Friday 23 March 2018

Fred and Alice, a different love story

  • Fred and Alice, Viking Theatre, Clontarf, Dublin
  • Dublin Fringe Festival, Preview
Ciaran Bermingham and Cora Fenton in ‘Fred and Alice’ at the Viking Theatre, Clontarf. Photo: Jeff Manning
Ciaran Bermingham and Cora Fenton in ‘Fred and Alice’ at the Viking Theatre, Clontarf. Photo: Jeff Manning

Theatricality comes before worthiness in a charming revival, says Emer O'Kelly

Mothers, especially single mothers - especially single mothers when the dad has buggered off - are a pain. They're even more of a pain when their daughters fall in love and want to move out from under Mum and in with the boyfriend. All Mum's protective/selfish hackles rise in unison.

That's what happens in Fred and Alice. Fred is characteristically forthright: Alice's Mum is a bitch. Well, you'd expect that from him, wouldn't you? Except there was a time when Fred wouldn't have said anything: literally. Because Fred didn't speak until he was seven years old.

And he lives in a "home." One of those homes that isn't like a family place, though, because Fred hasn't a family, and he's what the doctors call "institutionalised". And when he learned to speak, he became obsessed with words. But he only uses them to himself.

Until he meets Alice.

Alice lives in a "proper" home. Except when her mother needs a break from her. Then Alice goes to the same home as Fred. She's the opposite of Fred in more ways than one: she never stops talking, and sometimes goes on counting aloud for hours. That's one of the reasons her mother needs a break from her.

The doctors say the counting is an immature comfort mechanism. And once, after an attack and a tantrum, she's lying on the floor, and that's the first time Fred speaks to her. "Get up," he says, and then won't talk to her afterwards.

But Alice is in love at first sight. She's 18; and years later, when Fred has begun talking to her again, he too falls in love at first sight.

It sounds appallingly sentimental and worthy, a play to be seen only as a lesson in community understanding of the mentally ill/disturbed. But if you thought that, you'd be very wrong.

John Sheehy's play is a delightful piece, warm, touching and funny. And (of course) an object lesson in the maxim I once heard that "the range of the normal is very wide: it includes nearly everyone". And when we realise that and allow "normal" rights to the Freds and Alices of this world, we're not just accepting it, we're dumping our prejudicial paternalism towards people who are "different".

Directed by the author at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf in Dublin, it's a Callback production and features a tour de force performance from Ciaran Bermingham as Fred and a scarcely less accomplished one from Cora Fenton as Alice


The Dublin Fringe Festival will run from September 9 to 24. The outgoing and incoming artistic directors describe it as "bursting with works of conscience and consequence" and tell audiences to expect "the pure, the empowered and the wild".

Their introduction is characteristically breathless, but quite a lot of the material on offer deserves the programme superlatives.

There is always the danger of work getting in thanks to the self-belief and persistence of the producers/presenters, in which case (I write from experience) audiences can be subjected to self-indulgent work that more properly belongs in a psychotherapist's treatment room.

But an exception to this is likely to be Not At Home, an archive of testimonies from women who have had to travel to obtain abortions, while members of the military will take part in Soldier Still, a study of violence and post-traumatic stress disorder. Like a lot of the material, this is not innately theatrical, coming under the banner of performance art.

There is aerial circus with Loosysmokes in the Dockland. The London-based Lucy McCormick will offer Triple Threat, described as a megalomaniac one-woman re-telling of the New Testament, which the presenters may well be hoping will bring down the wrath of our ludicrous blasphemy laws on their gleeful heads.

As usual, the by-now iconic Thisispopbaby will feature with Lords of Strut in a piece called Absolute Legends; and there are many one-person stand-ups, including a depiction of the life and death of Pope Urban II, performed and written by James Moran. Raised by ghouls in a graveyard in the 11th century, life didn't get any better for Urban from then on, apparently.

And, of course, there's a fair modicum of "straight" theatre, notably an hallucinogenic "feminist" version of The Tempest, called The Shitstorm and three more in the Show in a Bag series presented by Fishamble at Bewleys, which from past experience, will have healthy after-lives, which is their aim.

Sunday Independent

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