Writer: Bush Moukarzel and Dead Centre
Directors: Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
‘To be or not to be’ is probably the most famous quotation in the English language, and in Hamlet’s noble contemplation of death we hear a man struggling with the futility of life but fearing what may be beyond it. But for all Shakespeare’s fine words, sometimes death itself is far from a drift to eternal sleep with flights of angels but a painfully cruel sucking of life from the body, and an experience that is full of loneliness – as one of Lippy’s protagonist implores, ‘death cannot be shared, only witnessed.’
Transferring from Edinburgh Lippy tells two stories; rather unconventionally it opens with an imaginary end of play Q&A session where an actor talks about the lip-reading techniques used in his latest production and how these have been dubbed for comic effect. He explains that in ‘real-life’ he has used this skill to help the police decode CCTV footage of four women in Ireland who starved themselves to death in their home after receiving an eviction notice. In the remainder of this 75 minute show the Q&A, the play and the last days of Catherine, Bridg-Ruth, Josephine and Frances are stylistically interwoven, to make large points about the nature of death and the loss of voice.
There is a huge amount of technique to admire here and rarely has the blending of video projection, sound effects, music, voice-over and mime been so interestingly integrated. There is also an astonishing change of tone as the comedic interview section gives way to the stylised and deeply sinister tone of the women’s story. Most intriguingly none of the women are ever allowed to speak for themselves, although the male characters do, and instead their words are read by the actor/lip reader or by the insertion of songs. One of the women is able to read a posthumously discovered note which is seemingly now layered with the reader and audience’s interpretation rather than her own – a fascinating idea that words do not belong to the speaker but to those who see and hear them, so your voice is merely the interpretation of others.
David Heap is excellent as The Lip Reader playing both the self-important actor in the Q&A session and bringing real sorrow to the narrated voice of the women’s story. Eileen Walsh, Caitriona Ni Mhurchu, Liv O’Donoghue and Joanna Banks are restricted by their lack of speech but still deliver considerable pathos in their rôles as the starving women, creating individuality in each but also a sense of anonymity. Directors Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel carefully balance the various strands while ensuring the audience is unable to entirely relax, and skilfully allow pauses and scenes to linger a few moments too long to create greater discomfort for the viewer.
Perhaps the downside of removing the personal voice is that you cannot entirely understand or feel for the characters; while it is certainly impressive and thought-provoking, it’s not emotionally engaging. There are also a number of Meta theatre references which delighted a press-night crowd but may perhaps be a little smug to everyone else. There certainly are no answers in this production but plenty of layers to think about. Words are spoken and given to you to interpret, their voice is yours to decipher.
Runs Until: 14 March 2015