Brighton Fringe 2019
Moxie Brawl offers a delightfully Irish blend of comedy, theatre and dance with an unashamedly female driven political focus. It’s a charmingly tongue-in-cheek romp through the history of some of Irelands lost and forgotten women via a cringe-tastic backdrop of a beauty pageant.
In the current climate where the platform for Feminism is much broader than in previous decades and many issues are in the spotlight, it is refreshing to see some of them delivered with such a light touch, whilst not shying away from their political importance. History Of Ireland invites the audience to become the judges for the final of the annual Irish beauty pageant ‘The Rose Of Tralee’, which is being televised live to the world. We meet the host, Nuala, her co-host, Sinead and the 3 contestants Aoife, from Germany, Ciara, from Texas & Benedicta, from Northern Ireland (and Nuala’s niece) as they prepare to ‘go live’.
As we observe the be-wigged and be-spangled contestants many and varied talents, a re-telling of Irish history unfolds. We are introduced to women’s hidden and sometimes forgotten achievements as they are woven into the piece through song, dance, video and the rivalry between all 5 female characters.
Moxie Brawl is an all-female dance theatre company and Sarah Blanc is the driving force behind it and this production. She is no stranger to the Brighton Fringe Festival, having been the recipient of a Brighton Fringe Award in 2016 for her solo show, It Started With Jason Donovan and was also nominated in 2018 for My Feminist Boner. She is not afraid to tackle the more intimate, revealing and sometimes divisive aspects of life as a 21st century woman. History Of Ireland is no exception and as in previous productions the subject matter is tackled with great charm and wit.
Sarah plays the host, Nuala and is clearly comfortable in the driving seat. She successfully facilitates the audience and effortlessly draws them into their interactive role in the proceedings and holds the space with ease. Using the backdrop of a beauty pageant works successfully as a dramatic device to celebrate the irony and contradictions of the role of women, both in the past and the present.
The production fully embraces the predictable cheesy, tacky and sometimes grotesque elements that are associated with talent and beauty competitions alike, inviting the audience to cringe into our collective seats as the beauty pageant unfolds. The opening number “Many Women In Ireland” is delivered with appropriate brashness and plenty of “Tits & Teeth” style choreography. This contrasts well with the lyric content, which includes a long list of historically significant Irish Women from Brigid to Sinéad O’Conner. The stereotypical view of Ireland is both celebrated and toyed with. The cast are all equally comfortable in the various dance, musical and theatrical elements and flow seamlessly between the styles presented and work well together.
The use of multi-media allows us to see the darker underbelly of the characters as we are shown their ‘on air’ and ‘off air’ aspects. Their back-stories and fiercely competitive natures are revealed. Through the narrative and characterisations we view subversive political agendas, ageism, unabashed favouritism, familial resentments and cross-border rivalries. The juxtaposition of celebrating significant women from history whilst tearing each other down in the present to desperately grapple for the crumbs of celebrity is comedy gold. All this is done through the medium of song and Irish dance alike.
The Bosco is an intimate venue, almost in the round, which suited the show well. The audience were immediately engaged and happy to be swept along at a cracking pace for the most part. The interactive and spontaneous elements were handled well and only occasionally did the pace dip.
As part of the finale, the audience are invited to take part in a “Michael Flatley’ style Irish Reel. With no hesitation or shyness from the audience, the actors managed to successfully get the crowd to learn & perform this in about 5 minutes, which in itself is a triumph and left the audience jubilant.
I saw the 1st of only 2 shows in the Brighton Fringe. This production will inevitably get even slicker and the humour even punchier as History Of Ireland finds it’s momentum and the number of performances rack up. Sarah Blanc has devised an ambitious show that plays to her strengths and has created a space for the audience to laugh at the absurdities of life and the relief in the theatre was palpable. I applaud the self-deprecating courage of this piece.