FanFiction Comedy' has a winning ease and charm you’ll most certainly succumb to. If you’re a Game of Thrones freak, then go buy your tickets now. Friday sees 'FanFiction Comedy' discussing all things Stark and Lannister in a show that looks ready made for television, and is bound to deliver a few good laughs. ‘FanFiction Comedy’ by Heidi O’Loughlin runs at Smock Alley Theatre as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe until September 23rd For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre or Tiger Dublin Fringe #Review

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: The Wickedness of Oz

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: The Wickedness of Oz

Photo credit: Clíona Ní Laoi **** Watching a star being born That Kate Gilmore one had better watch herself. If she's not careful she's going to turn into one of those ones. You know the type, perfect at everything they do. If you can climb Everest, she can probably do it backwards, blindfolded, with a broken arm and raise six billion for charity while she’s doing it. Bad enough she can act, being only brilliant in ‘Town is Dead.’ Bad enough she can sing, being only amazing in ‘The Train.’ Bad enough she can write too, with her play ‘Stella Full of Storms’ winning best new play at The Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. But now she’s acting, singing and writing in her latest, one-woman production, ‘The Wickedness of Oz,’ with that Fishamble crowd, performing it as part of their Show in a Bag at Tiger Dublin Fringe! Who does she think she is, Ireland’s next big thing? In ‘The Wickedness of Oz’ Kate Gilmore tells the story of Debbie. A motor mouth who never shuts up, talking endlessly so she doesn’t have to say what she really needs to say. Never taking no for an answer, she makes the whole world her audience as she overshares all her troubles. Twenty-one years old and living at home with her parents, Debbie hates her job as a travel agent, hates her manager, hates her potential mother-in-law and is hated by her in return. But today, June 6th, she really hates Ciara Cabra and Emily Murray, the latter flooding social media with images of her perfect life and body down under in Australia. Meanwhile, a coatless Debbie, already late for work, is forced to walk there with a hangover, all the while wondering about her brother Fred and sister Donna, and will her boyfriend Aaron be able to do the one thing she’s incapable of. Fast, funny, touching and tender, Gilmore’s script is wonderfully deceptive and engaging. Revolving around a story of a younger brother that looks like it's been cobbled in to fit, Gilmore suddenly flips it into something quite potent and moving at the end. Sanitised, with barely a curse word in there, Gilmore substitutes harshness with charm and ‘The Wickedness of Oz’ is all the more beguiling because of it. Less satisfying is the musical theatre dimension, which may well disappoint musical theatre geeks, with this rich vein not being exploited more. Indeed, those looking for a yellow brick road will find the Oz of the title has more to do with barbeques, bronze bodies and Bondi beach than with wizards and witches. With musicals serving more like a condiment than a main course, you could almost make a case for false advertising. It’s there, but no way near enough. But that is more than compensated for by some fine writing, brimming with sharp, hilarious and insightful observations. With ‘The Wickedness of Oz’ Gilmore’s writing kudos increase exponentially. But her acting kudos go through the roof in a wonderful performance that’s just wickedly good. Gilmore works the room likes she’s being doing it forever, captivating everyone with her irresistible charm, humour and impeccable timing. Director Clare Maguire has to take a lot of credit, both in helping develop ‘The Wickedness of Oz’ and in helping Gilmore deliver an outstanding performance. Like Denis Clohessy’s excellent sound design, Gilmore has t0 fight against the acoustic restrictions of the venue and the volume of noise coming from the street, but these are minor annoyances as Gilmore has the audience eating right from her hand from beginning to end. There are moments in every artist's career when something happens. A breakthrough, a coming together, a convergence. Sometimes it's loud, sometimes it's understated, but it’s always undeniable. For many years Fishamble’s Show in a Bag has been fostering new artists and projects, lending their considerable support, talent and expertise as midwife to many in Irish theatre. With ‘The Wickedness of Oz’ this midwife may have just given birth to a star. Kate Gilmore? Who does she think she is, Ireland’s next big thing? Quite possibly. ‘The Wickedness of Oz’ by Kate Gilmore, produced by Fishamble: The New Play Company as part of Show in a Bag for Tiger Dublin Fringe, runs at Bewleys Café Theatre@ Powerscourt until September 23rd For more information, visit Bewleys Theatre Café, Tiger Dublin Fringe or Fishamble: The New Play Company Show in a Bag is an artist development initiative of Tiger Dublin Fringe, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Irish Theatre Institute #Review

Bug by Tracy Letts produced by The Corp Ensemble

Bug by Tracy Letts produced by The Corp Ensemble

Photo credit:Corps Ensemble Cast adrift in a Grand Guignol styled Bug lite *** To many, Tracy Letts is that American actor you often see in programmes like ‘Homeland’ where he, yes he, usually plays a senior CIA strategist or government official. Many are often surprised to learn that this Tulsa born native is both a Tony and a Pulitzer prize winner, and arguably one of America’s most important contemporary playwrights. Several of his works, including the award winning ‘August: Osage County,’ and ‘Killer Joe,’ have been adapted into movies. As has his sometimes problematic ‘Bug,’ the 2006 movie of which starred Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon - the latter also being in the original theatrical production - and directed by ‘Exorcist’ helmsman William Friedkin. Problematic because of its dark, demented, psychologically disturbing themes, which prompted Friedkin to declare it, “the most intense piece of work I've ever done.” On paper, The Corp Ensemble, who aim to deliver challenging work that is visceral and vital, would appear to have found a marriage made in heaven in ‘Bug.’ Unfortunately, it proves a bridge too far in a production that never achieves any of the intensity Friedkin talked off. Indeed, what little intensity there is never rises above that of a Grand Guignol horror show, where excesses of blood are accompanied by peals of laughter, in a production full of sound and fury but not really signifying much. ‘Bug’s’ straightforward plot follows the enigmatic Peter and the damaged Agnes, both locked in a motel room outside Oklahoma City, as their sanity unravels and they withdraw further and further from the real world into their own, bug infested universe. Agnes’ jailbird ex-husband, Jerry, and her lesbian friend R.C., watch their descent unable to do anything, and the arrival of Dr Sweet could possibly mean fatal consequences. Structurally, the opening sequences to Letts' taut script establishes context and sets matters in motion, as if pulling back a slingshot ready for release. This production, however, simply sets up a context that is not really convincing, nor is the follow through. Indeed, the very heart of ‘Bug’ is bypassed in an effort to craft a production built around some sort of imagined psychological state divorced from the conditions and the culture that gave birth to it. ‘Bug,’ like ‘August: Osage County,’ is steeped in the culture from which it arose. Like O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy, where notions of Irish identity and lived experience inform everyone and everything on stage, Oklahoma and its lived experience feature at the core of much of Letts' work. And here lies one of the fundamental flaws in director Jed Murray’s approach. It fails to recognise that ‘Bug’ is not simply a dark, psychological study, but an interrogation of Oklahoma itself, of a great State self-destructing in the grip of paranoia and irrationality. A no holds barred look at that Midwestern, Republican, buckle-of-the-bible-belt mentality that informs the Sooner State’s white, trailer trash population where God, guns and government keep the right-wing shock-jocks and pastors earning a healthy living. A culture with too casual an acceptance of the meth pipe, too little acceptance of sexuality. Where men are always ‘good ol’ boys’ and the women all American honey, with both being deeply damaged by religious indoctrination, conspiracy theorist and paranoia about government control. Reduced to a psychological study without understanding the conditions that create that psychological state, Murray’s approach creates a vacuum that never connects with the heart-breaking vulnerability and loneliness, the obsessive insecurity and co-dependency lying at the heart of ‘Bug.’ With that basic piece of the foundation missing, the rest suffers accordingly. A strong cast fight valiantly to bring it all together, but in the absence of a central fixed point, they often look adrift. Five strong performers individually, but with no unifying vision, seeming to flounder at times, always striving to find something cohesive, something to hang on to or to push against. But it's just not there, and what should be intense, harrowing and heart breaking ends up reduced to producing a few dark laughs amidst the healthy doses of Grand Guignol theatrical blood. Michael Bates as Dr Sweet does well during his brief cameo, but Edwin Mullane doesn’t really come to grips with the ‘good ol’ boy’ mentality that underscores his character, lacking both charm and underlying menace. Mary Murray as Agnes is perhaps most poorly served of all, with her aging woman with a heart breaking secret never really evoking sympathy. Physically looking like a paranoid Forrest Gump, Rex Reed’s energetic performance as Peter seems to channel Michael Shannon a little too much on occassion. As a result, the sparks never fly between Peter and Agnes and their relationship never really ignites. Only Toni O’Rourke as R.C. manages to come to grips sufficiently with her troubled character to offer something both credible and effective. Andrew Murray’s set design functions well as a motel room, but the manner in which he utilises the restricted options of The Viking Theatre to craft a significant scene change is a move showing a hint of genius. If American actors are often condemned for the inconsistency and poor quality of their Irish accents and of failing to understand a culture other than their own, that same criticism holds true here in reverse, with only O’Rourke hitting the accent right and hitting it consistently. Despite all its huffing and puffing, The Corps Ensemble’s ‘Bug’ never blows the house down. It wants to be all that, to have that venom and visceral intensity, but it just isn’t there. Something director Jed Murray needs to take responsibility for. A work like ‘Bug’ asks big questions in every sense and they just weren’t answered. The Corp Ensemble need to regroup and ask some questions of themselves. And one hopes they do. For their ambition is to be admired and they do have the potential to do amazing things. As The Corp Ensemble demand the highest standard and can achieve that standard, they deserve to be held to that standard. Jed Murray’s recent ‘Made in China’ showed just what he can do, Edwin Mullane has frequently shown he has some serious talent and Rex Ryan is rapidly becoming one of the most interesting stage actors of his generation. Bug by Tracy Letts, produced by The Corp Ensemble runs at The Viking Theatre until September 24th. Show begins 8pm For more information visit The Viking Theatre #Review

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Half Light

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Half Light

Photo credit: The New Theatre **** If you go down to the woods today There’s something a little disconcerting about entering The New Theatre for ‘Half Light,’ directed by Mollie Molumby. To begin with, the set looks like something left over from a 1970’s Christmas Special, with pine trees, book shelves, helium balloons and an array of other paraphernalia. Including an impish character crouched hiding behind a Christmas tree. And what looks like a 70’s musical, folk family nestled to the front, singing the same piece of music over and over like a cult mantra. All perma-smiles and positivity, playing flutes, guitar, recorder and child’s xylophone, they want to teach the world to sing because they see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. 70’s motifs run riot through ‘Half Light’ which feels like a child’s storytelling show, told in the style of any number of countless children’s programmes where a young cast of overly enthusiastic actors leap about to bring it all alive. Indeed, in ‘Half Light’ the story is there to serve the needs of the telling. And it is a telling well told, being clever, funny and utterly engaging. Story is perhaps the least satisfying thing about ‘Half Light’ as ten-year old Robin goes on a quest to find his father who disappears on his 40th birthday, kidnapped by a monster and taken into the snow covered forest. Along the way he meets an innkeeper and her strange guests, a philosophical crow, attends a party and meets, quite possibly, the love of his life, even if he is only ten. There’s dancing, singing, floating away on balloons and an orchestra of clever musical instruments, but at the heart of it all is a ten-year-old boy looking for his Dad. Attempts to scratch beneath the surface of ‘Half Light’ for something of depth is like panning for gold in a near dry river bed. You might find an occasional nugget here or there, a playful exploration of the patronising way children’s stories are sometimes told, a recognition of the black monster that stalks middle aged men who feel they’ve failed their family and themselves. But ‘Half Light’ really doesn’t have any darkness to it and is at its least satisfying when it tries to, as in the monologue by the crow, referencing Maya Angelou. Indeed, ‘Half Light’ is at its best when it forgets all that nonsense and floats on helium balloons, sings Italian/Mexican love songs or boogies till dawn, all awash in a soundscape of clever and perfectly timed sounds effects. However, there are still some scary bits to ‘Half Light.’ That many of its youthful cast and crew are still students, or recent graduates, is particularly scary. For they’re scarily good. Fionn Foley as Robin, who also takes the accolades for song writing, charm and interacting wonderfully with the audience, is simply excellent. As are Martha Grant, Kerill Kelly, Juliette Crosbie and Richard Durning as the supporting band, cast and sound effects team. There’s a wonderful ensemble performance on display, which seems to include a frighteningly good technical team. Set designer, Ursula McGinn, manages to both fill every corner of the stage, and make space for its five strong cast, without ever making it look claustrophobic. Ellen Gorman’s lighting design is so evocative and well executed its gives credence to the belief in reincarnation, for no one this young can be that good. That Mollie Molumby manages to marshal all these theatrical forces into something so cohesive and enjoyable suggests a director in the making well worth watching for the future. If you go down to the woods today and catch ‘Half Light,’ you’re in for a big surprise. It’s not the half and half it purports to be, rather it’s all shiny bright, slick, schmaltzy, clean good fun. But so wonderfully, cleverly and hilarious done. A perfect Christmas show any time of year for all ages. ‘Half Light’ runs at The New Theatre as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe until September 17th For more information, visit The New Theatre or Tiger Dublin Fringe #Review

Dublin Theatre Festival 2016

Dublin Theatre Festival 2016

All Things Dublin Theatre Festival 2016 Now in its 59th year, The Dublin Theatre Festival will hit the city for over 18 days and nights between September 29th and October 16th. This year’s line-up features a myriad of exciting theatrical experiences from Ireland and across the globe, showcasing the diversity of contemporary theatre including drama, opera, both classical and experimental, dance, performance art, documentary theatre and film. Programme highlights include: A Dublin Theatre Festival Gala Night to honour the work of Sinead Cusack and celebrate her extraordinary contribution to world theatre A riotous, irreverent and funny take on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the UK based Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre A collaboration with Corn Exchange Theatre to present Anton Chekov’s celebrated comedy The Seagull in an eagerly anticipated new version by Michael West and Annie Ryan at the Gaiety Theatre At the Abbey Theatre, a new play by Carmel Winters, The Remains of Maisie Duggan (Peacock stage) and Donegal a musical play written by Frank McGuinness with music by Kevin Doherty (Abbey stage). There’s also a wealth of world premieres including: Opera Theatre Company’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a new translation by Roddy Doyle A new adaptation of Swan Lake/ Loch na hEala rooted in the Midlands of Ireland by Michael Keegan-Dolan These Rooms by CoisCéim Dance Theatre and ANU Druid’s production of Helen & I by Meadhbh McHugh Breaking Rainbows from visual artist and shepherd Orla Barry; The Circus Animals’ Desertion by Brokentalkers Commemorating the first anniversary of the Carrickmines tragedy, Ireland Shed a Tear? by Michael Collins Alien Documentary by Una McKevitt THEATREclub refuse to commemorate 1916 in It’s Not Over, their version of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars An experimental opera The Last Siren from Ian Wilson The Gate Theatre, we’ll see the Irish premiere of The Father by Florian Zeller in a translation by Christopher Hampton, The O’Reilly Theatre will see Michael Colgan direct First Love, by Samuel Beckett starring Barry McGovern. Death at Intervals from Kellie Hughes and Galway International Arts Festival at Smock Alley Audiences can also look forward to extraordinary work from Australia, Belgium, Spain, Iceland, UK, Norway, Sweden and Germany. Ancient Rain (Far and Away Productions and Brink Productions, Australia) stars Camille O’Sullivan, Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly and Feargal Murray in a new music theatre work inspired by the works of W.B. Yeats and other great Irish poets. BERLIN (Belgium), a documentary style approach to film and theatre, tells the story of survival, hope and love in an abandoned town in ZVIZDAL (Chernobyl – so far so close). From Kriðpleir and LÓKAL Performing Arts, (Iceland) Crisis Meeting. Backstage in Biscuit Land from Touretteshero stars Jess Thom who has Tourettes syndrome in a show weaving comedy, puppetry and singing. From El Conde de Torrefiel, one of the most exciting and provocative theatre companies to emerge from Spain in recent years comes Guerrilla. Verk Produksjoner (Norway) with satirical and political undertones look ahead into our uncertain future in Wishful Beginnings. Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre’s bring their internationally successful production of Every Brilliant Thing (UK) and from one of Sweden’s most interesting performance and film artists Gunilla Heilborn, a charming piece, This is Not a Love Story. Dublin Theatre Festival has again teamed up with The Ark to present a number of internationally acclaimed works for children including work from Mary-Francis Doherty in association with Young at Art (UK), Junges Ensemble Stuttgart (JES) (Germany) and Teater Pero (Sweden). The festival experience continues off stage with FESTIVAL+, a series of panel discussions, critical events and In Development showcases giving audiences a first look at 5 exciting new works in progress by Irish companies. Once again Festival Director, Willie White, has assembled a broad and eclectic programme certain to cater to all tastes. But have a flutter and bet on a production you might not ordinarily see. Maybe simply because you like the name if it. Often that’s the best way for finding those hidden treasures, for getting into the festival feel and for seeing shows you may not get the opportunity to see again. Looking at this year’s programme, there’s several hidden treasures to be had. For further information on shows, programme and tickets, visit Dublin Theatre Festival #Article

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Unsuitable

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Unsuitable

Photo credit: Tumble Circus *** Circus Unplugged Tumble Circus’s latest offering ‘Unsuitable’ doesn’t quite live up to its title. With its five strong cast dressed in what appear to be white vests and underwear, there’s a sense of innocence to the whole affair. Of nostalgia even. Looking like classic strong men, its two male cast members, brandishing sideburns and intriguing moustaches, look as if they just stepped out of a Barnum and Bailey tent. Nothing remotely unsuitable. There’s no spectacle here, no razzle dazzle, no big parade, fireworks or razzamatazz. It’s all pared back to bodies performing at the height of their physical prowess. On the floor, in the air, it’s all about physical dexterity, balance, precision and synchronisation. If those despicable Cirque de Soliel are a big rock concert, ‘Unsuitable’ is an acoustic set, more raw, more honest and much more intriguing when it hits its stride. ‘Unsuitable’ is a mixed bag of routines and performances. After a somewhat naïve and childlike opening with a TNT plunger, there’s a disturbing tale of a woman’s visit to the city which flips ‘Unsuitable’ into a darker, and performatively less interesting place. The flip flopping between the serious and the light runs throughout ‘Unsuitable’ and doesn’t always work well, with the former rarely being as interesting or as engaging as the latter, except when the latter forgets about its acrobatic roots. On occasion there’s a wonderful overlap, as books are flung and barbed wire binds, but efforts to explore deeper issues usually run a distant second to ‘Unsuitable's’ rich vein of acrobatic humour. Their Tina and Helga aerial routine is breathtakingly good, as is the aerial display with silk and the penultimate aerial act. But, likes it opening, 'Unsuitable's' attempt to get the big laugh at the end disappoints a little, for Tumble Circus are at their best when their physical routines are matched with clowning around, rather than when they try to be outright clowns. Like its eclectic soundtrack, which features everything from German Hip Hop to Sixties classics to Poly Styrene and X-ray Spex, ‘Unsuitable’ features a wide array of routines, not all of which fit well together. At times it feels as if 'Unsuitable' is trying too hard to be everything to everyone and loses sight of what it is in itself. Though the physical routines are wonderfully executed and riveting to watch, they aren’t always contextualised in the most interesting of ways. Even so, there’s something innately powerful about Tumble Circus’s stripped back, no make-up approach to physical performance, and something wonderfully honest. ‘Unsuitable by Tumble Circus runs at The Project Arts Centre as part of The Tiger Dublin Fringe until September 24th For more information, visit The Project Arts Centre or Tiger Dublin Fringe #Review

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

Photo Credit: Johan Persson Fast friends craft a terrible beauty in Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme ***** The inclusion of Frank McGuinness’s “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme” as part of The Abbey Theatre’s “Waking The Nation” programme commemorating 1916 and the intervening years, is something of a no brainer. As well as referencing the events of 1916, it also pays tribute to the many Irishmen who died at the Battle of the Somme that same year. Less noticeable perhaps it also, without shouting it from the mountain top, honours the Abbey’s role in addressing questions about Irishness and Irish identity. First produced in 1985 and staged at The Abbey, this play about eight Catholic hating, Protestant Unionists as they prepare to fight for King, country and a British Ulster, was posing big questions a mere thirteen years after the events of Bloody Sunday, four years after the H Block Hunger Strikes and eight years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality. But perhaps the most important reason for its inclusion is it’s a damn fine play, which is well served in this truly outstanding production. ​ From the outset McGuinness puts paid to any notion of “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme” being any kind of exercise in voyeuristic war porn. “To remember for your sake” is not the point, rather it is to make peace with ghosts, resisting memory till it can no longer be denied. The elder Pyper, in a searing monologue, sets the context for what follows as his younger self and seven other men enlist, fight and prepare to die in the trenches of the Somme Throughout, their humanity is writ large, a humanity that transcends the political and religious fervour which drove them to war. Their sense of camaraderie dominates, of men seeking a purpose larger than themselves, as boys play at being men playing at being boys, fighting with imaginary lances on imaginary white horses in the death filled trenches beneath a blood red sky. ​ Director Jeremy Herrin ensures this sense of camaraderie permeates all aspects of “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme” with key technicians seeming to function as an ensemble. The ménage a trois of Ciaran Bagnall’s impressive set design, Paul Keogan’s wonderful lighting design, with the bombing and candlelight scene being particularly stunning, and Niamh Lunny’s terrific costume designs is mesmerising, evoking an atmosphere beyond the facts of time and place. Again, camaraderie seems to spill over into one of the finest ensemble performances of recent memory in the shape of Donal Gallery as Kenneth Piper, Ryan Donaldson as David Craig, Iarla McGowan as John Millen, Chris McCurry as William Moore, Marcus Lamb as Christopher Roulston, Johnyy Holden as Martin Crawford, Andy Kellegher as George Anderson and Paul Kennedy as Nat Mcllwaine and Sean McGinley as Old Kenneth Piper. Individually, in pairs or competing duos, or collectively, Herrin elicits some excellent performances from his eight strong cast. As all sing stirringly before entering the fray, it is hairs on the back of your neck good. ​ McGuinness’s magnificent masterpiece still poses big questions today about Irish identity, and Irish theatre, particularly when viewed in light of #wakingthefeminists much needed shaking of the male dominated theatrical foundations. Yes, it’s an all-male play, but the point of the much needed redress of the lack of woman’s voices in the Abbey’s programme, and Irish theatre generally, is not to silence the male voice, but to make an equal space for women’s voices. Granted, males voices need to make way, and its imperative programmers be more selective in choosing works that give voice to the stories of women and others whose voices often remain unheard. But whatever works must inevitably, and rightly, give way, “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme” should never be one of them. Indeed, “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme” asks big questions about what it means to be men as much as what it means to be Irish. And as director Jeremy Herrin makes plain in this excellent production, “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme” is a dynamite piece of theatre.​ ​ “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme” by Frank McGuinness runs at The Abbey Theatre until September 24th. For more information visit The Abbey Theatre #Review

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Breaks

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Breaks

Photo credit: Clíona Ní Laoi ***
Work gets lost to the cause in Breaks When Gesche Gottfried, the serial killer known as The Angel of Bremen, was executed in 1831 for poisoning 15 people, including her children and her parents, she refused to give a reason why. ‘Breaks’, a new work presented by Bez Kinte, thinks it knows the reason why: it was a man’s world and she wanted to be free of it. This reductive approach, based upon a selective reading and only a selection of her victims, is just one of the reasons why Gesche Gottfried’s story suffers in ‘Breaks,’ as the woman herself is eclipsed by its efforts to anoint her as a feminist icon. Another is that Gesche’s story is corseted within, and appropriated by, ‘Breaks’’ entry level, feminist manifesto which is more concerned with making her fit than with telling her story. The result is a work that is thematically, theatrically and dramatically less interesting than it could have been as the story of a truly fascinating woman gets swallowed up by a lecture in Feminism 101. All of which is a little surprising, for upon entering the Boys School in Smock Alley Theatre the stunning set design by Naomi Faughnan, assisted by lighting designer Teresa Nagel, is breathtakingly brilliant, promising something truly interesting to come. A wonderful snow covered landscape with secrets hidden beneath its rippled surface shows traces of genius in its simplicity and execution. In its centre stands a woman in black, like Maleficent or a deathly Snow Queen, dressed in a stunning costume by Faughnan, yet again, whose work is unquestionably one of the highlights of this production. The woman begins to speak, venting her spleen, and the story of Gesche begins to be told. Sort of. Built upon a series of found texts by the company, ‘Breaks’ suddenly switches to what appears to be a prolonged list of 1001 things only women have heard as the cast strike a pose upon delivery. Between snippets of Gesche's story more prolonged, in your face lecturing follows, as well as a prolonged sequence in which its three strong cast mime to a choral piece played over speakers, in what looks like an early 19th century equivalent to a Lip Sync Battle. And to end all with a big finish, a song and dance routine, mimed of course, that leaves you wanting less. ‘Breaks’’ three strong cast of Erin Gilgen, Morgan Cooke and Louise Wilcox, each playing aspects of Gesche as well as multiple other characters, do incredibly well in this disjointed production, with their physical dexterity and expressiveness being particularly noteworthy. Director Louisa Sanfey displays an astute understanding of staging, but doesn’t bring together ‘Break’s’ disparate elements into a cohesive whole. Gesche’s story fights almost constantly against the points being hammered home, rarely achieving a synergy. Yet when it does, as during a truly moving sequence between Cooke and Gilgen, where their repeated verbal motif on arsenic is juxtaposed with a powerful and disturbing floor routine by Louise Wilcox, all of which is followed by the most sublimely sinister lullaby, the effect is truly mesmerising and thought provoking, holding this production to a higher standard by showing what was possible if only it had dug deeper. Visually impressive at times, with its three strong cast working hard to bring the material alive, ‘Breaks’ asks too much of an investment from its audience but doesn’t always repay that investment. There’s no denying its concerns are legitimate, but this is not about ‘Break’s legitimate feminist concerns, but about ‘Breaks’ as a piece of theatre. The legitimacy of the former does not automatically confer legitimacy on the latter. The points ‘Breaks’ makes have been made, and will need to be remade, but they have been made better by other theatre artists. But there is much promise here in the performances of Louise Wilcox, Morgan Cooke and Erin Gilgen, as well as in the technical virtuosity of designer Naomi Faughnan, whose stunning work shows her to be a serious talent for the future. ‘Breaks’ by Biz Kinte runs at the Boys School Smock Alley as part of The Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival until September 18th For further information, visit Smock Alley Theatre or Tiger Dublin Fringe #Review

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: DoomDah

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: DoomDah

Photo credit: Ste Murray **** DoomDah delivers some choice cuts There’s this thing that happens to people when you mention the words Foil, Arms and Hog. Instantly their mood brightens, they relax, their expression changes, looking like a kid that’s just been told they can have the day off school and all the chocolate they can handle. They become animated, wanting to tell you of the last time they saw them live, or of one of their many sketches they’ve seen on YouTube, as if they themselves are responsible for discovering the kings of YouTube comedy. If you’re familiar with Foil, Arms and Hog, you jump into the conversation, exchanging stories up to the point where you begin trading blows over what’s their best sketch. If you’re unfamiliar with Foil Arms and Hog, you might wonder what all the fuss is about? Well, you need wonder no more. Devotee or potential convert, take yourself down to Smock Alley Theatre to see their latest show, ‘DoomDah’ which is leaving Fringe audiences feel absolutely excita and delighta. 'DoomDah' has all the Foil, Arms and Hog signature trademarks of songs, sketches, audience interaction and absolute hilarity. At times there’s a feel of the gameshow about 'DoomDah,' so well do they interact with their audience, who almost function like a fourth member of the troupe. With a mixture of YouTube favourites and live material, 'DoomDah' introduces you to the person who can do everything a phone can do, a lesson in how to speak Dublish and an orgiastic game of tennis. There’s a one man show where the lines blur between audience and performer, a fitting metaphor for Foil, Arms and Hog, and an introduction to your favourite stereotypes. Musically, 'DoomDah' is a little light on the ground, with a song about power obsessed, control freaks being the only real musical highlight of any substance. Here we meet lanyard man, key chain man and several other stereotypes who like to lord it over others, including comedy critics. Incidentally, that 'DoomDah' was originally was going to be awarded twenty-five stars but is now reduced to four, has nothing whatsoever to do with the aforementioned sketch. Foil, Arms and Hog are "so Fringe." They love their audience, and their audience love them. Those coming new to this comedic cult might well be struck by the high level of skill on display in 'DoomDah, which is second to none in terms of acting, improvisation, impersonation, audience interaction and comic timing. It doesn’t just happen that these guys are that good. They’ve earned it. So don’t miss the opportunity to see one of the most laugh out loud, hilarious, four star shows of the festival, and get to see what all the fuss is about. 'DoomDah' by Foil, Arms and Hog runs at Smock Alley Theatre as part of Tiger Dublin Fringe until September 20th For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre or Tiger Dublin Fringe #Review

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Nautilus

Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Nautilus

Photo credit: Trygve Wakenshaw **** Animal crackers in a delightful Nautilus Taking to the stage like the international, comedic superstar that he is, Trygve Wakenshaw struts and poses, dancing wildly while working the audience into a mild frenzy. Mild at first, for Wakenshaw is a master of his craft and he knows how to build to a big finish. Call it mime. Call it clowning. Call it impersonation, imitation or emulation with an accompanying, eclectic soundscape. Whatever you call it, 'Nautilus' is one of the funniest, cleverest, most imaginative shows of the festival and will have you cheering out loud. In 'Nautilus' Wakenshaw tells some of the worst jokes, has some of the worst sketches and sings some of the worst renditions of songs imaginable. But he does it all in the best possible way. Mime and clown meet impersonation and a cacophony of sound effects, all supplied by Wakenshaw, in what often resembles the worst overdubbed cartoon ever. 'Nautilus's' rich menagerie highlight the dangers of marrying a chicken, trying to shoot a dinosaur with a tranquiliser, being around a cat who loves musicals and learning to know that moo means moo. Humans also make an appearance as Jesus, Rapunzel and some guy called Trygve Wakensahw throw their lot in with the animals, are fascinated by a can of coke and indulge us with the best worst striptease ever. The sound of silence is golden in 'Nautilus,' but its soundscape is utterly hilarious. Why did the chicken cross the road? Who cares. It’s how it got there that matters. And Wakenshaw ensures it gets there in hilarious fashion. Inventive, innovative and sublimely funny, 'Nautilus' is so good, you might just fall off your seat laughing. 'Nautilus' by Trygve Wakenshaw ran at The Spiegeltent@Merrion Square as part of The Tiger Dublin Fringe #Review