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High-octane spoof gets serious about male artists’ entitlement

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Adrienne Truscott and Feidlim Cannon in Masterclass. Photo by Ste Murray

Adrienne Truscott and Feidlim Cannon in Masterclass. Photo by Ste Murray

Fionn Foley and Juliette Crosbie in Tonic. Photograph: Jed Niezgoda

Fionn Foley and Juliette Crosbie in Tonic. Photograph: Jed Niezgoda

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Adrienne Truscott and Feidlim Cannon in Masterclass. Photo by Ste Murray

Masterclass, Project Arts Centre, Mermaid Arts Centre, until Sept 21

Powered by intellectual dynamism, this new show from Irish company Brokentalkers and international artist Adrienne Truscott is a treat.

It’s difficult to find an original approach to feminism in 2021. So many stories have been told in so many ways, injecting new power into old tropes is a major aesthetic challenge. Patriarchy is like a resilient microbe, growing new spores all the time as the inoculating surrounding discourse becomes more worn out. Even ardent feminists are weary.

So what’s really refreshing about this show is the sense that the age-old story of the oppression of women is being tackled anew. It opens with a clownish public interview between host Feidlim Cannon and guest Adrienne Truscott. Truscott is got up as a macho theatre maker, with wig, fake moustache and muscular body suit. There is plenty of manspreading.

Cannon performs a sycophantic interview with the “great man”, whose controversial work laments the end of free speech. Hemingway is namechecked but every macho man artist’s spirit is summoned to the stage. The discussion is a high-octane spoof: a clever deconstruction of the persona of the dominating male artist whose “despicable behaviour is a by-product of genius”. Part of the genius’s new play, called Fat C**t, is acted out, complete with a scene of a woman being harassed in a bar. All this is highly entertaining, each moment underpinned by a fizzing comic energy.

But what makes this show first-rate is the turn it takes about two thirds of the way through its 60-minute running time. The energy alters from good-humoured knockabout to flinty conflict as Truscott and Cannon lock horns on the purpose of their performing a show together about gender and power. She challenges his image of himself as a male ally, his moral entitlement to be on the stage at all. He, invoking his own vulnerability, is hard to shift. For all the artifice, it feels like they are getting at something true and vital.

Written by the two performers, along with Gary Keegan (Brokentalkers’ co-artistic director), this is a sparklingly provocative romp. The political vision is flavoured by, but never sacrificed to, a core mission to excite, divert and entertain.

Apocalyptic musical is just the tonic

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Fionn Foley and Juliette Crosbie in Tonic. Photograph: Jed Niezgoda

Fionn Foley and Juliette Crosbie in Tonic. Photograph: Jed Niezgoda

Fionn Foley and Juliette Crosbie in Tonic. Photograph: Jed Niezgoda

Tonic, Dublin Castle, Lower Yard, until tomorrow

The end of days is upon us in this musical extravaganza written and composed by Fionn Foley, and co-produced by Foley and Rough Magic.

A portable neon-lit stage, designed by Zia Bergin-Holly, opens like a giant cupboard. It is 2047. Ireland has been subjected to an international barrage relating to the presence of 700 data centres here and the apocalypse is now. The Calibri Triplets have become corporate shills, and are on a tour promoting a cure-all tonic called Halcyon for a big pharma company called Vultura.

The show follows a family row, ostensibly over musical direction for the trio. Cal Calibri, played by Foley himself, insists they are a folk band. Rebel sister Jude (Juliette Crosbie) wants to play electric guitar. This sibling conflict is a cover for the real subject matter, the state of the planet. Foley’s writing is witty and playful — tonic rhymes with moronic and iconic. Some cod trad songs are very funny. And The Night the Earth Died Screaming is a hit.

Ronan Phelan directs with playful ebullience. All three performers are terrific, musically and vocally. Aoife Kelly plays bullied sibling Lar, a part that is largely mute, but she speaks eloquently through her violin and her gestures. The show is very successful as a lively, crazy gig. The narrative and satirical elements don’t gel quite so well, but you will leave with a big smile on your face.

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