'Extinct' written and performed by Tiernan Kearns at Theatre Upstairs.

'Extinct' written and performed by Tiernan Kearns at Theatre Upstairs.

This new play by Tiernan Kearns follows not the writing of the Irish canon but that of contemporary British playwrights like Martin Crimp and Philip Ridley in its indirect style of address and by its dissolution of character, dramatic structure and plot. Its deliberate rough and garish aesthetic was also redolent of the work of the British company Forced Entertainment.

The piece consists of a collection of scenes narrated and at times acted by five performers dressed as a caveman (Kearns), a tree (Marnie Fay), a star (Fennelly), the moon (Braddell), and a mother (Ayres). The gaudy costumes by Louise Gambrill gave the impression of a cheap children’s pantomime or TV show. However, these costumes did not make the actors so much comical but grotesque as their innocent childish presentation contrasted with the dark material that spewed from their mouths.

The play is essentially an angry tirade against the ills of contemporary society which it largely identifies as the lies, contradictions and the toxicity of neo-liberal platitudes promoted through the media, self-help literature, motivational speakers, and celebrities. The writer’s fatalistic dark vision sees all of this as contributing to modern life’s downfall as we all inexorably compete in the rat race towards extinction.

The language of the play proves to be rhythmic, suitably vituperative and humorous; the imagery visceral and the satire sharp, particularly in its delightful lampooning of the clich├ęd metaphors of self-help literature where we must emerge from the forests of our minds, paddle against the waves of adversity to reach our potential on the beach of contentment, etc.

A satiric highlight of the piece is when the actors all mime as if they are typing feverishly on computers in some fictional workplace where they are endeavouring to solve world crises. As they list the world’s problems (their workload) they reveal themselves to be uninterested in solutions and more keen in making their coffee order with a colleague who is taking a break. In the end they decide that it would be easier to distract everyone from these global issues rather than addressing any of them as this would considerably lighten their workload.

This production was at its best when all the actors were contributing to a scene but unfortunately this was rare as the majority of the piece was spoken by the playwright/actor Kearns. As this play dispenses with character, many of his speeches (although mostly well delivered) could have been divided up to include the other actors. Such an intervention may also have helped overcome the largely static staging of the piece by director Jamie O’Neill which had Kearns deliver many rushed monologues directly to the audience with little movement.

No reference specifically to Irish media, politics or history is made except at the end where some footage of a Bono interview is shown. What Bono says here may be cringe-worthy but the problems of contemporary Ireland do not rest with him and swiping at a rock-star celebrity at the end seemed too easy and a wasted opportunity. That said, hopefully we will see more of Fried Egg Theatre Company’s bold work and of Kearns’ development as a writer.

Ian R. Walsh is a lecturer in Drama at University College Dublin and has recently published his first book Experimental Irish Theatre, After W. B Yeats

  • Review
  • Theatre

Extinct by Tiernan Kearns

30 July - 10 August 2013

Produced by Fried Egg Theatre Company
In Theatre Upstairs @ Lanigan's

Directed by Jamie O’Neill

Costumes: Louise Gambrill

With: Tiernan Kearns, Alicja Ayres, David Fennelly, Oddie Bradell, Marnie Fay.