Dublin Theatre Festival 2016: The Last Siren
Resistance is futile when The Last Siren sings
For Homer and Joyce, and for many in between and beyond, the mythical Sirens and their fatal call have haunted the imagination. Add to that illustrious list composer Ian Wilson, whose latest work, ‘The Last Siren,’ brings together an eclectic array of talents to tell the tale of a hermit woman stranded on a beach. A woman remembering her sister who mysteriously disappeared. She might be suffering some mental illness, or maybe survivor’s guilt, or maybe something far more sinister. She might be channelling spirits, though whether angels or demons it’s not easy to tell. Or she may be the last remaining Siren. If its ambient score, performed by The Quiet Club, overstays its welcome a little, and its improvisations are not as rich and diverse as might have been, there’s still more than enough, musically and sonically, to entrance and entrap. Yet when Lauren Kinsella as the last Siren sings, she is both enchantress and seductress, and resistance becomes utterly futile.
In ‘The Last Siren’s’ haunting tale, themes of isolation and loneliness, memory and delusion are explored in an intriguing libretto by Wilson. Wilson’s libretto works best when it immerses its tale in poetic expression rather than direct narrative, whose often bald statements of fact diminish intensity. With performers improvising freely on stage around and within Wilson’s libretto, the mixture of musical and sonic spontaneity within the confines of a given form is much in evidence. Sound art by Quiet Club’s Danny McCarthy and Mick O’Shea has areas of delight, as in its opening sequence and stormy weather transition, but some other areas are less successful. Working within the conventions of an ambient form doesn’t always allow the sound to equal the depth of passion on display, vocally and performatively, by singer and performer Lauren Kinsella. During the Orpheus scene, when a combative Siren presses for attention, the guitar getting painfully louder and drowning her out felt like too easy an out and an opportunity was missed. Indeed, musically and sonically, the lack of diversity results in ‘The Last Siren’ feeling less like an hour long concept album and more like a 12-inch remix stretched a little too long. Which is a pity, for at its best ‘The Last Siren’s’ haunting, atmospheric score serves as the perfect complement to Kinsella. A little more diversity and brevity, such as that witnessed in its wonderfully tender ending, would have elevated it into something truly outstanding.
If ‘The Last Siren’s’ score has its issues, which are far outweighed by its successes, its principle performance by Lauren Kinsella borders on the sublime. Vocally and performatively Kinsella is utterly stunning. Whether singing, chanting, whispering, giggling, sneering or making any one of a myriad of sounds, her voice lures you in completely. If there’s a Bjork like quality to the ‘The Last Siren’s’ vocal improvisations, this has much to do with the terms of its soundscape. But Kinsella’s jazz leanings are also well in evidence, along with many other hidden dimensions. Yet Kinsella is not prepared simply to rely on her vocal prowess, she also uses her body as an instrument of performance, and her physical vocabulary is utterly riveting. Under director Ksenija Krnajski, Kinsella’s body, arms, eyes and fingers brim with pain, confusion and rage, like something from an Asian horror movie that lives behind a mirror or at the bottom of a pool, surfacing at night to haunt with deathly intent. The decision to use a bottle of vodka early on initially informs Kinsella’s performance with a literal reason for her behaviour, diminishing its intensity and interpretative possibilities as a result. But once the bottle is lost, her actions take on far more potent and poetic possibilities, with her relationship with her little, toy horse being eerily and wonderfully effective.
Ian Wilson’s ‘The Last Siren’ is a brave and intriguing new work whose haunting and atmospheric soundscape performed live by The Quiet Club has moments of captivating beauty and intensity. But its real revelation is Lauren Kinsella, whose incredible performance discloses musical and performative possibilities she has never quite shown before. Magnetic and mesmerising, both musically and theatrically, in ‘The Last Siren’ Lauren Kinsella is irresistibly, jaw droppingly brilliant.
‘The Last Siren’ by Ian Wilson played as part of The Dublin Theatre Festival at The Project Arts Centre on October 15th