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Tiny Plays for Ireland at the Projects Art Centre (Review)

There’s something very charming about the rat-tat-tat nature of Tiny Plays for Ireland. A collection of short pieces by a variety of new and established talent, not every chapter in Fishamble’s latest production is perfect. Some are even quite weak. However, the quick turnover means that there’s a new and better drama unfolding on stage in the time it takes to toast a slice of bread. While there are some weaker segments, some of these short plays are charming, some are endearing, some are genuinely moving. Some leave you longing for just a little bit more, and some feeljust right.

There’s an endearing energy to the production, brought to life by a talented core of actors. There’s something playful about the way the company stages the show in the round, opening with a wonderful staged Safety Announcement that winks slyly at the audience. Despite this charmingly fourth-wall-breaking introduction, the lines between the plays are initially strictly delineated, with the lights fading out and in to denote the changing setting.

However, as the night wears on, the plays seem to pile up against each other – the divisions between the plays in question seem to erode and break down. The couple from Tuesday Evening (Following the News) exit the stage dancing to the disco beats of The Audition. The unpaid bills from It’s a Lovely Day, Bill Withers clutter the floor for the rest of the show. Sure This Is It and Unrequited play as a weirdly ftting duet with one another. It’s fascinating to watch, lending the evening a delightfully organic and free-flowing sensation.

In many ways, the best segments of Tiny Plays for Ireland are those with a lightness of touch, deftly observed and offering wry individual insights. Dialogue is staged like an Irish Times cartoon brought to life, and a clever one at that. The Nation’s Assets brilliantly and cheekily links the nation’s spending binge with a hot and sweaty sexual encounter. (“Your inflation is rising!”)

There’s something quite witty about A Deal Made in Drimnigh, as a couple argue about the damage peroxide can do to an unborn baby while smoking and drinking, pondering whether Beyoncé is actually a French name. Pastoral Care is a work of genius exploring life in an Irish Secondary School. (“When a teacher asks your name, don’t answer them, just say ‘wha’?”)

However, there are also a few clunkers, especially when the material gets a bit heavier. It’s tough to tackle serious issues in a compressed timeframe, without injuring the audience through incautious application of blunt moralising. Beat Him Like a Badger tries to grasp relevance by exploring the status of the Polish and the Traveller Community in Ireland, but never offers any insight or complexity beyond a 1960s after-school special.

A Body is a rather surreal and jarring change in mood that never succeeds on its own or as part of the collection. The closing piece Where Will We Go? drowns in its own pretention, providing a heavy-handed self-important companion piece to the superb opening Safety Announcement. It seems to paint writing as a burden or a curse akin to Christopher Walken’s visions in The Dead Zone or the kid’s insights in The Sixth Sense. It might have worked better if the idea could be developed instead of simply thrown out there, presenting the author as a slave to their talent. It must be so tough.

Of course, these are the exception rather than the rule. Truth be told, there’s generally at least one good insight to be found among most of the work. Even those that don’t quite touch greatness are generally enjoyable and clever enough, and they pass quickly. In many cases, they work quite well with ideas or concepts that couldn’t sustain too much more weight.

Between Us We Have Everything is a lovely fable that might have become a little overwhelming had it lasted a minute or two longer. The King’s Shilling is diverting and insubstantial, but charmingly so. Guaranteed Irish teases a small look at a wonderfully big moment, and the scale adds to the uniquely Irish comedy of it all.

Truth be told, the production is carried by a sterling ensemble and wonderful direction. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to stage twenty-five different short plays, each with different characters and settings and moods, but it’s a testament to all those involved that it looks as easy and as effortless as it did. The transitions are smooth, the production design effective and the sound design perfect.

Tiny Plays For Ireland isn’t a perfect collection of vignettes examining Irish culture. However, it contains more than a few moments of greatness, and – even during its weakest moments – you’re assured that the next brilliant insight will be along in a matter of minutes.

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