Saturday, September 23, 2006

REVIEW: John Moran and his Neighbour Saori (Players Theatre, Dublin)

At last! Some real no-nonsense, bone fide, collapsing-on-the-floor-in-a- fit-of-stoner-giggling crazy people. You’d think that the Fringe would be full of this type of folks, but they’re actually quite rare. In fact, you have to import them specially. John Moran and his neighbour, Saori, are indeed neighbours, from Brooklyn, NY. He’s a Nebraska-born composer, sound artist and protégé of Phillip Glass. She is a Japanese-born dancer.

“We do stuff that isn’t really like anything you’ve seen before,” Saori helpfully warns us, before John stumbles on stage, begins laughing hysterically, sees an imaginary cat and falls to the floor breathless with mirth. Is he pretending? Is this the act? This a test, right? Before you can answer any of those questions with a word, the pair have tuned the audience to their particular, strange but beautiful frequency – I still have no idea how they did this – and we are off.

Off into a world of in which opera librettos are composed from little snatches of dialogue overheard at a McDonald’s counter, repeated endlessly, a world in which record players are built from 15 sounds, a world in which a hypnotically beautiful dancer does her intricate geometric choreography to the sound of car horns, cash tills, snatches of mobile phone conversations, Bach and Neil Young.

The great thing about John Moran and his neighbour Saori is that they manage to combine this anarchic experimental bent with some deeply honourable notions about keeping in touch with the audience. Alongside the electro-acoustic compositions and the sound collages and dancing, there is always storytelling; jokes, even, woven into passages of lyrical abstraction. So, while there is plenty to say about the show's avant garde assault on form, that almost seems secondary when faced with something so charming, loveable and entertaining.

Friday, September 22, 2006

REVIEW: An Evening With Prionsias O'Ferfaille (Bewley's Cafe Theatre, Dublin)

They grow up so fast, don't they? It seems like only a few months ago that Prionsias O'Ferfaille was the comic MC of the Volta cabaret club, introducing comic sketches on video and traipsing around various Dublin venues under a cloud of purple melancholia. Now O'Ferfaille (the comic creation of David Crann and Liam Hourican, who also plays the character) has a show of his own. And indeed, a show-within-a-show of his own.

O'Ferfaille, a failed luvvie of the most desperate kind, is in rehearsals for his latest contribution to the Dublin Fringe. But his script is a bit ragged and his cast a mixed bag of hopelessness -- wraiths from the history of Irish theatre and modern day horses’ arses of various kinds. Worse still, the harpy from the Fringe Office is threatening to pull the show altogether. And, Prionsias himself, never the sturdiest soul, is being pursued by the nightmare of his past, which threatens to drive him the rest of the way around the bend.

In this extended form, Prionsias (abetted by a cast as various as a box of liquorice allsorts) can gather a little speed for his assaults on the Republic of dunces that has wilfully denied him his proper place, as well as Fringy self-indulgence, which he accidentally exemplifies.

Prionsias is hardly the first to set his satirical sights on bad theatre, self-indulgence and comical impenetrability. But Hourican and company blend bile, wit and a little warm-heartedness in just about the right proportion. The result, something equally attractive and unlikely: a painfully shambolic evening of theatre, delivered via a hilarious evening of theatre. A bit of craic, as Prionsias might put it.

REVIEW: Little Britain (The Point, Dublin)

“Shut that door!” “I’m free!” “Mmm, betty!“ “I’ll get me coat!” "Are you local?" If you come in search of any of these catchphrases from the history of British comedy, you’ve come to the wrong place. If, on the other hand, you are looking for something more contemporary, along the lines of “…yeah, but, no, but…,” “computer says ‘no’” or “eh-eh-ehhhh!” then you is well lucky.

But catchphrase comedy has a relatively short lifespan and the clock is ticking for Matt Lucas, David Walliams and their extensive wardrobe of Edwardian frocks, skimpy plastic hot pants and sagging female fat suits. Clearly, it’s time to hit the road and hoover up some of the euros a zeitgeisty franchise can attract while the going is good.

And so, the lads arrive with a compilation of live sketches in which they adopt strange accents and pillory fat people, the elderly, foreigners, gays and, of course, Denis Waterman, while we are all zipped around Little Britain by an impressive video backdrop that threatens to be the star of the show.

As this is catchphrase comedy, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there are more warm cheers of welcome from the packed house than there are actual laughs. The thundering applause for Bubbles (the obese “international glamourpuss,” played by Lucas) is inspired by the character’s appearance on stage as much as anything she says or does.

Oddly enough, when the lads fluff their familiar lines, and begin to chatter between themselves, they seem to stoke even more enthusiasm from the audience. Finally, it seems, we are getting to glimpse not just amiable monstrosities, like Daffyd, indissuadably the only gay in the village, but also Lucas and Walliams, the far more enigmatic characters who have created this fearsome bestiary of modern Britain.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

REVIEW: The Unfortunate Machine-Gunning of Anwar Sadat (Players Theatre, Dublin)

If Irish history were, indeed, a nightmare it would go something like this. A crackpot/shellshocked survivor of the trenches of The Great War is forced to lead a group of deluded volunteers (who secretly yearn to be British) in an surreal Christmas rising, the aim of which is simply to make sure the slaughter of the whole village takes a few minutes longer than it did in previous aborted revolutions. And that is just the first act of Conall Quinn's surreal comedy.

The author is not quite happy with the term absurdist, but his drama plays very much as an Irish take on Unesco, or Edward Albee. It makes its own logic and encourages the audience to abandon their usual habits of thought (or at least usual habits of playwatching) as it rapidly transports us from a farmhouse in 1916, to an Ireland of the near future, where one of the key objectives is to make sure that golf is no longer played by the rules of Sharia law.

The plays success comes from the fact that it is able to be ludicrous, without ever being ridiculous. Director David Horan and his cast work through elements – stop-start acting, slow-motion cinematic 'wipes,' dances and songs – that might easily have brought a lesser show to its knees. But Quinn's script bubbles with so much serendipity, intelligence and humour, that it is easy to give a little leeway in the stickier moments.

The small, energetic cast are not always as sharp as they might be, with a certain amount of warming up appearing to happen on stage. Once everybody is up to speed, however, this remarkable surreal satire spins with vicious energy.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

REVIEW: On This One Night (Nr. Spencer Dock, Dublin)

Did you ever see a show that was so awful you wanted to leave before it even began? There is a thin line between "barely tolerable" and "unspeakable rubbish." On This One Night, spends the majority of its forty-five minutes of freestyle babble on the unhappy side of that line.

Okay, Brokentalkers, the company responsible for this "event," make it clear from the gitgo that they hate their audience. They punish us by making us gather outside, sheltering under an eave from the pouring rain, before guiding us to a mystery location -- some 20 yards from where we have shivered -- and then leaving us to contemplate dull electronic drones for a few minutes, before inviting us into the performance space.

It is, however, when the actors get to work, the real punishment begins. The show consist of a group of haltingly performed monologues and, er, dramaticules, – one from the woman in the short red dress with the heavy eyeliner, one from the skinny guy in Speedos and inflatable armbands, one from the small figure with its face wrapped in bandages, one from the posh chap attempting to asphyxiate himself.

The sad thing is that all but one of the evening's components has something to be said for it. The problem is that almost nothing that happens in the performance – not the silly use of CCTV, the daft dances, the hokey costumes – serves any useful purpose. Pare away this bumbling, misguided 'staging,' let the characters tell their stories and suddenly everything would be immediately 50 per cent better.

The nicest possible explanation is that what went down here was not really what anybody intended. Yes, let's just hope that's what happened.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

REVIEW: Dreamers (O'Reilly Theatre, Dublin)

If you got a good story, why be put off by the fact that it concerns, among other things, the economic collapse and subsequent fall out of early 1990s Argentina; or your ongoing struggles with the raw edge of US immigration policy. And certainly don't let the fact that your chosen language is a frenetic pidgin of tap and hip hop dance styles stand in the way of your dreams of global fame and fortune.

The Buenos Aires-born dancing twins, Martin and Facundo Lombard's contribution to the Dublin Fringe Festival does a quick tap-step-tap around all the possible obstacles and sets out to tell the story of their life so far, stopping regularly to show some dazzling feet and some hi-def abs.

In an earlier life, Martin and Facundo were child stars on Argentinean television, learning off the dance routines they saw on pop videos, blending styles from body popping to breakdancing. Their first solo show, Dreamers, demonstrates their athletic brand of street dancing, but also contrast that with some miraculous twenty-first century tap dancing that shows the boys' feet twinkling in a different register.

All the same, Dreamers is an extremely raw show, sometimes with the texture of (in relatively positive sense of the word) a busking act. Junctions between segments of the show are occasionally a little tense and juddery and the tech lacks in crispness. All of which might easily be beside the point, but it certainly leaves an appetite to see the brothers in action when the aim is to create something slicker.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

REVIEW: Lewis Black / David O'Doherty (Olympia, Dublin)

Will this be the night? You can't help wondering. As the less than svelte shape of Lewis Black gains centrestage, you can't help wondering if this gig will be the one at which he finally becomes so apoplectic with rage, that he brings on that stroke that seems to have been threatening for years.

Black, as followers of his contributions to The Daily Show will know, is a ranter, a raver, a foamer-at-the-mouth. Sure he has a few gags, and some analysis. But for the most part he has come to rage: to summon up a biblical fury of righteous anger, to wave his demonic finger at the state of the universe and wobble his jowls in floppy incomprehension.

Earlier in his career, the American comic tells us, his comedy contained around 20% politics. With the arrival of the Bush regime, however, the proportion has switched. Now, debunking the US government's Christian-fascist agendas on evolution, stem cell research and the War on Islam takes up pretty much all of his stage time.

As the comedian himself admits, this has two powerful effects. Firstly, the material is more depressing than hilarious; and secondly, the stuff that is hilarious, he lifts verbatim from the newspapers. Black's peachiness remains entertaining, but that is due to the degree to which it contorts the idea of standup, rather than for the laughs it generates.

Local support act, David O'Doherty, whose shtick thus far has been a kind of nerdy absentmindedness, has clearly returned from his no-longer-the-Perrier award nomination Edinburgh trip, a little bit hyper. He is pushing harder for the laughs, even if he still gets about the same number as ever for his nice riffs about txt msgs and childhood, computers and girlfriends. But the laconic charm is getting squeezed out.

Easy there, boy! We've got plenty of motormouths already