• Chris O'Rourke

Tonic


Fionn Foley in Tonic. Image by Jed Niezgoda

****

Should you find yourself at a poker table sitting opposite Fionn Foley, probably best to fold and just walk away. Unless you like getting cleared out. For Foley has that remarkable ability for making himself appear stupid. Evidenced again in his delightful musical comedy Tonic. Foley's feel-good tragedy about the day the earth died screaming. Like his Brendan Galileo For Europe, Foley presents an absurd man in an absurd situation. But it takes a lot of smarts to look this absurdly stupid. And Foley's Cal, a kind of folk troubadour come tonic salesman, is remarkably stupid. And arrogant, selfish, conniving, vain, all of which Foley delightfully embodies with worrying ease.


As stories go, Tonic hangs on by a frayed thread that just about ties its songs together. Set in 2047 Cal, along with multi-instrumentalist Aoife Kelly as Cal's silent sister Lar, kick off their first gig after the apocalypse. Two-thirds of the Calibri Triplet Family Band, their return to the stage is facilitated by a wandering wagon sponsored by the corporation Vultura. Makers of Halcyon Tonic, which is either corporate snake oil or the cure-all to make us feel great again. And which Cal is desperately trying to flog. A song and dance act to remember the good times is rudely interrupted by the arrival of prodigal sister Jude, looking all rock and ready to grab the future. Telling the truth behind her disappearance, making troubling accusations, unforgivably playing an electric instrument, Jude wants to set some wrongs to right. But what happens when an unstoppable force meets a bothersome bollox? Can the Calibri Triplet Family Band survive another hit? Should folk artists go electric?

Juliette Crosbie and Aoife Kelly in Tonic. Image by Jed Niezgoda


Like a musical written by Tenacious D and performed by the Marx Brothers (with Foley, Crosbie and Kelly suggesting Groucho, Chico and Harpo respectively), Tonic is a glorious car crash that loves to have fun, poke fun, and make fun. If its net of interests can cover too wide a range, leaving some themes underdeveloped, Foley's songs prove incredibly robust and clever at sending everything up. Especially themselves. And Jude. Throughout, there's hints of Flann O'Brien in Foley's smart script and lyrics, and if the end feels hurried and doesn't quite satisfy, the whole has some cracking moments, some cracking songs, and three standout performances.

Fionn Foley, Juliette Crosbie and Aoife Kelly in Tonic. Image by Jed Niezgoda


Which is where Foley proves just how smart he is, surrounding himself with some incredibly talented people. Even the voice of Vultura belongs to Soda Blonde's illustrious singer Faye O'Rourke. From the get-go Ronan Phelan's direction is stunningly impressive, utilising Zia Bergin-Holly's inch perfect set and lighting to maximum effect. Kelly as Lar may not speak, but she turns in an exquisite performance as well as playing an envious number of musical instruments. Crosbie might not have a career as a bassist ahead of her, but Crosbie has a voice, presence and swagger that owns any stage she's on. Foley, again highlighting how smart he is, leans into his own impressive performance. But he lets Crosbie and Kelly make him look better by making them both look great.

Fionn Foley, Juliette Crosbie and Aoife Kelly in Tonic. Image by Jed Niezgoda


A huge hit at this year's Kilkenny Arts Festival, Tonic lives up to its name. As a response to Covid, Tonic takes the heaviness from the equation and restores some much needed heart, hope and humour. But be advised, it can get cold in Dublin Castle. And the picnic benches, as a good friend advised, can be hard. So wrap up well and maybe bring a cushion. And enjoy the Calibri Triplet Family Band at the best worse gig of your life.


Tonic, written and composed by Fionn Foley, produced by Fionn Foley and Rough Magic and presented in association with Solstice Arts Centre, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2021 until September 19.


For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2021


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