Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Corn Exchange, 'Man of Valour': Commedia dell' Action Hero

Project Arts Centre, Dublin
May 28-Jun 8

I think everyone has that story - where they arrive early at a sold-out performance to put their name on a waiting list and pray that some seat will become available. Man of Valour sold out its run at the Samuel Beckett Theatre during ABSOLUT Fringe 2011, and a couple of nights I spent haunting the place, hoping that some ticket-holder would refuse to show and abdicate their seat to me. It didn't happen, and considering I was commuting from Galway at the time to review the festival, I spent those nights on the long bus journey home, dejected and thwarted.

It was with satisfaction then that I finally got to see the show this week! My review coming up just as soon as I'm reminded of a young Ian Lloyd Anderson ...

We all have our inner demons to face. But have yours ever taken form so as to chase you in movie-like action sequences through train carriages and high air pursuits? For the fretful Farrell Blinks - the hero of The Corn Exchange's slick hit from 2011 - they have but, like any of us, the courage to combat them is a battle both persevering and personal.

The creation of actor Paul Reid, Farrell Blinks is an office drone who shies away from his work colleagues, that is when he's not envisioning flinging a freshly-sharpened pencil as a Batarang to cut them down to size. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, he escapes into a fantasy where he wields heavy artillery and some ninja moves. Upon receiving a message from his distant father, however, Blinks must pick a fight that is more real than he'd care for.

Under Annie Ryan's tactical direction, Reid is utterly uncanny as he hums, clicks, darts and zooms his way through this world of humdrum woes and superhero clichés. Bearing the face-paint of the company's commedia dell'arte performance style, he leaps through scenes created by an expert design team. Aédin Cosgrove's monochrome lighting evokes classic Hollywood, while Jack Phelan's ceaseless video visuals keep the hero apace as he sprints to the strains of Denis Clohessy's cinematic score (which rises up to resemble Hans Zimmer at points).

Man of Valour sustains due to Reid's meticulous stagecraft, and one can't help but notice that many conventional features are dialed back, from the cast-number of one (The Corn Exchange are usually ensemble-based) to the rarity of spoken text (Michael West is credited as writer but one senses that his dramaturgical input was more focused on narrative structure than language). It feels like The Corn Exchange are playing with their basest and rawest materials here, drawing on dexterous command of physical performance and making more space than ever for Ryan's fluid scene changes. It's minimalism, and it exposes the essence of this spirited company as well as something about their identity. One might remember that it was The Corn Exchange who were hit hardest by funding cuts back in 2010, and Man of Valour represents their first original work after that hit. As Farrell Blinks braves the danger to ultimately announce his presence in the final scene, so too does the company, with conviction, with courage ...

With valour.

What did everybody else think?

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