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Persona Metropolitana – Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Marian Lovett

Writer & Director: Annachiara Vispi

Before the performance begins there is chit chat, led by actor Sarah Berkeley. It is casual and engaging, as if we were at a drinks party, setting the tone for an hour of theatre that is meditative and engaging. ‘So how did you get here?’, Berkeley inquires. ‘You’re late … public transport is such a nightmare, isn’t it.’

The last comment is wryly humorous since Persona Metropolitana presents to us a multi- sensorial reflection on how we experience the city, presented through the lens of public transport systems. Sound and image, word and dance are synchronised into a seamless whole that conjures the crowds confined to the space of a train, tube or tram carriage at morning or evening rush hour. The soundscape, composed and designed by Lorenzo Saini, gives us the sounds and rhythms of the city. We hear the incessant noise, we feel the rhythms, catch glimpses of scenes that are so very familiar, overcrowded carriages, peopled platforms, ramps, walkways, lifts and stairwells. We recognise the green and leafy outer edges of suburbia glimpsed through the tram window. All the while, Berkeley’s voice intones, reflecting and questioning as dancer Giulia Macri’s fluid, balletic movements convey something of the frenetic pace and effort that is required to survive the throes of city living.

Writer and director Annachiara Vispi alongside dancer and choreographer Giulia Macri, have together devised a beautifully resonant, intense and thought provoking work. The set (designed by Freya Gillespie) is simple and effective. Seats on either side of the stage suggest a train or metro carriage. Behind, onto the backdrop of a large screen (audio visual design is by Hannah Bloom) atmospheric clips and images are projected, many of them familiar to us as the places where we stand or sit, get on, get off and move through on our journeys into and out of the city, following what we imagine to be our own personalised routes.

Berkeley and Macri are the two leads but the quietly visible presence of Lorenzo and Jack (ie sound designer Lorenzo and the stage and production manager, Jack Shanley) on stage throughout, surely represents all the people we don’t notice as we make our way about, those who do the unseen work, those who we step over.

Vispi’s lyrical and rhythmical writing really holds this work together. Berkeley’s expressive narrative voice does the writing justice and there is a lovely rapport between the actor and the dancer. Macri’s achievement is to physically embody the script. The role of Giulia is clearly demanding as the energy and momentum of the play depends on her. But Macri’s performance is fluid and masterful and she carries it off wonderfully.

Persona Metropolitana made me think about how a relationship with a city can be like a love affair. One starts out besotted and starry eyed, only to have reality and routine impinge. Inevitably we get fed up with the object of our love, its demands and idiosyncrasies. As Berkeley puts it, ‘sometimes don’t you feel like just getting up and simply leaving it all’.

Persona Metropolitan concludes on a moment of possibility: if we can just get past the downsides, the trash, the tourists and the seagulls, maybe we can appreciate all the city has to offer, find enchantment again in the city markets and the cat cafes. What this show really infers is that it is on us to grow with the city, change as it changes, benefit from the invisibility and the possibilities, the way a city lets one ‘be’.

Conceived in Rome this particular iteration of Persona Metropolitana was specific to Dublin. If I have one criticism it is that some of the constraints expressed by Macri and Berkeley, like the need to compress oneself, to feel small and not tread on anyone’s toes, may be more associated with bigger cities teeming with people, cities like Rome or Rio, Madrid or Tokyo, rather than Dublin and its small population of just one and a half million which, too often, can feel like a big town. In advance of this production touring to other places (I have no doubt it will) I might suggest a bit more tweaking to make it more Dublin or London or Paris specific. But I would definitely travel, even by public transport, to see this piece again.

Ran Until 23rd September 2023.

The Review's Hub Score

Fast paced, engaging, memorable

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The Reviews Hub - Ireland

The Ireland team is currently under the editorship of Laura Marriott. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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