Music and Sound: Barry O’Connor, Seán Miller, Gerard Kelly, Frank Sweeney, Rob Moloney
Director: Grace Dyas
Reviewer: Sarah O’Toole
Dublin-based theatre collective THEATREclub believe “that theatre can change the world by starting conversations that send ripples towards social change”. The Ireland Trilogy, with which they made their Abbey Theatre début on the Peacock Stage this Saturday, brings a necessarily reflexive edge to the “Waking the Nation” project in an alternately playful and savage, but always passionate deconstruction of today’s Ireland and how its history points towards its future.
The fragmented and counterpuntal sound design by Rob Moloney and Frank Sweeney, complements their post-dramatic approach to theatre-making. This, according to theorist Hans-Thies Lehmann is “a simultaneously and multi-perspectival form of perceiving” and is a reaction to the dominance of the written text. This takes some getting used to at first, but over the course of the three performances the often-times inaudible polyphonic exchanges and the sequences of ritualised movements broken up by more casual interludes in which the actors address each other using their own names and question one another on the key themes of the show, or cue changes in Eoin Winning’s lighting design by clapping their hands, develop a powerful aesthetic all of their own. This reaches devastating effect in HISTORY, where the ensemble repeats and intensifies actions in counterpoint to video images and verbatim testimony in order to show the appalling disintegration in living standards of a community in St Michael’s Estate, and the scale of their betrayal by the Irish state.
Invisible histories are high on the agenda, but equally important is foregrounding the question of how a story can be told. The quandary of representing the stories of people whose lives you have not lived is clearly elucidated in HEROIN, when Lauren increasingly pressures Barry with questions about people taking drugs to which he keeps replying “I don’t know!” Characterisation is used sparingly, in the sense that it is used when such representation is necessary to show something, and it is particularly powerful, when over the course of a piece, the actors have slowly been building a situation of oppression through seemingly meaningless, and often comical, interactions with one another as themselves, for instance when Barry keeps telling Ger to bring in bits of Doireann Coady’s fluidly constructible and reconstructible set according to a plan which is shown onstage by an overhead projector.
While, at the start, you might feel a little left out of the dynamic between this close-knit group of performers, over the course of the three performances, you start to feel like you get to know them in the same way you get used to get characters in a sitcom which increases your engagement when they do things like sit down and have arguments about housing, and which makes it all the more shocking when one actor takes out a gun and shoots the other in order to bring the argument to an end (but also makes you uncomfortably aware, in the week following Trump’s election, how things can escalate shockingly in real life). For this reviewer, it took seeing The Family and HEROIN to learn the rules of engagement, but in HISTORY it really pays off with moments of strange beauty and raw emotion in spite of the detachment of the methodology. Readers are advised to see all three of the plays if possible, but if you have to choose one, go and see HISTORY.
Runs until 26 November 2016 | Image: Contributed