Opiums and Utopias
Utopias, as history has repeatedly shown, prove false and inevitably fail. In THEATREclub’s “It was easy (in the end)” the decline and fall of the capitalist utopia is greeted with glee. Yet despite proclaiming theatre as an imaginative exercise, or series of exercises, in which an alternative can be imagined, if only we put down our phones, no one seems able to imagine an end to capitalism. Least of all THEATREclub, who offer a lengthy tirade instead of an alternative as they attempt to rouse a rebellion. An act, like “It was easy (in the end),” that proves to be not so easy in the end.
There is something rotten in the State, this is true. But the stage is not looking all that stellar either. Written by Grace Dyas and directed by Doireann Coady, “It was easy (in the end)” sees politics and theatre make for uneasy, meta-theatrical bedfellows. Beginning with a tongue in cheek announcement followed by an apology, the power of the imagination is unimaginatively explored as a meta-theatrical journey through Hamlet, a factory, and Irish style capitalism unfolds, with humour proving to be its saving grace. Indeed, “It was easy (in the end)” is often most effective when it plays tongue in cheek with the boundaries of what can be acceptably said, and done, in both capitalist society and its unimagined alternative, as well as in a national theatre. To which end, Hamlet, less staged so much as reimagined and referenced in moments, yields some clever insights. The Ophelia Group, interrogating the manner in which Ophelia has poorly represented women proves revealing, while Hamlet’s monologue, along with several other heavy handed monologues, cleverly frames some important questions about capitalism, property, labour and theatre. But most especially homelessness, which as a motif and a political concern is never far from sight. Even if we can no longer see it, hypnotised by cocaine bumps and mobile phones whose porn and pings are the new opium of the masses. Yet theatrical acts of resistance offer the opium of righteousness that leaves an awful taste in the mouth. Indeed, even for many of the converted, which “It was easy (in the end)” ultimately preaches to, visual shocks prove surprisingly disappointing in their predictably poor attempts to shock. And not because of a consumerist desensitised numbing. Imagination can change the world. If this is the best theatre can imagine, people might want their phones back please.
If “It was easy (in the end)” attempts to reawaken the desensitised masses with an energetic counter attack, it soon backfires as energy, along with well placed company members and genuine audience members, begin to regularly leave the auditorium, some not coming back. Due in no small measure to “It was easy (in the end)’s” durational, performance art feel. Which also backfires as attempts to suggest a Marina Abramomvić performance sensibility, where blood is real and animals get injured in the making of this performance, sees image give way to gimmicks that play like cheap tricks. The cop out ending being particularly resonant in this regard, showing no trace of the ambiguity or imaginative that’s constantly being talked about, undermining its own potency. Indeed, “It was easy (in the end)” doesn’t free theatre from capitalism so much as constrict it within an alternative ideological frame, trading one form of theatrical tyranny, or utopia, for another. One where Eoin Winning’s lighting and Molly O’Cathain’s set and costumes suggest a rave in an abandoned factory as a disembodied DJ in a booth high above the workers listens to, and plays, the tunes the workers dance do. Like the workers, you're often left to wonder how long before this shift ends?
Cutting an uneven swathe through the countless crimes of capitalism, and of theatre, “It was easy (in the end)” comes to trade in the predictable as it questions presentation, representation and re-presentation of the Irish theatrical and political. Falling over itself in the process, trying to cover every base, offering a call to revolution which might leave many unmoved and uninterested. Yet there’s a sense THEATREclub already suspect this, and know it’s not the fault of the phone in this particular instance. “I’m inspired by what you’re trying to do but you’re making a mess of it,” someone declares, offering both admission and an accurate assessment of things. In the end, “It was easy (in the end)'s” manifesto of words and deeds might often inspire, but they don’t come close to delivering what they aspire to, politically or theatrically.
“It was easy (in the end)” may not recognise the National Theatre, but there’s many who won’t subscribe to THEATREclub’s own brand of theatrical utopia, even if they might share similar political views. One in which the audience comes and goes during the performance, or sits with their mobile phones on supposedly owning the space. An experience which comes to embody the tackiness of Broadway rather than the teachings of Brecht. Indeed, THEATREclub’s hope of a brave new theatrical and political world may find “It was easy (in the end)” won’t speak to, or for, as many as it had hoped. Including many others also deeply dissatisfied with capitalism and theatre. Despite some committed performances from a hard working cast, “It was easy (in the end)” delivers a surprisingly weak showing from the usually superb THEATREclub.
“It was easy (in the end)” written by Grace Dyas, an Abbey Theatre and THEATREclub co-production, runs at The Abbey Theatre until May 4th
For more information visit The Abbey Theatre