Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol. II (1)

'Taste' presented by Spilt Gin as part of 'Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol II'.

'Taste' presented by Spilt Gin as part of 'Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol II'.

This is the first of two reviews by Jesse Weaver of the Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol II festival of new work; read the second review here.

While a range of themes permeates THEATREclub’s second five-night festival of new work, none manifests itself more potently than that of disconnection, within the spheres of both the public and the personal. This theme finds particular resonance when considering that the bulk of the theatre artists who contributed to the festival are members of a generation that is increasingly described as ‘lost’: lost to emigration, lost to the disillusionment of a broken political system, lost to an economic downturn that’s bankrupted a country’s future. This is not to say that these artists have done nothing but wallow, finding self-satisfaction in a navel-gazing pity-fest. Far from it. Instead, they’ve taken to the Project Cube to pick a fight with the hollow notion that all is lost, that a permanent state of disconnection is the end of the story.

Riffing on the idea of their latest festival as a kind of second album, THEATREclub have organized it into four categories: Demotapes (works in progress), New Releases (performers new to Dublin), LPs (headlining artists) and EPs (light night shows). Two of the festival’s LPs have the death of a family member at their centre: I Dreamt Tom Stoppard’s Email Address, a performance devised by Lydia Prior and Edwina Casey, and Taste, a new play from the company Spilt Gin. Both take markedly different approaches in exploring the processes and consequences of grief, and each with a great deal of success.

Lydia Prior appears as the sole performer in I Dreamt Tom Stoppard’s Email Address, an observation of grief as expressed through the repeated ritual of everyday tasks. Inspired by a blog Prior created chronicling the aftermath of her father’s death, the mundane act of making breakfast over a series of iterations takes on I Dreamt Tom Stoppard's Email AddressBeckettian significance. Prior makes toast, brews coffee for two, peels an uneaten banana, and goes about clearing the stage of two loose piles of books on Shakespeare, while recordings of a radio interview she’s given plays intermittently underneath. It’s these interviews that provide context for the piece, as we learn the details specific to Prior’s close relationship with her father. Added to this are brief but revealing archival clips, filmed by a younger Lydia, of her father preparing to eat breakfast, and happily answering questions from his daughter about his favourite Shakespeare plays. These short, filmic interludes provide the emotional thrust to the piece, as we see Lydia the performer mimic live the recorded image of her father unpeeling a banana in his own unique way. It becomes clear Prior’s actions are totemic rituals of remembrance, brought into poignant relief by a second steaming cup of coffee that sits without being drunk, or by a live dumb-show performed by Barbie dolls to a recording of Prior’s father quoting Twelfth Night. The one weakness of the piece is the decision to play prolonged recordings of Prior reading entries from her blog near the end of the performance. The essential details of the piece are dealt out to us so deftly up to this point, that to have a prolonged explanation threatens to crumple the fragile acts of remembrance we’ve witnessed, and to which we can relate in knowing silence.

In James Hickson’s Taste, Kate (Liz Fitzgibbon) and Rose (Sophie Connon) are two twenty-somethings mourning the shared loss of Paul, Kate’s brother and Rose’s lover. Both are lost souls, as Kate is crippled by late nights and early mornings on the bottle, and Rose contemplates emigration to Vancouver. The play opens, after a prolonged prelude that might deserve cutting, with Rose’s arrival at Kate’s place for dinner. As the red and white wine flows, both women confront the loss of a shared loved one, taking the opportunity to reconnect and reset a relationship stalled in the face personal tragedy. While the subject matter might actually suit a TV melodrama, the depth of the writing and the breadth of the performances rescue the piece from stale cliché. It’s not everyday you get performances of such sensitivity out of young actors, but it’s clear that director Maeve Stone has had a sure, but light, hand in helping sculpt and guide her actors’ treatment of the play’s emotional territory. Both Fitzgibbon and Connon handle Hickson’s roving language beautifully, and his endearingly clever turns of phrase are delivered with ease and deftness.

The festival’s remaining LP, The Family, by THEATREclub, will be reviewed next, along with several New Releases from Kilkenny and Belfast.

Jesse Weaver recently completed his doctoral thesis at University College Cork. His research focus was on the changing roles of the playwright in Irish theatre production from 1980 to 2010.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol. II (1) by THEATREclub

15-19 February, 2011

Produced by THEATREclub
In Project Arts Centre

I Dreamt Tom Stoppard’s Email Address
Devised by Lydia Prior and Edwina Casey
With: Lydia Prior

By James Hickson
Presented by Spilt Gin
Directed by Maeve Stone
With: Liz Fitzgibbon, Sophie Connon