Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blue Raincoat, 'At Swim: Two Birds': Clown Nose

Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Feb 21-Mar 5

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’d do a piece on Blue Raincoat’s stage adaptation of Flann O’Brien’s At Swim: Two Birds, which is now showing at the Project. The show has been on its feet since the winter of 2009, which is when I saw it in the Raincoat’s Factory Space in Sligo. Below is a review of that performance (written back when I first started writing reviews. This is the blogger equivalent of baby pictures). Feel free to use the comments section below to share your thoughts. 

“One ending, one beginning for a book was one principle I did not agree with”

These are the words of Flann O’Brien’s student hero, played here by the exceptional Sandra O’Malley, at the beginning of At Swim Two Birds. The audience are to discover the literal meaning of these words. What proceeds is a fantastic panorama of meta-fictional mishap as we are subjected to three or more streams of narrative.

It’s all a bit chaotic, and I sensed some frustration from the audience at the performance’s surplus of plot confinement. There were enough positives for me that I didn’t really mind the bedlam. Niall Henry’s direction of his actors is truly a testament to the group’s Corporal Mime background as we see that each movement is meticulously manoeuvred and given purpose. Some familiarity with O'Brien's novel may benefit one's viewing experience but this is not a prerequisite. The highly descriptive language of Jocelyn Clarke’s script is luscious in its intricacies and its richness in imagination is sweet harmony to the ear.

The actors all deserve high praise here, not only for their comic talent but also their for ability to assign movement to personality. In one rare moment of absent speech, Sandra O’Malley as the Pooka MacPhellimey is pacing confidently towards the audience, fedora firmly resting on her head. As the clown music thumps louder, and MacPhellimey approaches the front of the stage, O’Malley removes the hat and produces a red clown nose to indicate her switch to the reserved Orlick. It is a moment of instant transformation that is presented directly to the audience. As she lowers the hat, and the stern facial expression of the Pooka is replaced by the timid courtesy of Orlick, O’Malley demonstrates her immense ability to command body language and movement in a way that defines character and consciousness.  

At Swim retains the comedy and inquiry into creativity that Flann O’Brien’s meta-fictional masterpiece possessed, as this production joyfully abides to the right of private life to fictional creations and further conveys the consequences of their actions. Blue Raincoat approached this text with an exemplary sophistication and vision.

What did everybody else think?

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