Tuesday 17 October 2017

Review: A thoughtful trip to the beguiling human zoo

Zoo Smock Alley

‘Zoo’ deploys playful absurdity to deliver a philosophical teaser
‘Zoo’ deploys playful absurdity to deliver a philosophical teaser

Colin Murphy

The chief attraction at the 1907 world's fair in Dublin's Herbert Park was a replica Somali village featuring "imported" real Somalis.

Teatro de Chile's 'Zoo' is a beguiling and rather batty meditation on this imperial fad for human zoos. What if two well-meaning scientists discovered the last surviving members of a tribe that had been thought to be lost. How would they protect them?

Performed in Spanish with subtitles projected above the stage, 'Zoo' takes the form of a "show and tell" - with live exhibits (the actors playing the "natives" are quite extraordinary).

The moral of the story is rather obvious, and perhaps somewhat lost on an audience whose sympathies are always likely to be anti-imperial - even if history, as Dublin's Somali village suggests, is somewhat more complex.

(Brian Friel made a similar point more concisely in The Home Place, which featured an English gentleman taking cranial measurements from the Ballybeg locals.)

But the playful absurdity of it, and a smart, low-fi theatricality, transform it from satirical polemic into a genuine philosophical teaser. What is progress, and what is worth preserving, it asks - and who should be the judge.

Colin Murphy

Battle of the bland as star fails to shine

Reiltin Peacock Theatre

Writer/Director Paul Mercier leaves his 'star' adrift in this staged concert charting the duality between a young artist and her demonic stage persona. Better suited to a pub setting, but underdeveloped regardless, it has no characters, no clear plot and little direction as Cliona Ni Chiosain spins about to a backing track of aped Britpop, keening over her failed love affairs with music and with her man.

Occasionally falling over and singing from behind a mop of hair it's 50 minutes of extreme karaoke, missing the support and atmosphere a live band could provide, leaving it to Micheal O Dubhain's video design to set the tone. There's no variety in performance, no emphasis put on the words sung (to express the diverse emotions) and no indication as to what our role, as the audience, is supposed to be in a show.

The idea of an Irish-language rock and roll musical is far more appealing than its execution. This is a deeply uninspired show that sees the company abandon the illustrative power of mask and puppets but replace them with nothing. Ni Chiosáin tries admirably but no effort is made to dramatise the story of a fantasist morphing into a realist, which is about as theatrical as a teenager roaring into a hairbrush.

Caomhan Keane

Irish Independent

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