Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Fringe Theatre Reviews - Quietly – Traverse Theatre – Four stars / Grounded – Traverse Theatre – four stars / Fight Night – Traverse Theatre – four stars / Have I No Mouth – Traverse Theatre – four stars

Two men seek closure in a late night Belfast bar in Quietly, Owen McCafferty's 
new play presented by Dublin's Abbey Theatre in Jimmy Fay's firecracker 
of a production. Robert the Polish bar-man is watching the 
Poland/Northern Ireland match when Jimmy arrives, full of pent-up  rage 
and gallows humour. When Ian arrives, things threaten to explode into 
violence, but quickly subside as the pair attempt to purge themselves 
of what happened almost forty years earlier, when sectarian violence in 
Belfast was at its bloody height.

What follows is, as Jimmy observes, a more intimate and less formal 
take on a truth and reconciliation committee, as the pair unravel the 
history that binds them. It's a devastating little power play that sums 
up a battle-scarred nation's collective psyche in miniature, with the 
football game on television pointing to pointing up the lingering 
tribalism even more. Fay's production, played out in a working 
bar-room, is blessed by a trio of performances from Robert Zawadzki as 
Robert, Declan Conlon as Ian and especially Patrick O'Kane as a 
simmering Jimmy. It's a tense and intense affair, with the play's final 
powerful moments fully bringing home how echoes of the past remain, no 
matter how hard you shut them out.

How do you be a wife, a mother and a hot-shot fighter pilot? The answer 
in Grounded, George Brant's play presented by the Gate Theatre is that you don't. 
Or at least that's the case for the vivacious Pilot played by Lucy 
Ellinson, who makes her dream come true while navigating a life as 
supercharged as the F16 fighter plane she flies. In no time at all 
she's married and pregnant, and, no longer allowed to fly, is shipped 
out to Las Vegas where she operates remote-controlled drones in the 
Middle East. Juggling family life with a little girl who adores pink 
ponies with the daily grind, driving fast in the desert is no 
replacement for the blue skies she craves, and crash and burn is 

Ellinson delivers her interior monologue from inside a gauze-draped 
cube in Christopher Haydon's production, sporting her beloved flight 
suit to the last in a work that says  much about military misogyny, and 
how institutions like the army, and indeed the nuclear family, can rip 
the soul out of good patriots like the Pilot. Ellinson gives a bravura 
turn as the Pilot in a high-concept production that explodes with sound 
and vision in a quietly political piece of work.

Be careful what you vote for. You might just get the make-believe 
democracy you don't want. In Fight Night, Belgian auteurs Ontroerend Goed's latest 
inquiry into human behaviour, here in co-production with Australia's 
The Border Project, politics is reduced to a gladiatorial arena, as the 
audience are asked to vote for one of five candidates to lead them 
into, well, who knows? Split into a series of rounds, the audience are 
asked  a series of questions which are then collated electronically 
before the results are announced.

At first its easy enough, as the five parade around the 'ring' without 
speaking, meaning the first vote is done on looks and first impressions 
alone. Once each starts laying out their manifestos, however, which 
range from the hard-line radical to unrepentantly  reactionary with 
some woolly liberalism thrown, the results look very different indeed. 
The fact that each elimination is guided by the audience is the telling 
thing, however, in a fascinating deconstruction of democracy, as 
alliances and coalitions are formed in order for one or another 
candidate to survive. In the end, and as the final image of data shows, 
it is us who are in control,with all our prejudices absorbed and thrown 
back at us. As revolutions go, however, it's the Smiths song that plays 
as the audience leave at the end of the show that's most telling about 
what is required.

Twelve years ago, Feilidm Cannon's father died after a misdiagnosis led 
to botched surgery. His immediate response was to make an art video 
based around placing a Guinness pint glass in various locations. More 
than a decade on, and now one of the directors of the Dublin-based 
brokentalkers company, Cannon shows the film at the start of Have I No Mouth, his very 
personal response to loss, grieving and healing. So personal is it, in 
fact, that both his mother, Ann Cannon, and their therapist, Erich 
Keller, are on stage with him to share in the experience.

If this sounds like self-indulgent death tourism, think again, because, 
over it's hour-long duration, Cannon and co serve up a witty and 
intimate meditation that honours Cannon's father even as it mourns him. 
Emotional totems are laid out, balloons are burst, cuddles are given 
and Guinness is drunk, in a touchingly frank affair in which Cannon's 
anger at the sheer unnecessaryness of his father's death may come 
through. This is crucially over-ridden, however, by the sheer love 
Cannon and his mother feel for him. By the end of this movingly 
impressionistic homage, it's become a celebration of a man who really 
might just live forever.

The Herald, August 7th 2013


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