Dublin Youth Theatre presents 'Batsh*t'. Photo: Killian Waters

Dublin Youth Theatre presents 'Batsh*t'. Photo: Killian Waters

Numerous red t-shirts hang on the sidewalls of the Project Cube theatre, with the word ‘Him’ printed across the front. Performers slump on chairs underneath. A young man (Lehane) scales a ladder on the back wall, his face covered with a wolf mask, and one of the t-shirts that surround. Intervening the opening sequence, a female voice-over poetically relays the central character’s fruitless search for meaning: orbiting the universe, he discovered that the stars were mere pins in a black cloth, the Earth an upturned pot.

Stepping forward, his girlfriend (Minto) describes how he killed her. Her t-shirt reads ‘A girl who has been stabbed,’ and she asks us to accept the fiction for the purposes of the performance. Lying down on the stage floor, she assumes her dying position. She and her boyfriend repeat some of their final conversations into microphones, never looking each other in the eye. The interaction is more tender than macabre.

The narrative is swiftly taken up by the rest of the cast, who try to piece together the tragedy. They peel off colourful t-shirts to reveal new identities. At one point they form a line across the front of the stage to face the audience, their slogans revealing their roles: his sister, his grandmother, a filthy liar and a French pen-pal are just some of the people we meet. Despite the range of voices, no consensus of motivation easily emerges. Although not based on an actual event, the form loosely resembles The Laramie Project, in that those who knew the perpetrator and victim are called upon to testify. Here they assemble to reflect upon the couple’s relationship, retracing their last steps while trying to make sense of it all.

Taking strips of red cloth, some performers demarcate the man’s apartment on the stage floor. It’s a simple, unremarkable space, home to a collection of unwashed mugs and books that contradict each other. No one understands why he did it, not even his mother who, as she says herself, is supposed to be psychic when it comes to her children. The school’s Buddy System didn’t see this one coming.

Like Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, on which the production is based, jealousy is a driving force in this nameless man’s actions. However, in this contemporary take, there is no extreme backdrop of war or humiliation to help us understand his brutality. The fresh-faced youth’s psychological breakdown seems more unlikely in this version. When he feels his girlfriend drifting, he promises to wear nicer clothes, to do the washing up, to smell better, even. None of these promises work, of course, and when he discovers her cheating, paranoia gives way to jealous rage.

The devised script contains some very eloquent passages, and Keegan fashions some rich images to hold moments in focus: frustration is captured through the disembowelling of feather pillows, for instance; blood-loss through the coiling of red wool. The largely sombre tone is picked out by two cast members who play electric guitar and piano throughout.

While many visual and aural elements work to foreground a palpable sense of teen angst, the production avoids excessive sentimentality by repeatedly reminding us that this is theatre. The swapping of clothes, the speaking into microphones, and the occasional usage of digital screens on stage never lets us forget that this is a construction.

The terrific cast captures this post-dramatic dimension in their restrained performances too, delivering dispassionately, almost like reporters. About three quarters way through, one performer boldly asserts: “We, as a generation, have failed our 15-30 year olds, especially men.” Instead of drowning us with emotion, as well they might, the actors ultimately seem more interested in communicating the moral urgency of their tale.

Fintan Walsh

  • Review
  • Theatre

Batsh*t by the cast

2-5 February, 2011

Produced by Dublin Youth Theatre
In Project Arts Centre

Directed by Gary Keehan

Musical direction: Sean Millar

Lighting design: Sarah Jane Sheils

Audiovisuals: Killian Waters

With: Grace de Bláca, Jemma Curran, Stephan Lehane, Leah Minto, Alice Murphy, Dylan Coburn Gray, John Cunning, Simon McMahon, Alex Moloney, Joseph Ryan, Jack Shanley