The Theatre Machine lures me back

The Theatre Machine lures me back

I returned to The Theatre Machine at Project on Saturday to see if our chemistry had improved. Although the last three shows were a bit more polished than those staged on the opening night, there was plenty of room for improvement when it came to the art of seduction.

Oh! How Very Ordinary is built around eight poems written by Sarah Griffin. Director Veronica Dyas covers the stage with umbrellas and cigarette lighters, and puts the words in the mouths of two female actors, Laura Larkin and Maire Digan. Although many of the verses are seemingly addressed to a male, Dyas's direction also implies an unspoken connection between the two female performers. Written in free verse, the short piece is a quiet celebration of the odd intimacy to be found in the sharing of cigarette lighters and umbrellas with strangers.

The real surprise on the night was Forest, written and directed by Máirín O’Grady and produced by Caravan/On/Fire/Collective. A mix between Chekhov’s Three Sisters, McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and the Poe inspired B movie The Raven (1963), the play centered on the dilemma of what to do with a man-crow (Luke Gleeson) who is found hanging in a tree. The melodramatic women who look after him are dressed like the original Playboy cast, complete with thick rural accents. While some of the writing seems genuinely interesting, there are almost more scene changes than there are words, and as a result of so many jarring elements, the performance takes on a disturbing life of its own. If it wasn’t for the photographic projections, stifling sprays of dry ice, and a girl who droned minor arpeggios on her keyboard, you might think you had stepped back to the turn of the twentieth century. Instead, in between discomfort and anxious laughter, the possibility emerges that the piece is so weird that it might have a future. Don’t be surprised if it’s the first production in Irish theatre to develop a cult following.

A few people in the foyer assured me that the real gem of the evening would be TheatreClub Stole Your Clock Radio What The Fuck Are You Gonna Do About It. Directed by Doireann Coady, the devised piece is modeled on a ruthlessly deconstructed playing style with hardly any plot, no characters, and occasional actors. Brian Bennett, Shane Byrne and Roxanna Nic Liam claim that the play is and isn’t about their lives, and they create a performance out of a lot of pop cultural references and one too many clichés. When they weave memories from the ‘80s with contemporary events, the juxtaposition of temporalities seems like an interesting route to follow, although this option is avoided in favour of a lot of singing, shouting and generally jumping about. While this exuberance is at times fun, and Bennett is a particularly good comic actor, Forced Entertainment et al. have been there, done that, and exhausted theatre to the point of non-meaning, often in an very interesting way. The worry is that what our young theatre-makers think is avant-garde is already retrograde. For even the avant-garde developed alongside other political and philosophical ideas in the twentieth century, with certain goals in mind. Apart from the wonderful energy and enthusiasm that this festival revealed, it was disappointing that at a time when we so desperately need a theatre of capacity the supposedly brightest and best of young talent end the week hollering about their "last chance to do something wreckless and stupid like stealing a clock radio." I get that they feel the recession has stunted them in their prime, but whining won’t help anyone, and it certainly isn’t good theatre. It may sound like a tall order, but now would be a really good time for artists to do the opposite: to take a committed stand, to illuminate possibilities, maybe even say something definite, or even new.



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