Live Collision International Festival: Unexploded Ordinances – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Creators: Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver

Reviewer: Saoirse Anton

Split Britches have been making feminist, politically engaged theatre for three decades at this point; early in their career they made work responding to Thatcher and Regan, and now they are responding to the current political situation with the same level of urgency as before. They write that their “purpose has been to keep a sense of humour, to remain the outlaw, to question ‘normal,’ and to work within the margins of the margins,” and in their latest work, Unexploded Ordnances, they certainly do that. Inspired by the 1964 darkly comic satirical film, Dr. Stangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, this production is an urgent exploration of collective and individual anxieties, of ageing, and of the trajectory of our future.

Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw play the President and the General respectively, playing the characters with a strong humorous edge, while still maintaining their presences as themselves, Weaver and Shaw; this piece is inspired by a fictional work, but this work is not dealing in fiction, it tackles the current, very real, situations of its audience head-on. After establishing the tone of the piece and setting the scene, Weaver selects a number of audience members to create a “council of elders” to take a seat at the table in “the situation room” on stage. The situation room is on a doomsday timer set by the entire audience, they must complete their mission before the phones ring, before the show ends, before it’s too late.  However, as Weaver prompts the audience members on stage to uncover their own unexploded ordnances, their own hidden desires and buried resources, it becomes clear that while there is a timer presiding over this piece, it is an exploration of urgency, and calm, in which the performers create a sense of sustained urgency and a sense that while we are on a timer tonight, the end of the show is by no means the end.

Covering topics such as the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment of Bunreacht na hÉireann, the housing crisis, the rise of the right-wing, and other such pressing concerns, the discussion last night between Weaver, Shaw and their council of audience members was pertinent and intense, reminding us of the need to create change and exploring what the barriers to that is. However, this production is certainly not a downbeat one. Weaver and Shaw deftly balance the political and social messages in the show with well-timed, playful humour. Peggy Shaw as the General has particularly comic moments as she parodies a certain stereotype of masculinity and plays with cultural references throughout. Lois Weaver is sharply comic in some of her responses to Shaw and the audience performers, as well as bringing a vibrant and impressive physical element to her overall performance. When this is paired with the strong design created by filmmaker, Claire Nolan, sound designer, Vivian Stoll, and designer, Jo Palmer, it creates a vivid, engaging piece of theatre that draws its audience into the conversation with ease.

Unexploded Ordnances is a strong, urgent piece of theatre that can make itself pertinent and essential to each place and time it is performed. This is political theatre at its best, bringing people together to address their concerns and issues and to move towards hope and possibility, creating a situation that could “tear everything apart, or open everything up.”

Reviewed on April 29th. On tour across Ireland until May 4th 2018 | Image: Contributed

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