No More Heroes
Today, as Disney’s Avengers swamp the universe with saccharine, feel good superheroes, Attic Projects “Villains,” choreographed and directed by Luke Murphy, serves up a timely reminder that there are no more heroes. Or villains for that matter. Who might prove to be heroes if heroes really existed. A multi-disciplinary mash-up referencing everything from graphic novels to Bladerunner, “Villains” makes the well worn case that notions of evil are perhaps the most evil notions of all, designed to empower those in power by demonising others in the name of their self serving good. If it’s an old story going right back to Satan, “Villains” updates the idea for the social media, digital age. A time when heroes today are often demonised tomorrow, condemned to a perpetual walk of media shame until the next one flies in to save, or spoil the day.
Feeling as if a script for an episode of The Boys got shuffled with pages from a dodgy thesis proposal, one exploring theological arguments questioning Satan and punishment, the resulting mishmash forms the imbalanced structure onto which “Villains” hangs its thematic hat. Featuring six performers, of whom five are actually alive, “Villains” merges animation, projection, sounds and lights, along with dance, movement and direct commentary, to craft a comic book styled narrative that, like comic books, works best when it says less and shows more.
Throughout, individual disciplines deliver some stunning moments, with sound design by DJs Moderat and Howling, along with instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini, proving simply to die for. Yet, collectively, they don’t always come together as well as they might. David Fischel’s impressive comic book video design, like a budget price Man of Valour, evokes the energy of a black and white graphic novel, ably supported by Hanan Sheedy’s lighting. Shifting screens and projections reinforce the comic book framing, with movement sequences often exaggerated with overt references to heroes and villains. Alas, the comic book references often stop short of the dialogue. If the worst form of authority is to quote authority, according to the authority of Thomas Aquinas, “Villains’” academic explanations during its expositional polemics rely heavily on other people’s quotes. Weighing the dialogue down as it makes sure you got the point by explaining it to you in scholastic detail.
Dance and movement, smartly choreographed by Murphy, hammer home points far more convincingly. Not that early signs are promising. With dancers Omar Gordon, Zoe Gyssler, Eddie Oroyan, Hsiao-jou Tang, and Murphy himself, initially looking like self posing manikins, or cyborgs on a test run, robotic sequences look imaginatively lazy, and the whole less than inspiring. Likewise superhero action sequences, yet these can feel playfully tongue in cheek. Yet dancers frequently erupt into flow, establishing mesmerising patterns, crafting some sublime solos and duets, as well as loosely synchronised group sequences. Throughout, Gyssler and Tang continuously stand out, with Tang’s duet with the sixth performer proving particularly clever.
If Joseph Campbell saw The Hero With a Thousand Faces, “Villains” operates within a much narrower remit and never really goes deep enough. Recognising hero worship and villain hatred as socially conditioned, bad habits, “Villains” argues that, like all bad habits they can, and need to be broken. How to do this is never precisely clear. Partially because Murphy and co., heroically denouncing heroes and villains, employ many of the very devices they interrogate. With some stunningly choreographed moments, and a top class sound design, “Villains” delivers some thought provoking visuals, most of which speak far louder than its words.
“Villains” by Luke Murphy, presented by Attic Projects, ran at The Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Fringe festival 2019.