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Tag Archive | "Edinburgh Fringe Festival"

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Feature: Dublin Fringe – work which asks “How can we make things better?”

Posted on 07 October 2013 by Lisa Carroll

Dublin By Night

 

 

Dublin is a brilliant place to be at the best of times: in this pocket-sized capital city, one tenth the size of London, it’s nearly impossible to walk from one end to the other without bumping into almost everyone you know. The place always has a buzz about it, but every September it steps up another gear with the arrival of the Dublin Fringe Festival.

Coming hot on the heels of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Dublin’s own offering is unique. The Dublin Fringe Festival is carefully curated every year to offer audiences a wide palette of home-grown and international theatre, music, comedy, dance and more. Few fringe festivals tailor their programmes so carefully to respond to the cultural and historical landscape of a city, and that is what makes the Dublin Fringe Festival well worth checking out.

In particular, this year was special, as 2013 marks the centenary of the Dublin Lockout. This much-overlooked moment in Irish history saw thousands of industrial workers locked in a dispute with employers over harsh conditions and unfair wages. The Lockout is the closest thing Ireland has ever had to a socialist revolution, and given Ireland’s political and economic climate today this makes it an uncannily pertinent event to explore through the arts.

This year’s Dublin Fringe offered audiences the chance to reflect on this event in a number of ways, with one of the theatrical highlights being Anu Productions’ city-wide, site-specific project, Thirteen. Anu Productions is known for the immediacy of its work and for pushing the limits of form. This year’s Thirteen was no different, with the project building incrementally over 13 days, with all the pieces eventually running simultaneously, all day, all interlinking, and all in real-life locations from hairdressers, to the Luas (Dublin’s tram system) to the quayside at Liberty Hall and beyond.

I was lucky enough to bag tickets to three of these: Inquiry, Suasion, and Bargaining, each starkly different in style. Suasion, my personal favourite, saw us led into the bowels of Liberty Hall, to a room lined with GAA banners and divided by long tables spread with soup bowls. We had been brought back to 1913, and were watching figures such as Rosie Hackett (played by Caitriona Ennis) and Jim Larkin (Jed Murray), prepare to feed the workers and organise a rally against the higher powers.

Director Louise Lowe seamlessly blended movement, text and audience interaction, while also having two separate shows, Soup and Save the Kiddies, intersect with the piece at different points, which all built to a crescendo as the stories started to overlap. As a result, each audience member came away having had a unique experience of Thirteen, for only ever being given a small glimpse of the whole picture. This highlighted the complexity of the issues Ireland faced both then and now, not least because Suasion finished with the (now infamous) Anglo Irish tapes booming out over the speaker system, the sound of bankers laughing over Ireland’s debt packing a final punch. Thirteen not only offered a dramatised slice of history, but asked audiences to respond – to leave the room and take action, to get angry.

With shows as vivid and multifaceted as this on offer, the Dublin Fringe Festival pushes its audiences to question what theatre is, what the arts are for and, moreover, what the audience’s own place in all of this is today. It is thrilling to see a city producing such rich, exciting work; work which asks, “How can we learn from our mistakes?” and more importantly, “How can we make things better?” If you like work which provokes and questions as much as it entertains, then make sure you get to the Dublin Fringe Festival next September.

Photo by Flickr user Sebastian Dooris under a Creative Commons licence.

 

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll

Lisa Carroll graduated from University College Dublin in 2012 with a B.A International in English. She is also a playwright, script reader and director. @lisa_carroll46

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Snap out of It!

Posted on 21 August 2013 by Devawn Wilkinson

Snap Out of ItIt’s always a difficult moment when the “customer under a train” announcement is made on the Underground. There’s a discomfort that arises not merely from the event itself, but also the inevitable reactions of those around you. You’d hope there’d be something other than the rumblings of complaint, impatient exhales or general indifference.  “Oh, you’re kidding me!”, I heard once, and on another occasion there was laughter too. It’s understandable, I suppose, that a person in crisis, past help now, is ultimately reduced to an inconvenience rather than a tragedy. Still, it always prompts challenging thoughts on what often seems like the reality of our collective response to mental health issues: total avoidance, derisive dismissal or simply silence.

It was a late night conversation about their own experience of mental health issues between two students that triggered initial work on Snap Out of It!, an ambitious and laudable project from Strung Up Theatre (Megan Dalton, Maddie Skipsey, Megan Henson and John King). It aims to give a mouthpiece to the ostracised, isolated and misunderstood. This includes those currently suffering from mental health issues, those who have recovered, and others linked in via an experience with a relative or friend. The pair, who would later become the show’s directors, set up a Facebook group in the hopes of collating material and within an hour, they had received an extraordinary number of responses. The show takes a selection of these testimonials and offers them to us, unembellished, within a relaxed and safe environment. There’s something of the public lecture about it, but not in any dry or patronising sense. The participants (‘performers’ is a misleading word) engage with us directly and as themselves – first, they express gratitude for our attendance, and then they introduce us to the work, expressing the hope that we’ll be content to listen. There’s very little stage-craft here. As ‘theatre’ it’s about as economical as it can get, but you shouldn’t let that dissuade you from engaging with this simple yet highly resonant work.

Snap out of It! knows it is taking on a great responsibility by sharing these mostly anonymous honesties with the audience, so it’s fitting that it looks to emphasise the hopefulness and often astonishing eloquence of its contributors. The conversational candour is startling at first – maybe we’re too used to, or even grateful for, the brutal poetics of Sarah Kane (surely a dominant reference point for theatrical representations of mental illness) perhaps because they help to fuel a distance between us and ‘it’.

One testimonial describes a suicide attempt in such a matter-of-fact manner that it nearly slips by unnoticed, before your mind staggers and you have to give yourself a moment to process it. As would be expected, there are harrowing admissions, but they are not there for shock value or emotional blackmail; instead, they serve as poignant reminders that for so many people, this is the difficult but unavoidable reality of everyday life. Indeed, if the testimonials do disturb, it’s because of the extent of the repetitions, how the same phrases and the same burdens come up again and again. Fear, shame, guilt: often the fall-out from revealing their conditions to others, rather than merely symptomatic of their struggles. Reassuringly, even as Strung Up does prioritise seeking empathy for first-hand experiences of mental illness, it also demonstrates an admirable sense of balance and restraint. When we hear from one contributor who believes you really can “snap out of it”, there’s not a hint of judgement – it’s simply another voice and we listen willingly.

Brave and really quite ground-breaking, Strung Up Theatre’s production is a work of honesty and importance that demands to be seen by everyone and anyone. What’s most refreshing is that there’s nothing preachy or precious going on. By choosing wisely not to engage in the debate that still rages on internationally between medical professionals, sufferers and cynics on whether the root causes of mental disturbance are environmental, biological or an uncertain combination of both, the participants emphasise that the aim here is not to point fingers, but rather to start the conversation and hope it will continue. One in four people in Britain will experience a mental health problem during their lives, a statistic trotted out so often that its impact hardly even registers anymore. Snap out of It! reconnects us with the people behind the numbers. Make time for this compelling and necessary work.

Snap Out of It! is playing at C Nova as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until August 26. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh Festival Fringe website.

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn is a London-based writer, performance poet and aspiring theatre-maker. As a reviewer, she has written for A Younger Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Exeunt Magazine.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Champ

Posted on 20 August 2013 by Devawn Wilkinson

Champ

Star Rating:
(3/5 stars)

The three bears are having a bad day. A bad 27 days in fact – that’s how far they are through their punishing run as children’s entertainers in a dead-end shopping mall. Their dressing room looks like the utility room of some basement-flat in Hell and, despite being grown men, they now find themselves terrorised by the spawn of Satan, although he’s actually just an inventively nasty child called Rodney. The down-on-their-luck actors (Nicholas Pauling, Oliver Booth and Pierre Malherbe) have been forced into a vague approximation of friendship, which is mostly just the admirable restraint of complete disdain. Cooped up and hacked off, they’re deeply dissatisfied and way past the point of camaraderie,  aggressively egging each other on with disastrous results after the tiny tear-away pushes them to the limits of their sanity.

Champ opens with such brazen confidence that it really seems to have everything going for it – unashamedly filthy, funny, fast, outrageous with a little bit of poignancy thrown in for good measure. Five minutes into the show and I was planning to rave about Champ, I really was. I liked the silly bear suits and the merciless quick-fire of tasteless but still wickedly funny jokes, so unapologetically inappropriate I found myself laughing then immediately clapping my hand over my mouth in case more sensitive spectators thought me a disgrace to society.

There are some spot-on observations on the complexities of quasi-homoerotic banter and the old ‘artistic merit or actual money’ conundrum. Louis Viljoen’s script is, for the most part, sharp and speedy, brutally simple gags complemented by near-poetic extravagances. There’s also a really enjoyable digression about Liev Schreiber. The trio offer tirelessly energetic and genuinely masterly performances. Pauling in particular shines as the world-weary Elliot, forced to shelve his ideals in return for a half-way decent pay cheque. By far the most psychologically-nuanced character, Elliot’s trademark embittered wit is slightly softened by that endearing hint of melancholy, Pauling’s less boisterous delivery is best utilised in a marvelously underplayed conversation with his useless agent.

Call me impossible to please (and I probably have been called that) but I can’t help but feel that no matter how exuberant and dedicated the central performances are, there’s really only so much worthy material you can peddle out of an initially amusing but ultimately thin narrative. After its blistering start, Champ quickly loses steam – there’s just nowhere else to go. Yes, we all know it’s soul-butchering to be a jobbing actor, underpaid and overworked, urinated on by children and verbally excreted upon by your superiors. “You’ll never be Hamlet,”  Melvin cruelly informs Elliot, and in that moment, you see his heart break and it actually hurts. Don’t get me wrong, I can happily laugh at puerile comedy when it’s pitched just right, as it is for most of Champs, and the final meltdown into total farce is understandable as a device for concluding the show. I just want something a bit more substantial, a little fresher than that the actors really hate children, bear suits, each other and pretty much everything else… because it sort of stops being that funny after a while. Too much to ask? From Champ, maybe.

Champ is playing at Assembly Roxy as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn is a London-based writer, performance poet and aspiring theatre-maker. As a reviewer, she has written for A Younger Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Exeunt Magazine.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Making News

Posted on 16 August 2013 by Peggitty Pollard-Davey

Making News

Star Rating:
(3/5 stars) Rachel Clarke (Suki Webster from Comedy Store Players and Paul Merton’s Impro Chums), the newly appointed Acting Head of News for the BBC, is having a bad day. Not only has she been moved up above her former boss, who is less than pleased by her sudden elevation to the upper echelons of the Beeb, she has to decide whether or not to run a negative story about the corporation on her first broadcast in her new role. Is the fact that the BBC News website is temporarily down really newsworthy? She decides it’s not – and then watches in dismay as competitor channels’ news cycles begin to tighten around the Beeb. When the news team receives an unexpected visit from investigative reporter Noel Quickly (Liam Williams, also of sketch group Sheeps) whose Panorama exposé has uncovered damning information that cuts to the heart of the BBC, it is clear that the reputation of the Corporation rests on Clarke’s shoulder, and her bad day quickly spirals out of control.

None of the events or characters shown in Spontaneity Shop’s Making News is based on real-life figures. Like other good satire however, there is enough of a connection to reality to keep the thread of unfolding events teetering on the edge of absurdity, but without taking individual characters beyond a believable trajectory. Anna Kelly (Sara Pascoe, BBC’s Twenty Twelve and C4’s Stand Up for the Week) and Carter Setchfield (Dan Starkey, nominated for the Off West End’s Best Male Performance for his role in Torben Bett’s Muswell Hill at the Orange Tree Theatre) are Clarke’s colleagues in the news department, and are well cast as respectively the uninterested junior producer and neurotic editor. These two inject plenty of humour into their roles, as does the wonderfully self-absorbed ex-investigative-journalist-turned-news-reader Jonathan McVeigh (Hal Cruttenden, Live at the Apollo and Mock the Week) who has a penchant for referring to himself in the third person and who, like an English Ron Burgundy, is obsessed by his own importance and suit collection. The BBC’s Director General Roger Seabright takes imposing form in Phill Jupitus (Never Mind the Buzzcocks, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Spamalot) who, although in fewer scenes than the other characters, plays a pivotal role. Bar a small number of stuttered lines, all give sharp and assured performances, with Webster and Cruttenden particularly on the ball.

The writing is tight and well-formed, and the piece must benefit from an insider’s view of how an organisation’s internal politics functions, as co-writer and producer Robert Khan is currently a Councillor in Islington, London. He has a long career working in Parliament, policy and politics, while his co-writer and director of Making News Tom Salinsky has wide experience in the world of improv. However Making News was not quite the laugh-a-minute I expected given the cast and the publicity, and despite the significant audience it is getting – if the length of the queue on my visit is anything to judge by – the performance felt a touch flat in places.

Making News is playing at the Pleasance as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25 August 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website. Khan and Salinsky worked together previously with their first play Coalition premiering at the Fringe in 2012. Making News is their second play.

 

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