Dublin Fringe Festival 2022: Absent the Wrong
Noelle Brown and Kwaku Fortune in Absent The Wrong by Dylan Coburn Gray. Photo by Issey Goold
Absent the Wrong. At three hours, it's roughly the length of three Fringe shows. Which might leave you wondering what does Dylan Coburn Gray have to say that needs three hours to say it? Turns out quite a lot actually, particularly around the experience of black and mixed race families in Mother and Baby Homes. About art's responsibility to itself and to activism. About adopted children trying to find their birth parents. Given its deliberate three act construction, which approaches its subject matter through three theatrical frames, you could argue it's really three interlinked plays rolled into one. A fractured trilogy following one woman and her daughter, who speak for thousands, coming to terms with the disgusting practices of the Mother and Baby Homes and the disgrace that was the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation Into Mother and Baby Homes.
Brecht makes his presence felt in Act One via an institutionalised waiting room where Leah Minto serves up a diatribe against Mother and Baby Homes and her inability to locate her birth mother. A ticket dispenser and a screen for calling your number are cleverly used to indicate years; Molly O'Caithin's set a masterclass in economy and versatility. As others gradually join, Brechtian alienation is used to bombard you with information as actors remain distanced from characters in their meta-theatrical universe, facilitating repeated exposition to set up themes and context. Tipping over, at times, into the theatrical equivalent of death by powerpoint. Information overload of dates and times and names and places till you're buried beneath the avalanche.
Shifting into naturalist mode, Act Two serves up a kind of play within a play as the macro shifts to the micro. That other play being Rent. A low budget version without the music in which a bunch of bohemian artist types take on corporate heavies looking to evict them and their friends. If this is art as community, you might prefer to live on your own. Petty, self-absorbed and self-obsessed, art as activism looks like splendidly bitchy fun. If it's a story that's been done before and done better, even acknowledging its direct referencing of the slumlord evictions in Dublin in recent years, theatrically it still delivers a kick in the gut. Even allowing that performances across the board are stupendous, Jolly Abraham and Noelle Brown knock your socks off. Abraham's versatility owning the stage, with Brown's anthemic outrage sending prickles down your spine, achieving in a handful of minutes what the previous hour or so could only point towards: making you care and want to do something. Even Minto's deeply dislikable Alice, about as cuddly as a hedgehog, wins you over with a telling moment. Highlighting Minto's brave choices throughout as you realise the thing her character hates most is herself, her vulnerable tenderness revealed in a captivating scene with the astonishing Brown.
If Act One was commentary and Act Two story, Act Three brings both together in a sort of split stage, dividing attention and being the least successful as a result. Built in Greek references, including a chorus of commentary and a tragic flaw, abound as we encounter the original Adam and Eve: an unmarried woman and a black man. Yet a series of Stanislavski styled 'what if's' highlight that the tragic flaw lies with society. The endless positing of other possibilities, like a bad multiverse movie, reminding you that what happened was never natural. It was never set in stone. It didn't have to be that way. If Act Three suffers from poor projection, words frequently swamped beneath a penetrating drone, it's offset by some sublime movement sequences by Caoimhe Coburn Gray as she, and her lover, Sheik Bah, articulate the frail connections that bind humans in the privacy of their bedroom. Caoimhe Coburn Gray gracefully physicalising an underlying vulnerability through simple patterns of gesture and movement.
Absent the Wrong is an ambitious undertaking. Yet if it aims for the moon and just misses, it falls amongst the stars. Its durational aspirations might not shine as brightly, but there's ample light to navigate a true course by. A labour of love, it feels like a labour at times, even though, generally, you don’t feel the time passing. In its efforts to rage against the machine, it creates its own machine, often fighting fire with fire, information with information. But its poetry proves far more powerful, and its people more powerful still. Brought vividly to life by a terrific cast rounded out by Curtis-Lee Ashqar, Kwaku Fortune, Colleen Keogh, Sophie Lenglinger, Emmanuel Okoye and Peanut the cockatiel, directed with aplomb by Veronica Coburn.
Absent the Wrong Dylan Coburn Gray, presented by One Off Productions, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until September 24.
For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2022