Matthew Mulligan explores the shows and experiences being staged for the annual Dublin Fringe Festival and shows that both the festival and College have a lot to gain from one another.
This year is a huge one for Dublin Fringe Festival. An explosion of history, contemporary issues and a reflective look at Dublin itself is played out on stages and venues across the capital while behind the scenes Fringe director Róise Goan steps down after five years at the helm, handing over to the inbound (from Canada!) Kris Nelson. The Fringe has become an integral part of any Dubliner’s September calendar and it’s easy to see why. It has become embedded in the city, making its home in the spaces around Temple Bar, and drawing in talent from the entire country, including from our own Trinity College.
“From listening to a specially designed audio track on a specifically chosen stretch of Luas track to entering into houses on Henrietta Street to be greeted (and challenged) by ghosts of the past, the ‘Thirteen’ performances are executed with archaeologist-like precision to create something truly unique for the people of Dublin.”
This year’s Fringe has made clear that history lives through art in its dedication to observe the centenary of the 1913 Lockout. ANU Productions, famed for their visceral interactive piece at last year’s Fringe, ‘The Boys of Foley Street’, bring their unique and expertly executed look at Dublin life back in time to examine the Lockout. Under the banner ‘Thirteen’, the company have once again made the streetscapes of Dublin, including the less appreciated corners, their canvas; this time to perform a variety of experiences created to give audience goers an intimate and faithful look at the events of 1913.
The memories of Ireland’s answer to the socialist revolutions of the early twentieth century are built upon during the thirteen days of the festival, with events around the city combining in an intricate blend of visual, performance and installation art. From listening to a specially designed audio track on a specifically chosen stretch of Luas track to entering into houses on Henrietta Street to be greeted (and challenged) by ghosts of the past, the ‘Thirteen’ performances are executed with archaeologist-like precision to create something truly unique for the people of Dublin. All events are free to attend and the amount of work that has gone into every one of the individual performances is definitely an endearing legacy that ANU and the Fringe can be proud of.
Another look at the past comes in the form of the haunting play ‘The Churching of Happy Cullen’, which is also set in 1913 and, among other things, examines the practice the Catholic Church had of examining a woman’s life after having given birth to her child in order to see whether she was fit to return back to the church. A more personal story of what Dublin was like one hundred years ago, the show forces audiences to examine the struggles of motherhood in the face of poverty, a story as valid today as ever.
As well as looking to the turbulence of the past, the Fringe in recent years has seen itself grow exponentially as a hotbed for artists both young and old trying to make sense of the economic and social realities that face us today. Art is always a place people turn to when looking for an explanation for hardship, and in the Fringe it’s no different. Pushed to create a new narrative after the collapse of the ones they were sold as cubs of the Celtic Tiger, the most talented artists of the twenty-something generation are moving back in with their parents, working part-time jobs and making brilliant art in the face of it.
“Come As Soon As You Hear’s ‘Welp’ is a quirky, irreverent tale of the quarter life crisis – university degrees forgotten down the back of the sofa, not quite living independently and being an unwitting suspect of the fraud police.” So much new work has changed from being about the sudden reality of the recession to the realisation of the permanence of a time when the wistful ‘do what makes you happy’ of childhood has faded away into a harsher world of JobBridge schemes and cheap red wine.
A more rousing approach to finding the solution to our woes comes in the form of the Trailblazery’s ‘Rites of Passage’ series; a project which brings together some of the best national and international speakers to speak of Ireland’s past, present and future with the final event taking place in the Examination Hall in College and exploring the infinite possibilities of the future. The Trailblazery has previously done other events around Dublin, one focusing on the theme of justice, featured rivetingly passionate speakers from a multitude of backgrounds, exploring the Irish psyche in a collage of soul, reality and optimism.
Dublin Fringe Festival has also over recent years become a hotbed of activity for queer art. The amount of youthful, experimental and provocative queer performers has brought a new life into the festival. A reflection on the city in which the Fringe makes its home, the amount of gay art in the festival is truly one of its strongest features.
“Tales of LGBT relationships, loves and losses are no longer considered niche acts, reflective of the youthfulness of the artists who develop them through their experiences in a city thankfully becoming more tolerant and a generation which refuses to let intolerance stand in their way.”
Though Dublin also boasts the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, queer artists in the Fringe have brought a sense of urgency and awareness to a wider audience that may not consider themselves as goers to the more defined art that the Gay Theatre Festival has to offer. Indeed, one of Fringe 2012’s biggest hits was ‘Briefs’, an all-male glitter and sequin filled affair, halfway between trashy and vaudeville, which wowed audiences and turned Meeting House Square into an anything goes arena of drag and circus.
The show has proven to be so successful that the follow up is one of the Fringe’s main draws this year round. So too are smaller quieter affairs of non-heterosexual love like Dublin-based spoken word collective PETTYCASH’s ‘GRINDR/a love story’. The show presents audiences with a frank look at young gay men, from the strains placed on their emotional and romantic relationships to the instant and supposedly gratifying sex through smart phone enabled hook-up apps. The show is bold and uncompromising, and one of many such shows which have found a home and an audience in the Fringe. Tales of LGBT relationships, loves and losses are no longer considered niche acts, reflective of the youthfulness of the artists who develop them through their experiences in a city thankfully becoming more tolerant and a generation which refuses to let intolerance stand in their way.
Trinity has a huge amount of talent on show in this year’s Fringe, both institutions creating and developing art based around life in the city of which they are both such integral parts. The aforementioned ‘GRINDR/a love story’ features Trinity students directing, co-starring and producing, while being written and helmed by spoken-word performer and company director Oisín McKenna.
just the lads, a new company, is also curating work that embeds itself in the realities of the city and the age we live in. ‘The Last Post’ tells the story of postmen Pat, Pat and Pat and focuses on the art of letter-writing, the ways we connect with one another and the personal story of those who try put something more special than junk mail in your letterbox. The group has had a successful campaign leading up to the Fringe with well received letter reading nights in Twisted Pepper and involves award-winning members of DU Players.
‘Boys & Girls’ by Dylan Coburn Gray is a spoken word play that initially had a run in Players and is now making its Fringe debut. The gargantuan Collapsing Horse Theatre Company continues its work in the new Irish noir sci-fi mash up ‘Distance from the Event’. The company features Trinity heavyweights Aaron Heffernan (who channelled his inner Obama during an SU run in 2011 and is to appear in Love/Hate), Jack Gleeson (who has appeared in Collapsing Horse’s previous production ‘Monster/Clock’ and HBO’s more monstrous ‘Game of Thrones’) and up and coming playwright Eoghan Quinn.
Dublin Fringe Festival has a wide range of acts that should interest Trinity students. From the actual work involving Trinity students themselves to the social observations played out on stage that are echoed in the GMB’s debating chamber. This year will be the last before the handover of Fringe directors takes place. Whatever the future holds, the Fringe will continue to be an event which captivates the city, shakes it to its core and forces it to look at itself under the harsh lights of the stage. Trinity students have an ample opportunity to experience the arts event of the year right on their doorstep.