The Fringe: from Rasputin to Alzheimer’s

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - THEATRE -

Emer O’kelly re­views a ran­dom, drama-based se­lec­tion from the Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val

Var­i­ous pro­duc­tions and venues 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 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.

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.

‘In the 21st cen­tury we have peni­cillin and the wel­fare state, so things end rea­son­ably hap­pily’

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.

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.

Clock­wise from top left, Liz Fitzgib­bon in Kick­ing All the Boxes; Kate Stan­ley Bren­nan in Walk For Me; Ev­ery­thing Not Saved; Rose Hen­der­son and Pat Nolan in Take Fion­nu­ala

Off Your Corn­flakes; Gy­gax in The Shit­storm

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