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.