Monday, September 12, 2016

Umbrella Theatre Project, 'Glowworm': Bugged by Mediocrity

Can a shy schoolgirl discover her genius in this multidisciplinary send-up of Victorian society? Photo: Christopher Lindhorst

Project Arts Centre, Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival
Sep 11-16

A quick review of Glowworm by Tom Nieboer coming up just as soon as I go down to the elderflower thicket ...

There is nothing quite as stiffening as Victorian society. An easy wayward step could risk scandal and spell out social ruin. For the likes of the teenage girl in Tom Nieboer’s new play for Umbrella Theatre Project, it’s preferable to rein in emotion and find solace in internal worlds, even if they involve luminescent insect larvae.

Timeless strategies rouse new curiosities in this charming multidisciplinary production. Performers come to life in the mute revelatory gestures of dumbshow, and use puppetry to portray a young girl’s discovery of a glowworm. Zelle du Bruelle is a brilliant entomologist, though she didn’t always know it.

Saving face requires soft lines, un-fussed and demure, such as that of the puppet in Hannah Bowe’s wonderful production design. Internal and personal lives are more chaotic, and fleshed out here by a capable cast. A bragging uncle, impossibly well-connected, is given good bravado by Conor O’Riordan, while Maria Guiver makes a radical schoolgirl fantastically creepy. The frightened negotiations of Zelle’s social life are often judged by Julie Maguire, sharp as a tack. 

“To earn their salt, an entomologist must be unfailingly unsentimental”, voices the academy. That cold posturing is the true aim of director Davey Kelleher’s often satirical staging, set to an excellent jazzy score performed live by Dylan Tonge Jones. Only after pushing conceits aside might a shy girl, stirringly exceptional, be nudged into discovering her own genius. There’s a spark of brilliance to the production too. 

What did everybody else think?

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