Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Thomas Magill, the protagonist of Misterman, has populated his world with voices, both from on high and from within. (The play is itself an act of revisiting, a revised version of a piece first performed in 1999). Through a series of tape recordings Thomas has recreated the village of Innisfree where he lives a life of quiet routine with his mother, a life of tea, biscuits, three-bar gas fires and Vicks VapoRub, and is an object of considerable local derision. Sometimes he interacts with these recorded voices, sometimes he acts out a dialogue with himself.
On the day of the Innisfree Community Dance, Thomas sets out from his mammy’s house to restock her stash of Jammie Dodgers and meets a series of neighbours along the way. Each encounter emphasises his isolation. Thomas has a very narrow view of human morality; he believes that people have strayed far from the path (“greed is our communion, sin our religion”) but they are not incapable of being saved – and that he has it in him to save them. Yet his neighbours at best fail to share his zeal, at worst they abuse and taunt him. He jots down their transgressions in a little notebook he carries for the purpose. Things finally change for Thomas when he gains a companion in his mission, an angelic figure called Edel.
There’s a degree of ambiguity to how much of Thomas’ persecution is real, how much of it delusion. The tapes seem to taunt him, playing on even when stamped on and smashed to pieces. And in Cillian Murphy’s astonishingly chameleonic performance it’s sometimes hard to spot the line between the interior and exterior voices. He really is quite something to behold, inhabiting character after character in a process of mass possession. His timing is extraordinary as he zips across the stage, keeping pace with the various recordings and shifting between moments of comedy and unnerving volatility.
The play has a purgatorial quality; there’s a sense both that Thomas has only recently fled to this desolate space following the awful events of the day just gone, and that he’s been here forever, locked in an endless loop, repeating and repeating the moments leading up to the inevitable tragedy. The use of tape recordings, with their little clicks and whines, only adds to the sense of Beckettian ritual.
Jamie Vartan’s brutal ruin of a set, a vast wasteland – as deep as it is wide – of steel shutters, skewed fluorescent strip-lights and raw concrete, does double duty as deserted warehouse and psychological terrain: an unseen hound snarls and howls outside; a crop of neon crosses glows in the murk. (Perhaps because of the Murphy connection, there are times when Christopher Nolan’s Inception comes to mind, especially when props start appearing from nowhere: Jammie Dodgers plummet from above, balloons drift and trip across the stage). This is Thomas’s dream chamber and it’s a dark, dark place.
The production is a technically intricate one but it wears it lightly. Walsh’s writing has moments of lyricism and moments of comedy, but there’s a sense of old ground being covered; the tragic event to which the play builds up is predictable and the idea of the loner made lonelier by an uncaring town, pushed to the edge by unthinking acts of cruelty, is not unfamiliar – the disco finish, with its glitter-ball shimmer and sense of foreboding, is reminiscent of Carrie in more ways than one. But this matters little when pitched against Murphy’s performance. He’s electric, kinetic, dazzling in his physicality; never still, he fills the huge space with ease.
Reviewed for Exeunt
Monday, April 09, 2012
Mette Edvardson’s contribution to the Fierce Festival is inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In the dystopian America of Bradbury’s novel, books are outlawed, something to be feared, a threat removed through burning. Some people hope to preserve the stories within them by learning them by heart, committing the contents of the book to memory.
This is what Edvardson has been asking people to do, to make these books a part of themselves, to become volumes in a living library. Visitors to the library are greeted at the entrance by their chosen ‘book’; a suitable perch is found somewhere among the stacks and the story-telling begins. It’s not quite the same as being read to, though it’s an equally intimate experience, sitting side by side engaged in the sharing of stories. Nor is it quite the same as listening to a monologue, though in some ways that’s exactly what’s happening and there is an undoubted performative aspect to the experience.
The first book I meet is Bali Rai’s (Un)arranged Marriage, a contemporary first person novel, given voice by Aaron Virdee. He chose to become this book, he explains, because some of the experiences and characters it depicts struck a chord with him. He speaks the words with care and warmth, giving life and shape to the book, making me sorry when it ends. Edvardson herself has chosen I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume and while her retelling is crisper, it’s no less compelling and again there is a jolt when she draws to a halt.
The process of memorising is vital to the piece. The performers are not reading the words, the words exist within them. And it is very much a process: the act of memorising such large, uninterrupted chunks of text requires commitment, continuation. The words can fade if not spoken often; it is by no means a permanent acquisition, and the books need to be communicated to people, passed on, if they are to be retained.
Other novels and stories on the list include Bartleby The Scrivener by Herman Melville,Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, The Trial by Franz Kafka, Crash by J G Ballard, and Aesop’s Fables. This last choice is telling. The piece evokes a pre-literate world when stories only survived through a process of oral communication, repetition and re-telling: Aesop’s Fables were transmitted in this way. It also makes you think of books as subversive, thrilling things, coded objects, with the potential to excite and incite those who come into contact with them.
Edvardson succeeds in making you think of books both as a physical objects and as vessels. There’s a potency that comes from setting it in a library too, where the act of speaking out loud creates something of a frisson and the books are often a little bruised and bent, well-travelled volumes, pages that have been read and re-read countless times. It reminds you of the vital role a library can (and should) play in a society: all these stories, all these words, all this power, just waiting on the shelves, to be borrowed, to be read, and to be loved.