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.

Review: Siege at Unfringed 2012

Writer: Ciarda Tobin. Director: Marie Boylan. Cast: Aidan Crowe, Erica Murray and Joanne Ryan. Stage Manager: Gerr Meaney. Lighting Design: Dave O’Brien. Sound Design: Andre McGovern

Limerick hasn’t hosted a Siege since the 17th century, so it was fitting then that the opener to the 2012 Unfringed Festival was titled as such. Swinging wildly between comedy and tragedy, this Trojan War-inspired drama set in modern Limerick was a real mixed bag. There were strong performances and production elements but Siege also an Achilles heel in a few areas.

The play—which ran from October 16 to 18—has a strong local flavour with the writer, director, and the cast all from Limerick. It is set on a housing estate where the gangster, Mouse, makes all the rules. He has a big drug deal in the works and when his girlfriend, Helena, and her daughter, Whitney, uncover his secret he unleashes a fiery rage, which threatens to consume them and all they hold dear. The play is narrated by missing person, Pa, who is Helena’s ex and one of Mouse’s former allies.

The 50 minute play moved at a fast pace as Pa oversaw a grim tale of love, crime, violence and betrayal—both in flashbacks and in real time. His frantic speeches gave an idea of how cheap life is on the estate; petty theft and the constant threat of violence are met with indifference (disinterest even) and if you ‘rat’, you get punished.

I felt at times that injecting pace came at the expense of fleshing out the plot and character development. The build-up to conclusion was suspenseful although the abrupt ending left the audience confused. There is a problem when they don’t realise when the play is over. For me, it seemed rushed.

Ciarda Tobin is deft in the frenetic monologues and in incorporating elements from the Greek myth i.e. the drugs hidden in a live horse’s stomach. She avoids sticking too rigidly to it because as Senator David Norris learned in his doomed presidential campaign: comparisons with ancient Greece don’t always work out. The problems we have in certain areas of Limerick are many and complex. I wonder if the production was trying to cover too much ground or say too much in under an hour?

There was also a heavy dose of comedy. The mood was often lightened with things like Whitney’s childish antics and the bitchy pub/karaoke scenes. There were plenty of one-liners, colloquialisms and local references to raise a laugh from the audience. But the funny elements risked trivialising the overall tone. Don’t get me wrong; it was good material (albeit a little reliant on stereotypes and clichés). I don’t know if it would translate fully to non-locals either.

It was slightly jarring to have so much comedy in the context i.e. there was a very eloquent note from the playwright on the programme. It explained that she wrote it “because I met a mother who barricaded herself and her two children into their house every night and prayed that they would wake up…the city is not at war so why talk about it? When one side is afraid to speak and the other is afraid to notice what is left?” That’s a powerful idea…and arguably a different play! But the spirit in which Siege was written is immediate and relevant.

Now, before local theatre practitioners queue up to lynch me, I have to add that Siege had many positives. The performances from Aidan Crowe, Erica Murray and Joanne Ryan were strong. Crowe was particularly impressive, playing the helpless Pa and a child. Whitney was one of the most vivid characters. Murray did well as a vulnerable but determined Helena and Ryan excelled in the comedy scenes. Gangster, Mouse, is the gaping absence among the many voices in the play but I can understand why he wasn’t included. A maniac can easily become a parody.

The auditorium seats were re-arranged so the audience sat in a circle level with the stage and there was no set—only props in the form of boxes, which the cast moved about as required. This fluidity worked really well and the acting was up close and personal.  The use of multimedia elements was creative. Projected video images to locate scenes and using sound effects i.e. a police scanner to further the plot was also clever. The lighting and sound design were good.

I enjoyed Siege and it had flashes of brilliance but I felt there was something missing that stopped it reaching its full potential. All of the commissions I’ve seen for the festival have been impressive. Last year’s, Her Name Was Pamela Mooney by Naomi O’Kelly, was endearing and visually punchy. But neither that nor Siege topped the wow factor of Louise Lowe’s Memory Deleted in the 2010 Unfringed Festival.

The Unfringed Festival has another week to go and the details are at www.belltable.ie

Unfringed Festival 2012 starts tonight, Oct 16

The Limerick Unfringed Festival 2012 kicks off tonight (October 16) with a specially commissioned play, Siege.

The festival will run until October 28 and will include new and established theatre, music, dance, cinema and literary events. This year’s festival is curated by Duncan Molloy and the theme is ‘Darkness on the edge of town’.

The Unfringed used to take place in January but I think the new timeslot is a good move and spreading the festival events over 12 days will hopefully encourage audiences. There are a few ticket bundles available too, which might soften the financial outlay for some. The prices for events range from €7 to €22.50. The programme is a heady mix, with a lot of local input, so I would encourage people to support the festival by attending at least one event if they can at all. I’ll get to (and review if possible) a few things myself.

Siege is a local affair—written by Ciarda Tobin, directed by Marie Boylan and starring Aidan Crowe, Erica Murray and Joanne Ryan. The plot outline is as follows: “Pa is missing, Mouse is on the warpath and the houses are burning. This new short play, set in Limerick and inspired by the Trojan war, follows the exploits of Helena and her daughter as they discover Mouse’s secret and are forced to escape his fury. This is a highly charged urban play, which swings from karaoke to chaos and comedy to tragedy. It is rough and ready; it is savage and familiar. The production will be fast paced and physical.” The venue is the Belltable and it runs until Thursday.

Thursday lunchtime marks the first of three shows tying in with Lunchtime Theatre at the Savoy. Bandit—fresh from the Dublin Fringe—is on at 1pm on Thursday and Friday this week. On Friday (October 19) and Saturday nights, the multi award winning, Silent, by Pat Kinevane, is on at the Belltable. Act Without Words II by Samuel Beckett is on this Saturday and Sunday (two shows a night). The venue is site-specific but audiences meet at the Belltable.

Also on Sunday, Molloy’s own work—Mass—is on in the afternoon in the Limerick City Gallery of Art. Mass is on again on Sunday October 28. Interactive dance performance, Chimaera, by Angie Smalis is on Sunday and Monday night. On Tuesday October 23, there is a screening of the George Romero classic, Night of the Living Dead.

Mimic by Raymond Scannell is on Wednesday and Thursday night (October 25). Also on Thursday and Friday, Payback and The Wheelchair on my Face will feature at Lunchtime and Teatime Theatre at the Savoy respectively. On Thursday, The Loft will host Under the Influence where comedian/actor Pat Shortt and playwright, Mike Finn, will discuss their inspirations. Later that same evening, there will be a celebration of Richard Harris presented by Bottom Dog Theatre Company and The Little Apple.

On Friday night, French jazz musician, Tigran will perform and on Saturday, band Scullion will perform. Unique live game, Day Zero, is taking place, every 20 minutes from 1-4pm on Saturday. The idea is that the city has been overrun by zombies and you have to find a way to survive. The venue is site-specific but audiences meet at the Belltable. On Sunday, the festival will conclude with a production of David Mamet’s Oleanna.

Find out more about the Unfringed programme at www.belltable.ie or download it here.