Unfringed Reviews: Bandit/The Wheelchair on my Face

Fishamble-The New Play Company is one of the most innovative collectives working in Ireland today and its ‘Show in a Bag’ initiative has spawned some excellent work since its foundation.

‘Show in a Bag’ is a collaboration with the Dublin Fringe Festival and the Irish Theatre Institute and gives actors the support and mentorship to come up with their own tourable productions. These plays debut in Bewley’s Café Theatre during the Dublin Fringe. Fortunately, our own Limerick Unfringed Festival was on just after that festival for the first time this year. Unfringed showed two 2012 ‘Show in a Bag’ plays and one from 2011.

I had the pleasure of seeing two of these…two out of three ain’t bad! Hopefully, I’ll see PAYBACK! at some later date.

Bandit

The first was Bandit—on in the Lunchtime Theatre at the Savoy slot on October 18—by Brian O’Riordan. The play followed a runner (O’Riordan himself) in the Dublin Marathon who is ‘a bandit’ and so is not officially registered in the race. He’s running away from his mistakes and grief; running toward an unlikely goal—all of which of is revealed as he navigates the grueling circuit.

He was literally running on the spot throughout and played three other characters at various points—a fellow female runner, his little sister and a rival from youth athletics. The use of subtle mannerisms and gestures was key for these segments. He packed a lot of information/story into 50 minutes and rather appropriately, the pace was perfect!

I really enjoyed it. There was a nice momentum to the play, probably down to the physical acting, which carries the audience along steadily but builds towards the end. The plot believability was a little stretched i.e. our hero lives a life of debauchery for years, goes back training for a few months and is miraculously superfit or the the fact that he stole a few grand with no consequences. The character is flawed but O’Riordan imbued him with some charm and wry humour that made you hopeful for him.

The minimalist format of ‘Show in a Bag’ meant that lighting, sound and a few props were used to maximum effect i.e. he would do a slight turn and the lighting would change when he was doing flashbacks and the beeps from his watch counted down the miles. Bandit reminded me a lot of Fight Night (yet another Show in a Bag focused on boxing) so it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel. That said, O’Riordan’s production and performance deserves praise, as does the mentorship and direction by Bryan Burroughs. I thought Bandit was affecting and energetic—enough to leave a pleasant adrenaline buzz.

The Wheelchair on my Face

This play was devised and performed by actress/comedienne, Sonya Kelly. It was also on in the Savoy, this time in the evening slot on October 26. The play—which won a Fringe First award at the acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe—is a stand-up comedy style memoir of the writer’s “myopic childhood”.

She knows how to make an entrance—setting the scene to music, fumbling and bumbling around the stage to demonstrate what it’s like when a person can’t see properly. Then she continued recounting hilarious incidents from her home and school life including how everyone thought she just an affectionate child when she clambered up on their laps and put her face close to theirs and how her bad eyesight affected friendships and activities. She invented an elaborate fantasy world where ABBA lived in her wardrobe and these funny interludes with Swedish accents and the band’s music break up the stories nicely.

When she had her eye test at age seven, it was obvious to all that she needed heavy duty spectacles. She describes the test, the optometrist and the other patients in a very touching anecdote. Her joy at being able to see properly is short lived when the catcalls of “speccy fishy!” start and her angelic First Holy Communion appearance is under threat from her supersized glasses. Some of the material is sad but of course, there is a happy ending.

Director, Gina Moxley, gave Kelly free reign to create her childhood world. The whole show was beautifully structured and told. There was some audience interaction where she got someone to throw a prop ‘tennis ball’; the use of props in general was excellent, from the giant eye-test charts to the ABBA’s Greatest Hits record cover. Kelly’s confessional streak and good humour was endearing. The audience lapped it up.

I may be short-sighted but even I could see why this show is award-winning. It’s funny and warm—a genuine feel-good experience. It is currently touring so catch it if you can.

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