Dir. Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel, Citizens, 8th – 11th April 2015
Presented as part of the Arches’ BEHAVIOUR15 festival…
Dead Centre’s Lippy is complicated, perhaps too much so for its own good. Touted as “pushing at the limits of theatre” and “extraordinarily textured”, I can definitely agree that it was pushing.
Telling the story of four women in Ireland who entered into a forty day suicide pact, the subject matter isn’t wanting for gravitas. Throughout the performance the audience is bombarded with fourth wall breaking moments and constant reminders that what they are seeing isn’t really a totally honest account of these events.
Every step of the way it feels like Dead Centre are trying to find some new way of breaking from convention, including an opening, full of charm and wit (that sadly wastes away over the course of the production and is replaced by a relentlessly sombre tone accompanied by perpetually blue lighting), that poked fun at theatre conventions like the post show discussion. Moments like the opening have a sense of fun and earnest creativity about them and I think it’s fair to say that the whole production is earnest but the line between being earnestness and trying too hard proves too fine in many cases.
On many occasions too many things are going on, no one idea being lingered upon or allowed to grow and develop. One minute the narrator figure of the central character (I use this term cautiously since the show has a hard time deciding who the central character is supposed to be) takes on the role of a devil tempting one of the women to eat, the next he’s sitting on a chair with a bucket on his head and water is pouring onto him before a stagehand emerges onstage with a leaf blower and scatters shredded papers onto the front row of the audience. As I say, I’m not faulting them for being earnest but to be honest it is more than a little easy to feel disorientated by how unpredictable it all is. When a character takes a bite out of a teacup then smears the blood over their clothes I am left feeling somewhat conflicted as to what I am supposed to be feeling and now I’m equally unsure if that was honestly their intention.
The story is told from the perspective of a lip-reader who was asked to observe CCTV footage of two of the women prior to their deaths. The central idea of the piece, one that is addressed at the very beginning, is that it is easy, when lip-reading, to misinterpret what is said, and that this can lead to misunderstanding the motivations behind someone’s actions. With that idea in mind at least some aspects of the piece begin to make more sense but all the same I am left nonplussed by the end. On the one hand I am impressed by the sheer volume of stuff that had been exhibited (there’s that texture I was promised) but on the other I am frustrated by how convoluted and overly complex the piece had seemingly felt compelled to be.
I can’t help but think that had the production done less to try and technically impress its audience then I would have been better able to appreciate its ideas in the moment rather than having to untangle its too tightly crammed devices.