Briseis After The Black – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Tiger Dublin Fringe

The New Theatre

21/9/16

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An adaptation of an adaptation of a play, in which a different actor with no prior rehearsal plays one of the leading characters each night, sounds like a recipe for a convoluted shambles of a production. Briseis After the Black proves this assumption wrong. With dexterity and energy, Coburn Gray conjures the production from just a few props and prompts as he stands on stage with his fellow actor.

Briseis After the Black tells the story of playwright Maria Black telling the story of Briseis and Achilles. Briseis, a character created as motivation for Achilles, then allowed to simply vanish from the Iliad with no further explanation, serves as a starting point for an exploration of literature’s tendency towards using female characters as plot devices then killing them off once they have served their purpose. Using multiple layers of storytelling, this production raises question after question, not always resolving them, but not always needing to. Is Maria Black simply being used as one of the characters she so hated? Is she one of the characters? Which story is more important to this production, that of Briseis or Black? From the inclusion of an actor that knows as little about the piece as the audience, to the switching between stories and Coburn Gray’s suggestion of action but persistent inaction, Briseis After the Black is a play that thrives on ambiguity and trusts its audience to understand.

This script that almost has a life of its own is excellently executed by Coburn Gray as he guides the volunteer actor (Zoe Ellen Reardon last night) through the play. From witty comments to self-aware lines in which he tells us where he changed the script and reminds us “I like to pause here, but I haven’t forgotten my line,” he works with an earnest and genuine performance style that engages and entertains throughout.

Briseis After the Black is an insightful, provocative and entertaining post-dramatic exercise in ambiguity that leads an exploration into the telling of myths, the treatment of women in literature and life, and how hard it is to separate a work from its creator.

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Gays Against the Free State – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Tiger Dublin Fringe

Smock Alley Theatre

21/9/16

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We voted yes on May 22nd 2015, so that is it isn’t it? Everyone is equal now, are they not?  Gays Against the Free State is here to remind us why that is not the case, why everyone is not equal. Drawing inspiration from many sources, this production, written by Oisin McKenna and directed by Colm Summers, is a sharp reminder of the ways people can be left behind as change occurs, a reminder of the importance of intersectionality in campaigning.

While the message the production expresses is still a fresh and pertinent one, there are times when the production’s chosen means of expression come across as worn and trite. The parody of Irish celebrities and stock characters is entertaining to a point, but after a while it feels like the piece is just painting a picture of the problems without providing any comment on them.  When Gays Against the Free State dispense with the loud stereotypes, pare back their performance style and speak directly to the audience the true point of the production shines through. These couple of minutes of intensity and natural speech pack more of a punch than any of the pointedly satirical pieces that precede them.

That said, there is a lot of skill in the construction of the more elaborate scenes. From Seamus Ryan’s musical score (performed by Mark O’Donnell and Ryan) to Hugo Lau’s entertaining and acerbic video sequences, the design of the piece is excellent.

Gays Against the Free State is a promising production that delivers an important message but too often falls back on worn stereotypes and tropes to convey it entirely effectively.

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Black Pitch Pitch Black – Review

Originally published on The Public Reviews

Tiger Dublin Fringe

10 Exchequer Street

20/9/16

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Drawing inspiration from the Pitch Drop experiment on display in the library of Trinity College Dublin, Black Pitch Pitch Black is an exercise in waiting. As the audience enters and sits on the ground looking up at Murphy who sits on a chair suspended metres above the floor there is already a sense of anticipation.

Over the course of the show Murphy’s character waits for a drop of pitch to fall. We see her spend days methodically checking the experiment, working and watching, watching and waiting. As she swings from silk to silk in a beautifully designed set, suspended above the floor, the audience is drawn into the feeling of anticipation around the experiment.

However, basing an aerial dance piece around waiting and repetition can result in a piece that begins to lose its audience. Though the production effectively creates the atmosphere around the experiment, the audience was evidently beginning to shuffle and fidget by the third repetition of the piece.  More justice could potentially have been done to the concept and Murphy’s skilful choreography and performance had the format been changed to a rolling installation perhaps, in which the audience were free to wait to their limits with the character but also free to move and return.

Overall, Black Pitch Pitch Black is a beautiful, atmospheric piece, but one that does not entirely suit the format in which it was presented.

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BlackCatfishMusketeer – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

The Lir

Tiger Dublin Fringe

20/09/16

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We interact differently to how we did just a couple of decades ago; the internet has changed how we get to know people,  it has changed how we communicate. BlackCatfishMusketeer is a show about this, about people getting to know each other online, however, it is no “tsk young folks and their smart phones” show. This production explores how two people communicate when they have nothing but their words to commend themselves to each other, how they connect, how they show off, and how they get to know each other.

Man (Ste Murray) and Woman (Catherine Russell) chat about starfish, IT, past relationships, and a great deal about the problem of induction. While the discussions can, at times, be somewhat cold, alienating the characters from the audience, they also raise intriguing questions and ideas. The addition of the character of IT (Aoife Spratt), personifying the medium through which the characters are speaking, goes some way towards mediating and mitigating the effects of the distance created between the characters and the audience. Ever sharp and electric, IT builds the setting of the online chat as well as providing entertaining and engaging commentary with dry humour and wit. They almost seem a more human character, breaking the fourth wall and delighting in the unexpected and incongruous. Even though the other two characters are on stage acting out their story, it is almost as though IT is the one recounting the story, taking props out of boxes, steering the direction of the piece and seizing the stage to have the final word.

Molly O’Cathain’s set takes this sense of carefully building a conversation with someone online and manifests it in a collection of boxes and images of filing cabinets. Playing with levels and versatile props, her design plays a similar role to IT, breaking a sense of realism and reminding the audience of the limitations and possibilities of the medium through which Man and Woman are communicating.

Though it does at times lose itself in dense blocks of detached dialogue, BlackCatfishMusketeer is an intriguing and thought-provoking production that is not afraid to ask and answer difficult questions while having a lot of fun along the way.

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The Vaudevillians – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Spiegeltent

Tiger Dublin Fringe

19/9/16

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The ever reliable Wikipedia says that Vaudeville died in the 1930s, that with the advent of cinema the art form declined and audiences’ voracious appetite for variety waned.  Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales are here to say otherwise. Frozen alive under an avalanche in the 1920s, The Vaudevillians have thawed out only to find that numerous pop artists have taken their songs and passed them off as their own. The Vaudevillians is their raucous, hilarious theatrical attempt to reclaim their songs.

Monsoon and Scales are a classic comic duo, executing slapstick humour, mischievous word-play and exuberant gags with flair and skill. Playing off their obliviousness to the happenings of the twentieth century, teasing audience members and poking fun at their experience of Ireland, they perform comic routines that confidently tread the line between hilarious and just too far.

Creating an air of sometimes grotesque glamour, Monsoon and Scales perform songs from Gloria Gaynor to 4 Non Blondes and Britney Spears, all in an inimitably energetic and extravagant vaudevillian style. Until you have heard “Toxic” in 1920s style you won’t believe it, but maybe Britney ought to learn to Charleston.

This all-singing, all-dancing duo balance music, storytelling and comedy excellently to build a production that has the audience dancing in their seats while doubled over laughing throughout.

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Monday: Watch Out for the Right – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Monday: Watch Out for the Right!

National Stadium Ringside Bar

Tiger Dublin Fringe

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In this production, the first of a series of seven, choreographer Cláudia Dias recreates a boxing match, but this is a boxing match like no other. In a captivating fight, Dias provides an examination of love, politics, human connection and identity.

Set up like an actual boxing match, with the timekeeper maintaining a steady flow of questions, asking the audience difficult questions about colonisation, love, politics, and “the European Crisis” among other topics. As the questions build to a conclusion of sorts, so too does the boxing match. Starting with slow, precise sparring and growing into an intense fight, the match evolves through stages of combat, respect and love, keeping the dancers and audience on their toes. There are points at which the pacing seems to drag slightly, some sections that could have been shortened, but overall it is an engaging and provoking piece of theatre.

It seems an unlikely metaphor, but the boxing match provides a powerful vehicle for questions such as “Are we at war or averting one?” “Who are we fighting?” and questions about the violence of power and wealth. As the match moves from the focus of a sport to the intensity of real life, so too does the audience’s engagement with the subject matter in question.

Monday: Watch out for the Right is a thought provoking piece of theatre that uses its unusual setting to open up new opportunities to question and debate the changes occurring in European society today.

Monday: Watch out for the Right runs in the National Stadium Ringside Bar until September 20th

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Into the Water – Review

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

Smock Alley Theatre

Tiger Dublin Fringe

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Up and Over It are an exciting and talented dance duo, and this show reflects that. What Into the Water does well it does excellently, however, outside of these things there are serious gaps in the production that must be addressed.

Presenting two characters that appear to have washed up in a new place, and their exploration of their unfamiliar surroundings, Into the Water is poorly paced with too little of anything to create an engaging story between dance sequences. The dance is impressive and captivating; the choreography and execution cannot be faulted. However, the construction of the show around it is lacking in structure and content. We know as little about the characters in the end of the show as we found out in the first five minutes. Little happens to drive their exploration of the space and neither character develops through the piece.  Cleary’s character comes across as mean and bullying to Harding’s but there is no move to address that; there is, overall, very little message or driving thought behind the show. This simplicity would make one think that the production was suited mostly to pre-school age audiences but the darkness and intensity of some segments negates this, leaving one wondering who exactly the production is aimed at.

Similarly, the design is a mixed bag, with stunning projection work but poor lighting design. From a rain storm to a sky full of stars, the world of the show is beautifully created around the characters. However, the basic lighting design is far too dark. Any of the eclectic and charming set beyond centre stage is barely visible and whenever either of the performers ventures to the sides of the stage they too are shrouded in darkness. It is like putting a carpet on a dirty floor; the projection may have been impressive, but without a strong overall lighting design its effect is weakened.

Had Into the Water dispensed with its story and just presented a series of dance vignettes, or alternatively had it included another artist or more time devoted to story, it would have been much more effective. As it was, it was a show with potential that fell just short.

Into the Water runs in Smock Alley until September 24th.

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