Studio THT, Galway Theatre Festival
My review of A Life of Words coming up just as soon as I sit in the bar where Pablo Picasso met Salvador Dalí ...
Early into A Life of Words, performers onstage discuss the painter Salvador Dalí, a monumental pillar of the surrealist art movement. It’s a moment where Fregoli, practitioners of a school of stage surrealism themselves, can be seen making reference to their own aesthetic and heritage.
The scene is from Shane McDermott’s Mosaic of Dreams, a play from the company’s repertoire and the first of three short productions that form this A Life of Words presentation. Initially we fear that McDermott’s strict and art-obsessed mother will inflict harm on her impressionable daughter but the piece, with technicoloured performances by Maria Tivnan and Rebecca Ryan, forms a different picture: a critique of Catholic conservatism and insufficient mental health and social services. What is originally perceived as an unsuitable mother-daughter relationship becomes a unique one, using artwork and artist to speak metaphors for their own feelings toward each other. Together they submerge their discarded clocks in water in recreation of Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory. The mother literally wraps her daughter in Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, using a star-patterned blanket. As they are torn from each other by two enormous Van Gogh ears, looming onstage throughout, the mother likens her pain to that felt by the painter’s removal of his ear.
By the time we arrive at Maria Tivnan’s Blocked, Fregoli seem to be championing education, used here as a means for three young construction workers to escape a Beckettian reality of restless routine. Aron Hegarty’s Macca is reluctant to find worth in his workmates’ nostalgic recollections of Hansel & Gretel and geography lessons about Ireland. Director Rob McFeely measures the slow steady pauses of Tivnan’s script, timing perfectly the comic deliveries of Hegarty, Oisin Robbins and Jarlath Tivnan. The text is more so commentary than narrative, although this may be preferable considering the complex pieces propped either side of it.
Enda Walsh’s The Small Things is used to cap off the night, a story of a post-apocalyptic world where language is considered such a source of disorder that people’s tongues are removed. Conceived by Walsh as two survivor accounts, Fregoli choose just one – an eccentric young girl played by Tracy Bruen whose father is responsible for this extremity that has struck the world. From her armchair, Bruen masterfully runs the monologue through her fingers, jittering along its dark violent territory, left ruinous by its effects. In the wilderness of Walsh’s world, semiotics such as those at play in Mosaic of Dreams and Blocked are left battling for survival. The piece serves as a powerful and devastating close to Fregoli’s presentation.
A Life of Words is essentially an allegory of expression versus conservatism. The effect of experiencing these three plays in tandem is gloriously exhausting but also encouraging, for if censoring minds ever approach our theatre doors they will have these roaring beautiful voices to contend with.
What did everybody else think?