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  • Chris O'Rourke


Luke Casserly in Distillation . Image by Patricio Cassinoni


When is theatre no longer theatre? Performance no longer a performance? Or are such terms redundant in a hyper collaborative, post-modern, everything including the multidisciplinary sink approach to art? Where such terms become subsumed under the jargon coverall of ‘artist’ or ‘theatre maker’? Or do they retain some essential essence despite greater fluidity around their definition? Take Luke Casserly‘s Distillation. A personal journey exploring the bogs of Longford where Casserly grew up and revisited during COVID. Where he reflects on the closure of the peat cutting industry in 2020 and its impact on local culture and community. The tension between economic decline and environmental recovery seeing Casserly taking the anthropomorphic route. Giving the ancient bog a 'poor me' voice to say what it supposedly wants to say. Even if the only thing we ever really hear are Casserly’s projections.

Like an awkward dinner party, the audience avoids looking at each other whilst seated around a circular table covered in earth. At the head of which sits Casserly with a thick tome before him. Doreen McKenna’s costume evoking less King Arthur so much as an inmate at Arkham Asylum. Or a hospital orderly delivering an outreach educational programme for Bord Na Mona. Casserly, like the bog, claims he’s not that great a performer. Turns out he’s not that great at icebreakers either. Everyone taking turns at sniffing a jar, followed by some soil, prolonging the awkward silence. Broken when Casserly talks about his recently removed cyst and his body’s effort to heal. Setting up a tidy relationship with the bog, the body and healing. Not for the last time will this relationship be revisited.

As its fifty minutes pass slowly you glean less about the bog than you do about Casserly. Like a pagan ritual tea is drank, smoke appears, and patterns are traced on both the body and the soil as Casserly talks about his father, legacy, recovery and responsibility without anything akin to depth. Like a public relations presentation on a factory tour, or the Edinburgh Whiskey Tour, there's a little sniff here, a little sample there, and a whole lot of lightweight information before you head off with a warm fuzzy glow inside. 

Amidst light laughter and easy confessions the oddball dinner party draws to a close. The host generously proffering a parting gift of perfume, one for everyone in the audience, courtesy of Casserly and perfume maker, scientist, artist, take your pick, Joan Woods. Like Distillation it’s a neat and clever idea, but again the question asks itself; what exactly is this? To which your answer might well echo Mister Burns after Marge Simpson painted his portrait; “I'm no art critic (or theatre, or performance, or performance art critic), but I know what I hate. And I don’t hate this.” In the case of Distillation, you might not be swayed by the underwhelming charms of the bog or its theatrical merits, but the charming and likeable Casserly proves somewhat irresistible.

Distillation, created and performed by Luke Casserly, in a Luke Casserly, Abbey Theatre, Solas Nua Production, runs at The Peacock stage of The Abbey Theatre until February 10.

For more information visit The Abbey Theatre


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