What a delightful evening! Lots of laughter, tears (nearly), dancing, great characters (all performed by the author Margaret McAuliffe) and an absorbing story about- Irish dancing. And if we didn’t know much about Irish dancing at the beginning of the evening, we certainly did by the end. At the centre of the story is a young woman, Annie O’Lachlan Harte, a sixteen year old Dubliner who has spent most of her young life absorbed in the cut-throat world of Irish dancing competitions. We become absorbed in the highs and lows, the stresses, the jealousies and even the politics of it all.
The play was developed as part of the Show in a Bag artist development initiative by the Dublin Fringe, Fishamble: The New Play Company and the Irish Theatre Institute. It has won several awards for the author and star: in 2016 it was awarded Best Theatre Script by the Writer’s Guild of Ireland, the Little Gem Award by the Dublin Fringe Festival and McAuliffe was nominated for Best Performance by the Dublin Fringe. She has been touring the play in 2017/18 to very good reviews.
We follow Annie through a well drawn arc from competition failure to competition success, and finally to a moment of re-evaluation and change. She is a young woman who is keen to achieve but also to have clarity and precision in other areas of her life too. She also has a great love of mathematics and finds it satisfying that there are clear and definite answers in maths. Like most teenagers , she is curious about the world she find herself in and is trying to make sense of it all. The character is finely drawn through the script and is brilliantly expressed in the acting of McAuliffe.
In addition, we are treated to a further cast of characters in the play in a bravura performance by McAuliffe : Annie’s mother, her teacher, some of her competitors, her sister, some of the judges and last but not least, an array of her friends. Particularly touching is the portrayal of Annie’s mother, see most of the time with a mobile phone locked to the side of her head while she relays details of the competitions to family and friends. She expresses clearly the difficulties and dilemmas of a mother of a teenager – veering between being needed and then being seen as over-fussy, or just not “getting it”. Also well drawn is the dominant and all-seeing teacher, always appearing as tall as possible on tip toes. The range of characters and the acting skill in portraying them is quite extraordinary.
The set is minimal – a small coffee table , which, it turns out later, has an outline of a basket ball court on it. The competitions are held in a basket ball stadium. Annie uses the table not only to dance on at times, but also to explain some of the intricacies of the competition to us later on. There is also some ingenious use of “benders” ( used for curling hair) to represent the judges in one of these explanations. Light and sound are used effectively throughout the piece, the team including the director Stefanie Preissner have created and tight, highly entertaining evening of theatre.
The finale to the play is particularly effective. We share in Annie’s sense of freedom as she throws herself into a rebellious Irish dance, with not only feet flying but arms as well- to Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal ( with the chorus line tellingly ” Annie are you OK?”) . And she finishes the evening with perhaps her favourite phrase from maths :”QED”.
An evening of joie de vivre. See it if you can.
For further performances: http://www.fishamble.com/the-humours-of-bandon.html
Image: George Carter
This review is supported by the Wales Critic Fund.
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