A Genuine Oddity with Just a Hint of Novelty
The struggle between our need to be and our need to belong can take a soul to some dark and twisted places in Lynda Radley’s thought-provoking play “Futureproof”. Following a carnival freak show as its popularity begins to decline, “Futureproof” explores themes of fitting in and standing out, family and business, voyeurism and performance, to name but a few, in this highly ambitious, highly entertaining, and highly theatrical production. Referencing Tod Browning’s 1932 classic movie Freaks, the more recent American Horror Story: Freak Show, and with just a smattering of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Radley’s brave tale of a band of nomadic carnies wandering the countryside, in search of an audience and a meal, has many stories to tell. Pitching their tent outside another small town, the travellers discover the townies have had enough of their theatricality, each freak seen as a painful reminder of God’s mistakes. A bearded, no armed lady, the fattest man in the world, conjoined twins, a mute mermaid and a conflicted hermaphrodite; all are human curios who no longer excite curiosity. All of which prompts Riley, the leader of this legion of the damned, to conceive of a daring plan to save his family of misfits. A plan which would see them become a story of hope. Yet not all are keen on Riley’s idea, and as they are made stranger to themselves and each other, choices are made between family and business which see all forever altered.
Poignant, funny, and incredibly insightful, Radley’s tall tale is delightfully realised even if it contains a few big asks it doesn't quite pull off. With Riley being more Svengali then saviour, the script doesn't do enough to warrant believing in the devotion accorded to him, or in the questionable plan he proposes. Its mermaid tale with its big reveal can be spotted a mile off, one whose less than satisfactory ending only serves to raise more questions than answers. If sometimes sublime, language can prove problematic in a few places, dragging pace and not always convincingly delivering. Which probably has much to do with the fact that “Futureproof” is rich and ripe with metaphor, some overstated, some overdone, but most very nicely done indeed. Director Tom Creed shows he is never afraid of the silence, or of the scene, or of letting his actors be. All of which delivers some meticulously crafted, sublimely theatrical moments. Moments where the gentle flick of a little finger reaching for a plate, or a twin’s hand held gently, glimpsed on the periphery of vision, layers scenes and performances with richness, depth and texture. Supporting character, mood, and atmosphere, set designer, Paul O'Mahony, along with costume designer, Deirdre Dwyer, do an outstanding job, as does lighting designer Sinéad McKenna, though some transitions between scenes are less successful then they might have been. Throughout, “Futureproof’s” astonishing cast consistently deliver incredibly strong performances. Michael Glenn Murphy more than compensates for Riley’s limitations on the page, giving life to the self-serving impresario with great panache. Gina Moxley as the bearded, no armed Countess Marketa delivers a soft spoken, powerhouse performance. Gillian McCarty and Julie Sharkey as the conjoined twins, Millie and Lillie, are excellent as the two that are one. As is Amy Conroy as the one that is two, being simply superb as the conflicted, George/Georgina. Gerard Byrne as the man mountain Tiny is also a joy, with his inability to resist temptation being hilariously and heartbreakingly delivered. Karen McCartney as the mute mermaid Serena, the conscience of the troupe, is astonishingly good, never more so than when she struggles for the words to say it.
Exploring difference, conformity, and the impossibility of changing who you truly are even if you want to, “Futureproof’ could be seen as something of a transgender fairy tale. Wonderfully theatrical, deftly directed, and beautifully performed, “Futureproof” offers a deeply poignant experience. Never more so than during its exquisite ending, brimming as it does with a uniqueness, confidence and trepidation that is a sheer delight to behold.
“Futureproof” by Lynda Radley, directed by Tom Creed, produced by The Everyman in association with Cork Midsummer Festival and the Project Arts Centre, runs at The Project Arts Centre until July 1st
For more information, visit The Project Arts Centre