Chat show channel hopping
Speedo’s and speed don’ts, gender and torture, piles, prostitution, politics and poop in a purse. All issues that carry equally weight in Dick Walsh’s thought provoking “George Bush and Children.” A hit at last year’s Dublin Fringe Festival, “George Bush and Children” returns to the Project Arts Centre to explore chat shows, theatre and ourselves in a pared back, post-dramatic production. Yet post-dramatic doesn’t mean post-text. Here it means a multitude of texts, gathered from chat shows, which themselves are desperately seeking to be dramatic. Shows whose one size fits all format, to which everything and everyone equally conforms, is surprisingly resilient, repetitive, pliable yet fixed. Like the chat shows it interrogates, “George Bush and Children” manages to both entertain and enlighten for the most part. But it ultimately succumbs to a palpable sense of heaviness when it hits its repetitive stride and never changes pace.
With cast members airing, in often near monologue form, a variety of high and low brow issues, initially “George Bush and Children” feels like a comedy parodying the chat show format. Yet sitting with the house lights up, watching the curved mirror to the rear of the space, seeing us watching the show, and us watching us watching the show, it becomes clear there’s a subtler, more substantial interrogation going on. Switching swiftly through issues as if channel hopping in chat show heaven, or chat show hell, scenes are juxtaposed as opinions are posited in the absence of truth. Maybe that’s all that remains in a post-truth environment. Opinions. Informed, uninformed, misinformed. They come fast, and they come relentlessly in the unreality of reality TV chat shows. Yet yesterday’s moral scandal is today’s special offer for €1.49 in the Pound Shop. Tomorrow it will be old news as the once was important becomes the now trivial. In the end, as darkness descends, there may ultimately be no point to it all. But if the point is there’s no ultimate point to it all, doesn’t that prove there is a point to it after all?
If textually alternating between the thought provoking and the humorous, the lowbrow and highbrow, theatrically and performatively “George Bush and Children” finds its groove very early on and chooses to get stuck there. Never deviating from the channel hopping format, it matches its maximised use of text with a minimalist physicality and even more minimal set by Tom O'Brien. Looking as if executing a Kung-Fu kata, or a Pilates programme for posers, cast members rely heavily on a narrow gestural and physical vocabulary, delivered with the speed of a meditative Tai Chi move, to support and challenge the texts. Everyone, for the most part, moves at the same slow pace which, as the performance progresses, lends an almost monotone, monochrome weight to proceedings, which is punctured by the occasional laugh.
Like the chat shows it borrows from, “George Bush and Children” wants to appear to be smarter than it actually is, wants to seem as if it’s dealing with serious issues in a serious way. Yet while clever, it's not always clever enough. Engaging, it’s not always engaging enough. For, in the end, the message outweighs the medium, with both becoming repetitive and losing potency. Even if that is part of the point, and even if “George Bush and Children” has its tongue firmly in cheek with regards to forcefully framing its position to, and of, the audience, the sense of oppressiveness risks, at times, losing the very audience it is working so hard to engage. Thankfully its four-strong cast of Oddie Braddell, Fionnuala Flaherty, Shane Connolly and Grainne Hallahan, in simple yet clever costumes by Miriam Donahue, successfully push against these textual and performative restrictions, provoking some serious questions on many issues in the process.
Including questions about theatre itself. For if all the world’s still a stage, even in a post-dramatic context, and chat shows are just pure theatre, is theatre’s ability to generate, or interrogate, meaning just another con? Is it all self-delusion, this meaning we give to meaning, to theatre, to ourselves? It may be slow, even ponderous at points, and it may get stuck within a groove, yet “George Bush and Children,” with its four fine performers, still has the power to pause you in your tracks. To make you think. And to make you laugh on many occasion.
“George Bush and Children” by Dick Walsh, presented by Dick Walsh Theatre in association with Pan Pan Theatre, runs at The Project Arts Centre until March 18th.
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre