Saturday 24 February 2018

Madcaps, blasphemers, and chic wits

Emer O'Kelly applauds some wild energy and performaces in week two of the Fringe

Dublin Fringe Festival

Various productions and venues

Lucy McCormick, Ted and Sam in Triple Threat
Lucy McCormick, Ted and Sam in Triple Threat
Broken Crow present Levin and Levin
The cast of All Honey
Sean Flanagan, Sean Finegan and Conor McKenna as Foil, Arms and Hog in OinK

Triple Threat

Attempts to shock onstage are, by definition, inclined to be humourless and boring, without actually managing to shock any, except the most gullible. One gets the impression that the performer (I'm not sure what else to call her) Lucy McCormick definitely sets out to shock; but she also seems to have a kind of wide-eyed hope that her audience, as well as laughing and gasping, might adjust their attitudes somewhat to the realities of life.

In other words, for all its outrageous blasphemy and down and extremely dirty visuals, Triple Threat is not merely entertaining, it is highly, viciously intelligent. Not that the audience for the opening performance seemed particularly interested in intelligence; of far more interest were the stunning bodies of Ms McCormick and her male stooges Ted and Sam (otherwise unnamed), all of them gorgeous, and displayed to best advantage while dancing to frenetic routines as well as peacocking all (and I mean all) their intimate parts for fairly close inspection at various times.

All that and the New Testament too. Because Triple Threat (produced by Project and the Fringe Festival) is McCormick's take on the life of Jesus Christ "in three acts" (it's an hour long.) She's not interested in offering fair dues to the lads, she explains, so she plays JC, the Virgin, Mary Magdalene, God the Father and a few assorted angels and saints.

She does, post-Resurrection, hand over the role of Doubting Thomas to Ted, so that he can, as accounted in the bible, place his fingers in the wounds of the Crucifixion. Leaving out mouth, ears, nose, and eyes, three other orifices are called into visual play for his delectation and exploration. (Just in case of misunderstanding: this is a theatre, not a sex club, and it's simulated.)

But there are also a lot of "silly funny" sequences: the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod is portrayed by McCormick thirstily and slobberingly gulping down an Innocent smoothie, while the Temptation in the Desert is comprised of her being offered a fag, a can, and an irresistibly large pot of Nutella.

Triple Threat is as filthy as anything I've seen on a stage anywhere. Clearly, if you're offended by blasphemy, it's not for you. It's not for you, even if you're merely made uncomfortable by the sight of flesh. But when one reflects that Stephen Fry's rational and considered explanation for his own atheism caused more than a blasphemy-related flurry in this country, it was interesting to witness a packed audience hysterical with joy at the end. Of course, they may only have been applauding the outrageous talent of the three players and their director Ursula Martinez, while rejecting the content. But I wouldn't bet on it.

All Honey

Every drama student, almost from their first day, has an adage drummed into them: show me, don't tell me. It's the basis of acting, and is aimed at preventing people yelling and emoting all over the place, exhausting themselves and everyone else.

Unfortunately the cast of the Sad Strippers production of All Honey don't seem to have been listening to their tutors. The play is a fun take on the "madcap comedies" of the 'thirties…except with real sex… and could work very well with slamming doors, embarrassing confrontations, and a definite requirement for all the characters to get a hold on themselves, with or without therapy. It takes place when Ru and Luke are throwing a flat-warming party, which their nearest and dearest regard as an opportunity to recall recent bad behaviour and indulge in some more.

The problem is that it is played so hysterically, especially by Ashleigh Dorrell and Clara Elizabeth Smyth (who is also the author) that you want to shout at them they're merely playing self-indulgent characters, and to stop indulging themselves as actors. Like, I mean to SAY, it's boring and unconvincing.

Jeda de Bri's equally hysterical direction does nothing to put the brakes on.

OinK

You have to watch late-night TV to find something as good as OinK. By which I mean that the trio, Foil, Arms and Hog, (Sean Flanagan, Sean Finegan, and Conor McKenna) are eerily reminiscent of early Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry (one of them even looks like a young Fry) in the latters' exquisitely funny sketch shows A Bit of Fry and Laurie. Foil Arms and Hog have been a success on YouTube for some considerable time, as well as gaining plaudits at the Edinburgh Fringe, and sell-out live performances wherever they go. For this year's Dublin Fringe Festival, they took to the stage of the Abbey (hallowed, and therefore subject to well-timed send-up in the opening moments).

An hour-long series of rapid-fire sketches combine wit and sophistication as well as an anarchic approach to life. They also manage to be almost quaintly old-fashioned and innocent in ways which are peculiarly un-Irish, and very much more in tune with pre-Young Ones English humour which would not have been out of place in a Cambridge Footlights revue of the 1970s.

OinK includes a take off of various British localised accents and stereotypes, the introduction of time-saving acting by means of "robot actor", a roving BBC reporter looking for gut-wrenching misery and poverty in the shires, and an almost crucifyingly funny portrayal of airport baggage handlers dealing with luggage with the "care" that matches all of our darkest suspicions.

Levin and Levin

Levin and Levin are women. They're not even related. Except in their youth they passed for boys, and not just as boys, but as brothers. It's a premise tragically familiar to the millions of displaced, frightened children who crossed from country to country in the 20th century, sometimes as a result of war; at other times merely escaping from unreasoning and vicious hatred and persecution.

Broken Crow (they have no programme on offer at the Fringe Festival, so I only have the company name) bases its show on this premise, and make from it a rather touching tribute to the dispossessed of all nations.

As two orphaned little Jewish girls in Russia in the early 20th century, their characters, Ida and Bubbie, disguise themselves as boys for safety, and even learn to pee standing up for fear of being spied upon. Scratching for survival as they trek across Europe, they begin to perform, and their male impersonator act is born.

As a smoky basement-type cabaret act, the two women are entirely convincing: their voices have the gutsy gravel in the base notes, their choreography is slick and elegant, and there is an obvious empathy that carries the characterization through. And if the rise of Levin and Levin to become the toast of Europe seems somewhat effortless, that can be forgiven, as can the twist which supposedly destroys their act as they are about to take Broadway by storm. (Think the film Victor/Victoria, although this act has more raw credibility than Julie Andrews could aspire to).

It's this twist that deposits them back in Berlin... where else, in the 1930s?… and the audience is given a wind-down that points a moral and a warning: merely making fun of Nazis in the 1930s didn't stop the rise of Hitler.

This is an accomplished piece of serious theatre cabaret.

Sunday Independent

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