Sunday 17 December 2017

From the naked body to naked soul at the Dublin Fringe

Caitríona Ní Mhurchú is performing at the Dublin Fringe
Caitríona Ní Mhurchú is performing at the Dublin Fringe

Theatre: Colin Murphy

Dublin's Fringe festival kicks off next week - the first by new director Kris Nelson, from Montreal. I got a shock when I opened the programme (apart from the ageing fact that this is the 20th Fringe), it is legible. Coherent. Cleanly laid out.

The Fringe has tended to approach promotion as if it were another avant-garde art work, a platform for experiment, with the result that the programmes were typically unreadable.

This marks a welcome departure, and makes it all the easier to see the strength of Nelson's programming. Here is a handful of the shows I'll be making it my business to see.

Sonya Kelly has acquired some mild fame as one of the Savage Eye crew. If there were any justice, she'd already be famous as an actor. And her new show, which I saw her read an excerpt from last year, should make her famous as a writer.

How to Keep an Alien, at the Project Arts Centre (September 4-13), tells the tender, angry and hilarious tale of how she fell in love with her Australian partner, Kate, and then tried to get Kate a visa to come and live in Ireland.

Kelly's first autobiographical one-woman show, The Wheelchair on My Face, has pretty much toured the world at this stage, wowing the New York Times in the process, so this is your chance to get in at the beginning of a cultural happening.

Philip Doherty is a firebrand wordsmith from Cavan, a prolific and award-winning radio playwright as well as performer of his own works on stage. Pilgrim is his latest, the story of an Irishman's exploration of identity in a dystopian post-9/11 world. It's at Smock Alley (September 11-18).

Bridie Kirk died aged 25 in Cork, in 1939, following a backstreet abortion. Painted Bird Productions have investigated her story and devised a theatre piece to tell it, Between Trees and Water.

Based on witness statements, court depositions and newspaper articles, the play reconstructs the events and the culture of the time, from the dancehall and the cinema to the underground world of abortion drugs.

It premières in Cork next week, at the Unitarian Church on Princes St (September 1-6), and then moves to South Studios in Dublin (September 9-14).

Caitríona Ní Mhurchú, actor, writer and native gaelgóir, probes her own story alongside that of Peig Sayers in Eating Seals & Seagulls' Eggs, at the Project (September 14-20). This is being called a "poetic historical" piece of documentary theatre, one that journeys from "super-peasants" of the west to suburbia in the 1980s. I had the privilege of working with Ní Mhurchú last year, and we talked about the state of the language. This will be beautifully performed and likely equally incisive.

The wonderful Veronica Coburn, late of the seminal clown company, Barabbas, has adapted the searing 1930s Spanish drama, Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba, as Bernarda's House (at the Project, September 5-13), and given it the red-nose treatment. Lorca is many things, but not the most obvious clown material, so this will be intriguing.

Intriguing, too, is the prospect of The Carved Soul by No Strings Attached Theatre at Smock Alley (September 13-17). One of the company is a Lambert - the third generation of puppeteers in that extraordinary family - so expect something world class, as well as subversive. "Puppetry like you have never seen it before," they promise.

Fishamble's Show in a Bag series has produced a high hit rate, amongst them Sonya Kelly's first play, above. Amongst other shows this year, Phelim Drew adapts and performs George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, at Bewleys (September 9-16).

Drew brought a sublime music-hall touch to his turn in The Risen People earlier this year. This marriage of storytelling intimacy and political conviction promises much.

Award-winners The Company return to the Fringe with The Rest is Action, a re-imagining of the seminal ancient Greek play, Oresteia, at the Project (September 4-13). Expect probing theatrical riffs, cool aesthetics and cutting-edge effects in this journey back to the invention of tragedy.

No Fringe festival would be complete without some (or a lot of) experimental dance. Fitzgerald & Stapleton are an internationally-lauded Irish duo whose work explores the social politics of gender and the body. And did I mention they dance naked?

As the New York Times incomparably put it, they ask "puzzling questions with full frontal intensity." Lurky Lurky! is at the Samuel Beckett Theatre (September 10-14).

Times of shows vary. The Fringe, sponsored this year by Tiger, runs until September 20. See

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