Thursday 19 September 2019

Review - Theatre: Leper + Chip, Theatreupstairs, Dublin

Leper + Chip.
Leper + Chip.

John Mckeown

She's called Chip because she has a chipped front tooth. Then there's Pringle, so called because she's partial to Pringles. As for Leper, in a world of such literal nicknaming he should be riddled with the chronic infectious bacterial disease, but he's in extremely rude health. I'm not sure why. I must have blinked and missed that bit. But it's easily done.

Directed at car-chase speed by Karl Shiels, writer Lee Coffey's debut is the manically-paced tale of “two star-cross'd lovers who knew each other but a day.” With its fights, murders, excessive liqueur-taking, sex with over-age women, ripped-open stomachs and heads covered in boiling burger fat, another day of this young couple's romance would only be an anti-climax.

It'd be refreshing if, just once, someone wrote a piece in which vicious delinquencies were indulged in by middle-class types, but once again it's those darn Dublin underclassers, with their drunk, violent, or absconded parents, with nothing to live for but the next ten pints, the next multiple-shag, the next fare-dodging of an African taxi-driver.

It is a genre-piece, smacking of Mark O'Rowe, but its sharply written, neatly constructed, and brilliantly performed by Conall Keating as the non-leprous Romeo and Amilia Clarke Stewart as the girl with a filthy mouth. Shiels appears to have wrung every last performative drop of sweat from these two vibrant young actors who hurl their story in our face without a shred of energy in reserve, and with endearing force, speed and feverish elan.

There's a mutual rhythm between the two, which builds up before a word is spoken, with the pair doing a kind of callisthenic-rap warm up, with gestures anticipating the fisticuffs of the narrative.

They take turns detailing events, details which build-up to their head-on collision at a party. Brutal cynics to the bone they're all the more impressed with each other, “she tells it like it is, like me” while he's so good for her in bed, she hops out for a strategic dab of make-up and gets back in.

Shiels and Laura Honan's set design and Eoghan Carrick's lighting design, of a white box fringed with bulbs evoking both the boxing ring and a kind of post-modern vaudevillian stage, channels the actors' energy to a furnace-like degree.

With every resounding “smack!” the lights flash mimicking the flash of light accompanying a blow to the head; a piece of theatrical overkill which works for a script which is nothing but a captivating piece of overkill from the exuberantly, self-celebratory word go.

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