Monday 24 April 2017

Review: Newcastlewest - Anecdotal scenarios and gestures leave us all too confused

Newcastlewest, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

The cast of Newcastlewest presented by Pan Pan Theatre at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
The cast of Newcastlewest presented by Pan Pan Theatre at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Katy Hayes

This post-dramatic offering from Pan Pan Theatre is a hollow thing. Writer Dick Walsh takes a fragment of Tolstoy's War and Peace as his starting point - where a devout Marya forsakes romantic opportunity to remain dutifully with her father.

Annabell Rickerby plays a modern-day Marya. She has dropped out of college, wears a leg brace and describes herself as a "west Limerick handicapped girl".

She rattles off her unaccomplished CV, occasionally sings her lines, and plays the guitar gizmo on her phone. She lives with her father, Aonghus (Des Nealon), and a friend Katie (Una McKevitt).

Aimless and drifting - like the play - Marya wonders what to do with her life. But even this inquiry credits the character and the play with too much purpose and cognitive agency.

She doesn't really wonder about anything. The play doesn't engage with real life at all. At one point Aonghus puts his hand down the back of his daughter's leopard-skin leggings, but this action transpires to hold little or no significance.

Writer Walsh also plays a part as Doug, a young man who arrives into the scenario with the possibility of a job for Marya in Brussels.

Gavin Quinn directs the actors to deliver their lines with ironic nonchalance, thus adding a further layer of detachment. All the performers are charming and able - if only they had something tangible to offer us as an audience.

Aedín Cosgrove provides super visuals: set, costume and lights are all a delight. The red backdrop pushes the action to the fore at the start, and its imperceptible recession creates a larger space as the show goes on. A striking device, but to what end?

Two red-clad performers sometimes manoeuvre the others like puppets, but sometimes they don't. It has no great meaning either way.

To ask what this play is about is to make unreasonable demands within the terms of its aesthetic.

This work isn't about anything, and to require it to have anything more than the most tangential connection with real life is unrealistic. But if the drama is to be sucked out of theatre, some other dynamo must take its place.

Instead, we get anecdotal scenarios and meaningless gestures.

Newcastlewest

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Review: KATY HYNES

Irish Independent

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