Monday 23 October 2017

Fringe Takes Off Impressively

Tiger Fringe Festival

George Brant's Grounded, (Project) given its Irish premiere by Selina Cartmell for her own company Siren Productions, has more than a lot going for it: it's imaginative, clever, topical, quirky. Above all, it's not derivative or run-of-the-mill.

The production, as part of the Tiger Fringe Festival in Dublin, will undoubtedly emerge as one of its more solid stars; and deservedly so. Yet it does not quite live up to the sum of its parts: and this may be down to the fact that it is a little too clever for its own good, as a US woman fighter pilot (even in today's world a rarity) is assigned to training to fly drones into Afghanistan, possibly as punishment for taking time off to have a baby. It's one kind of grounding; another is her relegation to a desk job when the simulator in the Nevada desert throws up an image of that baby with a command to destroy, and her nerve fails.

Brant asks about the nature of "grounding": the shame of "failing" after millions of dollars worth of training for combat…or the grounding in the reality of humanity and the awareness that playing God is a dangerous game. Unadulterated plaudits all round for Clare Dunne's pounding performance as the Pilot, Cartmell's direction, and Joe Vanek's sparely post-modern set lit by Davy Cunningham, with sound by Carl Kennedy.

Our Island by Barry McStay (Project, Cube) is a terrific piece of writing, hugely impressively acted and directed. Sharply contemporary and beautifully observed, it traces family life with all its complex preoccupations and strains from suicide, through loneliness, to coming out as gay. In other words, it's human life in 2015, through the eyes of a gay couple in London, the Irish half nervously expecting a longtime-ago English girlfriend and her now boyfriend, as well as his own parents from Ireland, to come and spend Christmas.

Add in the tensions of a family Christmas, and you have a nicely explosive little mix, but handled with extraordinary sureness by the author and the director Maisie Lee. It's a Mirari production at Project, with pitch-perfect, even faultless, performances throughout from Peter Corboy, Rob Malone, Siobhan Cullen, Jamie O'Neill, Bairbre Ni Chaoimh and Martin Maguire.

Rebel Rebel is also a total pleasure to watch. It's one of Fishamble's Shows in a Bag at Bewley's Cafe at Powerscourt, written by Aisling O'Mara and Robbie O'Connor, who also play it. It's artful, complex, and touching: quite an achievement in a 45-minute piece. The characters are Helena Molony, (the Abbey actor who walked out of the theatre to take part in the Easter Rising) and Sean Connolly, the married actor and Citizen Army volunteer with whom she apparently was having an affair.

Molony was wild, awkward, a drinker and a bit of a harridan; but the play makes her believably sympathetic withal, and equally presents a credible picture of her lover torn between family feeling for his wife and baby daughter, passionate addiction to the notion of blood revolution, and helplessly drawn to the volatile Molony.

It's directed with impressive verve and precision by Louise Lowe.

The Auld Fella of the title is a broken-down old female impersonator at odds with his son, from the 1950s to the 1970s. It's also a homage to the old Theatre Royal in Dublin, with everything from Judy Garland to the kitchen sink thrown in along the way, including a small jacket which impersonates the long-dead and tiny Liffey, apparently a call boy in the theatre.

There's "exile" to Inverness, a nervous breakdown, a cancer scare, infatuation with his "lady doctor" and a late realisation that his son's best friend in childhood was gay, which prompts the realisation that his son is probably gay, although he forgives him for trying to sell his house from under him, when he (the auld fella) has been in a home for two years.

Far, far too much in the mix; far too elaborate and unwieldy dialogue; and far too much bad acting, unfortunately, from the author Michael Glenn Murphy in the title role, and particularly from Craig Connolly as the son. It too is at Bewley's as part of Show in a Bag.

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