At the first gig after the Apocalypse…. would you place your fate in the hands of a three-piece folk band? Writer and performer Fionn Foley introduces his new comedy musical Tonic, which plays Dublin Castle this weekend as part of this year's Dublin Fringe...

'Well, it's kind of a reinvention of the old medicine show’ I repeat to a blank expression every time I explain my new musical Tonic.

‘Ah, right. Grand so’ says you.

One of the many social blind spots I’ve developed over the course of this pandemic is a difficulty in remembering what are commonly understood references and what is the mental detritus of some semi-deep dive into the balmy embrace of t’internet.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

So let me explain concisely before your interest in this article is swept away by a list of the world’s largest root vegetables or a picture of the ABBA holograms. In 19th Century Paris, or perhaps more notably on the American Wild Frontier, ‘medicine shows’ were highly engaging street performances given by travelling ‘salesmen’ offering a ‘miracle cure’ for various ailments which were usually, if not always, totally ineffective.

‘Ah! Snake-oil salesmen, like? I have you now.’

You have me now. I had the idea to put together a medicine show as a contemporary musical while at the Edinburgh Fringe with my solo show Brendan Galileo for Europe in 2019. The more I researched the concept, the more spectacular theatricality and humour I found littered throughout the history of the form. They were hugely colourful affairs, accompanied by instrumentation from a hurdy-gurdy, banjo or double bass.

Juliette Crosbie and Aoife Kelly in Tonic

A strong connection and rapport with the audience was essential, along with a shrewd knowledge of local trivia and gossip. But paramount was the performance’s ability to play on the audience's fears and anxieties. What at first glance might have seemed like a whimsical musical revue had a highly orchestrated motive embedded within it. To pedal bollocks.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Listen: RTÉ Arena talks Tonic with Fionn Foley

What’s funny is that like many artists, when COVID came along I shelved the idea, thinking that live theatre’s return would be about as imminent as shaking the hand of your friend’s friend when you bump into them outside Centra (may it never return). However, as the dust settled, it struck me that not only was the form of a mobile, outdoor theatre piece one that could actually weather the storm of the pandemic, but that society itself that had crossed into precisely the kind of space in which the con-men of old would operate; widespread concern and uncertainty, a yearning for security and assurance from anyone with the knowledge or authority to offer it. It seemed the perfect time to bring the story of Cal Calibri & the Calibri Triplet Family Band to life.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

My show Tonic brings the trope to 2047, the brink of civilisation as it tries to decide how to move forward (or backward) following a devastating doomsday event.

‘So where does the bollocks pedalling come in then?’

In Dublin Castle from 11th-19th of September, that’s where. I know I talked a lot about historical nuance and thematic pertinence just there but it’s a rapturously high-spirited show, with all the charm and pageantry you could hope for from a doomsday folk musical. And I’m in it.

Tonic is at the Castle Gardens, Dublin Castle from 11-19 September, 2021 - find out more here.