If you think the only dance to have come out of Ireland is Riverdance , think again. For the past ten years, Fabulous Beast has been building an international reputation as one of the most daring and highly original dance theatre companies in the world. Now, after two previous triumphs in London — Giselle and The Flowerbed — Fabulous Beast presents a third, The Bull, even more dazzling and ambitious.
Fusing text, music and dance, it takes an ancient Irish epic, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, and throws it back in the face of 21st-century Ireland as a savage, vulgar, subversive and macabrely funny critique of a country in which prosperity and multiculturalism have transformed the social landscape.
For 90 minutes Michael Keegan-Dolan and his 12-strong international troupe of actors, dancers and musicians take you on a visceral journey of greed and grasping that piles up the body count faster than an episode of CSI. It’s bleak and raucous at the same time, a dark, smart farce pulsing with lurid characterisations and vicious potshots at the cornerstones of Irish culture.
The first thing you notice is a stage covered in tonnes of Irish peat moss. This is the battlefield where two modern warriors will fight to the death over a prized bull. Maeve Fogarty wants the animal to boost her asset portfolio and prove herself financially superior to her husband; the bog-dwelling Cullens, thickheaded and brutally hostile, will do anything to stop her. Their titanic clash becomes a metaphor for the struggle between town and country, rich and poor, progress and the old ways of life. You don’t have to know the 2000-year-old myth upon which The Bull is based to recognise the strands of Irish society under Keegan-Dolan’s scathing microscope, or the loss of values he mourns in the consumer age.
I mentioned Riverdance, and it turns out to be relevant for one of the key characters here is Fergus, lead dancer of the cheesy Irish dance show Celtic Bitch. Played by Colin Dunne (who once starred in Riverdance ), Fergus takes the dual role of narrator and Maeve’s lover, and prompts the show’s funniest running gag, a parody of the Michael Flatley phenomenon.
If you are expecting a dance show, though, forget it. Choreography is just one element in this robustly physical piece of theatre. The choreographed violence, hilarious and shocking, owes a big debt to Quentin Tarantino (the foul language too). At times the production veers off course but it’s held together by a terrific cast, led by wonderful Olwen Fouéré as the voracious Maeve. The finale, with its passionate drumming on shovels and buckets, starts as a parody of Stomp (the score by Philip Feeney is sensational throughout), but ends as a victory chant for carnage and stupidity. The war may be over, but in this modern epic there are no heroes.
Debra Craine, The Times ★★★★