Brighton Festival Review: The Humours of Bandon

The Humours of Bandon – Fishamble, The New Play Company (Ireland). The Brighthelm Centre, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 May

There’s a lovely moment in Margaret McAuliffe’s one-woman play when teenage heroine Annie, still buzzing from her victory in the Irish Open Championship, has to explain her victory to her schoolmates. No, she’s not a golfer, but an Irish dancing champion. Well, strictly speaking she’s not the best in Ireland. There are other organisations, other ‘open’ champions. But she’s the best of ‘our lot’. For her age.

This comic deflation tells you a lot about The Humours of Bandon, of McAuliffe’s willingness to poke affectionate fun at sports movie tropes. Punctuated by Annie’s percussive dancing, the play charts the Dublin teenager’s rise to the top (in her organisation, for her age), and her realisation of how little winning really means. Switching between characters, McAuliffe captures the jubilance and stroppiness of her teenaged competitors, the impossibly high-standards of her teacher and the long-suffering warmth and exasperation of Annie’s mother, who spends interminable bank holidays ferrying her daughter to competitions, even though she’s not entirely sure what all the fuss is about. McAuliffe’s hour-long performance is full of charm and sly humour, but it was the finale, with its joyful, rule-breaking dance to Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, that had the audience up on their feet.

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