Jody O'Neill in 'Celebrity'. Photo: Emily Quinn

Jody O'Neill in 'Celebrity'. Photo: Emily Quinn

I wouldn’t be surprised if some newsagents had inquires about Celebrity magazine this week. The striking poster for Jody O’Neill’s new play is designed like the cover of a leading glossy for women, bursting at the seams with gossip and advice. Online, you can even leaf through the magazine yourself, but it’s the live performance that aims to offer a more resistant reading of celebrity culture, and more besides.

Under Carl Kennedy’s direction, the production quickly establishes at least one of the objects of its attention. Performer Ralli leaps onto the raised stage and, pointing a remote control, plays interviews with celebrities. The voice of Jordan resounds, and rapidly intermingles with others to create a cacophony of meaningless chatter. In a slick, snappy opening, the celebrity sound bite is effectively decoded.

The performance shifts register with the introduction of Margaret (O’Neill), a lonely secretary who believes that love is a recipe, and social networking might be the way forward. She meets Matthew (Ralli) buying "wine slash cheese" in a supermarket, and puts the latest magazine tips into action. She smiles, she nods, she mirrors his movements, she plays hard to get, she plays harder to get, and then she gives him her heart.

Turns out, Matthew prefers to Twitter than to talk. She rarely sees him in the first few months of their so-called relationship, but when he posts a marriage proposal on her Facebook wall the offer is too tempting to resist.

And then reality kicks in.

Celebrity culture and social networking are fertile areas for theatrical treatment. Here, the point is implied that the Internet allows everyone to become mini-stars to the detriment of ‘real’ relationships. However, in trying to make this connection, the performance all too quickly abandons the theatrical impulse of the deft opening, and spends too much time wading through the couple’s dysfunctional marriage.

It’s not long before talk turns to children to plug the obvious gaps. Neither partner seems to want real children, so Simon gives Margaret a lamp they decide to call Plum, complete with a bulb plucked from the set, and hooked to a baby monitor. Occasionally, Simon steps aside to speak to Margaret as Plum, posing questions about their relationship, and eventually asking her whether she loves the baby more than her husband. While parents might well speak to each other through their children, it’s hard to see this as analogous to people communicating with each other via social networking, if this is indeed the parallel the writer has in mind. And while the lamp strains to presumably signal something of the bright lights of stardom, it does little to really illuminate the couple’s interpersonal problems.

Paul O’Mahony’s set is a thin frame, angled at the top, and studded with small bulbs. Mark Gallione’s lighting design turns the living room floor into a chequered dance floor when the couple decide to play celebrity dress-up.

The choreography seeks to animate the shifts between direct address and dialogue, and the instances of masquerade. Two Buddha bags are the only props on stage, and many scenes involve the characters twisting on or around these, in addition to some dippy dance sequences. While the goofy antics might be seen to indicate a naiveté on the part of the celebrity obsessed couple, they ultimately seem too childish and silly - even for this pair.

While the impact of celebrity culture on people’s lives is certainly a rich subject, Celebrity struggles to focus its target: mass media, celebrities, social networking, and a couple who are boring and bored with each other are all mixed in. That celebrity culture is a symptom rather than a cause of disconnection could have been better explored. Most disappointing, perhaps, is that the play doesn’t go far enough to challenge the gender bias it broaches. Although we might snigger in the theatre at the idea of women following steps in a magazine to 'Bag a Man', Margaret buys it, and pretty much reinforces her stereotype. Had she been developed further, she might have better exposed the system that curtails her. Instead, Simon says when the show is over.

Fintan Walsh

  • Review
  • Theatre

Celebrity by Jody O'Neill

12-29 January, 2011

Produced by Peer to Peer
In Project Arts Centre

Directed by Carl Kennedy

Choreographer: Laurie Schneider

Set Design: Paul O'Mahony

Lighting Design: Mark Galione

Sound Design: Carl Kennedy

Costume Design: Petra Hjortsberg

Digital Media Director: Niall Flynn

Dramaturg: Emelie Fitzgibbon

With: Matthew Ralli & Jody O'Neill