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BWW Features: Tiger Dublin Fringe Brings Back Spiegeltent for 21st Celebrations

Set apart from the spangled spectacle of circus big tops, the Spiegeltent (Dutch for "Mirror tent") invited a greater intimacy when first hoisted as a type of travelling dance hall in Flemish Belgium in the early 20th century. One of these few remaining oak-built pavilions, distinguished by their velvet canvas and columns of mirrors and stained glass, has been a mainstay of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival since the mid 1980s, and was raised at the Dublin Fringe from 2003 to 2009.

Bringing it back may usher in new maturity in time for the festival's 21st birthday, as Tiger Dublin Fringe director Kris Nelson now has a playhouse to diversify the festival's programme from its theatre-led output. Here, cabaret crooning and circus tumbles will be led by Mx Justin Vivian Bond (helmed by The New Yorker as "The greatest cabaret artist of their generation") and Company 2's daredevil acrobats in Scotch & Soda. Comedy will also be pushed to its limits in Kim Noble's lauded You're Not Alone at the Peacock Theatre. But as much as the Spiegeltent mirrors allow us many angles to see the like of drag comedians Bourgeois & Maurice and David Hoyle in Middle of the Road (co-presented by Irish queer outfit THISISPOPBABY), critiquing the playing down of queer culture, they'll also allow us to see reflections of ourselves onstage.

Expect the present to be interrogated across the festival. Sarah Jane Scaife has powerfully played with state iconography in her excellent Beckett in the City series, and the new chapter The Women Speak assembles Irish theatre greats Bríd Ní Neachtain and Michelle Forbes (who along with Scaife were dubbed 'the lunatics in the basement' by Abbey Theatre staff in the 1980s for their avant garde work in the Peacock) as well as Joan Davies of the legendary Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre. Who knows what bearing Beckett's Footfalls, Rockaby, Not I and Come and Go will have on the former Coláiste Mhuire on Parnell Square, once headquarters to the Gaelic League and alleged operations of the IRB before taken over by the Christian brothers. Meanwhile, Louise White chooses the vacuum of a disused commercial building in Mother You for an epic installation imagining a community emblematic of our times.

Irish theatre history will also feature, specifically in the Show in a Bag series. In Rebel Rebel, Robbie O'Connor and Aisling O'Meara play two members of the Abbey company who abandoned their matinee of Cathleen Ní Houlihan on Easter week 1916 to attack Dublin Castle. Michael Glenn Murphy brings us back to 1961 and the decline of Dublin's legendary playhouse, the Theatre Royal, in The Auld Fella.

The programme is lent muscle by experienced players. In the Project Arts Centre Upstairs, Siren Productions pilot George Blant's airwoman drama GROUNDED, recently mounted by Julie Taymor and Anne Hathaway in New York, now directed by Selina Cartmell and performed by Claire Dunne. Over at the Peacock, Brokentalkers and junk ensemble consider the possibilities of bringing an ensemble of strangers together in It Folds to create a portrait of life in a modern city.

Risks on the Fringe will be taken by aerialist Emily Aoibheann, who promises a 'Bauhaus Ballet for Dublin' with Object Piggy, a type of circus sculpture in the spirit of 1920s Bauhaus and the search for the body in the mechanical age. Ruairí Donovan and Asaf Aharonson circle in on the complex intimacy between two lovers and where it veers towards obscenity and the political in GHOSTS. In Medicated Milk, dancer Áine Stapleton works from the writings of Lucia Joyce - daughter of James Joyce and casual girlfriend to Samuel Beckett - who showed promise as a ballerina before being hospitalised due to mental illness for 50 years. Popstar-parodying Xnthony guns for Eurovision glory in DOUZE.

New voices on the Fringe include Alice Malseed, whose riches-to-rags confessional makes up Jellyfish, directed with contemporary stylings by Sarah Baxter; Orla Murphy's Remember to Breathe is a drama about an Irish emigrant in post-earthquake Christchurch, starring Liz Fitzgibbon and Raymond Keane; and Barry McStay asks big questions in the wake of the Marriage Equality Referendum in Our Island, directed by Maisie Lee for MIRARI Productions. Tipperary playwright Áine Ryan presents Templemore, set in the famed Garda training college; Sligo's Tintoretto Sect bring Beneath the Bone Moon, inspired by the naturalistic horror of the Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol; and brace for The Lir's graduating class in The Windstealers, Jane Madden's new play about a town facing ruin from a windfarm scheme.

As in the Fringe tradition, performances will take place in unusual locales.The Luncheonette in the National College of Art and Design will serve Flemish Proverbs, a performance about two prison cooks at the start of the Dutch Golden Age. And we're invited to wander through the Phoenix Park at night to find aerialists Loosysmokes, who take to the trees for surreal turns in Behind the Dark.

Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival runs Sept 7-20. For more information and tickets, see Photo of Emily Aoibheann and her company Dying Breeds rehearsing for 'Object Piggy'.

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From This Author - Chris McCormack

Chris McCormack is a theatre critic based in Dublin. He blogs on and writes for A Younger Theatre, Irish Theatre Magazine and the Arts (read more...)