Saturday, 23 August 2008

Further into the fringe.

The mother and the sister were over during the week and we really did the dog on the festivals! My sister is a musician and composer and every year she comes over and puts me to shame with her energy, basically she probably sees more in 3 days than I see in the whole month. We'd done a bit of homework and booked some good stuff in the Traverse. First up was
Mong Yeon (A love in dream) a beautiful little Korean production. Really interesting visual and musical piece about a widow grieving for her dead husband. Kind of like a really lush version of Ghost produced by an undergraduate Wong Kar Wei. It's a bit of a curates egg in terms of trying to explain what's going on with slightly heavyhanded exposition getting in the way of sublime musico-visual set pieces. A wedding scene is absolutely fantastic, a sugary shimmer like an ice cream in a childrens book. Another dream sequence walks a bittersweet tightrope as the widow dreams of lying in bed with her beloved, a sublime evocation of the giddy thrill of mundanity. The cockerel is a morning demon rousing the bereaved from her dream of love. The piece sags a little towards the end as the young cast hammer a little hard trying to get the message across. Despite these slight flaws it's a beautiful, big hearted and generous production that's performed with joy and conviction by the cast. The sister was seriously impressed by the multitasking actors who managed four part harmonies, live instruments, acting and dancing over the course of the hour. Hard working heroes!

Then it was on to the Fruitmarket for Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's "The House of books has no windows" which is the best thing I've seen anywhere in ages. Heh, hyperbole alert but it really is that good, a beautiful, immersive, witty, playful, disturbing playpen of wonk. As in wonky. Which is clearly a fantastic thing. The "Opera for a small room", a recreation of an isolated shack stuffed with records, turntables, suitcases, disembodied voices and lights playing on a 20 minute loop is a beautiful introduction to the world of Cardiff & Miller. It's sinister, joyful and doomy all at the same time in much the same way as Godspeed! You Black Emperor. Walking around the pitch dark room surrounded by insect noises, rain (which after the last week's weather I never thought I'd enjoy hearing again) and passing trains you feel transported, despite the often crowded space. Shadows from the window change on the walls creating an uncanny spooky rural backwoods atmosphere. The "House of Books has no windows" piece created for this exhibition is a simple idea executed sublimely and provoked a profoundly emotional response. Sitting in the house breathing in the luscious smell of old books I felt at peace, protected, like a child clasped to an adult. I'd had a stressful day and sitting in there I felt a real sense of peace. The "Killing Machine" is the piece that's getting all the press and it's an absolute belter. Basically a sinister musical torture device that's operated by the viewer it's genuinely chilling. The rest of the exhibition is really accomplished and I've spent the last few days excitedly dragging everyone I meet along for a look.

We went to the Abbey Theatre production Mark O'Rowe's "Terminus" in Traverse and were completely blown away. I'd heard mixed reports about this with some people finding the three rhyming monologues tiresome. I disagree and thought it was a compelling and lyrical piece. Sure it's violent, gory and really lurid but there's a phenomenal imagination at the heart of it. O'Rowe undersells it in the programme notes saying the piece is at least "full of crazy people doing crazy shit". It is but there's a real humanity to the characters. The acting is very strong with Eileen Walsh demonstrating subtlety, power and phenomenal balance in her performance. The script is an absolute revelation with rhyming used throughout. This creates an urgency and rhythm to the piece that drives the story forward, O'Rowe frequently wrongfoots anyone attempting to pre-empt the rhymes and this made for some great comedy allowing the audience some tension relieving laughter in his visceral tale. Reviews of this piece got a bit lost in a phenomenal lineup at Traverse, it deserves more consideration. O'Rowe has a reputation as a "muscular" playwright, something that maybe puts off more lyrically minded theatregoers, this is a pity.

Following night we went to Enda Walsh and Druid's "New Electric Ballroom" in the same room. This is a companion piece to last years "Walworth Farce" which went down a storm. The similar devices are there; isolated, desperate people re-enacting their past to cocoon themselves from a frightening outside, cakes in the face, jet black humour and family secrets. This created a bit of debate afterwards, the wife and my mother both loathed it, found it less enjoyable than the Walworth Farce. I really enjoyed it, particularly Rosaleen Lenihan and Mikel Murfi's performances. The similarities with the Walworth farce are there but the piece is more a meditation on Irish village and family life than the Walworth's treatment of how we deal with trauma. Or at least that's what I got from it. The audience didn't seem to know what to do with it, particularly the penetrating minds who seem to think that wolf-whistling partial nudity is normal theatre-going behaviour. I don't like to be a fuddy duddy but what a total numpty. Strangely, the effect of Terminus the night before meant the initial stages felt a bit lumpen in comparison with O'Rowe's stacatto patter.

More to come, covering clubs, more theatre, more art and a little rant about books.

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