Absolut Fringe 2011: The Year of Magical Wanking

Neil Watkins in The Year of Magical Wanking
When Neil Watkins – the wanker of the title – first appears on stage he’s a bundle of angry energy as he rants and raves about the lack of opportunities in his life, in between detailed tales of wanking. He speaks directly to the audience and comes across as a brash, confident personality, unafraid to bear his soul. Slowly, throughout the show he begins to show us a more vulnerable man than the brash persona would suggest. He lets us in on his fears and insecurities – the difficulty of coming to terms with living with HIV, the fear shared by anyone who has been single for a long time, that maybe they are just unlovable.

One of the most intimate scenes for me was when Neil was speaking to his therapist. It’s one of the few scenes where he talks to another person instead of directly out to the audience. It felt like we were seeing a more private moment than the descriptions of wanking to hard-core porn while on a cocktail of drugs.

This is a confessional show but Neil is never looking for pity or even understanding from the audience. He tells his story from a distance, always separate from those he’s speaking to. The set design means that Neil performs on the large Project stage from inside a smaller performance space marked out on the floor in white tape. It’s another barrier between the audience and the performer. The whole show is delivered in rhyme and the reason for this given in various interviews about the show is to make an unsavoury topic a little bit more beautiful. It does succeed in this because the rhythm is lovely to listen to but I think it’s other function is to keep the audience at arm’s length. However, by the end of show all these barriers are gone and Neil speaks plainly to the audience.

It’s a fast-paced show and it’s bleak at times but with a very uplifting ending. I really enjoyed it. I got a lot out of it – that feeling that other people are just as uncertain and insecure as I am, that I’m not alone in this messed up world and that things do get better. I think that’s what they call life-affirming.

The Year of Magical Wanking was a THISISPOPBABY production, directed by Mr. THISISPOPBABY Phillip McMahon. For the Ulster Bank Theatre Festival THISISPOPBABY have produced Trade, written by Mark O’Halloran, directed by Tom Creed and happening in a real life B&B. You should also get your tickets for another THISISPOPBABY production – Alice in Funderland at the Abbey. I know it’s six months but trust me – you don’t want to miss this show.

Week 2 of Absolut Fringe 2011

After taking the whole weekend off for fun at the Fringe, I had a bit of academic work to catch up on when I got back. I have been writing things for teachers instead of Fringe reviews for the blog. There will be reviews of Saturday’s shows coming soon (spoiler: they were all great but I missed In My Bed because I turned up at 7 o’clock for a show that started at 6.45pm. I think my brain had melted from Fringe overload. I fed it lots of vodka at the Festival Club that night to revive it.)

If you are in Dublin, there is still lots going on this week. Here’s what I would go and see if I was there!

  • I’ve been hearing great things about Frisky and Mannish and can definitely recommend the Festival Club!
  • Bás Tongue sounds interesting, and I say that as someone who is vaguely terrified by the Irish language. (I hated it at school!)
  • Welcome to the Forty Foot is a show about swimming everyday in the Irish Sea. Niamh McCann has done it so you don’t have do it!
  • There’s also a chance to see Dead Cat Bounce at the Festival Club for only €3. Tickets are only available on the door this Friday at 9pm.

There’s also lots of free stuff going on this week, such as the Revolutionary Texts series on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Project and the Macnas show On the edge of things is a fierce beauty which has been reschedules to Sunday 25th September. Fringe are also recruiting volunteers for this performance.

Absolut Fringe – part 2.

Images for The Year of Magical Wanking, Where Do I Start?, Eternal Rising of the Sun, In My Bed.
Weekend Viewing: (clockwise from top left) The Year of Magical Wanking, Where Do I Start?, Eternal Rising of the Sun, In My Bed.

I am heading back to the Dublin this evening to get my final dose of the Fringe for this year. I have tickets for The Year of Magical Wanking which is getting great reviews and I’m really looking forward to it, and the final performance of Where Do I Start? at lunchtime on Saturday. Last Monday, I also bought tickets to Eternal Rising of the Sun and In My Bed (now almost sold out), after they both got great reviews last weekend. I’m just started a course called Ensemble Acting but most of my Fringe viewing has been one-man/woman shows. I’m also really looking forward to Pop Céilí on Saturday night. Hurray for another Fringe weekend!

Of course there are loads of other shows that I would love to see but can’t fit in. If you are stuck dumb by the selection on offer, may I suggest;

Man of Valour – getting great reviews from all over the place and I’m raging I can’t fit it into my Fringe schedule. I’m hoping they will do another run sometime soon.

Luca and the Sunshine – also getting great reviews and it sounds like a sweet fairytale. It stars John Cronin who was our Bill for End of the Road and is always excellent.

Jumping Off the Earth – part of the Rough Magic SEEDS Programme and directed by José Miguel Jiménez, one fifth of The Company, it sounds like a very interesting show.

Follow – a chance to visit the new Lir Theatre see a show in sign-language.

TwentyTen, the omnibus edition – if you can manage 6 hours in the theatre absorbing all of 2010, then THEATREclub will buy you a drink. Seriously – there’s a free vodka and mixer for everyone in the audience after Saturday’s show.

Absolut Fringe 2011: Do You Read Me?

Do You Read Me?
Do You Read Me? by Talking Shop Ensemble and Shaun Dunne

The blurb for Do You Read Me? suggests it’s a state-of-nation sort of play; what do we believe in when we have been let down by the church, by the State and by all those in authority? Who do we look to for comfort? It didn’t really fulfil that brief but it is still a very enjoyable show.

The production uses the space in Smock Alley to great effect. The show takes place in the area of the Boys School that was used as the Fringe bar two years ago. It’s a fantastic space – a tall room where the ceiling is three floors above you with lots of old, exposed brick walls. It’s a spooky place to watch a show about communicating with the dead. When Shaun Dunne asks for a sign from the spirit world and we sat in silence waiting for this sign, there was a sense of anticipation in the air. Even I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck start to rise and I’m a confirmed sceptic!

It’s a fun show with lots of nice moments but the thing that makes this show so enjoyable is the great performances from the engaging, young cast. They provide good company for the hour while you learn a little bit about mediums and the effect they can have on people.

It closes tomorrow so you have two more chances to see it. Book your tickets here.

Absolut Fringe 2011: Twenty Ten

Twenty Ten
Twenty Ten by THEATREclub

THEATREclub have been talking about this show for a long time, they’ve been talking about it on Facebook and Twitter and blogging from the rehearsals. And why not – it’s been a long time in the making. If you don’t know the concept behind the show, let me explain. In 2010, THEATREclub sent out an e-mail everyday asking participants ‘What did you learn today?’ and they collected all the responses and made a piece of theatre from them. That piece of theatre is being performed in two month chunks all this week with a six-hour omnibus edition on Saturday.

I was impressed by the respect they showed their source material. This wasn’t a show based on the messages they received, they didn’t just use them as a jumping off point to create a performance; the messages formed the text of the piece and the structure used them chronologically. I thought this showed it a great respect to the people who had donated their words and thoughts and feelings.

I was there on Saturday for Episode 1 – January-February so there was lots of talk about the snow and a little bit about new beginnings. The messages reflected the age of the participants – there was a lot of things learnt about drinking and the consequences of drinking too much. Falling in and out of love also featured heavily. There were also a few facts thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately I can’t share any of them with you because I can’t remember any of them. Even straight after the show, I couldn’t remember a single amusing fact to tell my sister. This is a bit of a problem – you are bombarded with information over the hour and I suspect everyone walks out of the show remembering a different bit or a different thread because there were a few strands running through the show. Money came up a number of times and as this was a year when Ireland officially declared bankruptcy, the show make use of this by throwing coins around whenever money was mentioned.

A lot of the charm of the show is down to the strong performances from the six actors (Shane Byrne, Natalie Radmall-Quirke, Conor Madden, Lauren Larkin, Louise Lewis and Barry O’Connor) and their ability to give meaning to the disjointed text. The tight structure and strong performances also resulted in some unexpectedly sweet moments. It succeeds in giving the audience a glimpse into the minds of some of the people living in Ireland in 2010. The girl I bought my ticket from suggested that it might be interesting to see these day to day reflections again in 10 years time. Personally, I would love to see more of it and I think the six-hour epic on Saturday would be fascinating. If anyone wants to sell a time-share on a ticket, let me know! (It makes sense! Six hours is a lot of time to give to one show when there is so much going on!)

I definitely recommend. Tomorrow’s show covers September-October and November-December will be on Friday. Go see it!

Reviews coming soon for Do You Read Me? Talking Shop Ensemble’s meditation on mediums.

Absolut Fringe 2011: Autobiographer

Autobiographer by Melanie Wilson
Autobiographer by Melanie Wilson


On Saturday morning I left wet, windy Galway behind and headed to Dublin for a day of Fringe shows. My first show of the day was Autobiographer in the Studio Space at Smock Alley. I hadn’t been there since the Theatre Festival last year but I think it’s a great theatre.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the show. I was mostly there because I really liked Melanie Wilson’s previous show Iris Brunette. For me, Autobiographer didn’t have the same impact. It was atmospheric and the actors delivered wonderful, simple performances but I left a bit confused by the whole. The four actresses, of various ages, each wearing a flowing blue dress, picked up the disjointed narrative and passed it between themselves. It felt like one woman’s story, told through the many facets of that woman. There were reoccurring images and ideas but no clear narrative. We only saw aspects of this woman, she never really revealed herself to the audience. That was my main problem with the show – it felt disjointed and I wanted more narrative. I wanted to get to know this woman but she kept the audience at a distance. I was a little bit disappointed by the show.

Reviews coming soon for Twenty Ten, THEATREclub’s ambitious retelling of the year and Talking Shop Ensemble’s Do You Read Me?

The Dublin Fringe and me

The first time I volunteered for the Dublin Fringe Festival was in 2004 and I didn’t really have a very good time. It’s not surprising because I was pretty unhappy anyway. I was two years out of college with a degree in computer programming and no job. I was still stuck in a post-graduation slump where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and the future seemed hazy and dull.

I’d left youth theatre the previous April after five years and I felt the lack of theatrical or creative projects in my life. I was also still living at home with my parents so I didn’t know Dublin that well and didn’t really feel at home there – I got lost a lot trying to find the Fringe venues.

Volunteering for the Fringe didn’t make me any happier. Instead it made me feel sad that I could only be involved at the outskirts of this theatre event. I didn’t want to be sitting outside taking tickets, I wanted to be involved in what was going on inside the theatre. I didn’t even last the whole festival because the whole experience made me too miserable. But it also claified things for me and made me made me realise how much I missed being involved in theatre. It made me think that maybe it was something I needed to have in my life. This was one of the things that made me decide to go back to college and study drama. Before the end of the year I had started filling in my UCAS form and applying for drama courses in the UK. And by the following September, I couldn’t volunteer for the Fringe because I was starting my Modern Drama degree at Brunel University.

Even if I never volunteered for the Fringe again, it would still have a special place in my heart as the catalyst that sent me back to university. But when I moved back to Dublin in 2008, I went back to volunteer again and had a much happier experience. And I had a great time in 2009 and 2010 as well.

And now here we are in 2011 and once again, full-time education has taken me out of Dublin at Fringe time. I will be spending a couple of weekends in Dublin trying to experience as much of the Fringe as I can but I will miss the two-week immersion in theatre that I’ve got used to over the last few years. If you are lucky enough to be in Dublin over the next couple of weeks, go and see a few Fringe shows for me!

Previews started yesterday and there are loads of shows for under a tenner so you’ve no excuse.

Theatre at Electric Picnic 2011

Project Arts Centre have their very own tent in the Mindfields Arena at the Electric Picnic this year and the line-up is excellent. It’s worth tearing yourself away from the 15 billion other things going on around Stradbally to check out a few plays. Talking Show Ensemble are doing I’m a Home Bird (It’s very hard), which I loved when I saw it last April. Other shows on the bill that I have seen and enjoyed are Victor and Gord by the wonderful Una McKevitt Productions and MIMIC, which will take you so far away you will completely forget that you are in the middle of a field in Stradbally.

Also check out the Make and Do games on Saturday 3rd September. They are starting at the Project Arts Centre tent at 2pm for Stag Hunt and 4pm for We’ve lost Arthur..again.