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  • Chris ORourke


Olivia Sweeney in Electrolyte. Image by The Other Richard


Stardust and Dreams

You always remember those life changing musical encounters. For some it was hearing Elvis or The Rolling Stones. For others it was Sweet Child of Mine or Smells Like Teen Spirit. For Jessie, feeling alone and adrift on the lean streets of Leeds in James Meteyard’s award winning “Electrolyte,” with music and lyrics by Maimuna Memon, it was the first time she heard singer songwriter Allie Touch. Presented by Wildcard and making its Irish premiere at The Axis, Ballymun, “Electrolyte” might well prove to be another such life changing musical encounter. Especially if you’re unfamiliar with gig theatre. In which case, check it out immediately. For “Electrolyte’s” music and spoken word exploration of mental health is an extraordinary production built around one extraordinary ensemble, and one remarkable rising star.

That said, early signs are less than auspicious. Looking like a soundcheck at a student gig, full of faux friendliness and Disney smiley faces, it initially resembles a naff episode of Saved By The Bell: The College Years. Yet as events and music unfold, things soon shift to something more akin to St Elmo’s Fire, the R-rated version. A rite of passage for young adults looking to find their way through parties, people, and their own mental health concerns and life choices. None more so than Jessie, whose friends have either fucked off, fucked up, or got pregnant. Or, like her best mates Donna and Jim, are getting married. Leaving the troubled Jessie alone with her recent traumas. Luckily singer songwriter Allie has invited Jessie to join her in London where Jessie might reestablish contact with her estranged mother. But as warehouse parties crash up against daylight kidnappings it soon becomes clear that nothing is quite what it seems.

Part gig, part theatre performance, and all joy, “Electrolyte” might be built from basic building blocks, but its foundations and structure are rock solid. Due, in no small measure, to several unsung heroes. Piotr Dubrokski's sound and Timothy Kelly’s extraordinary lights prove to be pitch perfect throughout. As is Maimuna Memon’s wonderfully diverse and ever present soundtrack, whose Mike Garry styled, spoken word rhythms elevates “Electrolyte” into something far more substantial, and original, than another slice of musical theatre. Director Donnacadh O’Briain marshals his extraordinary ensemble to terrific effect, with Ben Simon, Megan Ashley, Chris Georgiou, along with writer James Meteyard and Robyn Sinclair (replacing Memon in the original production) displaying an embarrassing wealth of talent. All of which gravitates around Olivia Sweeney as Jessie. As front women go, Sweeney is a natural, her charisma, power and presence commanding the stage from the get go. And when she goes to dark places she takes you right there with her as the hairs rise on the back of your neck. Throughout, Sweeney is mesmerising, showing all the potential to be a major rising star.

If its spoken word rhymes are a little overwrought in places, and there’s a smidgen of Disney Club naffness at times, that can easily be forgiven. For “Electrolyte,” when it hits its stride, delivers a powerfully uplifting and heartfelt production. We might only be made of stardust and dreams, but in “Electrolyte” the future can still be bright. For the future is “Electrolyte.” And it might well blow you away. You’d have to be mad to miss it.

“Electrolyte’ by James Meteyard, with music and lyrics by Maimuna Memon, presented by Wildcard, runs at The Axis Ballymun till May 25.

For more information, vist Axis Ballymun.

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