Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Guide to ABSOLUT Fringe 2011, ‘Brave New World’

Last week the line-up for this year’s ABSOLUT Fringe was revealed, which will take place in Dublin September 10-25. Sailing under the banner ‘Brave New World’ – this year’s festival intends to chart “a new course through a very changed Irish society”. Below are a few thoughts on the programme and a provisional strategy of what shows I’m going to attend.

ABSOLUT Fringe 2010 was described by many commentators as the best line-up in the festival’s history, helmed by ingenuous explorations of the extraordinariness of ‘place’ and ‘moment’ such as The Company’s As You Are Now So Once Were We and Hillary O’Shaughnessy’s intimate tour of a displaced city in Playgroup’s Berlin Love Tour, as well as ambitious chronicles of our nation’s socio-economic past as seen in Anu Production’s World’s End Lane and THEATREclub’s Heroin.(*)

(*) This year’s programme also announces that four of last year’s shows will feature in the Dublin Theatre Festival’s ReViewed in October. Any wagers that these will be the four that’ll feature?

The quality of this work was acknowledged by The Irish Times Theatre Awards ‘Best Production’ nomination for Anu and the commissioning of The Company by the Abbey – a first for a Fringe show. Both acts are absent from this year’s festival, though only in brand. Louise Lowe of Anu is directing a site specific piece (which she seems to have crafted a speciality for) called Hand Me Down The Moon while The Company’s Jose Miguel Jiminez will be directing Jumping Off The Earth in participation of the Rough Magic SEEDS Programme and Nyree Yergainharsian will be doing her solo Where Do I Start?.

The Corn Exchange and THISISPOPBABY bring a vintage feel to this year’s mix, returning to the festival in mighty fashion. Fergal McCarthy – the man responsible for the Monopoly houses in the Liffey last year – will be camping on a desert island in the river. Macnas return, kicking off the festival with their On The Edge of Things Is A Fierce Beauty (fantastically executed at the Galway Arts Festival last week). Work by Australian companies form the international contingent of the line-up. And among the denizens presenting these “contemporary vision quests” are a host of new acts who we have yet to meet.  

The bag is mixed and vast. Here’s what I’m personally excited about:

The Prodigal Sons Return
My biggest regret as a theatre-goer thus far this year has been not hitch-hiking down to Cork Midsummer for The Corn Exchange’s Man of Valour and THISISPOPBABY’s The Year of Magical Wanking. It’s a no-brainer to go see The Corn Exchange – 2009’s Freefall was a delicate and earnest masterpiece (the fact that Annie Ryan is the best director in the country doesn’t hurt either) – and while I have yet to experience THISISPOPBABY there is considerable evidence to suggest that they’re the foremost entrepreneurs of Irish theatre at the moment. Their history at the Fringe includes Philip McMahon’s Danny and Chantelle (still here) (2006), All Over Town (2007) and Investment Potential (2008), Panti’s All Dolled Up (2007) and Belinda McKeon’s Two Houses (2008). The Corn Exchange debuted at the very first Fringe with Cultural Shrapnel (1995), and followed with Streetcar (1996), Big Bad Wolf (1997), Car Show (1998), and Michael West’s A Play on Two Chairs (1997).

THEATREclub – Worth the Hype?
Type “THEATREclub” into the search bar and you’ll find six posts with them mentioned – none of which are spotlights on their work. This is because I have yet to see a THEATREclub production. Twenty Ten – an odyssey of 2010 through an archive composed by anonymous contributors and their reflections on each day of the past year – seems to form a significant cornerstone to the ‘Brave New World’ premise. The project does sound ambitious and I will be checking it out. Each night the performance will look at two months of the year and accumulates in a six-hour durational piece on the final day that looks at the whole year. (**)

(**) I might get to see them sooner than I thought. Yesterday it was announced that they’re retiring past hit THEATREclub stole your CLOCK RADIO what the FUCK you gonna do about it? in the Project Arts Centre on Aug 6. The price of admission is hefty but the genius of Brian Bennett may merit it.

Spacemen and Armenians – Where is The Company?
Will new work by Jose Miguel Jiminez and Nyree Yergainharsian quench our thirst for new material by The Company? I can definitely recommend the latter (my review of Where Do I Start? – beware of spoilers – is here). Aside from the intrigue of the premise, Jumping Off The Earth is also appealing for the reason of seeing where Jiminez’s practice will go next. I am very curious if his devising method (this play has no writer attached) in approaching The Company shows is simply executed under a new banner here.

Boys Versus Girls
There are two plays whose creative teams have me quite excited. Nick Lee (seen recently as charming man Dan in Pineapple) has written a play starring John Cronin (The End of the Road, The Sit) and directed by Matt Torney (Plaza Suite, The Walworth Farce). Luca & The Sunshine is about a young man named Luca who has lost all hope in a never-ending rainfall, and on one night says a prayer – “the consequences of which could prove to be devastating and irrevocable”. Secondly, The Yellow Wallpaper – a gothic novella considered a foundation piece of American feminist literature – is being appropriately realised on stage by some of our formidable theatre femmes. This story of a young woman’s decent into madness, locked in an attic where she becomes obsessed with the wallpaper, is presented by actor Maeve Fitzgerald (Moment, Basin), director Aoife Spillane-Hinks (Plaza Suite, Boston Marriage), and lighting maestro Sarah-Jane Shiels. There’s no shortage of talent in either of these productions. I doubt I’ll be able to get to both, so someone feel free to help me to decide which.

A Change of Scenery
After last year’s Berlin Love Tour, I would love to fit in a site-specific performance if possible. I already mentioned Louise Lowe’s Hand Me Down The Moon – which takes us to an old house on Eustace St where we rediscover our cosmological imaginations in the company of a space-obsessed ten year old girl. However, this may also be the perfect occasion to finally visit Spilt Gin – who have been on my hit-list ever since hearing of their Pop art achievement Andy Warhol’s Nothing Special. You Can’t Just Leave – There’s Always Something takes us to a house (a bus ride away). The description is vague but interpret what you will: “There’s no telling if the party’s still going or if the last of them have left. Either way something’s been left behind”. Honestly, I’ve heard too many assurances about these guys to miss them. I have advertised here in the past that I’ve worked with Galway ensemble Waterdonkey. Be sure to catch them in their latest Lennonesque instalment Happening – a thirteen hour bed-in in a suite in the Gresham Hotel.

Faces Old and New
Too many acts for me to go into detail here. Performer, writer and sound artist Melanie Wilson (who’s Iris Brunette picked up ‘Best Production’ at ABSOLUT Fringe 2009) returns with a new piece. Autobiographer draws us into the unravelling mind of a woman suffering from dementia with a particularly immersive and refined use of sound and score. I also wouldn’t dismiss: The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer by Tim Watt, A Lost Opera by Genesis Collective, Eternal Rising of the Sun by HotForTheatre, Amy, I Want To Make You Hard by Rampant, Follow by Willfred Theatre, Pope Benedict: Bond Villain by Abie Philbin Bowman, Do You Read Me by Talking Shop Ensemble and Shaun Dunne, Dreams of Love by Side-Show Productions, Does Anybody Ever? by The Children, Heidi and The Bear by Dragonfly Theatre, Seekers by 50% Male Experimental Theatre,   Seeing and Dreaming by Dog and String Theatre, and In My Bed by Veronica Dyas.

And Finally: We Can Do Great Things Together
ABSOLUT Fringe holds particular interest for me as a theatre reviewer and researcher. This is a vital platform in our nation’s theatre for artists to be able to investigate theatrical form and space. It’s here that we see glimpses of what the art form can sustain, who it can engage, and where it may journey next. The hard part for me is actually being able to afford theatre. If any theatre makers involved out there have access to complementary tickets and are interested in getting their work reviewed, feel free to send me an e-mail. It’s why I’m here.

What are you going to in ABSOLUT Fringe 2011?


  1. Left out Damien Kearney's ('Freefall', 'Berlin Love Tour') writing debut: 'The Flamboyant Bird' - with Charlie Bonner directing

  2. Also, Waterdonkey's 'Happening' is 12 hours as opposed to 13 (10am-9pm Sept 18)