Dublin Theatre Festival 2021: Uncle Ray
Uncle Ray. Image by Ros Kavanagh.
The Wizard of Oz. A perennial Christmas favourite. For many it simply wouldn't be Christmas without it. Especially David Bolger. For the young David it meant an annual opportunity to see his uncle, Ray Bolger. A man who lived in glowing technicolor but could only be seen through black and white TV. A man known to the rest of the world as Dorothy's Scarecrow. In Uncle Ray, David Bolger blurs memory, fantasy, and nostalgia in a tale of family love. In which awe struck children dare to believe no matter where in the world they live.
A deftly executed dance duet, stuttering in one or two places, Uncle Ray is less about remembering childhood so much as reliving it. Or rather two men reliving their childhoods, with Donking Rongavilla's mirrored tale often reflected in mirrored gestures and movement. Highlighting his own awe of his father, an action hero he watched on TV in the Philippines. Throughout, Bolger and Rongavilla's boyish charm prove irresistible. Like vaudevillian song and dance men their act has all the playfulness of a pair of three legged tights, featuring hat routines, big gestural performances, and even a ukulele to take us over the rainbow. Belying the immense rigour involved, especially around some impressive dance sequences, be they standing, seated, turning on the floor, or weaving into intricately flowing patterns.
With their infectious, childlike wonder, Bolger and Rongavilla remind us what it is to be innocent and amazed. As does Denis Clohessy's sensitive score. Yet for all their performance magic, Bolger and Rongavilla often risk being eclipsed by Uncle Ray's technical brilliance. Maree Kearns' superb other worldly set, along with hugely clever projections by Mags Mulvey & Neil O'Driscoll serve less as back drop so much as interactive gateways to magical worlds. Which Eamon Fox's lighting illuminates to perfection. Rarely has a TV been so imaginatively and impressively transformed.
Seductive in its simplicity, Uncle Ray allows us all become children again, back to when television was a portal to other worlds. In which dancers could sing and play and act like clowns. It is rare for a work steeped in innocence and nostalgia not to reek of tweeness like a guilty pleasure. Yet in Uncle Ray playfulness is steeped in unabashed honesty, meticulous attention, and even a little bravery. The technical might out dazzle the dance at times, but Uncle Ray delivers a gorgeous, magical and charming production. Not to be resisted.
Uncle Ray by David Bolger, presented by Coiscéim Dance Theatre, Ireland, runs at part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2021 at the Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire until October 9.
It transfers to the MAC, as part of Belfast International Arts Festival Oct 13 - 14.
It will be available for streaming and on demand, Details at Coiscéim Dance Theatre, Ireland,