Writer: Kieran Hurley
Director: Orla O’Loughlin
Reviewer: Edie Ranvier
The lights come up and we meet the writer. Not playwright Kieran Hurley, but his creation, middle-aged one-time wordsmith Libby (Neve McIntosh). “The opening image,” she declares in her opening line. “This is the beginning of the story, and it’s vital.”… So, begins Mouthpieceand it starts as it means to go on – as a drama that’s a little too conscious of its own dramaturgy.
Libby is a playwright, going through a fallow spell as she ages away from her early promise. Trying half-heartedly to kill herself, she runs into teenage artist Declan (Lorn Macdonald), and becomes fascinated, as much by his drawings as by his difficult family life. Libby buys him pencils and takes him to the National Gallery; for his part, Declan tells Libby stories about his mother’s abusive boyfriend and his love for his little sister Sîan, and sets her creative juices flowing once again.
But the rules of exposition, narrated to us by Libby at the play’s key junctures, forbid smooth sailing for their friendship and dawning romance. And when Declan tires of the thankless role of muse, he forces Libby to confront uncomfortable questions about who has the right to tell his story.
That story is the heart and nerves of Mouthpiece, and it’s vigorous and compelling. Lorn Macdonald as Declan is a ginger fireball who lights up the stage every time he opens his mouth. He makes Declan real, both his bampot exterior (trackie bottoms, baseball cap, thick Edinburgh accent in which everyone’s a “c*nt” but it’s never maliciously meant), and his warmth and vulnerability.
McIntosh’s Libby doesn’t come to life in the same way. Perhaps it’s not surprising. A playwright in a play about writing plays, her character feels more like a device than a real person: a pretext for Hurley to get in his digs about the world of theatre. The abrupt transitions in her friendship with Declan drive the plot, but fail to convince on a human level. McIntosh herself doesn’t seem to believe in her character, and her uncertainty feeds through into a sometimes-jerky performance.
It’s Hurley’s favouring of the self-consciously meta-theatrical over the human which, in the end, proves the main shortcoming of Mouthpiece. By the time Libby and Declan have struggled through to their denouement, which inevitably takes place on the opening night of a play called Mouthpiece in the very Traverse in which we’re sitting, the characters and the story have taken a backseat to Hurley indulging his own didactic cleverness. And the audience is correspondingly losing interest and conviction in what happens to them.
“It’s very meta”, as one of the characters glibly puts it. Yes indeed, and, alas, the less meaningful for it.
Runs until 22 December 2018 | Image: Contributed