Treading the boards at Forest Fringe

Dublin plays host to a three-day festival of international actor-led theatre next week, says Pádraic Killeen

MID-WINTER is closed-season for arts festivals, so it’s a nice surprise that British arts initiative, Forest Fringe, is visiting Dublin’s The Lir this week for a three-day ‘micro-festival’. Forest Fringe features well-regarded theatre-makers and performers in Britain and Ireland, among them Action Hero, Kieran Hurley, Dan Canham, and Veronica Dyas and Amy Conroy. The bill is the same each night, so every audience can see the full roster. The event is in association with the Dublin Fringe Festival.

Forest Fringe is artist-led and has carved out its own niche at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. Co-founder Deborah Pearson will present her new work, The Future Show, in Dublin, and the bill is impressive. It includes the Irish premieres of Action Hero’s acclaimed show Watch Me Fall and Kieran Hurley’s solo piece, Hitch, which documents his hitchhiking trek to the G8 summit in Italy. Amy Conroy — whose hit play I Heart Alice Heart I was produced at the national theatre earlier this year — will air her work-in-progress, Break.

Tim Etchells, artistic director of iconic British company, Forced Entertainment, will display a new installation. There will be revivals of two of the most acclaimed shows of recent years, Veronica Dyas’s confessional In My Bed, and Dan Canham’s wonderful, dance-centred 30 Cecil Street.

Canham performed the show to a rapt audience in Dublin a few months ago. 30 Cecil Street is the address of the old Theatre Royal in Limerick, a derelict building steeped in arts and community history.

Englishman Canham became fascinated by the building while living in the city a few years back. In his thrilling show, Canham walks on to an empty stage. He presses play on a dense soundtrack of interviews with locals, snippets of music, and a host of found sounds.

Then, using only masking tape, he rebuilds the Theatre Royal while his expressive dance movements channel the ghosts of the old building’s past. It’s a mesmerising piece and one that invokes the audience’s own memories and imagination.

“There’s an invitation for audiences to construct it all with me,” says Canham. “I’m really interested in the sparseness of the set, and in the idea of the audience and I making something together, but without that ever being explicit. The basic task for me, with every performance, is to try to recreate that building in some poetic way.”

Canham is now based in Bristol and 30 Cecil Street is garnering him huge praise in Britain. He has performed the piece in Limerick, Cork, and Dublin, and he says performing it in Ireland holds a special value for him.

“In Ireland, the level of engagement is generally more detailed,” he says. “Because the audience tend to get all the nuances of the soundtrack.” Those nuances include a range of sounds associated with the building, among them a sample of John McCormack, and the ambient textures of city life. (“I went out on a Saturday night in Limerick and recorded people shouting and offering me drugs, and that sort of thing,” says Canham.) While dance is a huge component of the show, the soundtrack is no less vital. Canham is committed to all the possibilities of live performance. “The whole thing is a piece of theatre,” he says. “Dance is a key element, but it’s only part of a palette that includes sound, light, and costume. It’s all in the service of the idea.”

The Englishman is happy to align himself with Forest Fringe, under whose moniker he has previously staged 30 Cecil Street in Britain. “Forest is a rare thing,” says Canham. “It’s a wide range of artists, but everyone involved has a strong concern for the collective endeavour. We believe that when we’re together, we’re stronger and that has certainly been my experience.”

The idea of creating dialogue between artists is also integral to the visit of Forest Fringe this week, whereby the channels between Irish and British artists will be strengthened.

“The idea that you don’t just travel to another country, show your piece, and leave, that, instead, you might be able to be part of something bigger than that, just leads to a more fulfilling experience,” says Canham. “And, inevitably, it feeds back into the artist’s own work and into the understanding of what’s possible.”

* Forest Fringe runs in the Lir, Dublin, Dec 13-15

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