Directors: Gary Keegan &Feidlim Cannon
Choreographer: Eddie Kay
Reviewer: Ciara L. Murphy
In a year cluttered with political and historical commemorations and subsequently a heightened focus on collective remembrance it is easy to forget those whose histories have been hidden. Brokentalkers’ The Blue Boy seeks to remedy this in a performance that is conceptual, evocative, and emotionally affective.
First produced in 2011 The Blue Boy was created in direct response to The Ryan Report (2009), a report investigating institutional abuse in the nation’s Reformatory and Industrial Schools at the hands of both the Catholic Church and the Irish state. Staging trauma comes with a whole hoard of political and ethical ‘issues’ which few artists are adept at both challenging and transcending. This is not the case for Brokentalkers, whose abstract and emotive performance piece honours the memories of those whose histories have been long hidden.
The main performance space is covered in white tiles. A scrim obscures this space from view at selective moments throughout. The effect is unnerving, the constantly shifting relationship between darkness and light, loudness and silence serves to keep the audience alert and engaged. A cacophony of media provide the audience with, an at times, harrowing and chilling soundscape. A merging of film, live music, interview testimony, narration, projection, and musical recording create a story that illuminates the darkest corners of Irish society. So many different media collaborating at once should be clunky and distracting, but it never is. The tension between these various sources of information is finely balanced. The audience becomes submerged in this astounding sensory experience feeling the heaviness of this history in our own bodies as we watch.
The piece is adeptly performed by Dylan Coburn Gray, Eddie Kay, Jessica Kennedy, Megan Kennedy, and Aoife Moore. It is also sporadically narrated by co-director Gary Keegan. The personal becomes political here as Keegan reflects on the influence of the Artane Industrial School on his own life. He refers to the high grey wall, invoking images of forced confinement and brutal discipline. This device is effective at guiding the audience through this collection of stories and serves to reinforce the fact that these events took place not in the Ireland of long ago, but in the all too recent past.
The Blue Boy honours the hidden histories of those in Irish society who had no voice. The piece is both beautiful and harrowing, but most importantly it is illuminating. When the performance ends there is a collective and spontaneous moment of silence. This poignant moment provides an unspoken understanding that we have seen, we have witnessed, and we will remember.
Reviewed on April 27th and touring across Ireland until May 7th | Image: courtesy of Brokentalkers.