IDGTF 2016 Theatre Review: The Ref

posterrefFrances Winston really enjoyed The Ref, one of the offerings from the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival 2016

The Ref,

The Pearse Centre, 27 Pearse Street, Dublin 2

Until May 7th. 7.30pm nightly with a matinee on Saturday 7th at 2.30pm

Tickets €15/13

The Marriage Equality Referendum of 2015 was one of the biggest political events to happen in Ireland in most people’s lifetime. It resonated around the world and put our tiny island firmly in the global spotlight.

I can’t recall any event that both united and divided people so greatly, and it is safe to say that the campaign itself was the source of huge drama, and some people didn’t come out of it very well.

I should probably point out that I was very heavily invested in a Yes vote, and had a personal interest in it before I write anything else, as this play deals with the build-up to voting day, and all the hoopla surrounding it. Brought to the stage by Acting Out, which is Dublin’s LGBT community theatre group, it uses comedy and music to reflect on the issues raised during the campaign.

The plot in a nutshell: Clive and Suzanne were formerly married before coming out to each other, and they now have respective same-sex partners, but are committed to co-parenting their son Oisín. They are also committed to campaigning for a Yes vote. Oisín doesn’t really care about anything until suddenly the referendum becomes the hot topic amongst his peers, and then suddenly he also becomes completely invested in the Yes campaign.

On the other side of the coin we have Deirdre Kilbride, the self-proclaimed leader of Mammys for God, who decides to recruit some gays (because she loves the gays) to help her campaigning. It all comes to a climax in the television debate, where all the parties take to the stage to plead their case through song.

I did laugh all the way through this. There are influences of Little Britain and League of Gentlemen, and the characters are so OTT, it is impossible not to find them amusing. The songs are simple but catchy, and you will probably be humming them all the way home (they are also available for download if you can’t get them out of your head).

The television debate is almost like a mini Eurovision, and even though it is the first time you hear the songs, it is impossible not to get caught up in the infectious energy. Also, if you were in any way invested in the referendum at all, I defy you not to get a bit emotional when footage of the results is played.

The staging is simple and works well, and the soundtrack really captures the spirit of the referendum build-up. They also address serious issues that still resonate a year later, like the fact that the No side were criticising all single parents – not just gay single parents. It’s easy to forget things like this in hindsight, so kudos for including these ongoing issues.

That said I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t point out some of the flaws. In terms of the performances, there were some that were far stronger than others. However, as these are not professional actors an allowance can be made. On a more serious note though, while I found it hilarious, I did feel at times it was a little unbalanced. We know the Yes side won, and the No side did come across badly in the campaign, but at times this was exaggerated to the nth degree and felt almost mocking.

While, on the whole, Deirdre was a funny caricature, there were a couple of uncomfortable moments that really weren’t necessary, and if this play was to travel this would have to be addressed to open it up to a broader demographic. That said, this is running as part of the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, so it is allowed to be a little biased in that environ.

This is a rip-roaring hour of fun that deals with a monumental moment in Irish history. It has catchy songs and some memorable moments. Anyone who voted Yes, campaigned for a Yes vote, or was just happy to see the Yes side win, will definitely get a kick out of this. If you were a staunch No campaigner however, I would look elsewhere for your theatre thrills.

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