From The Mouths Of Babes
“If you have a history lecture before the play it’s going to be a shite play.” True that. But what about a lecture that positions dreams and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible inside specific ideological frames? Providing a context which informs Pan Pan and Dublin Youth Theatre’s ambitious "The Sleepwalkers"? Well, "The Sleepwalkers" isn’t a typical play to begin with. Rather in Pan Pan’s characteristically fractured framing theatre, text, and performance are all put through the multi-disciplinary wringer with the help of, and for the benefit of, an impressive young DYT ensemble. If the juxtaposition of young voices speaking for older minds can make for uneasy bedfellows at times, the end result yields some visually impressive moments and sharp insights.
In "The Sleepwalkers" director Gavin Quinn forgoes the dramatic in favour of the overtly theatrical and ideological. The illusion of interpretative possibility looms large; but there’s always an authoritative vision holding it all together. As opposed to an authorial one: or is there really a difference? Take the conical hats on the seventeen large cast sat in the corner as the curtain rises. Dunce hats? A drowzy group audition for Gnomeo and Juliet? A playful head nod towards the representation of witches found in Miller’s The Crucible? Possibilities seem endless, but Ciara Fleming’s costumes know what they’re about, right down to the pink bonnets and tin foil masks, and keep the options focused. As does Aedín Cosgrove’s liminal set, evoking a backstage area, a hall, or the stage as a space that can be formed and reformed. Or the inside of 23 Gardiner Street Upper where DYT magic frequently takes place.
A narrated introduction prefixes all with a read assessment of Miller’s script, and a tidy intro to DYT, along with an introduction to dreaming. Thus framed, scenes from The Crucible illustrate points being made, often with cast facing directly towards the audience, foregrounding the individual in the midst of, and sometimes at the expense of, the ensemble. A detachment that suggests a formal stiffness, emphasising action over reaction, speech over action, or speech as action during long periods. A delightful scene arguing the merits of ham and pineapple pizza highlights the nonsense of fake arguments being passed off as truth, lending "The Sleepwalkers" a contemporary relevance. Which interrogations of gender, theatre and truth reinforce as it weaves its meandering path till the final projected images. Throughout, the effect is less a flow of dream sequences and more a series of reflections on dreaming, with the young cast often looking corralled into someone else’s art installation. A talk on dialectics reinforces the sense that these words from the mouths of babes are not their own. Yet their personalities are loud, making you crave more on pizza toppings, who kissed who, and session moths.
For some, "The Sleepwalkers" will seem to have divested itself of a student led approach, begging the question whose thoughts and voices are we really hearing here? To others, it serves as an invaluable educational exercise introducing young theatre practitioners to different ways of making non-dramatic theatre, and to fostering a healthy irreverence for convention. Whatever your position, there’s no denying the hard work, rigour and commitment of Pan Pan, DYT, and this impressive young cast; Daniel Beggs, Liadh Blake, Jack Brocklebank, Rhys Coleman-Travers, Aoife Connolly O’Sullivan, Luka Costello, Clara Cronin, Molly Hanly, Eoin Kane, Faith Jones, Rosie Joyce, Ruairí Phelan, Ling Li Ryan, Charlie Silke, Tristan Spellman Molphy, Karim Tamu and Daria Zarochentseva. Throughout, their focus, passion, and perfectly timed engagements prove irresistible. Remember their names. You’ll be hearing them again.
"The Sleepwalkers" by Pan Pan and Dublin Youth Theatre runs at the Samuel Beckett Theatre until July 27
For more information, visit Samuel Beckett Theatre