Bonfire Night/Arsehammers

Cora Fenton performs in 'Bonfire Night' and 'Arsehammers' by Claire Dowie

Cora Fenton performs in 'Bonfire Night' and 'Arsehammers' by Claire Dowie

Theatre practitioner Claire Dowie is a leading proponent (some would say creator) of a genre known as 'stand-up theatre.' Consisting of monologues that engender direct address storytelling, thus fostering the performer's engagement with the audience, Dowie's work proves a judicious choice for CallBack theatre's latest production. Bonfire Night and Arsehammers, a pair of tragi-comic monologues, showcase the talents of Cora Fenton, and prove a perfect marriage of performer and writer.

Book-ended by a maudlin country and western song, Arsehammers tells the story of a young boy, who, through overheard conversations and his own fertile imagination, attempts to grapple with the nature of his grandfather's Alzheimer's disease and subsequent death. The subject matter may sound bleak, but there is much humour to be gleaned from the script and John Sheehy directs the piece with a lightness of touch. Fenton, as the character known only as Boy, is at once knowing and na├»ve. If the costume – backwards baseball cap to denote youth – is a touch hokey, then no matter. Fenton is utterly believable as she guides us on Boy's journey to tainted innocence, from his initial belief that 'Arsehammers' is a special hammer-shaped bottom that transports his grandfather to magical places – thus explaining his disappearances – to his theory that having Arsehammers is sort of like being on Star Trek (but not), until his dawning recognition of an inherent dark side to life. Fenton segues seamlessly from the character of Boy to other characters, such as a nursing home worker, or the beleaguered grandfather. At one point, whilst portraying Boy's mother – with her expressive face suffused with grief as she attempts to make the grim reality of illness and death more palatable for her young son – Fenton provides the most moving moment in a piece that captures the fine balance between the tragic and the comic.

Bonfire Night allows Fenton to make a seismic leap in terms of characterisation as she plays an excitable and eccentric middle-aged woman. Inspired by action-packed television shows such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E, this character aspired to be a hero or, at the very least, the "starring baddy". Unfortunately for her, following her mother's death and a broken engagement, the woman is now burdened with being a carer to her elderly widowed father, who suffers from an undisclosed illness. This seeming sad-sack, downtrodden by life's myriad disappointments, initially provokes a sort of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God feeling in the audience, until Dowie's script switches to something altogether more unexpected, with Bonfire Night ultimately transitioning into a tale of amorality and assassination. It is a testament to Fenton's skill that she keeps the audience in the palm of her hand through the unlikely, though hilariously macabre, plot twist.

This is a pared-down production in certain respects – the set is minimal, comprising of a desk and chair and the lighting is simple, yet functional (as befits what is a touring production). However, this piece does not need high-gloss production values with such a thoroughly compelling performer as Cora Fenton at its centre.

Sarah England recently completed a degree in Drama & Theatre Studies and English at University College Cork.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Bonfire Night/Arsehammers by Claire Dowie

17-19 July 2013

Produced by CallBack Theatre
In Cork Arts Theatre

Directed by John Sheehy

With: Cora Fenton