Mayfesto: The Irish Connection
Andy Arnold makes good on his promise to include work from across the Celtic nations through the return of Blue Raincoat Company and Fishamble's Forgotten. Both from Ireland, and all the more powerful due to stunning performances, the connection between Blue Raincoat and Fishamble is more than purely geographical, despite the surface differences.
At Swim Two Birds is another Flann O'Brien adaptation, after last year's riotous Third Policeman: in lesser hands, the straight retelling of the novel could become tedious, but BR are skilled at fusing storytelling with those theatrical stand-bys - a marvellous set, quick change characterisations and a sense of play that reflects O'Brien's notorious surrealism. All the post-modern leaping about makes the simple tale of an author's characters revolting against his literary tyranny into an hilarious treatise on the real and fiction, structured like an hour's stoned net browsing.
Forgotten's intention is far more serious: interleaving the stories of four people lost in old people's homes, slowly revealing their connections, it has the same story-telling roots as At Swim, but throws in bursts of Japanese inspired movement as emotive interludes. Solo performer and writer Pat Kinevane imbues his elderly heros with dignity and unfolds their lives of sex, longing and guilt with a gentle compassion.
Both shows begin by throwing apparently random characters onto the stage and gradually helping their narative together. At Swim might have demons and fictional personalities striving to escape the Word; Forgotten exposes the vivacity behind the apparently geriatric. Both are concerned with peeling the surface away and revealing the passions and compromises beneath: both take a strong script, well written and devised, and deliver it with faultless performances.
While it is more difficult to make a case for At Swim than more than a brilliant entertainment and an object lesson in why a stable company can create excellence - O'Brien delightfully refuses to be "relevant" or "serious", preferring to revel in word play and absurdism, Forgotten attacks the idea that old age means irrelevance. As part of the same festival, they argue for the vibrancy of Irish theatre and the emotional immediacy of live theatre.