Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol II (2)

Devious Theatre presents 'Scratcher' as part of 'Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol II'.

Devious Theatre presents 'Scratcher' as part of 'Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol II'.

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

Scanning the programme for THEATREclub’s festival of new work, the range of work presented in terms of styles, genres, and subjects suggests a sort of bustling democracy of performance. From dance to devised work to documentary theatre on the busking life, the curators seemed to have left no stone unturned in building their lineup. And what’s most impressive is that these are all young practitioners who may not have had a venue or a platform from which to facilitate production. There are also representatives from outside Dublin proper, with work making its way to the Project Cube from north and south.

Kilkenny’s Devious Theatre presents Scratcher, a devised piece of agitprop that, while essentially being an over-stretched comedy sketch, is still able to entertainingly deconstruct the abject humiliation of a generation out of work. The energetic ensemble plays members of a dole queue that breaks down when a frustrated applicant takes over the dole office at gunpoint. What is particularly refreshing about this piece is how unabashedly it addresses the plight of the young unemployed in Ireland, who daily face the specter of emigration. A real sense of anger and betrayal fuels the performances, thanks no doubt to the performers being members of a generation that, as a result of the greed and incompetence of some of their elders, faces the gaping uncertainty of a bankrupt future. Surprisingly, this anger finds its most pointed articulation when the piece is moving with the speed and violence of a Ren and Stimpy cartoon, rather than in the moments it tries to flesh out the emotional lives of its two-dimensional characters.

From Belfast comes A Love of Goodbyes, a solo show from Mary-Frances Doherty that, while exploring the clichéd ways that we say goodbye, itself becomes a kind of cliché of confessional drama. Doherty engages in one-sided dialogues with lovers, lays a teddy bear to rest while a guitar softly plucks ‘Tears in Heaven’, and spends a good quarter of the show aimlessly traversing the space while dragging a rolling suitcase behind her. The combined result is ultimately flat and incoherent.

Much more successful is Nyree Yergainharsian’s solo piece Where Do I Start, a deconstruction of Yergainharsian’s identity as an Irish-Armenian, at once brutally funny and oddly disconcerting. Yergainharsian’s deadpan delivery can seem rambling until she hits unexpected beats in her confessions, like when she’s speaking excitedly about the once in a lifetime chance to go to Lebanon to see where her Armenian father grew up. "It was horrible," she says, straight-faced, as the roaring train of her dialogue comes to a sudden stop, eliciting, after a brief, confused pause, a rumble of uneasy laughter from the audience. It’s a tactic that is both endearing and arresting.

Doireann Coady.Closing out the festival are THEATREclub, with The Family, a sort of dismantling of the notion of the Irish family conceived by director Grace Dyas and designer Doireann Coady. The look and feel of the piece offers echoes of Pan Pan’s Oedipus Loves You, which also explores family dynamics, though through the prism of the Oedipus myth. As with Pan Pan’s production, THEATREclub creates a kind of hyper-suburbia, with fake neon grass, a white picket fence, and the trappings of mass-produced estate living. Most striking about this production, though, is the disconnection that takes place between what is seen and heard. While the cast, who use their own names in performance, talk about and present family life in a particularly Irish context, we’re given visuals that recall a more American nostalgia. Actors, made up as if they were rejects from a casting call for the TV show Happy Days, don bow ties and checkered shirts, rolled up jeans and poofy skirts, and greased pompadours, suggesting that Ireland’s own sense of past and self has been imported directly from America’s cultural cache.

The hour-long performance offers no traditional plot to speak of, but we’re introduced to a number of visual and aural reprises that offer us opportunities to graft our own stories or experiences onto the tableaux and scenes presented to us. The committed cast displays an impressive emotional range as they enact the familiar rituals of family life, which at times take on the dreamlike quality of a dance. Vicious arguments and tender interludes fade as quickly as they had started, recalling the disconcerting way a family at once loves and loathes itself. THEATREclub have drawn an impressive expressionistic portrait of family life that’s at once deeply unsettling and unexpectedly moving.

The range of work and the depth of dedication on display in this festival certainly signal the vitality of the next generation of theatre practitioners. More importantly noted, though, is the youth of the audience that packed the Project over the four nights that I attended the festival. The festival has not only created a forum for emerging theatre artists, but is helping to foster the next generation of theatre audiences.

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
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Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol II (2) by THEATREclub

15-19 February, 2011

Produced by THEATREclub
In Project Arts Centre

Presented by Devious Theatre
Directed by John Morton

'A Love of Goodbyes'
Devised by Mary-Frances Doherty

'Where Do I Start?'
Devised and performed by Nyree Yergainharsian

'The Family'
Conceived by Grace Dyas and Doireann Coady, devised by the cast
Directed by Grace Dyas
Design: Doireann Coady
Devised by the cast, Grace Dyas and Doireann Coady
With: Louise Lewis, Barry O'Connor, Ger Kelly, Shane Byrne, Lauren Larkin, Brian Bennett & Gemma Collins