“Have you confronted, embraced or defied your city yet?”
This is the question posed by one of many emails I now receive from the ABSOLUT Fringe Festival. On the face of it, an interesting question, but then they follow it with inane blurbs and ticket information for La Clique and other theatre shows. Oh right, I’ll just use my Mastercard to pay the €34.50/36.50 to go watch that muscley lad swing himself around a bathtub while middle-aged doctor’s-wives scream like every episode of Heartbeat just aired at once, then am I confronting my city?
This is the big problem with the Dublin Fringe Festival this year (and most years). They made a lot of noise in the build up to this year’s Fringe about utilising the opportunities that a recession-hit city centre affords to get out there and really do something interesting, but when they launched the program at the Twisted Pepper last month it didn’t take long to see that it was really just a lot of hot air. Dropping all the usual recession-culture buzzwords and making a song and dance about shows that are under a tenner (!) doesn’t cover up the fact that this is a re-hash of the same old Fringe from the last few years but with a new, omnipresent drinks sponsor.
Now, I’m not putting down the La Clique show – those guys can all twist themselves into unnecessary shapes and do amazing/disgusting things with everyday items – but I saw that show two years ago and the Fringe has relied on them to sell the bulk of their tickets at the Spiegeltent for several years now. In this year’s program they bragged about bringing back “Fringe Favourites” from last year which, to me, sounds like a load of bells and whistles attempting to distract from the fact that despite the new director this year, nothing much has changed at Fringe HQ since Wolfgang’s departure. The same names, faces and ideas roll around as they have every September pedalling the same pseudo-wacky/camp/topical nonsense. A few plays making use of that whole recession thing for FM104-style gags as if it isn’t the most tired source of amusement since men began walking into bars. Nobody wants to go to Sunday Roast when it’s on in The Globe every week, why would they be bothered to go to the Spiegeltent to see it? And getting Will “Rent-a-Street-Artist” St. Leger in every year to do something or other with some spray cans does not make for cutting edge entertainment.
It was hardly a good sign that the most interesting events in their 15-day list were the series of Barry’s Tea talks in the Metro Bosco Theatre (if I don’t include all the sponsor names before each event/venue, I could be Meteor Murdered!). I went to the “Recession: Opportunity Knocks” talk last week and they had gathered an interesting and diverse panel for the discussion. Unfortunately, it was a case of too many entrepreneurs spoiling the discussion as it became a kind of scattered back-slapping session. The conversations were fragmented and Sinéad Gleeson, chairing the talk, didn’t really seem to know what she was trying to get out of it all. I heard dodgy reports about the “Value of Art” talk the following night, which also became sidetracked by the cuppa sponsorship. I’ve heard nothing about the other talk “Elbow: In conversation”, but surely Guy and their manager would make for some quality anecdotal chinwagging and probably avoid the corporate sponsorship tangent.
I’m not a negative person of course, so I don’t want to be entirely down on the poor Fringe kids. They’ve a few saving graces this year too. They booked Nico Muhly for the opening weekend, but of course a large portion of his fan-base were at the Picnic. Oops. A decent exhibition ran in the Joy Gallery last week, apparently the Fringe gave it their stamp of approval. Some things are free also, like the Spartacus play I went to on Sunday night at the Civic Offices “amphitheatre”. Even though it was free and in an outdoor space, they still fenced everything off and had copius amounts of security. I won’t review the play because my sister was in it so that just wouldn’t be fair. Also, Synth Eastwood put on a night last week which I heard went grand. Hopefully the new setting in George’s Dock helped them overcome the problems of their previous shows where the work was a bit of ramshackle distraction from a clique-y club night. The place you’re most likely to find answers to the question at the top of this post is definitely at one of the events being run as part of Michelle Browne’s Mind The Gap project where disused spaces are questioned by designers, architects and members of the public and taxi drivers fill you in on the whole NAMA brew-ha-ha.
Despite all their attempts to make the Fringe seem like an exciting, original festival that engages the whole city, this year’s offerings are more of the same. Most of it is a mixture of poor-quality theatre and over-priced theatre with a few projects and events on the side which attempt to fool the participants into thinking that they are anything more than a passive spectator.