As You Are Now So Once Were We

Brian Bennett in 'As You Are Now So Once Were We' at the Peacock, Dublin. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Brian Bennett in 'As You Are Now So Once Were We' at the Peacock, Dublin. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Rob McDermott in 'As You Are Now So Once Were We' by The Company. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Rob McDermott in 'As You Are Now So Once Were We' by The Company. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Like its Joycean inspiration, As You Are Now So Once Were We attempts to find the epic in the everyday. In this devised piece, which was first staged at last year’s Dublin Fringe Festival, four performers relay the same day in Dublin from different perspectives. While each speaks in turn (Yergainharsian, Bennett, Wilson and McDermott), they repeatedly interrupt and correct each other, vying for attention or control of the narrative thrust. Moreover, the performers make and unmake the cityscape as they move, through the slick manipulation of cardboard boxes.

Like The Company’s first show, Who is Fergus Kilpatrick? (2009), As You Are Now… is very much a piece about the creative process, in particular about collaborative theatre-making. The actual story the performers tell centres around arriving at the Peacock for rehearsals, chatting to staff, bumping into friends, eating lunch, and eyeing up the poster for the show we’re now watching. The attempt to collectively create a performance is turned into the production itself. The enthusiasm, the effort, the battle of wills and personalities is held up for us to see. Here, Brian’s the funny one who fancies himself as a ladies man, stealing every opportunity to flaunt his guns. The girls swoon uncontrollably until they realize they can play the same game, and take control of the action themselves.

The performers deliver with a cool, informal style, although the material is clearly practised. Words, however, seem less important than form, and new ideas are conveyed through experimenting with boxes of all shapes and sizes. As the stories unfold, the boxes become buildings, restaurants, tables and theatres, and the collective constructs the city as members' please. They find meaning in the city and in their art by conjuring and collapsing both before us. The effect is clever and charming.

Although the show was staged in Project last year, the performers trace an alternative route around the city this time to reflect the new geography. There are other differences between the stagings too: in the upstairs theatre of the Project, the larger space corroborated with the action to create a strikingly broad visual plain. In the Peacock theatre, however, it feels a little too constrained by space. Also, in the Project the performers mainly spoke up to the audience in the tiered seating; here they shift between speaking ahead or down and it puts a slight strain on the connection.

While the boxes become strangely interesting in their framing, it feels like there's plenty of room for more inventive manipulation. There are a couple of synchronised slow-motion sequences at the beginning that work well by tapping into the musicality of the city and the physicality of the performers, and point to the potential for more studied choreography. The most entertaining thread occurs within the first ten minutes, when getting out of bed is conveyed through agile cardboard origami. However this stylish handling soon gives way to a lot of shuffling and dropping, and when the witty impulse gets a bit lost, the interaction between man and box struggles to keep giving. The performance ends as it began with Nyree waking up in Howth, as if to underscore the repetitive labour of creativity. But in her bright delivery, there's affirmation too, that this time it will come together just right.

Fintan Walsh lectures in Drama at the Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College Dublin. 

  • Review
  • Theatre

As You Are Now So Once Were We by The Company

26 January - 5 February, 2011

Produced by The Company
In Peacock Theatre, Dublin

Directed by Jose Miguel Jimenez

Design: CiarĂ¡n O’Melia

With: Brian Bennett, Rob McDermott, Nyree Yergainharsian, Tanya Wilson