Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Talking Shop Ensemble, 'Advocacy': From a Distance

Telling their stories from a distance, can Talking Shop Ensemble bring us closer to the reality of disability services in Ireland? 

Project Arts Centre, Dublin Fringe Festival
Sept 7-13

My review of Advocacy by Shaun Dunne coming up just as soon as I prevent the shady shopkeeper from selling me something I don't want ...

Above a beige stage pliably designed by Ciaran O'Melia to map boundaries beyond that of just a class hall, the word 'Advocacy' is projected in bold. We'll take the title card as a Brechtian reminder - what we are watching is a play and not a passable reality. Niamh McCann steadily enters and reaffirms: the stories tonight will be told "with distance". Just how far away is Advocacy planning to be?

Based on the drama-based education work of Talking Shop Ensemble's Aisling Byrne, this exploration of Irish disability services is responsibly approached. Given form by playwright Shaun Dunne, in his usual style of taut directness, Byrne's classroom exercises and role-plays are used to flip between the experiences of client and carer with a specific sensitivity: to not claim authority over individuals with intellectual disabilities. "I can support" utters Lauren Larkin with care, "but I cannot speak for you".

It's a considered play, well-performed and often centred by a turn from Lisa Walsh that brims with professionalism and integrity. However, the event is more informative than transformative. Our critical distance from the subject is just so vast that the gravity of the issue, the emphasis placed on re-evaluating a flawed social model, becomes lost. The style of presentation feels documentary but that form is characterised by closeness to a subject, not distance. It could be Brechtian but the distancing affect of that model is stirred by provocation; the stagecraft here is sentimental. Advocacy gets lost between the two.

What did everybody else think?

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