REVIEWS Fiona Shaw Dublin Theatre Festival
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The Independent Culture
Despite the advancing army of cranes on the horizon, boomtown Dublin still holds rich reserves of wasteland for theatre practitioners eager to get their site-specific hands on TS Eliot's The Waste Land. Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner explored the grimy, dilapidated delights of no less than nine possible venues before settling on a cavernous military depot on the outskirts of the city. The final choice - a complex of shattered cottages surrounding a long subterranean vault, dripping with light bulbs - could hardly have been a more fitting spot to dump Eliot's unruly poetic heap of broken images.

But once the dust and ambience have begun to settle, what we discover here is a rather unadventurous staged reading obscured by Shaw's now over- familiar embellishments. Each sequence is wrapped in its own neat psychological lagging - Madame Sosostris becomes a cockney clairvoyant, the songs are transformed into childish nursery rhymes - and the fragmented structure of the poem is rendered as little more than babble. At best, Shaw's performance is an exquisitely mannered tour de force. At worst, her constant fidgeting gives the impression that she, like so many of us, has given up on the single Portaloo that the Dublin Festival Theatre provided at the back of the barracks.

Infinitely less ostentatious and more successful is Bickerstaffe's latest show Double Helix at the Andrew's Lane Theatre, a work directed and devised by John Crowley, one of the very few genuine talents to emerge in Irish theatre in the past few years. Picking up where he left off with the superb True Lines, Crowley and his cast follow the interconnecting lives of a group of young Irish exiles - a university researcher, Andrew, suffering from Huntington's Disease, his restless girlfriend, Jennifer, bound for South America, and a diabetic actor, Sean. All are joined together by the shared green-white-gold chromosomes in their genes. After prolonged displacement, this genetic information mutates, resulting in a new and unpredictable hybrid national identity.

While the intricate, tangled narrative is beautifully and elegantly navigated, it is Crowley's assured use of imagery that raises Double Helix well above the level of the resolutely pedestrian "visual teaser" masses. The show opens spectacularly with a vertical sex scene, on to which Crowley has projected a detail from the Sistine Chapel depicting God's finger-tip transmission to Adam of the immortal soul. Later on, the red trickle of a blood transmission between two characters is followed along the crevices and waterways of a huge projected map. An abrupt conclusion betrays a lack of development, but doesn't detract from a compelling, challenging show.

Making its European debut at the Samuel Beckett Centre is "controversial" American director Anne Bogart's Saratoga International Theater Institute, with a piece based on the life and work of pop culture philosopher Marshall McLuhan, entitled The Medium. Yes, he's the mustachioed guy that Woody Allen drags into the frame in Annie Hall as the ultimate put-down - "You don't understand anything of my work," says the Professor to the windbag pontificating in the cinema queue. Unfortunately, it's not possible to bring McLuhan back from the dead to deliver an equally damning riposte to Bogart and her tedious ensemble, whose theatrical vocabulary stretches no further than lame slow-motion effects and equally flaccid pronouncements - "Toilets will soon be able to weigh you and analyse your urine and stool" - against the age of technology. Let's just hope this one travels no further east.

n To 14 Oct. Booking: 003531 8748525