Shadows/Champions of Dance, Dublin Fringe Festival (Ireland)

Dublin Fringe continues with Derek Byrne’s debut play based on a real-life encounter at a cruising spot, and a madcap, high-energy performance from Lords of Strut.
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There’s a quiet spot in central Dublin, tucked away from the bright lights and passing traffic, where men cruise for anonymous sex late at night – at least there was the last time I visited the city. Now the once dark laneway is brightly lit – and considerably less cruisy, so I’m told – but echoes of its former life live on in Shadows, journalist and broadcaster Derek Byrne’s debut play, which premiered this week at the Dublin Fringe Festival.

Late one night, former lovers Darragh (Shane G Casey) and Anthony (Paddy Fagan) bump into each other while cruising. It’s been a couple of years since they separated and both have unanswered questions about their time together and why they broke up, as well as old grievances that have quietly festered over time.

Billed as a story about ‘having the courage to be vulnerable in a culture where anonymous sex is easily available and love is a rare commodity,’ Shadows feels, sadly, very much like a first play, with dialogue that tends towards the banal and a script lacking in subtext.

Despite the claims made in the play’s marketing collateral, Byrne’s characters aren’t especially vulnerable – Darragh is stoic and passive (though Casey gives the character a certain dignity) and Anthony (an unsubtle Fagan) is aggressive and needy; more a collection of quirks attached to a backstory rather than a three-dimensional character. Both characters lack depth despite being presumably based on real people, given that Darragh (like the playwright) has a media background, and Byrne himself has previously referred to the play being inspired by a real-life encounter with an ex.

For a play set in an underground world where discretion is paramount, his actors (Fagan in particular) do an awful lot of shouting – attracting the attention of the local police on opening night. Entrusting the work to a more experienced director might have helped reduce its histrionics and deepen its drama; as it stands, in directing his own work Byrne only compounds the play’s faults.

At a time when same-sex marriage has been so widely debated in both Ireland and Australia in recent years, it’s refreshing to be reminded that gay life doesn’t always have to ape heterosexual traditions. It’s just unfortunate that the exploration of such themes has been handled so poorly in this play.

2 stars out of 5 ★★

Written, directed and produced by Derek Byrne
Performed by Paddy Fagan and Shane G. Casey
Meeting point: The Beer Market, Dublin 8
8-13 September 2019

Champions of Dance

You may be familiar with Irish duo Lords of Strut from appearances on Britain’s Got Talent or THISISPOPBABY’s delightful cabaret Riot, which toured Australia in early 2018, but it’s unlikely that you know their origin story, a gleefully convoluted tale involving an overbearing mother, a murderous movie star, and a destiny foretold.

In Champions of Dance, Famous Seamus and Séan-tastic (Cormac Mohally and Cian Kinsella) draw upon the power of theatre to explain their origins and evoke their remarkable joint destiny: since birth, both boys were raised to believe they have the power to save dance in a world brutally opposed to the artform.

Reminiscent of Rock Bang!, the 2018 Die Roten Punkte and Circus Oz co-production in which Otto and Astrid Rot explored their (fictional) origins, Champions of Dance is a madcap metafiction blending circus, comedy and dance to hilarious effect. Pratfalls, slapstick, 80s pop music and eye-popping costume reveals are matched with high energy, skilfully executed dance, and celebratory circus routines.

The production itself might be a little loose, and the humour occasionally unsophisticated and predictable, but it’s also damn entertaining – and the duo’s commitment and physical skills are exemplary. An undemanding but hugely enjoyable production.

3.5 stars out of 5 ★★★☆

Champions of Dance
Lords of Strut
Presented by National Lampoon
In association with Outlaw Management
Abbey Theatre, Peacock Stage
9-14 September 2019

Dublin Fringe Festival
7-22 September 2019

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts