Project Brand New shows at the Fringe

There’s a lot of crossover between the Fringe festival and the last Project Brand New this year. Probably because the deadlines for the two events were only a week apart, so a lot of people probably applied for both. And probably there are shows that didn’t make the cut for Project Brand New and vice versa. Not every piece of theatre would fit the criteria for both.

Here are the shows that did:

Delicious O’Grady – the tragicomedy about the famine. I think this was already a fully developed show and we just saw small scenes from it at Project Brand New. It was also very funny!

I Love Guns – I really liked this piece at Project Brand New but feel like I didn’t really get it. It was stark and beautiful and I want to see more of it!

My Life in Dresses – I’ve already mentioned this show and the lovely blog that accompanies it. I saw a poster for the show in Oxfam on Georges Street today, which felt like a very suitable place for this show to be advertised!

My Body Travels – This was one of my favourite pieces from Project Brand New and I am so upset that I’m going to miss the full length version. It’s only on for one night of the Fringe and I am coming back from Italy that evening. The 20 minutes we saw at PBN were completely memorising and I’d love to see how it translates into a hour long show. If you can, go see it on Monday September 13.

Neuropolis – I think this show was still in development when we saw it last May and I’m interested to see what it became after that. It was a strange bit of theatre but very intriguing. Worth seeing just to try and figure out what it was about.

Project Brand New 5 – Saturday

The first piece on Saturday night was Diceman The Musical. This was a rock musical set in the Dandelion Market in 1978. My first impression was that it was nice to see so many people on stage. Most of the Project Brand New pieces are one or two-handers. This had a cast of six, plus an electric guitarist. It was a pretty traditional piece of theatre about the love-lives of five young people working in the market, with The Diceman looking on and commenting on the proceedings. The music was great and added a liveliness to the piece. The script was funny and clipped along nicely. It was probably only the first scene of longer script. I enjoyed it but I am not dying to see the rest of it.

The second piece was My Body Travels. This was a movement piece with some voice-over text in the first section. According to the programme it was about ‘a misfit who wants to find their place in the world’ which I think is an accurate description of what we saw on stage. It was performed by Matthew Morris and it was a beautiful piece of work. He came onstage wheeling a suitcase and wearing one running shoe and one high-heeled shoe, bring pink hot-pants and a vest. It was amazing how fast he could move across the stage in these mis-matched shoes, always dragging the suitcase behind him! The movement piece, which was complicated and very disciplined, was accompanied by a voice-over that reflected the misfit status of the performer onstage. It was like a running commentary on a hectic, sexually-confused, haphazard life of someone who was struggling to figure out where they belonged. It was clever and funny and fit well with what was going on onstage, both in tone and content.

In the second section, the performer took off his mis-matched shoes, took out a pair of trousers and a crumbled white shirt out of his suitcase and put them on. There was a large rectangle of light on across the stage, like light spilling out of an open door. The section involved the performer moving forward across the stretch of light, then retreating backwards. He repeated this movement for about five minutes, adding hand gestures which to me looked to me almost like sign language, moving forward and back, slowing down and speeding up. It was a little bit odd and seemed to go on too long.

However, it was utterly redeemed by the third section which was truly beautiful. The performer fist removed his shirt and the vest beneath it, then did the same with his trousers, revealing again the bright pink hot-pants. These were also removed leaving the performer completely naked. He stood there a second before begining to move again. It was facinating to watch because you could see every muscle in his body and how they worked together to create the complex movements. It was like a lesson in anatomy! When the suitcase was stood up and open, sand spilled out onto the stage. The piece ended with the performer almost making a nest for himself in the sand. It was very moving, like he had finally found somewhere he felt safe.

I think this was probably my favourite piece of the three night run. I’d love to see it again, I’d love to see more from the same artist. It started off a little bit arch and clever but ended on a very pure and moving note. I loved it.

It’s a little bit hard to give an accurate description of Missing, the third piece of the night, because I experienced it from back-stage. I was one of the shadows at the very end of the piece! From what I could hear and what I saw in rehearsal, it was a very funny script about the serious issues of missing people and homelessness. The audience seemed to enjoy it immensely, judging from the laughs it got. I would love to see it properly sometime.

The next piece, Neuropolis was about a man who wakes up with no memories. He is trying to figure out who he is and what has happened to him. This much was established quickly and neatly at the beginning of the piece when we hear the man being interviewed/interrogated by an official of some sort. There is then a movement section where the man, Henry, encounters strange people who seem to know him and all seem to have an agenda. The other characters (five in total – another piece with lots of bodies onstage!) repeat the same movements over and over again while moving around the stage; one woman keeps pouring water over her head and there’s a man who keeps ringing a little bell. Only Henry is able to alter his actions and reactions as he moves between them. In the end they surround him and each character speaks a few lines, switching between the different characters and we get a hint as to what their relationship with Henry might be.

It says in the programme that this piece is a work in process and that the ‘primary focus at this point has been imagery and atmosphere; answers will come later…’. I think they were successful in doing that. The movements of the actors were very precise and the repetition made it seem like we were in a very odd place. It reminded me a little bit of Iris Brunette. It has a vague apocalyptic feel to it. And it did throw up lots of questions. The audience is trying to work out what kind of person Henry is by what the other characters say about it him. The interesting thing is that Henry is trying to do the same thing!

The final piece of the night was the return of Short Message Service from the first night. Helena and Les came back on to tell us about the texts they had received since Thursday night and also asked the audience to disregard theatre protocol, switch on their phones and text them while they were onstage.

This reminded me of a class in university when the lecturer told everyone to turn on their phones, leave them on the desk and read out any text messages that came in during class. As it happened, a few of the texts read out were from people in the room organising a drinking session later that evening and one member of the class came in late, missed the announcement about texts and then sent a dirty poem to a another classmate. It was very funny. I think the lecturer’s point was that stories can come from anywhere.

The performance on Saturday was similar. The texts read out were for the most part funny, silly, little thoughts. They did make you wonder briefly about the person who had sent them and the story behind them. It did sort being the audience together. It felt like we were a collective. The texts had come from us as a group, and we were hearing them as a group which felt sort of intimate because text messages are generally private things.

Short Message Service is still going on. It has become a durational piece. I’m not sure if that was the original idea, or it has just developed in that direction. They are now asking you to respond to this message – “A Problem Shared is A Problem Halved. Text us and we will reply – +353 (0)87 0906268.” And I can tell you from personal experience that they will indeed reply! And you can keep up to date with them here.

Project Brand New 5 – Friday

Video Sniffing?, the first piece on Friday was about the ‘art’ of tracking down open, wireless transmissions of footage from security cameras and I really liked it. There was a couple of things going on in the piece; it started as a lecture of sorts where the guy was explaining video sniffing to the audience – how to do it, why people do it, the criticisms against it, etc. Then he was was joined on stage by a female lover who criticised his ‘hobby’ because his scrutiny of the video footage made him scrutinises her and she didn’t like feeling she was being watched all the time. She pointed out how difficult it is to behave normally when you know you are being watched.

The switch was a bit strange because the piece started with the guy talking directly to the audience, and then when she entered the scene, they sort of put up the fourth wall and had a private conversation. I think it might have seemed less split if her entrance was taken as more of an intrusion onstage and if they were a little more aware of the audience who were watching them argue.

They touched lightly on the idea that possibly being watched all the time and the number of CCTVs in our lives is not a good thing, that it doesn’t act as much of a deterrent against crime and is possibly an invasion of privacy. This subject was very lightly touched-on, so slight you could almost miss it. If that is what they want the piece to be about, I think it would have to take a more central role. But as it was, it was very enjoyable to watch, with lots of interesting ideas and was very well performed.

The second piece was called I Love Guns. According to the programme it was based on “a true and horrific story about a family massacre that started with a son killing himself with his father’s gun”. I didn’t really see that story in the piece. There was references to guns and to the feelings of hopelessness that might led to suicide but I couldn’t see a clear story. What was performed on Saturday night may have been a short section from a longer script.

However the lack of clear narrative did not stop me from enjoying the piece. The two performers, the Writer and the Actress, came on dressed all in white. This costume instantly creating an aesthetic that was other-worldly and strange. They sat on chairs, towards the front of the stage and the Writer began reading what sounded like stage directions for the Actress. The movement in the piece complemented the text. Sometimes the Writer would read out a list of physical instructions for the Actress which she would either follow or ignore. I really liked the text which was full of images and atmosphere and I would love to see more of it.

The third piece, Chaosmosis was a video installation. It involved black and white blobs moving through and over each other. It was a little bit too abstract for me and I spent my time trying to figure out if they were naturally occurring blobs, sub-diving cells perhaps or frog spawn, or if they were just computer graphics.

The fourth piece was called My Life in Dresses. It was a work in progress for a finished performance that will take place in September 2010. It’s about the creator, Sorcha Kenny’s addiction to second-hand and vintage dresses, her fascination with the lives these dresses had before they came into her possession and the sentimental attachment we all have to certain pieces of clothing.

I liked the idea of the piece and the staging looked very pretty with tailor dummies in vintage dresses, an old suitcase and other pretty, vintage things, like an old-fashioned radio and telephone. Despite obviously still being in the development stages, it was a lovely piece of theatre. Sound and video clips were used to great affect to show us all the different things that she is looking at for the final performance. There was space made in the piece for men’s voices too. There was the old man who keep all his wife’s dresses after she passed away and the dress diaries where Sorcha lent out her dresses to people and asked them to keep a diary of their week with the dress.

I think all these elements will combine to create a visually interesting and engaging performance and I will be looking out for it in September. You can find out more about the project at the My Life in Dresses blog.

The final piece on Friday night, Heart was about “the relationship between our conceptions about our bodies and how we construct them through language.” On stage, this involved a man informally interviewing his parents about how they first met and fell in love. While this was going on at the front of the stage, graphic clips of open-heart surgery were played on the big screen behind the actors. It was a nice little love story and a bit of open heart surgery.

The aim was to contrast the actual, bloody, beating heart with the more romantic notion of the hearts we see on Valentine’s cards. Scattered throughout the narrative, which I don’t think was scripted but had probably been rehearsed, were phrases that used the word ‘heart’ in a variety of different ways; things like “my heart was in my mouth”, “it was a hearty meal”, “it was a heartless thing to do” etc. These phrases became more frequent, or maybe just more noticeable, as the piece went on.

For me, the juxtaposition didn’t work because both things were happening at the same time but didn’t seem to connect in anyway, other than with the obvious heart connection. There was no overlap and this made it too easy to ignore one or the other.

The performance didn’t feel like a finished piece to me. The performers were engaging and I actually enjoyed the open-heart surgery because I like watching messy, medical procedures but it didn’t quite work as a piece of theatre.

Project Brand New 5 – Thursday

Thursday was the first night of Project Brand New 5 and I was looking forward to another three nights of brand new theatre. As ever, the upstairs foyer was buzzing with people when I arrived, the comment curtains were ready for feedback and the bar was doing great business!

The first piece of the night was called Calle O’Reilly. It was Afro-Cuban music, enhanced with a live video performance. The musicians were already playing when the audience entered the theatre. Lots of percussion and a bit of bass. Eventually the crowd were all inside and settled in and the piece began.

The musicians and singers performed in darkness and there were light-displays projected onto each performer. These were tribal masks, the kind that remind me of a totem pole, with exploring fireworks of light coming out of their heads! The fireworks were linked to the sounds each performer was making, so it would only happen when the drummer banged the drum and it was in time to the music. There was also a video of drawings of Cuba on the screen behind.

It was a really great opener; it looked and sounded great, it wasn’t too taxing to watch and it made me feel like we were in for a good night!

My only small criticism was that because we couldn’t see the singers faces, it felt like it could have been a recording. Some of the specialness of live music was lost for me because of that.

The second piece was You Will Never Be Seen Again and came with a warning that it started with six minutes of darkness, so we wouldn’t be concerned by that. The darkness came with a voice-over telling us about something that happened to them. These voice-overs (from about three different people) were the main part of the piece. They were all about relationships – relationships gone bad mostly. They were very raw; they felt like real interviews played in all their flawed glory. While the voice-overs were going on (and after the lights came up on stage), there was a single performer onstage performing a movement piece. It didn’t seem connected to the text and it didn’t really do much for me. I liked it better when we were sitting in the dark, just listening to the voices.

The third piece, Short Message Service was very much a work in process. It was more a presentation than a performance. The two artists, Helena O’Connor and Leslie Cullinan are creating a performance based around text messages. They explained where this idea came from and how they had been exploring it. They also said that they found they couldn’t use their own texts because they had a history attached and they found it impossible to see them outside that context. Instead they were looking from texts from strangers and giving out their phone number all over the place. And they would come back on Saturday with the resulting performance.

It was a genuinely enjoyable presentation. They managed to be funny and informative and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final piece on Saturday. They also had a wall of post-its outside in the foyer with all their texts on them. They were brilliant – tiny little snippets of information, a peek into someone else’s life.

The fourth piece was called Body Response System and it was as technical as that sounds. It involved a “motion-sensing interface that triggers musical responses” and a dancer that moved around inside this interface. There was also a saxophone player who responded to the music created by the movement. It was an interesting idea and I’m sure a lot of went into it but it wasn’t all that interesting to watch. The developer, Maria Coleman, did say at the beginning that she created it because she wanted to make something that audience had to phyiscally engague with, not just be a spectator. Possibly I just didn’t experience it properly.

The last performance Delicious O’Grady, was the highlight of the night for me. It was a one-man show about the famine. By then the audience was a little bit giddy and after three intervals, possibly a bit drunk. Luckily it was a tragicomedy that leaned heavily towards the comedy; it was very very funny. It was five short scenes (one was a little animation on the big screen) set during the famine.

It was very visual and great fun. Colm O’Grady had a great rapoture with the audience. There was a bit of audience participation, and a very silly scene with an Irish school master. It also had a fantastic ending!

I think the piece we saw in the Project was a short section from a much longer show, and the whole show will be performed at the Cathedral Quarter Festival in Belfast on May 5th. Definitely worth going to see if you’re in the area.

This was only the first night of goodies, I have two more nights of magic to recap!