Year after year, despite efforts to the contrary, my heart sinks as the Dublin Fringe Festival approaches. I want to believe that "having craic", "innovating" and "breaking boundaries" doesn't sacrifice the admittedly un-cool qualities of accuracy, good manners, and dreary theatrical professionalism. But all too often I'm disappointed.
First: the duration time given in the 2013 official festival programme for various productions (four of the five I was scheduled to see in the first week) bore no relation to the actual running time. Result: one missed appointment after a play, and another one for which I was abominably late. How dare I have a life outside the Fringe?
Second: audiences being permitted to insult performers by bringing drinks into the auditorium. Result: minutes after a play began, the idiot behind me snapped open an exploding can of something, obviously held well away from himself, because it cascaded down my back. I watched the play with a soaked, sticky back, and have a dry-cleaning bill pending. And I resent performers being insulted.
Third: I arrived in very good time at a venue to make absolutely sure of my choice of seat, as I could not afford to be late for yet another (important) appointment on the far side of town after the performance. I took a seat at the end of the row for a quick exit. Two minutes before curtain-up I was approached and asked to move to an inner seat to "allow room for people coming in late." Now that one is a red rag to a bull as far as I am concerned: what professional management insults both performers AND people who arrive on time?
When I refused, saying I had to get away quickly, I was told that "in that case" I'd have to stand up and down to let latecomers past me. "Actually, I shan't," I said, and left, mentioning that I was a critic. The woman came chasing after me, shouting that I could sit wherever I liked. Too late as far as I was concerned, and In Dog Years I'm Dead is not reviewed here.
Plays which articulate personal experience frequently amount to no more than a therapeutic spelling out of unhappiness and possibly its resolution. Frankly, most of them should be locked in a drawer and left there.
That is most assuredly not the case with Postscript by Noelle Brown and Michelle Forbes at the New Theatre. It tells the story of Brown's search for her birth mother, with a faint hope of also identifying her birth father; and it is a gentle, sad, funny delight. The authors have stabbed the piece with humour and raised characters who may or not have a base in reality, from the redoubtable Auntie Patty, sister of Noelle's adoptive mother and the possessor of a coruscating tongue as she regales her Dublin-based niece with the doings from home in Cork, to the shadowy figures from the now dead past of Mary O'Brien, the 18-year-old hotel worker who gave birth to her in the Sixties.
Ultimately, the search is fruitless, and Brown and Forbes have no doubt where the real shame lies: not with an unhappy young woman, but with the machinations of the Canon Law-based "charity" methodology which conspired and conspire to make moral criminals of people like Noelle's mother ... and indeed Noelle herself.
She plays herself with admirable theatrical detachment, with Brid Ni Neachtain turning in a tour-de-force performance in the other roles. They are directed with a kind of tenderness by Conor Hanratty in a minimalist design by Maree Kearns. Beautiful fare.
Amy Conroy's Break is set in the staffroom of a community school in the aftermath of tragedy: a third-year student, Stuart Davis, has hanged himself. The students are broken-hearted and traumatised; the staff are less broken-hearted: he was a handful. But they too are traumatised, and unsure how to deal with the situation.
Enter a young counsellor, employed to help the students come to terms with what has happened. She works through the medium of rap and hip-hop, and the staff members, worn out with coping with crises which have included 30 pregnancies in the student body in a decade, become even more unsure of themselves as they also try to deal with their own less than perfect lives.
John, the vice principal feels trapped by his incessantly demanding wife; Jan has joined up for internet dating in a desperate attempt to find the love she believes has passed her by; Jeff the music teacher is stalking a young woman; Karl the sports master is more interested in sports outside school; and Margaret, who had hoped for the vice principal's job, just wants security and calm in her job and her marriage.
Conroy cleverly explores the current education system through the lives of those who deliver it, all within a marvellously choreographed setting that is ultimately a piece of life-affirming, hopeful drama. It's delivered with zingingly professional va-va-voom by a cast that includes the author herself and Clare Barrett, her frequent collaborator in production company HotForTheatre, as well as Tom Lane, Damien Devaney, Mark Fitzgerald, and a splendid Elayne Harrington as the counsellor who puts the cat among the uptight pigeons.
Veronica Coburn directs in a spectacular set of suspended chairs designed and lit by Paul Keogan, with sound designed (and music performed) by Tom Lane, and choreography by Ciaran Gray. Costumes are by Sinead Cuthbert.
This is cutting edge, topical drama that manages to make hugely serious points with a light and provocative touch.
Plays about a disturbed child fantasist are nothing new. So another one needs to be very good to work. And Genevieve Hulme-Beaman's Pondling does manage some of its intended impact. It's a co-production by Guna Nua and Ramblinman at the Boys' School at Smock Alley.
The author plays the little girl living in a male household comprised of her brother and grandfather. She longs for sophistication, and the small girl version of romance.
But desperate rages take over when any fantasy is destroyed, and when the 14-year-old object of her desire ("an older man") scorns her, there is an inevitable tragedy.
And "inevitable" is the word that creates the problem. Five minutes in, the comic element palls, and 10 minutes in, the tragedy is as obvious as a piece of lead.
Hulme-Beaman performs with enthusiasm, but the pouting outrage becomes tiresome, and not even Paul Meade's direction can bring enough variance. Set and lighting are by Colm McNally and sound is by Osgar Dukes and Denis Clohessy.