Monday 14 October 2019

Electric at Smock Alley: Steering a clever course in a crowded and muddy field


Smock Alley, Dublin Until tonight.

Touring Cornelscourt, Tallaght, Kilmallock (Co Limerick), Ballymun, Belfast & Listowel until May 2

Culture clash: Ali Hardiman and Ericka Roe in Electric
Culture clash: Ali Hardiman and Ericka Roe in Electric

Katy Hayes

Writer/performer Ali Hardiman's comedy chops get a superb outing in this love letter to the fun of music festivals.

Posh Scarlett (Hardiman) has reluctantly agreed to come to the Electric Picnic music festival to please her mother, who thinks she needs to get out more. She is glamping in a tepee, sharing with a best friend whom she doesn't really like and a thicko boyfriend she's had since she was a kid. Working-class Joni (Ericka Roe), a festival regular, knows her way around. She, too, is ­disillusioned with her own crowd; her best friend is a spacer who likes getting into fights.

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When the two young women meet in the queue for the loo and end up having to share a cubicle, they ­immediately make a connection. Though neither is gay, as far as they are aware, they are suddenly and strongly attracted to each other. The play captures that complex mixture of fascination and excitement that accompanies a first meeting with a potential soulmate.

The story follows them around tents and fields as they navigate this unexpected happening, evoking the festival atmosphere with great style. A karaoke session is a real highlight, where Scarlett loses her self-consciousness and becomes a "maniac" on the floor.

They each bring the other to their respective camps, where Joni urges Scarlett to "tone down the posh", and Scarlett attempts to smooth out Joni's working-classness. Neither session works out well.

Director Clare Maguire, for ILA Productions, skilfully ramps up the atmosphere with plenty of musical interludes and co-ordinated movement; the show is underpinned by an infectious energy. Both actors play their main characters and also a series of expertly executed cameos.

Set-designer Ursula McGinn drapes the stage and entrance area with atmospheric bunting and garlands, nicely enhanced by Shane Gill's elegant lighting.

The culture-clash between poshos and working-class Dubliners is well-worn ground, having been thoroughly trampled by Paul Howard's Ross O'Carroll-Kelly and Andy Quirke's Damo and Ivor. But Hardiman still manages to bring a distinctive freshness to the picnic.

Her work is more emotionally tuned than either of those predecessors. Steering between broad comic characters and clichéd stereotypes can be a finely balanced affair, and Hardiman picks a careful course through this minefield, prioritising character over gags. A thoroughly entertaining hour, with plenty of laughs.


Play about nationalism lacks drama

Free EU Roaming Bewley's Café Theatre, Dublin Until Mar 30

Co-creators Katie O'Byrne, Sinéad Brady and Caroline Galvis have devised this lunchtime show as an interrogation into the current state of Europe.

They play three young women, on their way to a music festival, trapped inside a hostel in Barcelona by a pro-Catalan demonstration raging on the street outside. One is Irish, one is English and the third is German. Forced into spending time together, they reveal their histories. Each is a spokesperson for their national identity.

We get some material about Irish independence, a bit of German post-Nazi guilt, and some British Brexit musings. All-too-obvious links are drawn between the experience of nationalism in the countries of the three protagonists, and this theme is refracted through the Catalan struggle for independence taking place outside the window.

The problem is that this is essentially an essay about the variety of European nationalisms and no coherent way has been found to transform it into drama. Director Rosa Bowden does her best to add some grace and momentum with her coordinated movement sequences. The three performers have winning stage presences, but an essay it remains. It is constrained, like the characters trapped inside the hostel, by too much political activity.

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