Walls come tumbling down
The opening to Brokentalkers', “Have I No Mouth” does not bode well. Once you’ve settled into your seat, a patronising psychotherapist sets about getting everyone grounded with a mindfulness exercise. Wonderful. Nearby, a Reiki spiritualist, new-age mother talks to her 39-year-old, still living at home son, a self-confessed exponent of really poor video art which he feels compelled to force on everyone. Utterly riveting. They psychobabble for a bit about death and the hereafter, discussing their conflicting experiences surrounding two deaths in the family; the death of her child, and his brother, Sean, who lived for 15 hours, and of another Sean, husband to her, father to him. Isn’t this sounding like just the best show ever. If ever there was a case of don't be too quick to judge on first impressions, this is it. For “Have I No Mouth” is indeed a wonderful, utterly riveting production, and a serious contender for Brokentalkers' best show ever.
In “Have I No Mouth” Feidlim Cannon takes drama therapy, and its individual components, to a whole other dimension. Prompted by the tragic death of his father in 2001, Cannon, along with co-director Gary Keegan, his mother Ann Cannon, and psychotherapist Erich Keller, set about exploring memory, coping mechanisms, death and the afterlife through a series of memory swap workshops. The result sees Feidlim and Ann bravely exploring their individual coping mechanisms, their shared and conflicting memories, as they search for life’s safe cross code with a searing honesty. It may start with the vocabulary of the psychotherapist, but Cannon is merely playing with the form. Trying to find that which can contain the subtexts beneath the subtexts, those dig really deep down truths that inhabit both the left and right hand side of the picture. Regrets, resentments, recriminations, reconciliations, nothing is left out as mother and son journey together-apart through the death of a young child to the insanely, unforgivable death of a man who adored his family, Roy Orbison and his pint of Guinness. In the end, if a kind of catharsis is to be achieved, it might be found in those precious moments dancing together, holding on to one another tightly, or just playing together with balloons.
It’s a testament to Feidlim Cannon’s genius that “Have I No Mouth” contains everything and its opposite, all at the same time. Autobiographical, it transcends autobiography. Indeed, all around walls come tumbling down as boundaries are eroded – theatrical, performative, psychological – with fourth walls demolished, untrained actors creating the most theatrical and heart rending moments, and psychological and personal truths hauled up from where even angels fear to tread. Phrases like invest yourself, living in the moment or emotion memory are elevated to a whole other realm here. It’s impossible not to be moved by Ann Cannon practicing Reiki on her son, holding her hand over the mouth of a young child’s question, dancing with cardboard cut outs at Christmas time, or remembering her first date with her deceased husband. Erich Keller evokes something deeply moving as he dons the mask and becomes dream and memory, that which is hated, haunting and hoped for. Lighting by Sarah Jane Shiels is wonderfully evocative, as is Jack Cawley’s perfectly pitched sound design. Co-directors Gary Keegan and Feidlim Cannon take some remarkable imaginative leaps theatrically, crafting a shape and form to "Have I No Mouth" whose simplicity and directness takes Cannon’s raw wound and transforms it into a performance of devastating honesty.
In “Have I No Mouth” there’s something of the power and quiet elegance of T.S. Eliot’s ‘private words addressed to you in public.’ In the end, there may or may not be a heaven, but there is a now. And in this now there is “Have I No Mouth.” A pure theatrical pleasure, “Have I No Mouth” is utterly uplifting while being heart-wrenchingly, kick in the guts, pulling no punches unmissable.
“Have I No Mouth” by Brokentalkers, in association with Project Arts Centre, is currently on national tour following its opening at the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire on April 19th. Upcoming dates include:
Lime Tree Theatre Limerick 21 April
Town Hall Theatre Galway 25 April
Lyric Theatre Belfast 27 April
The Everyman Cork 2 & 3 May
Project Arts Centre Dublin 5 & 6 May
Mermaid Arts Centre Bray 12 May
For more information, visit sites for the respective venues, Project Arts Centre or Brokentalkers