This wildly imaginative play needs to be reined in. Photo: Ros Kavanagh.
Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival
Sep 30-Oct 8
A quick review of Melt by Shane Mac an Bhaird coming up just as soon as I don't trust anyone with the guile of humility ...
Who knows what wonders the unexplored depths of Antarctica hold. Early in Shane Mac an Bhaird’s new play, someone’s speculation of a potential discovery borrows from the art criticism of John Berger: “It’ll be a new way of seeing”. That may drive scientific enquiry as well as a determinedly ineffable drama.
This Rough Magic production starts with a vivid enough premise. At an icy outpost, an eager-to-impress graduate (Charlie Maher) joins a scattered professor (Owen Roe). After swigging whiskey they rush into a high-risk experiment: a descent into a hole bored miles underground. As past memories start to flood in, it’s hard to know if it's an effect of the alcohol or the influence of something unchartered under Antarctica.
Director Lynne Parker’s dutiful production embraces such ambiguity, as slipped truths and Skype calls conveniently occur in a slightly skewed reality. That’s not to say its ambivalences don’t buckle; Maher will diligently show his character’s drunken affections for his boss (an absorbing Rebecca O’Mara) but he’s caught in an agonising case of whiskey-and-truth storytelling.
Like the warp of Raymond Roussel’s proto-surrealist novel Locus Solus, Mac an Bhaird’s once dependable adventure transforms into something intently different. An outlandish discovery ushers in a new character, and a nutty performance by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman. It becomes a bizarre setting for voicing male insecurities. It’s also hell of a distance to go for two men to find a kind of father-son bond - despite their desires for the same woman.
Yet, you’d sense that Mac an Bhaird’s references are specific enough. As Roe’s tortured man looks upon his misdeeds captured on camera (John Galvin’s rigorous audio-visuals), it’s not unlike scenes of loss replayed in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape.
It’s true that this wildly imaginative play needs to be reined in (including its running time, which is 30 min over that advertised) but you could say it’s refreshing for Rough Magic to invest wholly in a playwright from its development programme. A discovery, even.
What did everybody else think?