Saturday, October 26, 2013

Fregoli, 'Dorset Street Toys': Falling Hard and Fast

Smock Alley Theatre
Oct 24-26

My review of Dorset Street Toys by Rory O'Sullivan coming up just as soon as I drink something foreign ...

The two characters in Rory O'Sullivan's new play (written with the company) were adopted in their infancy by a 'Storyman' who incited in them a wonderous sense of imagination and fantastical play. It makes great material for Fregoli directors Maria Tivnan and Rob McFeely, whose productions leap and whirl with vigorous choreography. But the ultimate motive of this crooked-nosed Storyman is to use his mantra for the make-believe to blur the truth of a nightmare house, which has sent Anna and Joe into their adulthood distorted and blazing through the streets of Dublin.

As a baby, Joe (Aron Hegarty) was heralded as a child saviour after being found floating in a basket in the Liffey. Now heavily traumatised by his upbringing, he continues his work as a working class hero by giving violent beatings in alleys. When on one night he's reunited with Anna (Kate Murray) - whose own psychological wounds have turned her to prostitution - the great bond between them is restored and enchants a city which has torn them to shreds. They stroll the streets until they come across the damned house where they lived. But perhaps now they can fill it with the treasures of family and love that are more real than fantasy.

Fans of Fregoli could argue that they are covering well-trodden ground; the play is a Dublin incarnation of Enda Walsh's Cork-based dystopic Disco Pigs (which the company memorably produced a few years back) with its extreme sibling relationship and furious flights through the city. But O'Sullivan is his own voice with a script that is as lyrically beautiful as it is bruising, and directors Tivnan and McFeely have measured it to match the speed and energy of their physical performance style. Hegarty hits high and low to register both brutality and tenderness, and Murray is wonderful in her swift stylistic slips between voices and gestures (her crowd observations of Joe's fishing out of the Liffey are hilariously spun).

The brick walls of the Smock Alley Boy School venue adds to the production as we can imagine the action playing out in the Dorset Street house that the characters return to, with barbed wire and purple flowers intermingling in their hurt and beauty as part of Rebecca Ryan's stark set, and safety only suggested by the soft glow of McFeely and Matt Burke's lights.

A scene shocks where Joe viciously beats a "kiddie fiddler" as a raging response to his own abusive history. But where the play alludes to this psychosis it doesn't explore it, and the character risks coming across as extremely apathetic. A similar violence occurs in Disco Pigs but the consequence of it is to convey something tribal. Here the payoff is to create dramatic tension between the two characters and disrupt the notion that they can escape their past. It leaves us with an emotional disconnect with the character for crucial scenes that follow.

But as it whirls towards its cutting conclusion, Dorset Street Toys soars as a flinching piece of new playwriting, a testament to the theatrical authority of Fregoli to take play texts and dizzy them into a storm.

What did everybody else think?

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