The spirit of ‘soft revolution’ informs this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival, a reflection of Dublin’s long history of rebelliousness – not just political, but social and cultural. From Swift, up through Joyce, Beckett and Flann O’Brien, the characteristic of the Dublin approach to art has always been ripping up the formula and pasting it back together in unexpected ways. This iconoclasm finds a happy home in Fringe, which encourages its artists to learn their craft, and then find ways of hacking it to pieces. The revival of this attitude in the wake of the economic crash has fed into extraordinary new work and, in turn, into the growth in popularity of the Fringe.
It’s Róise Goan’s fifth and final year as director of Dublin’s largest-scale, multi-disciplinary arts festival, but she’s by no means relaxing. Her tenure at Fringe makes her best poised to reflect on the spirit of contemporary Dublin expression. ‘We’re anti-establishment here at the Fringe Festival,’ she remarks. ‘And what I would say is that there’s been a tremendous growth in grassroots activity here.’
Take the aerial performers PaperDolls, for instance. Last year’s winners of the Spirit of Fringe Award have spent two years developing far-flung strains of circus training, theatrical narration and experimental music in the creation of a hybrid style nobody quite knew could exist. Ahead of their third Fringe outing, Bunk, Goan says ‘their skills are met by a hunger to break new ground in performance’.
Dublin’s Fringe is distinct from its other European counterparts in that curation is key. The thick-bound program might still be intimidating to newcomers, but thanks to the tastemakers working on it all year round the potluck odds are stacked in the punter’s favor. When Goan says that ‘you’re seeing the future in that field,’ she’s not exaggerating.
2013’s most enticing prospects include the rapidly-rising Collapsing Horse Theatre’s Distance From The Event, a multi-faceted ‘sci-fi noir’ which counts everybody’s least favorite Game of Thrones princeling Jack Gleeson and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’s Aaron Heffernan amongst its players. Given the festival’s history of breaking new theater talent (including the Tony-nominated, Laurence Olivier-winning Conor McPherson and Disco Pigs and Hunger writer Enda Walsh), expect Collapsing Horse’s alumni to start its trophy collection here.
Theater, dance and performance art is still very much the core of Dublin Fringe. Nonetheless, its comedy billing treads the line between edgy and established that has become such a dominant aspect of its Scottish counterpart. Never Mind The Buzzcocks guest host and king of Casio keyboard-backed self-deprecation David O’Doherty introduces a new show, while the soon-to-appear-on-a-BBC-screen near you trio Foil Arms and Hog return on the back of a triumphant Edinburgh stint.
Fringe’s venues range from the traditional, to the modern, to the virtual. As the city’s reputation as the European hub of start-ups and technological innovation swells, this year’s festival reflects that nascent video-game-as-art attitude. Conor Lonegran’s Labyrinth installation offers a sense-deprived, first-person virtual horror, while in Fused Dan Bergin offers the audience the joystick in controlling the outcome of his actions. John Rogers’ Decision Problem exploits current technology in an examination of the digital age – a potent question for Dubliners ahead of the return of the gargantuan Web Summit next month.
And then there’s the rest. There are disco dinners and public-generated productions, tidal-powered fashion experiments and 3D electro gigs. Goan says that among the seeming chaos, the Fringe order is ‘being uniquely Irish in its character. It takes Dublin city as its mise-en-scene, and is a great way to experience unnoticed aspects of the city. It’s an exciting glimpse at the pulse of the city right now.’