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Man of Valour at the Absolut Dublin Fringe (Review)

If you see one show at the Dublin Fringe, see Man of Valour. If you see two shows, see Man of Valour twice. If you see three shows… well, maybe you should see something else the third time, for variety’s sake. Man of Valour is easily one of the most energetic and exciting pieces of theatre I’ve seen all year, with superb direction and a fantastically impressive leading man, it really feels like the lovechild of a one-man show with a big-budget action movie.

A man-ic performance...

Paul Reid plays Farrell Blink, a small man with a lot on his mind. Dressed and made up like a mime, Reid’s character is mostly mute (save in flashbacks or internal dialogues), relying instead on his actions and a wonderful selection of sound effects (all produced by the actor) to get everything across. The set is bare, there are no props – there’s only a giant screen showing a variety of backdrops, animated with great care and skill. It’s up to Reid, with vocal talents that seem to rival Michael Winslow, to create atmosphere and mood, illustrating perfectly what’s going on.

Reid also plays every other character in the play, who appear in relatively minor roles – from the kindly old lady up stairs, to the beggars of the streets of Dublin, to Farrell’s Southern workmate whose dialogue is skilfully reduced to “corky, corky, corky.” Reid seems like an actor with an entire cityscape inside his head, and it’s to his credit that we’re never really confused about who Farrell is interacting with, despite playing both sides of the conversation. The only time things get marginally complicated is when Reid is charged with playing both Farrell and his demonic counterpart during a scuffle at the play’s climax. Even then, what seems slightly confusing at first is easy enough to follow.

Man of the run...

The plot of the play sees Farrell tasked with laying his father’s ashes to rest, a fairly unambitious assignment, but one that he can’t even rise to. The play cleverly suggests all manner of family issues concerning the Blinks, with his sick mother and fleeing father, and the conversation that Farrell keeps returning to, where his father asks him to put a dying fish “out of its misery.” Make of that what you will. In a play that’s relatively short of dialogue – favouring action and sound effects – it’s stunningly effective at suggesting hidden depths and ideas, and Farrell is haunted by a darkness that seems to be hiding within him.

Annie Ryan’s direction is inspiring, drawing together a superb backdrop and a score that seems to have been inspired by Rob Dougan’s work on The Matrix(not to mention Farrell’s black suit-and-tie ensemble), and Michael West’s script bristles with ideas and possibilities, but the real star of the show – literally and figuratively – is Paul Reid. Reid plays the role with complete physical conviction, a sweaty suit the only sign of exhaustion after an hour-and-a-half of work that would make most stuntmen blush. Though the stylistic trappings might be top-notch, the play succeeds or fails based solely on Reid’s central performance. So it’s to his credit that it’s a gigantic success.

Light entertainment?

Man of Valour is the best play I’ve seen so far in the Fringe, possessed of the sort of energy and vigour and imagination that you very rarely see on stage. It’s ambitious and bold, but never at the cost of being charming and engaging. It is, I guess you could say, an absolut success.

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