Only three days left until we wave Tiger Dublin Fringe goodbye until the next year, which, hopefully, will bring us another two weeks of crazy, highly enjoyable and ever so fringy shows.
Yesterday I caught the last performance of one of four Shows in a Bag – The Auld Fella, written by Michael Glen Murphy and directed by Karl Quinn.
This extraordinary play starts in 1961, just a year before Dublin’s Theatre Royale closed. The father (played by Michael Glen Murphy) is a pro there: every evening he dresses up as a woman to go onto the stage and perform his act as part of a vaudeville show. Liffey, his lit’l irreplaceable helper, is always there to accompany the auld fella. Fame, recognition, joy, public’s love… The stage is the auld fella’s home. It’s the place where he has a voice. A voice that people listen to. Unlike in real life, where he can barely say a sentence without stammering.
A man of fierce courage (and I believe you can say so about somebody who was a drag queen in the catholic Ireland of the 60s!), the father is being very hard on his teenage son (played by Craig Connolly). And as it often happens, the son makes decisions that his father isn’t very happy about and doesn’t approve off. It drives the son away… far, far, away to the other side of the Atlantic in search of a new life.
Years after, he decides to come back to Ireland. And in Ireland, the old Theatre Royal was alive and running only in the memories of the people who once had the opportunity to walk its stage. The Auld Fella is also still alive and doing his act. Blue eye lids and red lipstick have never got old. Except that now, he has to settle for the lesser places in Scotland and Ireland, but it does´t stop the auld fella from doing the only thing he knows how to do.
The Auld Fella is a play that evokes a whole kaleidoscope of emotions. It has moments when the show almost converts into a farce: an old man standing on stage in a woman’s lingerie and screaming “I’m your father, you know”. Those bits can become so contradictive that you don’t know whether to laugh to to cry… It’s such a strange feeling to see a powerful man in such a vulnerable situation.
Michael Glen Murphy, being the diva the auld fella is, absolutely steals the show. And even though it’s a double act, the attention naturally draws to Murphy. From the moment he walks onto the stage until the moment he exits. The graciousness, the craft, the absurdity of the situation: everything is done with such precision and skill, that the play does leave you with a wow.
I always like to repeat that beautiful is the theatre where there are people on stage and not actors. And The Auld Fella is one of those shows, where you really do feel for the main character. The way he is literally deteriorating on stage… and it really is painful to see a man becoming a shadow of himself. Shaking, crying, screaming, he loses the touch with the reality. As if he ever had it. What our life is, but a play. A vaudeville show where one act is quickly overtaken by another.
The simple design of the set, the invisible Liffey (the character is portrayed by an old tweed jacket and voiced by the two actors), and the theatre intercom that you hear from time to time, adds to the whole atmosphere and creates the world far beyond the stage.
It’s a very nostalgic piece about something that was once there but now is gone and forgotten. It´s a bottle between the young and the old. Even the auld fella’s memory decides to stay in the past
The Auld Fella has already closed, but fingers crossed it might show again. It’s a very touching and rough, at the same time, production about the relationship between a son and his very unusual auld fella. For more info, please, visit: http://fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/the-auld-fella