I’ve had the Dublin Theatre Festival programme in my room for months, adorned with a post-it saying ‘EARLY BOOKING ESSENTIAL’. Yet, did last-month Sian heed her own advice, and grab tickets to The Lost O’Casey? Basic organisational skills would be a fine thing.
No heavy hitters from DTF will be appearing on the blog. A late theatre goer gets the return-worms, as the saying goes, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of the less hyped DTF offerings. First up, The Fever…
The Fever – 600 Highwaymen (USA)
Imagine your friend calls and invites you to dinner and a show. They tell you they have tickets to a play, and they’ll treat you to an early-bird in town before heading in to see it. The starters arrive, and the chicken wings go down well – the blue cheese dip is satisfyingly chunky (the restaurant in question is Farm). No mention of anything unusual or theatrically noteworthy during the delicious fish pie, and the under-seasoned chickpea Jalfrezi. Then coffee, a stroll through Trinity to the Samuel Beckett Theatre, and finally, as the doors open and you take your place in the queue, imagine your ticket-holding friend says –
‘By the way, this show is entirely interactive…’
It would not be unreasonable for you to respond to your ticket holding friends last-minute admission with a summary execution. To lead a person blind into an actor inhabited torture chamber (which is the majority of participatory theatre, if not the majority of theatre itself…) is a rank injustice to your comrade. The fact that I survived and live to tell the tale is further proof of how good the chicken wings at Farm are.
After the fully-participatory show, however, I can say that we need not been afraid. 600 Highwaymen – a company that make work that depends on the conditions of live performance, like ‘carefully orchestrated convergences‘ – know what they are doing. They not only know their way around an audience, they probably know their way around our intuitive dislike of ‘their type’. Whether you are reluctant, nervous, or down right bolshie – the woman beside me refused to join in a prompted group movement because, and I quote, ‘This is how the Nazi’s came to power‘ – 600 Highwaymen will manage your experience expertly. By the end, we would have followed them into almost anything – a power of manipulation that they never exploited, thankfully.
To say too much about this show is to ruin it. All I’ll say is this – it wasn’t what I expected, but I enjoyed it. The Fever was soft where I expected edges, and it was very gentle and enticing where I expected to be challenged.
This is not necessarily a bad thing – not every show needs to be a polemic hot-take on current politics – even ones billed as ‘a response to the current polarised social and political climate of the United States‘. But if this is what you are interested (which is, looking back, what hooked me) don’t expect 600 Highwaymen’s response to this political climate to involve any concrete political material. It’s a delicate, strange piece, and I think the claim that The Fever ‘focuses on the place where loneliness and togetherness meet‘ is a more accurate description of what happens in this performance.
The blurb on DTF press also stated ‘The Fever begs the question, ‘Who will you be when our eyes are on you? What will we see when we all look your way?’ To me theatre rarely begs anything, and this show in particular didn’t beg that question at all. And even if it gave up begging and gently asked something of us, that something seemed to be ‘In how many ways and for how many reasons do individuals surrender to a group? What happens to us – as doers, viewers, in-groups and out-groups – when we move in time?’
The answer was nebulous but, in this case, worth the asking.