Tuesday 23 January 2018

Review: Lippy at Peacock Theatre, Dublin - 'an outstanding production'

Lippy at the Peacock Theatre
Lippy at the Peacock Theatre

Katy Hayes

The strange deaths of four women in Leixlip in 2000 in a group starvation-suicide is the subject matter for this beguiling show. It premiered in the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2013, toured internationally, and now makes a welcome return to Dublin.

The play opens with a comedic metatheatrical conceit of a faux post-show discussion, hosted by co-author and co-director Bush Moukarzel in wry Narcissus mode. Many of the intellectual ideas to be probed are raised here, including the key challenge of “putting words into people’s mouths.” Moukarzel interviews actor David Heap who plays a lip reader, hired to decipher the conversations recorded on CCTV between two of the Leixlip women on their last known outing to St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre. A gauze screen used for video melts away, and Heap, with a bewildered masculine empathy, helps take us into the women’s unknowable lives.

Joanna Banks, Catríona Ní Mhurchú, Liv O’Donoghue and Eileen Walsh play the women with a defiant mysteriousness and choreographed physical grace. The prospect of starvation is ever present, as they ritually dispose of their final dinner plates in a black plastic sack and a mouth-watering Snickers bar takes centre stage.

The production is acutely conscious of the act of ventriloquism it is undertaking, as an all male writing-directing team uses a male actor to penetrate this most mysterious of women’s stories. Sometimes the ventriloquism is actual, as Heap voices dialogue mouthed by the women. Their voicelessness is all the more moving for this.

A final monologue by Eileen Walsh is delivered via a filmed close-up of her lips, evoking Beckett’s play Not I. This tricksy device is in harmony with the general tech-savvy style of the production. But the price of this cleverness is an emotional distancing. Walsh should have been allowed to give the audience both barrels with an eyeballing live last speech: my only quarrel with this outstanding production.

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