Absence Is Presence
At first, writer and performer, Doireann Coady, can’t seem to make up her mind in “I’m Not Here,” which she also designs and directs. Her powerful one-woman performance, assisted by a very active stage manager, sees Coady, and her stage manager, constantly leaving and returning to the stage, each time carrying a chair. Constant set-ups, welcomes, mic checks, restarts, all begin to feel like a crapped out car coughing and spluttering trying to get itself going. But then we’re introduced to Coady’s brother, Donal, and the chair, the ritualised repetition, the tentative starts, suddenly all make sense. For Coady is psyching herself up. Preparing to undertake a personal journey into one of the darkest of pain-filled places. It’s okay to refuse to accompany her. Indeed, if you care to leave at anytime and come back, or not, you are very welcome to do so. There’s no shame in not partaking. But should you decide to stay then buckle up for one of the bravest performances you are likely to see for some time. Soul searingly beautiful, brimming with a raw, visceral honesty, Coady bares her anguished soul for all to see, and the darkness she reveals there is dazzling.
It doesn’t take long to realise that Coady’s brother Donal is made ever present by his absence, by way of a battered chair representing her much-loved brother, who took his own life over 3,104 days ago. Yet “I’m Not Here” is less concerned with what prompted Donal’s suicide as it is with giving voice to the harrowing anguish of the sister he left behind. In doing so, “I’m Not Here” delivers the most compelling case for suicide prevention. The pain, the anger, the hatred, the love, the guilt, the futile fantasies are harrowing to witness. Endless confusion seeks release by way of inarticulate mantras endlessly repeated, mantras that never yield their hidden secrets. In a story Coady doesn’t so much want to tell so much as show, her body, breathe, sighs, and sobs inhabit a purgatorial space she can never seem to escape from, dancing endlessly for release. A place where once insignificant details take on the weight of ultimate significance, the trivial memories all that remain as the face begins to fade. Primal, shamanistic, Coady channels the hounds of hell and lives, Sisyphus like, to do it all again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Indeed, if healing is taking place, it’s almost imperceptible next to the fear of letting go.
As a director, Coady seems to sense that theatre is arguably the only real art form that can capture something of the shared unshared experience she is reaching for in “I’m Not Here.” Theatre’s pliability and fluidity allows for frames to be pushed, twisted, smashed, or forgotten in search of a form to convey the inexpressible. Theatre’s ability to repeat unrepeatable moments, lived and relived in the ever present immediacy of now, perfectly captures Coady’s sense of a nightmare lived over and over, imbedded in, and conveyed through, a body performing within a space to other bodies.
If Coady’s design shows a heightened meta-theatricality, it’s one laden with religious overtones. A high priestess of the soul, Coady channels the religion of trance, relentlessly dancing until the body sees her transported beyond the now, rushing back through time and memory. Lighting design by Eoin Winning adds to “I’m Not Here’s” dance informed experience, as does stage manager, Gemma Collins, providing everything from time cues to dance partner, even throwing in a few Hail Marys along the way. Reliving the soundtrack to Donal’s short life sees dance classics, mixed with family recordings, informing the dance based ritual. If the final dance sequences endure a little too long, suggesting an intensive, high energy, pump class workout and sapping the end of much of its impact, Coady has already done more than enough for a conversation to begin.
In “I’m Not Here” Doireann Coady delivers one of the bravest, rawest, emotionally exhausting performances you’re ever likely to see. A performance built out of a harrowing experience imbedded in endless impossibility. The impossibility of starting, the impossibility of not starting, the impossibility of remembering, the impossibility of forgetting. In the end Coady starts, and remembers, and delivers a performance it is impossible not to be moved by. Doireann Coady shouldn’t have to do this. But everybody should have to go and see “I’m Not Here.” A performance that howls, screams, excites, and eviscerates. A cry, a prayer, a never-ending love letter, “I’m Not Here” is touched by the divine. A primal piece of theatre.
“I’m Not Here” by Doireann Coady, presented by THEATREclub, runs at The Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2017 until October 7th
For more information, visit Project Arts Centre or Dublin Theatre Festival 2017