Inhabitance – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Peter Dunne

Director: Ronan Phelan

Reviewer: David Doyle

Inhabitance, the latest offering from Glass Doll Productions, is an exploration of tragedy in the internet age. The play, written by Peter Dunne, which initially began as four monologues, examines a woman willing to do anything to find her missing daughter. A dark thriller with tinges of black comedy the production offers an interesting if not always fully realised insight into the machinations of grief.

Set in a world where society is in free fall, and violence is epidemic, Inhabitance charts the course of Priscilla as she desperately tries to find her missing daughter. Willing to do literally anything to have closure she turns to the shadowy figures of Tim and Leigh who attempt to turn her suffering into mass-market entertainment. In our own world of 24-hour news channels, reality TV stars, and social media it’s a prescient look at the trajectory that our society is on but one that at times feels slightly clichéd.

Tropes of an easily manipulated public willing to cast lots on real people’s lives without any thought is one which has been worked and reworked many times and when coupled with the shadowy TV executives there is a sense that we’ve seen this before as the play progresses. However the production does have some incredibly strong moments, often centering on the mother of the tale, Priscilla, as she tries to cope with the loss of her child. The grieving process in the case of a missing person is wonderfully realised by Fíonna Hewitt-Twamley, and offers a fresh, complex, and deeply personal look at tragedy and unquestionably provides the strongest moments in the show.

The reality of loss and the impact that it has often gets sidetracked by other concerns within the piece. The beating heart of the show is paused for explorations of sub-plots and explanations of character motivations that feel extraneous and add layers of confusion to a plot that could be sleeker. The tension between the reality of grief and the fictions of entertainment is explored in the piece, and in many ways that same tension is replicated in the piece itself. There is a constant battle between a real and very touching look at loss, and an entertaining thriller plot throughout the piece, and it ultimately suffers as a result. This tension is best exemplified as Priscilla reenacts her final days with her daughter for a television audience while viewer comments flash on the screens dotted around the stage. The bitter reality of grief is juxtaposed with viewer comments in faux-text abbreviations that feel hollow. The failure to sufficiently mesh the two elements of show; namely the personal exploration of grief and the reality TV framework of the piece is its ultimate issue.

There are however many interesting elements to the show. The themes it explores, while not always fully realised, are important and conveyed through fine performances. There are also many fine elements of design including Denis Clohessy’s sound design which adds hugely to the production and Zia Holly’s lighting design which offers some beautiful moments that add depth and drama to the piece. Holly’s design in particular manages to constantly transform the space, creating unexpected moments, and frames the piece wonderfully.

Inhabitance sets out to be a challenging, and creepy look at modernity, and while it doesn’t quite achieve all it wants to, it still manages to find some incredibly moving moments along the way. Illuminating the impact of loss on families it offers an insightful look at our society’s trajectory.

Runs until 14 May 2016 | Image: courtesy of Project Arts Centre

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