‘It’s Not Over,’ because it hasn't begun, refuses to commemorate 1916. This is primarily due to the small matter of Ulster, which often gets brushed aside amidst the celebrations of all things Irish and 1916. For the six counties contain the voices of the Troubles, of the uneasy peace agreement, the tourist visits to paramilitary controlled estates and the Peace Walls. Here voices are often silenced in the bright bloom of apparent peace. The voices of the still red raw wounds. Bloody Sunday. The Droppin Well. Ballymurphy. Gibraltar. Omagh. In ‘It’s Not Over’ by THEATREclub these are the voices which are to be commemorated. And it’s all done with the ferocity of a howl of rage in a raw and unrelentingly dangerous production which presses at the border of the theatrically possible.
Performance artist Marina Abramovich once declared, “Theatre is fake… the blood is not real…” On the evidence of ‘It’s Not Over,’ THEATREclub obviously didn't get the memo. Performance art has always had a problematic relationship with theatre, with many purists seeing theatre as performance art’s binary opposite, others as its natural progression. THEATREclub obviously favour the latter approach. A four-and-a-half-hour durational performance, where the nudity, bodily fluids and carcasses are all very real, and the body is pushed to physical extremes with much of the event being created live in front of you, 'It's Not Over' is about as performance art as you can get. But 'It's Not Over's' sense of the theatrical is equally present, if not more so in places, even if the audience still exists primarily as witnesses to the events and spectators to the performance.
Directed, written and designed by Grace Dyas and Barry John O’Connor, ‘It’s Not Over’ presents the director as DJ, with co-directors Dyas and O’Connor live mixing and sampling from the performative, textual and theatrical options before them, as well as performing themselves. History constantly repeats itself on an endless loop, like the images from the Troubles on the TV screen, the endless excuses, marches and questions. An intertextual mingling of the Undertones, The Wolfe Tones, The Plough and The Stars and the endless murders, dances, songs and slogans that have all been done before and are endlessly being done again. The result is a wall of sound and images filling everywhere, packing even the periphery of hearing, vision and thought in an inescapable murmur. And if the song remains the same, have a drink, buy your raffle ticket and watch the bar fights. And don’t worry about the bombs, they always give a warning first. Like bloodstained shards of shattered glass, ‘It’s Not Over’ is a fractured mix of deep, dark dangerous dreads. It’s a Catholic strolling through a Loyalist housing estate on July 12th. A Protestant in a Catholic bar on Paddy’s Day. All are slaughtered lambs with their necks slit, lying beneath their flags when allowed. And throughout, women always come out the worse.
While courting the non-dramatic on the one hand, 'It's Not Over' crafts powerfully dramatic moments, attempting to unapologetically evoke an emotional response on the other. Yet like all durational pieces ‘It’s Not Over’ risks alienating its audience at times and being ultimately self-defeating. In the same manner in which you can become desensitised by overexposure to violence, the same can happen here, numbing you to the experience to the point where you just don't care anymore after four- and-a-half hours. With the latter part of 'It's Not Over' being less inventive, imaginative or diverse compared to the beginning, not quite sustaining the momentum, this becomes a real issue near the end. Relying too much on relentless marching and question sequences, which often imposes a 21st-century judgement on the Troubles in a manner that doesn’t always properly contextualise the times, it begins to wane in the final hour. By the time the end arrives its poetic text on constant loop feels like its shifted from being a litany to a lecture. Luckily you escape just before the patience bomb goes off, but it's a really close call.
If ‘It’s Not Over’ has trouble getting started, it also has trouble finding an ending. Yet throughout, an exceptionally brave and talented cast of Jason Byrne, Doireann Coady, Neili Conroy, John Cronin, Stefan Dunbar, Rebecca Guinnane, Neil Keery, Finn Kennedy, James O’Driscoll, Pat McGrath, Ruairi O'Donovan, along with musicians John Flynn, Ultan O'Brien, Dara Yeates and directors Grace Dyas and Barry John O’Connor push the limits of the body, physically and performatively, and the body to its limits. Lighting Designer, Eoin Winning, Costumer Designer, Emma Fraser and Sound Designer, Rob Moloney all row in and the sense of an experimental ensemble trusting each other in the most dangerous of performative places is something to behold.
Despite some shortcomings, ‘It’s Not Over’ is a vitally important work. Dealing with the deeper psychological wounds that lie unattended beneath the fragile peace that exists in Ulster, ‘It’s Not Over’ is like a painful, Freudian analysis session giving name to the pains that lie underneath, calling them forth into the light so they can be embraced, acknowledged and healed. Whatever the solution, it will be no easy task finding the healing. You can’t pretend the wounds are not there. Pretend they didn’t happen. Gloss over them and tell the wounded that just because there’s no more bombs or bullets that they’re all better now. They’re not. The healing isn’t over. It hasn’t even started. Yet maybe, with 'It's Not Over,' it might just have begun.
‘It’s Not Over’ is not for the faint of heart. Nor for those who like their commemorations in nice, neat bouquets with long, lingering laments. ‘It’s Not Over’ is a mosh pit pogoing to punk, it’s a pickaxe handle wielded in rage or a bottle smashed in a pub fight. Tribal, visceral, unflinching, ‘It’s Not Over’ is one of the bravest, most daring and soul searing works you’re likely to see for some time. It takes its chances, and if not all of them always work, it does so bravely, doing what truly dangerous theatre ought to do. ‘It’s Not Over’ pushes its audience and cast into places beyond the boundaries. And then keeps on pushing.
‘It’s Not Over’ by THEATREclub runs at The Samuel Beckett Theatre as part of The Dublin Theatre Festival until October 16th
For further information, visit Samuel Beckett Theatre or Dublin Theatre Festival
Warnings: Approximately 4 hrs 30 mins, including interval. Contains loud noises, explosions, strong language, violence, flashing lights, nudity, debris, shrapnel, sex, sandwiches, alcohol.