Writer: Bush Moukarzel
Cameo Playwright: Mark O’Halloran
Director: Ben Kidd
Reviewer: Cormac O’Brien
A person speaks to you, but their words become distorted like in a horror movie. Their lips and face stop moving, yet still their voice continues, echoing from place to place around the auditorium. Random noises conglomerate to become a cacophonous soundscape, as rich and beautiful as it is terrifying and haunting. Is this what death sounds like? You become embroiled in a post-show discussion of a show that you’ve never seen, and never will see. Frightening figures in hazmat suits morph into tragically doomed women who then subject themselves to violent harm in a space that’s somehow reminiscent of those rooms in which South American dictators tortured political prisoners. A man pops out of a black plastic bin-liner. A Snickers bar becomes the gateway between life and death. You thought you’d come to the Peacock theatre, but you’ve been taken somewhere else. You’ve been brought, courtesy of Bush Moukarzel’s post-dramatic theatre event, Lippy, on a surreal, nightmare-esque journey into the final days of four women in Leixlip who, as the coroner’s reports would have it, shut away the outside world and starved themselves to death some 15 years ago.
As grim as this may sound, this is contemporary theatre making at its most probing, most polemic. Moukarzel manages, aided by a Beckett-inspired closing monologue written by Mark O’Halloran, to bring dignity and honour to these women who chose death over living. Something that no amount of press speculation and media rationalising could ever do. We can never know exactly why these three sisters and their elderly aunt chose to leave this world – and to his credit, this is a question that Moukarzel doesn’t try to answer. Instead, he questions the rôle of the traditional dramatist and dramatic storytelling through both his compelling meta-theatrical staging (this is definitely theatre making a comment on itself as theatre) and an overarching trope of lip-reading – what are the moral implications of mapping your own words onto someone else’s life?
For this reviewer, Lippy resonates with the 1990s wave of experientialist ‘In Yer Face’ British playwrights such as Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Jez Butterworth, and Tracy Letts. But, a caveat – this is what In Yer Face theatre looks like in 2015, now that it has grown up and matured. Moukarzel and his main collaborators, sound designer Adam Welsh and director Ben Kidd, are too young to have witnessed In Yer Face first hand. So they have the benefit of studying it as a genre rather than living through the reviewers’ bru-hah-hah and shock-horror hype back in the day. They’ve taken the best of In Yer Face, discarded its less helpful aspects, and so created a theatrical tour-de-force that will, quite paradoxically, haunt your dreams and yet give you peace.
Photo byJose Miguel Jimenez. Runs until February 14th.