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Theatre: Dating drama Lobsters has its rewards but tries too hard to please

 

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Nyree Yergainharsian and Brian Bennett in Lobsters

Nyree Yergainharsian and Brian Bennett in Lobsters

Matthew O’Brien and Melissa Nolan in Bloody Phoenix

Matthew O’Brien and Melissa Nolan in Bloody Phoenix

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Nyree Yergainharsian and Brian Bennett in Lobsters

Lobsters at the Project Arts Centre and Mermaid Arts Centre Run concluded

Making a theatre show out of non-narrative ingredients is a challenge. When the work is good, it flies, but when it falters, it doesn’t have a dramatic arc to hold it aloft and can collapse with a noisy thud. Even if some sections are good, the whole seems to suffer particularly from the poorer parts.
Nyree Yergainharsian has created a 46-minute documentary-style theatrical meditation on the subject of dating and mating, based on first-person testimonies. It is inspired by the idea that lobsters mate for life. Or do they? Yergainharsian and fellow actors Brian Bennett and Peter Newington start the show from three socially distanced desks. Set and costume design by Eugenia Genunchi creates a rich informal arty-tech office feel, with grid shapes on screens and spotty socks. The production is self-consciously theatrical and makes play with its pandemic-inspired artificiality.
Each actor reads from testimonies about romance, dates or marriage proposals, some during the pandemic, others not. After about 15 minutes, in a section where Bennett and Newington share a coffee, things heat up dramatically. The two performers drift between reading and saying the lines; they seem to be genuinely talking to each other as well as delivering a script. It feels almost like a date. Several realities are occurring at once and an exciting theatrical energy briefly ignites.
A section where a cake is assembled in a mock cookery programme aims for an absurdist feel but falls short. The constant hand-sanitising is amusing but wears thin. The camera starts to tilt to one side early on and falls over; this is funny but later technical problems are overly contrived.
Co-directed by Yergainharsian and Jocelyn Clarke, the show is stabbing at the material rather than commanding it. The final section with talking heads is rewarding. We get a repeat of some of the earlier testimonies but cast in a new light. The show is at its best when it focuses most tightly on the core subject matter of these affecting anecdotes, while the surrounding paraphernalia works less well. Like a bad date, the show makes the mistake trying too hard.

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