Wednesday, September 21, 2011

THEATREclub, 'Twenty Ten': Youth Novels

Project Arts Centre, ABSOLUT Fringe 2011
Sept 10-15 (Omnibus on 17)

‘Spirit of the Fringe’-commissioned THEATREclub played the Fringe this year with Twenty Ten. Directors Grace Dyas and Doireann Coady told me the show was big. And that it was. My review coming up just as soon as I think Jim Dale should narrate all the audio books ...

“I’m closer to the end than I’ve ever been”                    “Heaven exists”  

- Anonymous                         -  Anonymous

“Sisters can read minds”               “When in doubt, walk under the moon” 
                      - Anonymous                                                   - Anonymous

                     “Bite me THEATREclub. Go make me a good play”    

                                                                     - Anonymous                                     

“I’m not learning anything. I’m just getting hurt”                     
                                                                     - Anonymous

“That I really fucking hate her”  "I learned that we’re all fucked and alone”
                          - Anonymous                                             - Anonymous

"I’m lost but it’s going to be okay because I’m finding something out” 
                                                                                          - Anonymous

“How deeply I am in love”               “That I am too fat. Again”                 
                         - Anonymous                                           - Anonymous                                       
                          "Show me some theatre THEATREclub”
                                            - Anonymous

On one occasion in THEATREclub’s Fringe offering a performer says: “Authorship is a powerful thing” – an apt choice of words for the piece of theatre we’re experiencing. This is just one of the thousands of anonymous contributions to Twenty Ten ranging from wise to daft, lonely to thankful, honest to cruel. Everyday in 2010 THEATREclub sent out an e-mail to whoever wanted to play, asking them: “What have you learnt today”? The thousands of replies they received make the text of this show, appraising what was a year where cities froze, a volcanic ash cloud disrupted travel, and the country declared bankruptcy. It was also a year when hearts broke and healed. These authors (who knows how many) played the game, confided, knowing that someday their words would be spoken on a public stage.

Now it’s THEATREclub’s turn to roll the dice, playing out these responses in the spectacular arena of Doireann Coady’s game-show inspired set. Shane Byrne sings Johnny Logan’s ballad What’s Another Year? while Lauren Larkin holds up a showgirl’s placard announcing the months we’re about to hear before falling hard on her face. Natalie Radmall-Quirke’s account of how she played the game for the year hops to the refrain of Barry O’Connor’s keyboard. “A lot happened in Twenty Ten. Now it’s all going to happen over again”. These words ring especially true on this day: the day when over seven hours we hear the entirety of the year. 

Seated at a table, the six performers start delivering what the authors learned in January: “That I really have to stop drinking”, “That Dublin can’t deal with the cold”. A chrome scoreboard hanging overhead ‘bings’ down the dates. Comparisons can be made to Forced Entertainment’s durational Speak Bitterness – a conference style confession where professionally dressed performers read anonymous text such as “Our ex-husbands sat next to our ex-wives” – but where the form seemed very open with that show (it can be hard to tell sometimes) Twenty Ten is strictly blocked and memorised. This does up the stakes, as we learn what the procedures are for faltering on a line (clapping hands) or needing to go backstage and check the script (waving at the tech box to play music and distract with dancing). Directors Coady and Grace Dyas instruct some interesting technique here to keep it interesting but by scale and design, and especially in its durational capacity, Twenty Ten is already as gloriously theatrical as it aspires to be. These co-ordinations are welcome shake-ups though.

While the actors are advocates of these anonymous voices, a sense of who they are in themselves can glimpse through over time as well. Enduring and charming, they honour the show’s authors, incarnating their words with all the anger (Conor Madden), absurdity (Barry O’Connor), innocence (Lauren Larkin), heartbreak (Shane Byrne), bravery (Louise Lewis) and passion (Natalie Radmall-Quirke) they demand. Monitors connected to offstage cameras (a nice nod to Brokentalkers’ This Is Still Life, or possibly a trade of other THEATREclub work I haven’t seen) allow us to match words spoken onstage with presences that are off it, giving the identities that haunt the show no singular body or belonging, enabling us to relate or not without the prejudice of appearance.  

Over the hours there are survivors and there are casualties. An ambition to work in musical theatre takes a sad bow and a fear of cancer is realised. We have obituaries for JD Salinger and Mick Lally, struggles with bisexuality and monogamy, addiction and abuse, Japanese adverbs and weight.  Some authors even accuse THEATREclub of exploiting their personal lives for the sake of making a show. By the time the IMF arrive in town the mood has taken a dark turn for the worse. Pennies are hurled to the ground in rage. “I’m not learning anything. I’m just getting hurt” utters one writer. We hear the same grimes of over-drinking, betrayal, and selfishness that we heard ten months before, and we begin to think if the authors of Twenty Ten have any hope of being able to move on from their previous grievances.

THEATREclub can only work with the realities that are given to them but with subtleties they do suggest that things can change for the better. An account of an individual gaining weight and being powerless to a lousy diet is staged with all the actors eating fruit. In dealing with heartbreak and loneliness we can surround ourselves with the comforts of cigarettes and straight liquor. We can wear a party hat and be happy for others because it will make them feel good, in turn making us feel better.

Twenty Ten is an epic of survival and living within the indiscriminate grapplings of reality. It probably suggests more doom than hope but I will always pray that that one day that individual will give musical theatre another try.

What did everybody else think?   

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