The Spider’s House
The road to hell is lined with good intentions. None more so than Arts & Disability Ireland and Project Arts Centre co-production of poet Roderick Ford’s "The Spider’s House." If the idea was to mentor an artist with a disability, Ford’s shambolic script suggests the model may need to be looked at. Ford may express an affinity with absurdism and magic realism, but "The Spider’s House" is still a lumbering mess. A story in which ghosts, hallucinations, thieving monkeys and talking wardrobes have the tortured Paulsa screaming to make it stop. A sentiment shared by many of the audience. With up to a quarter of the house, already three quarters empty, not bothering to return after the interval.
Ford evidently has a poets love of words, but not the playwrights awareness of their limitations. Or of how to craft credible dialogue, characters, or story. Never mind an incredible one. Making you wonder what dramaturg Pamela McQueen’s role was exactly. Even allowing for Ford’s theatrical inexperience in writing his made unwell play, the mistakes in evidence are harrowing. Not innovative, or pushing boundaries, or probing a simpler, more direct aesthetic. The script is simply poorly written, with clunky dialogue sounding like it’s trying to chew through lumber. Take Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s Izzy, a pervert magnet with a damaged face hidden behind a Phantom’s half mask. Izzy really has no function other than to give Paulsa another titillating excuse to prattle on. When he’s not too busy groping, pawing, or kissing his sexually abused co-dependent. But Paulsa would screw anything, including a monkey: the tortured demons in his past, his head, his wardrobe, or his damp dilapidated room ensuring he talks endlessly, and often nonsensically. And not in a good nonsensical way. Leaving an uneven and uncharacteristically poor Lloyd Cooney trying to make some nonsense of it all. Ronan Leahy as a - answers on a postcard please - tries valiantly to turn his stone into gold; investing everything to try create some alchemy, but is still left holding a stone. By the time the two hours are over it comes as a release. Two hours too late. Subtitling it a ‘nightmare from a disordered mind’ might explain much, but it forgives it nothing.
That Ford suffers from Asperger’s in not sufficient reason to excuse "The Spider’s House" for being as poorly put together as it is. For there’s moments of genuine promise here that are never realised for Ford being allowed free rein. A task Maisie Lee’s direction falls considerably short of managing. Leaving an experienced cast floundering despite the occasional impressive visual. For the only artist Ford allows onstage is Ford, and his inexperience shows. Allowing the script to meander into cul-de-sacs to die there. Slowly. And painfully. Despite an ambitious rally at the end. And despite the talented support surrounding him. Not even Genevieve Hulme-Beaman, Rohan Leahy and Lloyd Cooney can save this torturous two hours looking like twelve. Like Deirdre Dwyer’s well crafted set, Carl Kennedy’s creepy sound design and Stephen Dodd’s excellent lights, it all speaks to a waste of exceptional talent. For all the King's horses couldn't save this Humpty Dumpty. And if you argue it's all about process rather than product, the product suggests the process is in need of some very serious tinkering with.
There’s an argument to be made for going easy here. But at least two reasons militate against that. Firstly, money and resources have been clearly invested, along with some recognised and respected talent. In the current cutback climate, "The Spider’s House" isn’t good enough given the level of investment. Secondly, as shows like What I (Don’t) Know About Autism have shown, people with disabilities can produce truly impressive work, especially with the right support. If "The Spider’s House" shows promise in a David Lynch kind of way, it never fulfils it for suffering from too many fundamental problems. Not innovations, not simplifications, just basic errors that should have been addressed. Somebody seriously dropped the ball here. And keeping silent only creates an elephant in the room and no one — not Ford, not the producers, not the audience, not the cast and creatives, and most certainly not artists with disabilities — benefits. If anything, silence will likely reinforce prejudice against artists with disabilities. Because people talk, and many talked with their feet. In fairness to Ford, he should have been challenged more. And someone should have told him his script wasn’t ready yet.
"The Spider’s House" by Roderick Ford, presented by Arts & Disability Ireland and Project Arts Centre, runs at Project Arts Centre until March 7.
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre.