Tuesday 22 August 2017

Welcome to the new normal, as a travelling freak show transforms

  • Emer O'Kelly sees a brave, ambitious mixed bag in Cork

  • Futureproof, Everyman Palace Theatre, Cork
Karen McCartney as Serena and Gina Moxley as Countess Marketa in 'Futureproof' by Lynda Radley. At the Everyman Theatre as part of Cork Midsummer Festival
Karen McCartney as Serena and Gina Moxley as Countess Marketa in 'Futureproof' by Lynda Radley. At the Everyman Theatre as part of Cork Midsummer Festival

Philosophers from Socrates to Jean-Paul Sartre have agonised over the purpose and meaning of Being. So adding to the store of knowledge (or, indeed, finding new questions) could be said to be a gargantuan task for even the greatest of contemporary thinkers.

But, as a particularly irritating advertising slogan says, every little helps.

Playwright Lynda Radley gamely attempts to address the question in Futureproof, a play that did well at the Edinburgh fringe some years ago, and is now at the Everyman in Cork before it opens on Tuesday at Project in Dublin. It's a co-production between both houses and the Cork Midsummer Festival.

Radley's premise is to wonder if survival of the self in society can only be achieved by becoming a chameleon: blending in with the background so as to be unremarkable in the herd. It's a kind of salvation, but it comes with a heavy price. Would defiance by continuing to look for support in the world of Outsider Oddities have been preferable?

Riley runs a travelling freak show, something which was wildly popular until the turn of the 20th century. But in the 21st century, the public's appetite has faded for watching the World's Fattest Man; two pretty Siamese twins joined at the hip; a hermaphrodite who obligingly dresses one side as female, the other as male; an armless Bearded Lady; and a mute woman with deformed legs who disguises them in performance as a mermaid.

His little troupe on the verge of starvation, Riley has a solution: to make profit out of necessity, by parading their "transformations" (as far as possible) into "normality". The results are tragic, paraded cruelly and ruthlessly for our inspection.

The howl of interior pain is a pall in the air as the troupe find themselves still surrounded in their own heads by the endless pointing fingers. The pain of living is not so easily extinguished.

It's a brave, ambitious play and one hell of a leap from The Art of Swimming, Radley's first outing of 10 years ago at the Dublin Fringe which left me distinctly underwhelmed. But there is an imbalance in playing which even Tom Creed's always imaginative direction can't conceal, with Amy Conroy as George/Georgina, Gerard Byrne as Tiny, and Gina Moxley as the bearded Countess Marketa rather leaving the rest in the shade.

And shade is a major problem: Sinead McKenna's lighting plot is little short of disastrous for Paul O'Mahony's at times confused set. And it would have helped if less of the dialogue was delivered upstage, as the acoustic in the Everyman doesn't improve on renewed acquaintance.

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