Saturday, November 16, 2019

GAA Maad – purposefully haphazard experimental storytelling #Outburst19

The title sums it up: GAA Maad. Áine and Vickey are mad about the GAA. Mad about the sport. Mad keen on their county team. Mad at the way the hierarchy has tended to relegate women to near invisibility. Mad with other diversity challenges too.

Vickey Curtis is loud and ebullient, a spoken word artist who fell in love with the GAA and her beloved Dublin before she fell in love with a woman. While visual artist and set designer Áine O’Hara – self describing as “arty, queer and into the GAA” – sits and calmly explains the history of the GAA (who knew that hurlers’ families used to get compensation if they died on the pitch?), Vickey overlays her own ornamental commentary.

They point out that the Ladies Gaelic Football Association was only founded in 1974, though ‘laydees’ have been playing for the guts of a century. The men’s game is still firmly in the closet, while women’s sides seem free to express their natural diversity. There are running jokes about the Brits … and Áine’s ever-the-bridesmaid Mayo.

Dramaturgically, GAA Maad is all over the place. The slither of a thread holding together the different scenes is at best tenuous, at worst snapped. The ending appears from nowhere without much warning. The stage entrances and exits are haphazard, with Vickey wandering around the Black Box Green Room carrying a tower of labelled IKEA archive boxes which contain the show’s props, yelling comments at Áine up on stage.

Yet this breaking of the rules and flinging out of convention brings a real warmth to the storytelling. Perhaps a good sign that the DUETS initiative by Irish Theatre Institute, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Dublin Fringe Festival is willing to take risks and experiment with form.

It feels very real, naturalistic rather than polished. Purposefully haphazard. The chattiness is deliberate and early on, Áine discusses her fibromyalgia while Vickie later describes being beaten up, both issues somewhat tangential to the sporting theme, but very relevant to the audience understanding that these two women are not fake. Urban and rural, butch and femme, opposites attract. The pair genuinely support Dublin and Mayo. They love the game, though differ on whether the GAA should be marching in Dublin Pride.

The flimsy feel is underpinned with some thought-out production values. Director Niamh Mc Cann insists that the projected imagery is deliberately brief, flashed up on screen for a few seconds at a time, just long enough to sustain a roar of audience laughter before being blacked out.

Everyone in the audience is given a handout. We sing along to support the doomed notion that “there’s always next year for Mayo”. I leave the show wearing my miniature Mayo flag, chosen on the way into the venue over the dark and sky blue Dublin flag because I instinctively wanted to support the underdog. But I also leave it embellished – as with the recent performance of Spliced – with a new understanding of the nuances of the GAA behemoth, and the origins of the Mayo curse. Now to find out whether Lisburn is in Down or Antrim …

GAA Maad was performed on the closing day of the 2019 Outburst Arts Festival.

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