Wednesday 16 October 2019

Collapsible at Peacock Theatre: Stand-up's wickedly funny drama

Collapsible

Peacock Theatre, Dublin

Minefield

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Starlet

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Clare Monnelly attacks the dark side of the internet head on in Minefield, a clever, ugly piece
Clare Monnelly attacks the dark side of the internet head on in Minefield, a clever, ugly piece

Emer O'Kelly

A comedy without the internet charms Emer O'Kelly.

Warmly received at the Edinburgh Fringe,  Collapsible comes directly to the Peakcock for the Fringe Festival. It ticks all the boxes for modern angst: the world's treating you like shit, and you deserve better; after all, everyone else seems to be doing all right. What's more, nobody's paying a blind bit of attention to the way you feel. So it's a play about what is now called mental health.

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Put like that, it's a pain in the neck: more self-pity, more refusal to accept that the world's a tough place and maybe doing a bit of listening rather than talking might develop a sense of perspective. (That could just be from one critic's perspective, not just on a play, but on life in general.)

But at least writer Margaret Perry has an imaginative approach to the ubiquitous theme: her protagonist Esther addresses the audience from atop a pillar, balancing deftly in various postures as it disintegrates. Esther has lost her job (deservedly, it would seem.) Now she incessantly interviews family and friends to give her one-word descriptions of her own character and potential to be trotted out at job interviews, all of which are conducted by unimpressed kookie-cool managerial types. Her girlfriend has also walked out, seemingly not without reason.

But it takes her best friend to blow some of the dust of self-absorption away from the soul-searching by exploding with a bit of self-pity of her own. And finally, Esther regains some equilibrium when her brother-in-law calls to admit that he too often feels as hopeless as she does. With a good performance from Breffni Holohan, Collapsible was at the Peacock for the Fringe Festival.

*******

Minefield is an Axis Ballymun and Fringe Lab production, written by Clare Monnelly. It's yet another play about the internet, which everyone seems to deplore, but nobody is prepared to turn off or at least limit its usage. So it's a minefield: and Monnelly attacks its darkest side head on with a viciously cynical perspective.

Joe had a following as an "influencer". Until the day she posted a video that attacked another website frequented by young men who fancied themselves as anti-feminist warriors. Her attack led to one of the young men, except he was only a kid, killing himself.

And the lads decided on revenge. Identifying Joe, they punished her; not virtually, but in reality.

Monnelly takes her play from that starting point, through the painful fallout and the destroyed lives until there seems to be a new start. Only this is no happy ending: Joe, her tormentor, and the young man caught in their toils as a pawn are all children of the internet era. And there's only one way for them to go: back to unreality and false faces and emotions.

It's a clever, ugly piece, directed by Aaron Monaghan (at Smock Alley) and played by the author, Jack Mullarkey and Jamie O'Neill. It's designed by Ellen Kirk and Naomi Faughnan with lighting by Suzie Cummins.

*******

Comedian Alison Spittle's reputation goes before her. But there's a difference between stand-up and plays. With Starlet, she adds wickedly funny new playwright to her CV.

Starlet is set in 2008 in Westmeath, where the world seems to be passing the population by. Maybe things haven't changed all that much in 20 years. Except for the internet, of course.

And as a result, neither Shannon nor Michael has heard of sexual harassment, trolling, or mental health. Shannon just wants a fella with a car and Michael just wants a girl who'll put out, at least a little bit. The date's going well, Shannon tells her mate on the phone while Michael is in the loo: he's bought her crisps; both flavours. She just worries about everyone she knows who's died, but can't help tuning in to the local radio death notices. Michael worries all his mates have left; but his own "international" experience on the building sites hasn't inspired him to follow them.

It's a tiny world for Shannon and Michael: when he unzips his trousers she points out in horror that she doesn't even know his Mam's first name. It's a lovely inconsequential little piece, beautifully acted by Roxanna NicLiam and Peter McGann and directed by Simon Mullholland, also at Smock Alley.

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