The Bad Arm: Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer

Out she comes, toes pointed, slim legs scissoring the air, arms pressed stiffly to her sides. Máire Clerkin, writer and star of Bad Arm: Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer, then stops kicking long enough to take the hour-long leap into her autobiographical solo about her life in and out of the peculiar world of competitive dance.

It takes two to tango, as the old saying goes. But this Irish dancer is content to hoof it alone.

She’s a charming storyteller and lively comic actor, a sunny figure in her wrinkled red dress, white trousers and black slippers (she changes to dance clogs later on). We like her right away and hope that she’ll take us beyond what’s described in the show title.

But no, that’s all it is, and not all that confessional really. Clerkin is one of five kids, daughter of an Irish dance instructor in north London. Sadly for her, Clerkin turns out to be an imperfect interpreter of the art of fancy footwork, trying and failing to become a champion. With the help of family photos projected behind her, she goes through each stage of her life as related to dance: childhood lessons, shy teenage years on the contest circuit, rebellion in the disco era, return to dance as a teacher, etc.

Her `bad arm,’ the right one, which she has trouble keeping properly rigid in performance, is her fatal flaw. Like having bad turnout in ballet.

That’s a pretty slight handicap to cope with in the bigger scheme of things. And you wonder why she didn’t ditch this particular form of dance and get into something more expressive. If her arms like to move, she could have studied some Twyla Tharp. Learned to tap. (She uses her arms to do some skilled miming in her show.)

There are solo pieces that succeed by finding a universal theme and widening the scope past one person’s life to let us all relate to whatever the struggle or obstacle is. Clerkin’s show is just about her and nothing else. She has fun telling her story, doing the voices and accents of her family, her boyfriends and drinking companions. But the spotlight in her story stays squarely on Máire Clerkin.

That leaves us out. It takes two to tango, as the old saying goes. But this Irish dancer is content to hoof it alone.

Reviews by Elaine Liner

The Assembly Rooms

Ricky Tomlinson: Guilty My Arse

★★★★★
Pleasance Courtyard

Backstage in Biscuit Land

★★★★
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

Plain English

★★
Zoo Southside

The Ted Bundy Project

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Raw rhythms. Tall tales. Arse-clenching comedy. This outrageous antidote to Riverdance recounts Clerkin's woes of being English in Ireland, Irish in England, and a pink-haired punk in a grey city. Best of Fest, 2010 Hollywood Fringe. Associate Producers: Howard Chu, Unateresa Gormley, Darren Maguire. 'The requisite of keeping both arms slammed into one's body emerges as a metaphoric constriction in a world that Clerkin captures so meticulously' (LA Weekly). Critic's Pick (Backstage). 'Deep dish from the real deal ... very funny' (NY Irish Arts).