Monday 18 February 2019

At the crimpers - so it must be the Fringe

Emer O'Kelly sees the good and the bad at Dublin Fringe Festival

Caitriona Ennis in ‘A Holy Show’ at the Peacock
Caitriona Ennis in ‘A Holy Show’ at the Peacock
Lauren Larkin in ‘Split Ends’ at Bewleys

It's generally held that hairdressers hear the secrets of their clients' hearts (though personally speaking, I've never heard anything other than the most superficial chit-chat going on). But Lauren Larkin has produced a literal tear-jerker with her Split Ends, which she performs herself for the Show in a Bag at Bewley's.

It's pure delight as Amy deals with a variety of occupants in her styling chair. There's Fran - a tough oul' wan who isn't going to be put down by anyone, and she loves karaoke. But Fran likes the pub because the house is silent and empty: her boy Craig is dead, and she will never have grandchildren to babysit.

And there's Trish, who has a smart and busy life with husband Mal travelling a lot, and her boys needing ferrying from pillar to post (mostly expensive summer camps.) Then it all starts to fall apart, as her valiant mum goes from feisty recovery from a hip operation to the downward spiral of Alzheimer's. And Trish slowly disintegrates.

Then there's the sprightly seven-year-old - in for the nails, the hair, and choosing lip gloss and a touch of mascara. She's even watching her weight in case she won't fit into her First Communion dress.

And Amy keeps smiling, her own desperation well hidden. She wants a baby; oh, how she wants a baby, the pregnancy test kit permanently lurking in a drawer, and Darren at home not seeming all that interested.

Larkin plays them all with supreme dexterity, body language down to a T, and emotion balanced perfectly between laughter and genuinely tragic tears. She's directed by Aisling Byrne, and the piece will undoubtedly have the long touring life the initiative sets out to provide.

*******

So you think you're sane? Well, guess what? You have more in common with what Bobby calls "mentallers" than you think. That's the premise of Madhouse, written by Una McKevitt and PJ Gallagher as a class of a meditation on schizophrenia, its highs and its lows. And it's derived from Gallagher's childhood, growing up in a rambling house where his mother offered lodgings to 'mental patients' newly released from hospital, some threatening suicide, and achieving it.

In the play (at the Peacock), Bobby points out that he learned while still a little lad that there was no such thing as mental health: there was only health, and mental.

And he knew about mental. He could even spot the mentallers in the street: "They smoke a lot and they walk a lot." Hence: brown fingers and comfortable shoes; that's a mentaller.

Bobby's parents are sane, of course. Except his mother carts around huge sacks of old clothes and his father refuses to walk anywhere: he drives to the pub which is less than 100 yards away, and thinks the car has been stolen because he doesn't look round when he comes out.

Bobby (Barry Kinsella) tells us all about it as he grows up in a world of insanity that is touchingly sane when you look at it the right way. And he comes out of it quite unbroken while his mother (Katherine Lynch) has a mental conversation with an imaginary gorilla who speaks Spanish.

It's a joyously kind, touching piece, and very funny, directed by Cathal Cleary and designed by Cillian McNamara with sound by Fiona Sheil.

*******

In 1981, an Aer Lingus plane on a flight to London was hijacked after a passenger apparently doused himself in petrol (actually water) threatened to incinerate himself, and demanded to be taken to Iran. Informed that there wasn't enough fuel, he settled for Le Touquet in France.

You couldn't make up the details, and Janet Moran hasn't tried in her play A Holy Show. The hijacker was an Australian former Trappist monk living in Shannon, and was demanding that the then closely guarded "third secret of Fatima" be published by the Vatican.

The hijacker was overpowered by French anti-terrorist personnel, and got five years in a French jail.

Moran has made a two-hander out of her piece, played by Patrick Moy and Caitriona Ennis (the latter rather too heavy-handedly) as various combinations of passengers and crew who collectively add up to a classic Irish joke. Two life-long biddy-buddies on their way to meet a new grandchild; an innocent on her way to enter a convent outside London where her aunt is already a nun; a honeymoon couple terrified into non-communication at the prospect of having to "do it" for the first time; a boorish property developer and his far brighter PA; and a disillusioned unemployed man from Belfast who finds his atheism not even skin-deep at the sight of a gun.

It could do with cutting - but it's a bit of fun.

*******

Appropriate (at Bewley's) is part of the Show in a Bag initiative of Fishamble and the Fringe. Maybe it's appropriate for the latter; but not for the former, because it isn't a play, despite being directed by the more than competent Paul Meade.

It's an overlong, pointless monologue with every cliche you've ever heard about a woman's mindless determination to get married with all the bells and whistles. Except in this case, the bride is supposed to have looked at her husband at the start of the reception, and done a runner. She's realised that he's just a "pleasant bystander". She's also "f***ed a strange Englishman in the loo" at her hens. This despite the fact that she's in her 30s, they've been together since leaving school, and she moved heaven and earth to get ex-junior hurling star Marty.

Nor, sadly, does author/performer Sarah Jane Scott do much more than pull faces throughout.

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