Writer: Bush Moukarzel and Dead Centre (Cameo-playwright Mark O’Halloran)
Director: Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel
Reviewer: Hannah Hiett
Lippy is presented as part of Manchester’s inaugural SICK! Festival, a ground-breaking new festival exploring the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death and how we survive them (or don’t).
Lippy is a performance around (but doesn’t presume to be about) the true story of four women in a small Irish town who decide, together, to die.
The women – an aunt and three sisters – were found blockaded in their home, having starved to death after 40 days of deliberately not eating. All of their personal documents were found hand-shredded in bin bags, as if they wished to erase themselves entirely from the face of the earth. They left no note, no explanation, no voice.
The performance is not their story, it can’t be, because we can’t know what it is… it is about the politics, ethics and the tragedy of trying to piece together a voice, a meaning, from fragments left behind. What it means to put words into the mouths of the powerless.
The piece opens with a ‘post-show talk’ discussing the context of the work in an entertaining reversal of custom. This device allows the audience to frame what they see next within an understanding of the conceptual elements that built the work. It’s like reading a critical commentary before reading a book… which, actually, makes perfect sense. Most importantly, the ‘post-show’ isn’t dry – it’s warm, self-deprecating and a bit silly, while managing to get everyone’s brain working in the right direction to better appreciate the fairly abstract performance that follows.
The ‘post-show discussion’ transitions seamlessly into a series of impressionistic tableaux which suggest, rather than depict, the women’s last days… the decision to die, the individual deaths of each woman, moments of heartache, fear and regret.
The pictures made on stage are striking, highly stylised and very eerie. The first of these depicts all four women, faces hidden and hooded, each holding a black bin-bag helium balloon and lit by a gloomy UV light that is both forensic and psychedelic in quality.
There is a scary atmosphere of personal neglect, of mania – the hysterical claustrophobia of a crack den. The piece is a surreal blurring across the boundaries of imagined historical and psychological realities. At one moment the youngest of the girls tempted ‘by the devil’ to eat takes a bloody bite out of the teacup placed on the kitchen table. When they speak, it is the voice of ‘The Lip Reader’ that comes out. Uncanny, and extremely evocative, The Lip Reader – and the performance – is burdened with giving an interpretation of what these four women thought and felt.
The inner and outer lives of the women become increasingly confused as delirium sets in and, as their movements slow, the action on stage becomes increasingly nightmarish – broken by fragments of language from letters (but are they real?)
The finale is a close-up projection of a woman’s mouth (reminiscent of Beckett’s Not I) which spills through a stream of consciousness touching on but not quite elucidating parental abuse, the love between sisters, loneliness, frustration at being a woman and finally anger, despair and the longing to die. It is a beautiful, lyrical final lament – but it’s real tragedy lies in it’s authorship… it wasn’t written by any of those women, the words have been assigned to them, written for them.
There are a thousand very clever things about this production – it’s the sort of thing that stays with you while you unravel it, question it, and find more thoughtful, intelligent and inspiring ideas in it the more you think about it.
Runs until 26 March 2015