Photo credit: Gabriela Neeb
Not enough treasure to be found on This Beach
Images of drowning run throughout Brokentalkers latest production ‘This Beach,’ described as a satirical response to the refugee crisis gripping Europe. From its opening image which references the tragic death of three-year-old, Syrian refugee Alan Kurdî, whose body was found washed up on a Turkish beach in September 2015, to its closing monologue, drowning is ever present. In between, bodies are washed up and disposed of by privileged Europeans living on their isolated beach, secure from the barbarian hordes, spending their idyllic days drinking, dancing and discussing their plight. Busy building their walls, they get married to keep their heritage alive and excavate their past from the sand beneath their feet. Sand they own and have no intention of sharing. Clever in places and thought provoking at times, ‘This Beach’ is certainly not the first artistic response to the tragic plight of refugees, and it’s certainly not the best. Overwrought at times, didactic in places, frequently labouring its often obvious points, ‘This Beach’ often falls short of Brokentalkers own high standards of theatrical inventiveness. Yet ultimately it is redeemed by some fine performances, a rich vein of humour and an engaging questioning of its own purpose of using the trauma of others to create art.
What little story there is in 'This Beach' revolves around Brian and Breffni, whose marriage on the private beach owned by Brian’s father Daniel signals the beginning of a new dawn. A new dawn where, for the sake of family, progeny and posterity, the plight of others cannot be met by politically correct, sympathetic sentimentality. From countless great grandfathers right up to today, their heritage lies on this beach, and that is something they must preserve at all costs. Carl, Brian’s blood brother with an English accent, is quite happy with their Utopian solitude. But Pom, Breffni’s Mum, misses the buzz of the multi-cultural city. As days pass and drowned bodies are disposed of, arguments give way to drinking and dancing until another washed up body suddenly coughs up the water in his lungs. Fleeing from his potato rich village by the sea the unnamed guest poses a problem for his hosts, namely what to do with the boy now he’s here? Whatever that is, it's certainly never about what he might actually want, but always about what he can do for his hosts as worker, company, artistic inspiration or as somebody to be feared.
Written and directed by Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan, with dramaturgy by Bjarni Jonsson, the story ‘This Beach’ tells is not really the point, it’s simply a loose structure upon which ‘This Beach’ can make its points. Some of which are indeed interesting and well made, with the question of the role of the artist in taking from, or exchanging with, those in crisis being particularly well handled. There’s a rich vein of humour that runs throughout ‘This Beach,’ which is often laugh out loud hilarious. But the script also labours its often obvious points, overstaying its welcome in places, as when listing the hallmarks of the American dream or talking about terrorism. Visually and theatrically, its strengths lie in the rich physicality of its talented cast, but visual references to gas chambers and water boarding hit home with the cleverness and subtly of blunt force trauma.
If ‘This Beach’s’ cast of dislikeable, if recognisable characters, border on being caricatures in places, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Carl Harrison, Breffni Houlihan, Bryan Quinn, Daniel Reardon and Pom Boyd as the self-obsessed Europeans are utterly engaging, with Boyd being an absolute delight. Neimhin Robinson is also engaging as the big brained, bald headed alien, a civil engineer who speaks German and understands archaeology, predictably functioning to highlight the failings of his European hosts.
Incredibly funny in places, at times ‘This Beach’ risks drowning in its smorgasbord of obvious and laboured points. From walls to Nazis to gas chambers to drowned bodies, these are points that, politically and theatrically, have been made before in relation to the refugee crisis, and often made better. Comparisons between ‘This Beach’ and Brokentalkers’ previous production, ‘The Blue Boy’ are bound to be made, with the latter’s theatrical inventiveness and ability to handle disturbing material asking some serious questions of this production. A production saved by an excellent cast delivering some strong performances and some serious laughs.
‘This Beach’ by Brokentalkers runs at Project Arts Centre as part of The Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival until September 17th
For further information, visit Project Arts Centre or Tiger Dublin Fringe