Sunday 21 January 2018

The Fringe: from Rasputin to Alzheimer's

 

Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan in Take Off Your Cornflakes
Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan in Take Off Your Cornflakes
Everything Not Saved
Liz Fitzgibbon in Kicking All The Boxes
Fionnuala Gygax in The Shitstorm
Kate Stanley Brennan in Walk For Me

Emer O'Kelly reviews a random, drama-based selection from the Dublin Fringe Festival

Everything Not Saved

Malaprop's Everything Not Saved could (well, maybe) be said to spring from the mantra of the tree falling in the forest.

Without witness, has it happened? But according to the company in this work devised with Dylan Coburn Gray and directed by Claire O'Reilly, witness is both arbitrary and unreliable. Which makes history unreliable. And history is memory, which in turn probably influences our here and now because we do not exist in a vacuum. Pretentious? You bet. But handled well and inventively, as the company does it, it is clever, irreverent and thought-provoking.

It takes us through young filmmakers in 2017 making a fake newsreel of Queen Elizabeth's first broadcast as a girl of 21 in 1947, through a role-playing training session for "young professionals", and into a looped re-creation of the assassination of Rasputin the Mad Monk of Tsarist Russia. (You'd get it if you'd seen it.) Clever, committed performances from Peter Corboy, Breffni Holahan and Maeve O'Mahony.

Walk For Me

"Usually I'm the best at hiding things," says Mary-Jane sadly, as she reflects on one of many nights before. Mary-Jane was always precocious when it came to putting herself out there. But she's serious too: she desperately wants to be a singer like her mum once was.

But her mum's now a bit of a mess. And when Mary-Jane, aged 14, looks in the mirror and sees her own neck gouged with love bites, she's delighted with herself. And there it begins. It's only later that there are worse things than love bites to hide.

The ridiculously multi-talented Kate Stanley Brennan has manufactured a play-with-music that comes across as part in-your-face portfolio of her talents, and a 21st-century Harlot's Progress. Except that in the 21st century we have penicillin and the welfare state. And Kate's Mary- Jane also has a mammy, so things end reasonably happily rather than in the degradation and death which was Hogarth's country waif's fate.

Along the way of Walk for Me at Bewley's, Brennan tells a tale that is presented as being the experience of almost every "fun-loving" Irish teen with good looks and ambition. So it runs the gamut from Old Wesley in Dublin through city clubland, a drink and drug-fuelled summer in Cyprus working as a dubious cross between a waitress and a prostitute, followed, post-abortion for an "unsourced" pregnancy, by a leap into New York, separation from her friends and enticement into ever more sleazy and dangerous encounters. And then there's refuge back with mum in Dublin's suburbia.

Brennan doesn't posit any reflections on those who aren't so lucky, allowing her morality tale to speak for itself. And along the way she kicks musical ass with her own terrific songs, composed in her pop persona of Miss Kate, with original music by MathMan, and DJ Handsome Paddy on turntables. It's a cracker, directed at fiery speed by Sarah Brennan.

The Shitstorm

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Fionnuala Gygax in The Shitstorm
 

With self-referral to Shakespeare's The Tempest, albeit off the west Kerry coast in 2017, you'd be forgiven for expecting a bit of a class of a mystical Shakespearean tipping point. But you'd be disappointed. Insofar as it's about anything, Simon Doyle's The Shitstorm is about self-belief, to be held to whether or not you've got anything worth believing in.

The four characters are Prospero (who takes a header off a cliff, is presumed dead, and then returns to play guitar), his daughter Miranda who thinks she has a right to achieve anything without either effort or talent (except that when she does finally strut her stuff in a series of fairly terrible punk numbers, she does display a terrific voice); and Prospero's two assistants, Ariel who can fly, and therefore observe, although s/he has a marked disinclination to report the truth); and Caliban, the dopey original inhabitant of the island. That's your lot, baby: their dialogue (endless) consists in persuading themselves and each other that to say it is to be it.

"We have a band," Miranda tells her father although none of them has ever picked up an instrument, and there is a lengthy sequence when they repeat possible band names to each other without managing to fix on one.

But then, "there's no such thing as magic…only metaphor" and you can "find your Arcadia: it does exist". All very millennial, and a recipe for lifelong discontent unless accompanied by a bit of sustained hard work, perhaps.

It's an Abbey and Fringe production on the Peacock stage, directed quite slickly by Maeve Stone, and featuring Fionnuala Gygax, Ian Toner, Pom Boyd and Bryan Quinn.

Kicking All The Boxes

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Liz Fitzgibbon in Kicking All The Boxes
 

Life's a funny thing, even when it's not, seems to be the core message of Kicking All the Boxes, Liz FitzGibbons's one-woman play on the Show in a Bag programme in the Fringe (at Bewley's Powerscourt.).

Interspersed with flashback images of the reality of life as she lived it, Naoise is celebrating her 30th birthday. She's having fun, and there's hope inherent in her meeting in a club with Australian Bruce who needs to "man up" by getting rid of his wetsuit when they decide to go swimming in Dublin Bay.

But then, Naoise's tough: she's a kick-boxing champion and has a 12-year-old son whom she's rearing on her own. So she hasn't had it easy, and part of the problem has been that her kick-boxing expertise has flowed beyond the ring into her personal life. She has reason: images flash of her tiny Gran, beaten to a pulp in her own house when she begged a three-man gang of louts not to steal the television set she had bought for her grandchildren's Christmas present. Naoise wasn't going to let that pass, and "society" demanded she paid the price.

And then there was "him": he never "laid a hand on her; he didn't have to". And how, she wonders, could you love someone you were afraid of? The play is an imaginative kaleidoscope of what has become everyday life for whole sections of the population, frenetic, familiar with violence, and with what seems like a necessary assumption of a carapace of aggression to deal with a succession of threats, some imagined, many real. In other words, it's ugly but salvaged by Laoise's loving and naive heart attempting to shine through. FitzGibbon performs with passionate intensity, directed with full impact by Aonghus Og McAnally (it's been developed in co-operation with Mikel Murfi), but overall the piece could do with some dramaturgy to tighten its cross-imagery.

Take Off Your Cornflakes

Theatregoers have often been here before: to witness the tragedy of Alzheimer's disease documented in a stage play. That's the problem: on stage it becomes documentary, not drama, as repetitive as the bewildered, wandering mind of the loved one losing themselves cell by cell, until even their familiar bodies become alien buildings to those who helplessly watch the decay.

Take Off Your Cornflakes by Rose Henderson and Pat Nolan, also part of the Show in a Bag initiative at the Fringe Festival, has it all: the initial joking references to losing one's marbles; the increasing irritation at seeming thoughtlessness; the terror at finding the world alien; the anguish of the dark cloud of irrational suspicion of nameless betrayals, all culminating in a once passionately and deeply loved companion becoming merely a mindless cloud, and for the one who has retreated, what can only be hoped is a painless nirvana of loss. The two authors play Trish and her taxi-driver husband Tommy to perfection, directed by Liam Halligan with music by Denis Clohessy. It's depressing, sobering, and horribly, increasingly familiar.

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