I once got a gig blogging for the Fringe festival (2006, I think). Not only were we not paid, we weren't even given press passes. I was informed that if we wanted to see a show, we'd have to turn up on the day and maybe, perhaps, (but probably not if it were a popular show) we might get to stand at the back.
Before I sound too churlish, let me reiterate that I was being asked to effectively write ad copy for free and (perk of free tickets aside) was not necessarily going to be able to see any of the things I was supposed to advertise.
How and ever. I have form with this festival, which I will no doubt bore you with if you ask me. The upshot is that this column isn't entirely complimentary. But we'll get through it together.
A lot of people will tell you that comparing the Dublin Fringe & Theatre Festivals to their Edinburgh counterparts is like putting Ronnie Corbett into the ring with Mike Tyson (after you’ve blindfolded him and given him a good solid kick in the proverbials). And maybe they’re right. What with over a thousand shows over a whole month, a book festival and a film festival into the bargain, not to mention actual stand-up comics (disrespectable sorts who are in no way culturally important, but who somehow manage to get the punters in where devised agitprop theatre inexplicably fails), Edinburgh has a teeny advantage over good old Dublin.
Stand-up, like street performing, is one of the few non-music based live forms that’s thriving, to the extent that furious broadsheets in the British press wailed that it was squeezing out proper theatre, missing the point on an epic level. If you want to see street theatre, all you have to do is find a street that it’s on. If you like what they’re doing, you can clap, and hopefully give them enough money to eat, so that they can continue juggling broken bottles or doing punk rock Japanese mime (trust me on that last one) or whatever it is that defines them. If you don’t like the show, you can keep walking and the old ‘survival of the fittest’ chestnut will ensure that they either get better at what they’re doing or move into something pensionable like freelance journalism.
With a stand-up comic, you can actually comment on their performance as it happens. You may find that the comic has heard that heckle before, and may give a wry reply, at which point laughter will ensue. Be in no doubt that your fellow audience is laughing at you. But even with the worst of it, there’ll be somebody trying to tell you a story in an entertaining way for up to an hour. Having seen far too many comedians in my time, I’ve seen good, great and ‘please, god, let the floor open up and swallow me’ awful comics, and it’s a real shame that there aren’t any on the official bill of the Dublin Fringe. But that said, it’s worth giving it a go anyway – if only because any other time of the year you have a choice between another Noel Coward play or whatever poitín-soaked bag of Irishisms has been dug up from beneath the Abbey this month.
And that’s really the problem. Theatre needs to be seen in order for it to thrive. If anyone other than bused-in tourists and friends of the actors are going to go along, it’ll be because there’s something worth seeing. There may or may not be anything mind-blowing at the festival this year. But at worst, they do have a tent. A ‘Spiegeltent’. So as a recommendation, this is a little worse than a slap in the face, but remember this: Go and see stuff that looks interesting, but vote with your feet - 2007’s rubbish shows are next years new crop of baristas and Customer Service Professionals, so as Sir Tim Rice so memorably put it, it’s a circle of life.
Breakfast of Champions, Adam Hillman
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