Sunday, December 19, 2010

Best of Irish Theatre 2010 #5: The Company, 'As You Are Now So Once Were We'

Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Sept 9-15 

 “Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing” - G.M. Trevelyan

“All these here once walked around Dublin. Faithful departed. As you are now so once were we” - James Joyce, 'Ulysses'

I am part of a scene. It consists of those of the artistic sort, mostly in their twenties and thirties, not on the receiving end of any annual funding that could make Hamlet’s father fly, and are, undeservedly for some, overlooked.

Dublin ensemble The Company may just be the exception to the rule …

The Company was formed in 2008 by actors Brian Bennett, Jose Miguel Jimenez, Rob McDermott, Nyree Yergainharsian, and Tanya Wilson. Among the last generation of theatre undergrads at Trinity College, the group committed itself to renewing the meaning of theatricality – focusing on the deconstruction of performance as opposed to the construction of it. Immersed in the philosophies of thinkers such as Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard, The Company embarked on a year-long investigation: Who is Fergus Kilpatrick?. The show premiered at the 2009 Fringe, and was critically acclaimed as an ingenious simulacrum of theatrical performance itself. The group won the Spirit of the Fringe Award and were commissioned to devise a follow-up. 

Joyce’s Ulysses is taken as the cornerstone of As You Are Now So Once Were We, which sees McDermott, Wilson, Yergainharisan and Bennet construct modern day Dublin through a series of reenactments of their day, from getting out of bed in the morning to arriving at the theatre to put on the show that night. With countless cardboard boxes at their disposal, they set about creating bedrooms, streets, nightclubs, and restaurants(*).We follow the quartet of Bloomites on their odyssey as they invent the capital city to the mechanized tempo of the ceaseless rearranging and geometric angling of boxes.  

* Who else suspects that Ciao Bella Roma were covering part of the production cost in exchange for some shameless advertising? 

 In my opinion, if a show can accomplish humour then it can bring its audience pretty much anywhere. As You Are … is incredibly funny and accessible to the point that it convinced me that it was the show to convert my non-theatre orientated friends. The four actors perform in the personae of themselves, and are amiable in their genuineness and provide great hilarity in their dispositions. I once read in a review that the definition of a “charming” performance is the high degree of likability of said individuals that resonates not only throughout but beyond the life of the production itself. There are few acts this year that have not only been as charming as The Company, but also as effortless in delivering it.

Also as admirable is the ingenuity of how they delve into this process of creating. Comic skills aside, these actors are incredibly talented – displaying a great command of movement and skill to capture the extraordinariness of 'place' and 'moment' in otherwise ordinary circumstance. I previously mentioned that there is a tempo to As You Are …, and there is a magic in the slowing of this tempo to the point that moments are rendered isolated and offer insight to the elements that compose them. This is achieved not only by the exceptional physicality of the actors but also by Jose Miguel Jimenez’s artful direction. Christine Madden of the Irish Times realized a Cubist likeness to the production in its fragmentation of natural forms to construct something multifaceted and abstract. As You Are … is a testament to the level of thought and skill that these individuals are capable of.

The show won ‘Best Production’ at this years Dublin Fringe, and it was announced in November that it will run on the Peacock stage in January 2011, making As You Are … the first production in history to have been previously staged in Dublin Fringe and then to be produced by the Abbey. Perhaps this marks a new age in Irish theatre, where work that is not script-based or dramatically performed (insofar as ‘dramatic’ is the act of the convincing of a character that the performer isn’t) will have a place beyond the doorstep of the national theatre?

The Company are breaking boundaries for all practitioners in Ireland, and it is exciting to see what they’ll do next. If you have not seen it then I strongly suggest you do so in January. There is nothing exclusive about this show, and any individual off the street can appreciate it. Personally, as a theatre maker, what I take from As You Are Now So Once Were We is a sentiment that lies at the heart of it, that is, a desire to create something palpable and personal with those who are your friends and who share such artistic endeavours.


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