Monday 24 October 2016

Theatre: From refugees to a famous handbag

This year's Tiger Fringe Festival touches on everything from medical ethics to the wisdom, or lack of it, of George W Bush

Emer O'Kelly

Published 19/09/2016 | 02:30

Boasting an artfully impressionistic set, 'This Beach' focuses on the refugee crisis
Boasting an artfully impressionistic set, 'This Beach' focuses on the refugee crisis
Joanne Ryan faces decisions about motherhood in the imaginative 'Eggsistentialism'

It's the elaborate set and video effects which are the stars in White Label's production of Stacey Gregg's Override at Project; and that's not necessarily a good thing. This futuristic/cyberspace/sci-fi offering is designed by Sarah Jane Shiels; but it falls down a bit for the simple reason that sci-fi in the movies is so elaborate that a stage copy can never match it.

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The basic premise is that while the miracle of medical transplantation can transform lives, humanity's own frailties all too often lead to abuse. Mark and Violet have left cyber perfection behind them to live real instead of virtual lives. They want their coming baby to be real, not "enhanced." Except enhancement has taken over and become the norm, as when a virtual husband claims how happy he and his perfectly manufactured wife are: she "satisfies (him) completely."

Just as Violet satisfies Mark…except that she, too, has fallen victim to enhancement, and when he attempts to override and reverse the process, she - literally - falls apart.

Sophie Motley directs Shane O'Reilly and George Hanover with a good combination of restraint and ghoulish tongue-in-cheek, but it's difficult for the actors to "override" the techie stuff.

But could it really happen? Gregg posits a chilling argument for the possibility.

Had Oscar Wilde lived to a ripe and contented age and taken to farce, he might have written To Hell in a Handbag. It's wickedly, side-splittingly funny, in a sophisticated, witty and elegant way, so it really belongs in the mainstream on a main stage rather than in the quirky mayhem of a Fringe Festival. But it's still an ornament to that Fringe.

The play offers an answer to what Miss Prism and Canon Chasuble got up to while Lady Bracknell was arranging a suitable future for Mr Jack Worthing and Mr Algernon Moncrieff in the former's drawing room at the Manor House, Woolton. You don't even have to be familiar with The Importance of Being Earnest to be enchanted, while if you're already a fan, you'll never see the dithering cleric and the palpitating governess in the same light again.

To Hell in a Handbag is written and played by Helen Norton and Jonathan White, and they have even managed to incorporate a newcomer's guide to the back action of the "real" play, without labouring any points, while their mastery of prim Victorian dialogue is as brilliant as their comic timing.

The production is part of the Fishamble Show in a Bag initiative, and is at Bewley's at Powerscourt, directed faultlessly by Conor Hanratty, and designed by Maree Kearns with costumes by Saileog O'Halloran. Lighting is by Colm Maher and sound by Brendan Breslin.

This is a joyous romp not to be missed, a worthy homage to its master and progenitor.

Brokentalkers are trying to do something important and thought-provoking with their devised/scripted piece This Beach at Project. But they are preaching to the converted: their usual audience is unlikely to disagree with their message that we need to question the instinct for self-preservation, self-indulgence and self-glorification when it exploits and degrades those outside "our own" sphere of influence and experience.

Concentrating on the refugee crisis, (set on a beach owned by a single family since time immemorial, the family solves the problem of dead refugees washing up on the shore by incinerating the bodies…until one survives to disrupt and threaten their certainties), This Beach also throws in issues like the degradation of art through glorifying the mundane; the violent imposition of neo-colonialism; and the blind complacency of the NGO aid-industry. And with so much thrown into the pot, it's not surprising that it rather drowns in its own good intentions.

But the concept is imaginative and the performances are heartfelt under Gary Keegan's direction, in an artfully impressionistic set by Sabine Dargent.

A monologue about the biological clock ticking in a woman in her late 30s is liable to get one of two reactions: self-pityingly, resentful fellow feeling; or an irritated turn-off .

Joanne Ryan's Eggsistentialism (at Smock Alley) should manage to appeal to both extremes…and everything in between, hopefully including the other half of the biological spectrum (men).

Ryan has crafted a history of both the joyous and tragic sides of female fertility in Ireland, and has deftly, with a few sly swipes, and some accurate research, anchored it in a world spectrum.

It starts with her monstrous hangover after her 35th birthday; the single daughter of a single mother, she suddenly finds herself facing into a future where decisions about motherhood have to be made.

The piece, beautifully directed by Veronica Coburn, is close to a masterpiece: intelligent, thoughtful, wry, funny, and above all, loving. There's no self-pity waiting to burst from the shells of Ryan's eggs.

George Bush and Children, a co-production between Dick Walsh and PanPan, consists entirely of transcripts from recorded talk-show clips gleaned from the internet.

So it's not a play, but a compilation of actual views. They're exact, "with all the ums and ahs." Wow!

Director/"writer" Dick Walsh says in his programme note that it was very "empowering to be able to disown the text." Oh, for heaven's sake!

And the actors "were not shown the original videos, and so they were able to approach the words without prejudice." Give us a break!

Despite such a ridiculous level of pretension, it's an interesting montage of "middle-world" attitudes to contemporary life. A lot of it is funny, most of it is fairly predictable, but despite the obvious intent, little is shocking. It's fairly easy to guess the provenance of a lot of it from the idiom used: from Irish through mid-western US to Australian. The topics covered include abortion (of course!); better action in the bedroom for men who get involved in housework; to what you'd do if you were in a locked room with "scum" like Osama Bin Laden and a baseball bat. That's as against the immorality or otherwise of torture-punishment for criminals.

Then there's whether or not to tell a child it's dying; or the justification of a distraught parent drinking her dead child's blood to keep part of him with her forever.

The direction is fairly daft, too, with the cast (Oddie Bradell, Shane Connolly, Fionnuala Flaherty and Grainne Hallahan) wandering/crawling around the stage and waving their hands and arms about in would-be significant slow motion.

'Eggsistentialism is a history of both the joyous and tragic sides of female fertility in Ireland'

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