Tiger Dublin Fringe 2016: Breaks
Photo credit: Clíona Ní Laoi
*** Work gets lost to the cause in Breaks
When Gesche Gottfried, the serial killer known as The Angel of Bremen, was executed in 1831 for poisoning 15 people, including her children and her parents, she refused to give a reason why. ‘Breaks’, a new work presented by Bez Kinte, thinks it knows the reason why: it was a man’s world and she wanted to be free of it. This reductive approach, based upon a selective reading and only a selection of her victims, is just one of the reasons why Gesche Gottfried’s story suffers in ‘Breaks,’ as the woman herself is eclipsed by its efforts to anoint her as a feminist icon. Another is that Gesche’s story is corseted within, and appropriated by, ‘Breaks’’ entry level, feminist manifesto which is more concerned with making her fit than with telling her story. The result is a work that is thematically, theatrically and dramatically less interesting than it could have been as the story of a truly fascinating woman gets swallowed up by a lecture in Feminism 101.
All of which is a little surprising, for upon entering the Boys School in Smock Alley Theatre the stunning set design by Naomi Faughnan, assisted by lighting designer Teresa Nagel, is breathtakingly brilliant, promising something truly interesting to come. A wonderful snow covered landscape with secrets hidden beneath its rippled surface shows traces of genius in its simplicity and execution. In its centre stands a woman in black, like Maleficent or a deathly Snow Queen, dressed in a stunning costume by Faughnan, yet again, whose work is unquestionably one of the highlights of this production. The woman begins to speak, venting her spleen, and the story of Gesche begins to be told. Sort of. Built upon a series of found texts by the company, ‘Breaks’ suddenly switches to what appears to be a prolonged list of 1001 things only women have heard as the cast strike a pose upon delivery. Between snippets of Gesche's story more prolonged, in your face lecturing follows, as well as a prolonged sequence in which its three strong cast mime to a choral piece played over speakers, in what looks like an early 19th century equivalent to a Lip Sync Battle. And to end all with a big finish, a song and dance routine, mimed of course, that leaves you wanting less.
‘Breaks’’ three strong cast of Erin Gilgen, Morgan Cooke and Louise Wilcox, each playing aspects of Gesche as well as multiple other characters, do incredibly well in this disjointed production, with their physical dexterity and expressiveness being particularly noteworthy. Director Louisa Sanfey displays an astute understanding of staging, but doesn’t bring together ‘Break’s’ disparate elements into a cohesive whole. Gesche’s story fights almost constantly against the points being hammered home, rarely achieving a synergy. Yet when it does, as during a truly moving sequence between Cooke and Gilgen, where their repeated verbal motif on arsenic is juxtaposed with a powerful and disturbing floor routine by Louise Wilcox, all of which is followed by the most sublimely sinister lullaby, the effect is truly mesmerising and thought provoking, holding this production to a higher standard by showing what was possible if only it had dug deeper.
Visually impressive at times, with its three strong cast working hard to bring the material alive, ‘Breaks’ asks too much of an investment from its audience but doesn’t always repay that investment. There’s no denying its concerns are legitimate, but this is not about ‘Break’s legitimate feminist concerns, but about ‘Breaks’ as a piece of theatre. The legitimacy of the former does not automatically confer legitimacy on the latter. The points ‘Breaks’ makes have been made, and will need to be remade, but they have been made better by other theatre artists. But there is much promise here in the performances of Louise Wilcox, Morgan Cooke and Erin Gilgen, as well as in the technical virtuosity of designer Naomi Faughnan, whose stunning work shows her to be a serious talent for the future.
‘Breaks’ by Biz Kinte runs at the Boys School Smock Alley as part of The Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival until September 18th