Dublin Fringe Festival 2019: minefield
Welcome to the world of Incels and influencers. Were GoPros capture your every action so they can be posted online without your consent, or any sense of context. Enabling the moral masses to judge and shame and troll and socially eviscerate whoever they deem morally reprehensible. In Clare Monnelly’s deliciously disturbing “minefield” the perils of the dark web look far safer when compared to the dangers of online influencing. Where other motives are often at work behind the passionate outpourings of love and hate. Taut, tense, if underworked and overwrought in places, “minefield” explores the minefield of human relationships in a duplicitous online universe. If Monnelly’s mines are metaphorical, they’re no less explosive for being so. For, rest assured, these mines are live, and several are likely to go off. Only question is, who will be the real victim, and who the real villain, should they decide to?
Looking like a cross between Tuesdays With Morrie and one of the better episodes of Black Mirror, “minefield” delivers a series of duologues, peppered with video projections and monologues, that explore the dangers of living online. Joe, a former influencer having experienced a radical fall from social media grace, is trying to put herself back together. And trying to come to terms with that online post that changed everything. Jack, working as a volunteer at the clinic, meets Joe everyday on a bench where they discuss whatever they feel like discussing. But Joe never discusses Cillian, her instinctive distrust preventing her from opening up again. But when she finally does open up, and all is revealed, Joe finds herself faced with a life changing choice. Or had she already made her mind up long before?
Built like a charm bracelet of interconnected scenes, that initially feel like a checklist of points to be made, “minefield’s” episodic structure frequently proves restrictive and imbalanced, with some scenes feeling barely more than memes. If “minefield” delivers some dynamite blows, too often it feels like it's trying to diffuse itself, or someone was sitting on Monnelly’s shoulders unwisely pulling her back. While there’s palpable power, like something really dangerous is going on, it’s often constrained by over wrought language which focuses more on points rather than people. A tendency that not only constrains pace and depth, but also character. Dealing less in screams of rage or pain, characters frequently resort to the language of the policy document, or the legal argument, or a cut rate counselling session, talking their pain like they’re quoting from a self-help manual. It’s to director Aaron Monaghan’s immense credit that he gleans the dark, human territory Monnelly is trying to get to, delivering far more on stage than is sometimes to be found on the page.
Under Monaghan’s excellent direction Jamie O’Neill as the questionable Jack, and Jack Mullarkey as the lost Cillian, exude a quiet intensity that speaks to untold depths shimmering beneath the surface. Monnelly, as the survivor Joe, turns in a mesmerising performance, meticulously detailed and nuanced. Suzie Cummins’ lighting, along with AV Design by Ellen Kirk, and sound by Peter Power, superbly establish “minefield’s” unsettling mood. But it’s Naomi Faughnan’s super smart set that’s the real eye catcher, one minute red painted canvases, the next a blood smeared screen.
If Monnelly’s writing sometimes slows down for trying to say the right thing in the right way, “minefield” is at its incendiary best when it stops trying to be a controlled explosion and lets itself happen. For, like its three central characters, “minefield” wants you to take a good long look at yourself. Refusing easy answers, and facing up to the zeitgeist in ways some might find uncomfortable, “minefield” cuts through to places that others often avoid, frustrating easy identification with the moral high ground. Monnelly won’t let you off that easy. But if you’re up for risking being disturbed and unsettled, this thought provoking and superbly performed production might challenge you on several levels. It might even blow you away.
“minefield” by Clare Monnelly, in association with Axis Ballymun, part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2019, ran at The Axis, Ballymun from Sept 11-14 before transferring to Smock Alley Theatre from Sept 17-22.