Saturday, January 12, 2008

REVIEW: Vive La! (Project Cube, Dublin)

Donal O'Kelly's work since Catalpa has not always been as focused and unequivocally successful as that shining chapter in the history of Irish theatre. But with the latest incarnation of his company, featuring regular collaborator Sorcha Fox, alongside a troupe composed of Ciaran Kenny, Sinead Murphy and composer and musician, Trevor Knight, the actor's theatrical language sees a mature flowering.

The show, which is devised by the company after a tale from a collection of Fingal folk tales, tells the story of intrigue and treachery North of Dublin, in the era of the United Irishmen's rising of 1798. A lad from Stoneybatter is coerced into spying for the Crown, enlisted to uncover the leaders of the group on pain of death. But his heart isn't it, even if he takes to the role of a monoglot French soldier, who ardently backs the men – and women – of 98.

O'Kelly's style has always had a Brechtian flavour to it, and here that it successfully incorporated into the action, as the company tramp on stage, eyeballing the audience and announcing their status as a traveling company of mummers, here to tell us a story. It is not a revolutionary set up, but it seems to give a kind of coherence to all that follows, as the performers dance, rhyme, sing, play instruments, create special effects and melt into and out of character.

O'Kelly and co conjure up this vicious world of plots, betrayals, ideals, love and spies with a broad physical acting style and a smooth, playful, lyrical but never over-egged language. The arte povera costumes from Miriam Duffy threadbare, lacy, or slashed, in shades of wet and dry blood, gently assist in giving the company of mummers a look and feel that is part gothic, part circus. All of which assists in producing a classy show that delivers on its promises.

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