Thursday 23 May 2019

They Float Up: Quirky post-hurricane play with a serious undercurrent

They Float Up

Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin,  Until May 25

Fascinating power dynamic: De Wrixon and Fortune in They Float Up
Fascinating power dynamic: De Wrixon and Fortune in They Float Up

The world watched in horror at the unfolding humanitarian disaster during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The famous levee storm defences failed and New Orleans was flooded with the local loss of almost 1,500 lives and many more deaths further afield. American writer Jacquelyn Reingold responds to these events with a light touch but with an underlying seriousness that gives this show a strong political edge.

Set in a New Orleans bar in 2010, forty-something Joan is on the run from a personal mess in upstate New York and, in a quirky kind of midlife crisis, she has come South to seek a job as a stripper. Joan is an intriguing character, the type of assertive and complicated female that is now appearing in plays and on TV as more women's writing is being produced. Fleabag would be a prominent example.

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Joan approaches Darnell, a twenty-something local black man and buys him a drink, without asking him if he wants it. This is a familiar chat-up scene, but we rarely see it with the woman in the driving seat. This fascinating power dynamic - an assertive devil-may-care older white woman and a much younger black man - is like a tug-of-war as she wins him over and draws him out.

Susannah de Wrixon is kooky, up-tempo and winning as the older woman, her sparkly bra peeping out under her cardigan. She reins in the potential for caricature in Joan and locates a tenderness there. Up-and-coming talent Kwaku Fortune punctures the light-heartedness with a strong undertow of political anger, pointing up issues of race and powerlessness. He raises the then current problem of oil spills and ocean pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Both performances are excellent.

Peter McDermott directs with a good sense of pace and steers the atmosphere adroitly between funny and serious; designer Emmett Scanlon brings the exotic colours of New Orleans to his geometric set.

The only disappointment is in how the story winds up. Feisty Joan finally tacks around into a more traditional, feminine self-consciousness, getting upset because Darnell declares he finds her funny. This de-fanged what was otherwise a fascinating upending of gender power dynamics. It feels like the writer didn't have the courage to fully follow through on her character's stroppy individuality.

But the play has plenty of funny and clever one-liners. This 35-minute lunchtime show does a fine job of presenting the post-hurricane dilemmas of New Orleans through the eyes of two quirky and engaging individuals.


Diamond heist farce is a comedy jewel

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery

Gaiety Theatre, Dublin Until tonight

Katy Hayes

Theatre here doesn't go in for farce much; our humour is more verbal, more socially pointed, sometimes surreal or absurd. But Irish audiences do love a good caper-comedy and this touring UK production by Mischief Theatre feeds that appetite.

This recently emerged English comedy company originated as an acting students' post-grad group; they have created a number of hugely successful and lucrative West End hits with spin-off tours. In this smart and inventive heist farce, a bunch of screwball criminals create chaos as they rob a diamond from a Minneapolis bank.

Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, the influences are broad and include Laurel and Hardy, Monty Python and Mel Brooks. Elaborately worked-out gag routines, rather like a sketch show, include a running joke about annoying seagulls.

A terrific cast bring this knockabout script to life, with Meath-man Seán Carey outstanding as Sam, the con-man and lover; Julia Frith is both charming and completely nuts as Caprice.

The second half gears up significantly on the technical front, with use of harnesses for some nimble and hilarious action on the back wall; an office is observed from above in a clever perspective trick. This diamond heist farce is a comedy jewel.

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