Less would have been so much more
You find yourself next to that someone who quickens your pulse. Everything’s just right, but they insist on talking, and talking, and talking. About you, about them, about countless other things. The words seem to physically fill up the space between you. And all the while you’re secretly thinking, "would you ever just shut up and kiss me." Alas, they don't. They continue to talk, and talk, and talk. They might even talk about how much they want to kiss you. They may even pucker up and execute a discrete peck on the cheek. But it’s nothing that would sweep you off your feet. As the words sound on, the mood and the moment passes. Such is the case with TheEmergencyRoom’s ambitious production of “Danse, Morob,” written by Laurent Gaudé and translated and performed by Olwen Fouéré, where passion, pain and pleasure get lost because the words get in the way.
Described as theatrical magic realism, there’s no way near enough theatricality in evidence in this predominantly spoken tale of a woman, with her pack of dogs, seeking to locate her once imprisoned father, or his body, when it’s discovered his rebel grave is without a corpse. A prisoner herself, to both her fears and all she holds dear, she sets out to find the former Long Kesh prisoner, who waved goodbye to his family the day he got released, and has never been heard from since.
An exploration of the nature and consequence of protest, as well as a father-daughter story, “Danse, Morob” is dominated by what are essentially a series of monologues in which opposites attempt to coexist. Past meets present, the living meet the dead, the needs of family meet the needs of a cause larger than oneself in what is an ambitious magic-meets-realism production. One in which physicality and theatricality are relatively thin on the ground. This despite some early promise and the inclusion of co-director Emma Martin, who either leaned too far on the side of caution or was vastly underused. An excellent opening sequence in which clothes and personal possessions are bagged in silence, shortly followed by a powerfully evocative wrestling scene between Fouéré and her fellow cast members Judith Roddy and Mani Obeya, are wonderfully realised. But these soon give way to a predominately text driven performance, with Fouéré doing most of the talking.
Where Fouéré’s recent scripts employ repeated motifs almost as mantras, mystical incantations or magical spells, each delivered with an almost evangelical zeal, here repetition is less successful. Instead, repeated words, phrases and motifs evoke an experience similar to the drudgery of decades of the rosary being recited endlessly. Our Father, who art covered in excrement, being a motif in point, with the concept of shit being plastered throughout the earlier part of the script almost as much as it was on the walls of Long Kesh. So much so, it quickly loses its ability to provoke.
Theatrically, it’s left to sound designer Denis Clohessy, along with AV Designers Miguel Jimenez and Luca Truffarelli to valiantly compensate for what are essentially four monologues of less than stellar interest delivered in quick succession. Physically there’s a flurry of flung bags, some smoking suggestive of incense and a sort of circular tai chi sequence, but these only serve to further highlight the weight of words being ritualistically repeated. Indeed, if a sense of ritual is being sought after, the ritual ultimately found is more akin to that of a Sunday Mass, with the priest delivering a too lengthy homily that goes on for far too long.
Even recognising that “Danse, Morob” resonates on a deeply personal level for Fouéré, it’s a labour of love that too often labours its points. Steeped in often overwrought text, Gaudé the novelist more than the playwright seems to dominate throughout. Textually, less is more and show-don’t tell, are very much needed in this production. One which, though ambitious, doesn’t quite kiss with confidence. And, in some over written places, doesn’t quite kiss at all.
“Danse, Morob,” written by Laurent Gaudé, translated by Olwen Fouéré and produced by TheEmergencyRoom, runs at The Project Arts Centre until January 28th
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre