Dublin Fringe Festival 2017: The Shitstorm
The Band’s All Here
As “The Shitstorm” begins Miranda sits at a piano, surrounded by piles of impossibly stacked books, and begins to play a formal, classical composition. But the restrictive form doesn't suit her soul. Eventually it all goes haywire as she begins banging the keys to shatter the structure in an effort to find her own voice. Here, in a nutshell, writer Simon Doyle succinctly foreshadows all that is to come in his darkly comic “The Shitstorm.” Yet if it shows a wonderful economy in places, all too often “The Shitstorm” takes a circuitous, arduous, and sometimes tortuous route to get you to where it wants you to go. But once it gets you there, it’s a little bit irresistible.
Built loosely around Shakespeare’s The Tempest “The Shitstorm” sees The Tempest's action transposed to an island off West Kerry, with a radically reduced cast. Here the bookish Prospero is intent on leaving the island for good, leaving behind the gormless Caliban, the faithful Ariel, and his punkish daughter Miranda, the last of whom he bequeaths the island to. Miranda’s more than a little peeved, but his absence allows her to get back to writing music, and allows Caliban to try reclaim his rightful place. With Prospero disappearing after his books are tossed into the sea just as a storm arrives, events unfold as characters ask the big questions: did Prospero leave the island, will he return, who will save the seals, can the band ever get it together long enough to play their first gig?
With Doyle’s tale being interspersed with so much remembering, re-remembering and mis-remembering the past, repetition risks becoming tedious as it all begins to feel like the wheels are spinning but it’s not really going anywhere. Indeed “The Shitstorm” is more successful when viewed as a metaphor rather than as a narrative. As a narrative it's far less engaging than it might have been, with talk of puffins, sheep, and seals padding it out to near breaking point. Yes, some of the jokes are funny, but we got them; what else do you have? Turns out what “The Shitstorm” has is one big finish as everything converges in a flash of inspiration.
If Doyle’s repetitive script references The Tempest, it equally references the spirit of endless waiting in Beckett and the language games of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Zia Bergin-Holly’s set and lighting design go a long way to disclosing the punk driven ethos and atmosphere that underscores “The Shitstorm,” as do some original and clever compositions from composers Morgan Buckley and Frank Sweeney. Director Maeve Stone marshals all the above, as well as mining “The Shitstorm’s” comic moments, verbally and visually, for all their worth. As do her first-rate cast. Bryan Quinn as Prospero is a sheer delight, a kind of self centered, vagabond scholar, symbolic of the classical and bookish. Ian Toner’s, Caliban, a hard done by, bumbling nice guy at heart, is utterly superb. Pam Boyd as Ariel, looking for all the world like a young Elizabeth Taylor, is absolutely divine, bringing a sense of channeled energy lending focus to proceedings. If Fionnuala Gygax as Miranda looks a little less at ease at times, it ultimately serves as a contrast for her total sense of ease when Miranda finally finds her voice. For once Gygax starts to sing, she appears utterly transported, and what follows is a pure, unadulterated joy.
If, like Caliban, you’ve been there and seen it all when punk happened first time around, “The Shitstorm” might well refresh that urge that gave rise to punk's creative force. If not, “The Shitstorm” is still a wonderful breath of fresh air, once you get past the stuffy repetition. An homage to the irresistible urge to create, irrespective of the classical, the forms, the college course, or all the right ways to go about doing things, “The Shitstorm” is unafraid to stutter and stammer and spit it all out until its voice is found. Proclaiming it’s not always about learning the technique or the form, but of often finding the technique and form in the act of creation, the “The Shitstorm” offers testament to the spirit that underscores the Fringe. As well as indulging in a delightful, tongue-in-cheek ribbing of the period, music and images that it references. It may over indulge itself at times, may take its time to get to the music, but once it does, “The Shitstorm” is the shit. Sure even hardcore, Fleetwood Mac fans would be hard pressed not to like it.
“The Shitstorm” by Simon Doyle, directed by Maeve Stone, produced by Dublin Fringe Festival and The Abbey Theatre, runs at The Peacock Stage at The Abbey Theatre until September 16th