I really enjoyed this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. It was two weeks of booking more shows than I could really afford and seeing wonderful performances all over the city. It’s one of my favourite times of year. I love coming out of a half six show while it’s still bright out and then heading off to see something else. I love bumping into friends in theatre foyers and hearing what they’ve seen or what they recommend. Here are some of the things I learnt over the course of the festival.
1. At PowerPoint in the Chocolate Factory, I learnt how an online game called DOTA2 got it’s ridiculous name. (Alas it has nothing to do with dotes.) It’s unlikely that I will ever need this information but it’s a good story. It also tells you a lot about online communities – the sense of connection they create and the power and pull they have over people. The show builds out from there in really interesting ways. It’s about lots of things – true-crime podcasts, online gaming, friendship, loneliness, the cost of bringing a show to Edinburgh. I really enjoyed it.
2. It’s absolutely fine to go see a kids show as a child-free adult. Lots of people do it and it’s actually a lovely way to spend a weekend morning. I took my hangover to see A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings on a wet, grey Sunday morning and it was delightfully soothing. Though it’s also true that kids are great audience members and it’s lovely to hear their reactions to a show. There was one young giggler at Moop that really added to the experience.
3. Sometimes a theatre double bill really works out well. I saw It’s Not About Love in the Chocolate Factory and Starlet in Smock Alley on the same night and they complimented each other beautifully. The first was about big, intense feelings; feeling that keep you awake at night, that overwhelm you in a way that means you change your entire life in response to them. The second was about the nitty-gritty reality of trying to connect with someone, about more base desires and what you’re willing to give and take. They were both great shows but seeing them together was like seeing two sides of the same coin.
4. At It’s Not About Love I learnt about Harold Bloom’s theory that Shakespeare wrote the playbook for human emotions in the 16th century and we are still following it today. I also learnt about brain chemistry and auto-immune disorders and lots of other things. I enjoyed it a lot. It was also one of three shows I saw that used projected slides to inform the piece. Do we need a term for this kind of theatrical presentations? Does one already exist?
5. I got two emails from Fringe Box Office regarding 15th Oak’s Some Names Were Changed. One to warn me that the play was running 30 minutes longer than advertised and one to say that it contained some upsetting material. To be honest, it was the increased running time that made me more anxious. I needn’t have worried. The show was engaging and clever and subtle and dealt with it’s difficult subject matter with empathy. I was very glad I saw it.
6. It’s impossible to see everything in the Fringe programme and I often feel like I’ve missed something great. This year, I wish I’d seen more shows in non-theatre venues. I’m particularly sorry to have missed The Justice Syndicate in the Four Courts where you got be on a jury. We Are Lightning! in the National Stadium also sounded pretty special.
7. A lot of the shows I saw this year had some element of audience participation. This varied from the mild (playing Tetris in PowerPoint or reciting some Shakespeare in It’s Not About Love), to the extreme (topless wrestling in Nate). It interesting to see what happens when this element of risk is added to a performance. I don’t tend to volunteer but I like shows that acknowledge that we are people in a room creating something together.
8. I learnt that kids shows can share DNA with Marx brothers movies. This makes perfect sense when you think about it but I didn’t realise until I saw the utterly charming Moop in Smock Alley. It was like a bright-coloured silent movie.
9. It’s always worth making the trip down to the Lir. It can feel far, especially when I’m trying to pack more than one show into my evening, but I’m always glad I made the effort. The only show I saw there this year was Losing Your Body but I really enjoyed it. It was bleak and moving about modern life, and also beautifully executed. I like dance shows that combine impressive physical feats and beautiful movement with a clear narrative spine; my brain need stories and this hit that sweet spot for me.
10. It was late into the festival that I learnt about the search box on the Fringe mobile site. I spent almost the entire two weeks throwing show titles into Google whenever I needed to check where or when a show was on because I thought there was no search function. It was there the whole time, I just needed to scroll down.
11. There is amazing talent in Dublin (and Irish) theatre. This is less something I learnt and more something that I was reminded of during Fringe. The festival was full of wonderful writing, great directing, fantastic performances, and gorgeous design. It was also full of mad ideas and creative storytelling and new ways to see the world. There is so much talent and creativity in the theatre community and I’m glad Fringe exists to harness it and give it a platform. I am also grateful to live in a city that comes out for theatre with such enthusiasm.