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.