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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Theatre Festival 2020: The Party To End All Parties

The Party To End All Parties by ANU. Image by Larry Burrows/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images.


It's a misconception that ANU make small shows for small audiences. In truth they make big shows for small audiences. Shows with historical and political sweep, with a multi-intersectional aesthetic, dealing in places and people that reveal universes in the particular. Their latest, revised adventure, The Party To End All Parties, running as part of Dublin Theatre Festival is another case in point. Using April 18, 1949, when O'Connell Bridge became the focus for celebration as Ireland was official recognised as a republic, The Party To End All Parties covers familiar ANU ground thematically, dramatically, and theatrically. Yet it proves unique in trading ANU's up close and physical experience for one in which the action is viewed online, from behind the safety of a screen. Even so, in The Party To End All Parties, moments of visceral, emotional intimacy are never far away.

Like many productions this year, things could have been very different for The Party To End All Parties had Covid not come calling. If ANU's production shows the hallmarks, at times, of having had to hurry to adapt to the latest Government sting in the tail, it proves robust at using crisis as a catalyst in a work about using crisis as a catalyst. An exploration of Dublin and of time, and of Dublin in this time, a cast of three — four, arguably, if you include the silent spectator, five if you include the city and its residences, or six if you include a photo bombing seagull — interrogate themselves and Dublin as both strive towards a frail and uncertain future. Nandi Bhebhe is a woman, or a metaphor, who believes herself invisible. Robbie O'Connor is man without hope. A deeply affecting Niamh McCann is a social worker way past personal and professional burnout. Each offer a thread woven into two overlapping and complimentary paths for the audience to travel. Being online, you are allowed travel both, one after the other. And you should, for deeper meanings emerge and performances are simply excellent. Even if the real, standout performance belongs to writer and director, Louise Lowe.

Nandi Bhebhe in The Party To End All Parties by ANU. Still.

Lowe, ever eager to acknowledge her fellow collaborators, underplays her own writing at times which is often considerably skilful. As is the case here. If Lowe knows how to make men speak, she knows how to make her women sing. And none sing sweeter, or sadder, than a deeply affecting Niamh McCann as a woman who participates in an unconventional intervention to save herself. Often crafting hand held images that flow with a fluid, poetic sensibility, Lowe isn't just comfortable behind the camera, she looks positively radiant. Like Terence Davis, Lowe shares a deep affinity with working class sensibilities, and of the cinematic image being bigger than the limits of its frame Throughout, Lowe doesn't labour trying to replicate a theatrical experience online. Instead she allows images, character and text to tell their story and achieves something approximating the theatrical in terms of a real immediacy. At one point Carl Kennedy's genius score, in terms of simplicity, sends the sounds of the street pulsing through Bhebhe's body as she dances in the Ballast Office, caught up in the agonised pull and push of the city. A moment which sees Lowe jettisoning the restraints of the realist frame to try say something more truthful, powerful, and poetic.

Robbie O'Connor in The Party To End All Parties by ANU. Still

With the city as his set, Owen Boss's design might appear minimal, but his framing of that set, and his attention to detail, including three clocks in the Ballast Office, infuse Lowe's images with vitality and richness. As do three compelling performances. Bhebhe's tale might prove the least satisfying for seeming to halt rather than end, and for offering too much Vox Pop with too little personal meat on the bone, but Bhebhe takes the crumbs of character thrown her way and fashions them into something fulfilling. Robbie O'Connor's wonderfully restless agitation, along with Niamh McCann's soul searing confessional, find image, gesture, tone, and words married in two superbly invested performances. Crafting moments you can't turn away from. Yet moments where words risk elbowing their poetry into the frame at the expense of other considerations. Sacrificing clarity in places, it can feel like hearing most but not all of the story, like you missed something important as it all hurries towards its end. Till you remember Lowe is dealing in the poetry of the commonplace not it's prose. Still, a little more elbow room might have made for a clearer view in places.

Niamh McCann in The Party To End All Parties by ANU. Still.

A man on a bridge urges you to do what he himself seems unable to as the final image leaves you looking at something that isn't there. How, then, can we reconnect with a landscape that has gone? Replaced by shiny feats of engineering passed off as architecture that could be anywhere in the world? Where can hope take us? Do we still have time? Poignant, and understatedly powerful, The Party To End All Parties doesn't lose something in translating online so much as trade some things for others. And reveals Lowe as an extremely talented director behind the camera. Like Dublin itself, The Party To End All Parties is steeped in visual and verbal poetry. It might be wound a little too tight at times, but given the time bound conditions under which this tale of time was fashioned, its successes far outweigh its teething pains. Indeed, theatre might worry that ANU and Lowe might like the challenge of the cinematic image a little too much. For, visually, The Party To End All Parties is hugely impressive. And McCann is simply magnificent.

One important aside. While tickets to The Party To End All Parties are free, twenty-two people are listed in the programme as having worked directly on this show. There were undoubtedly more. The number involved in The Abbey's The Great Hunger is close to sixty. Shows in DTF involve many artists who face uncertain futures. They need your support. When booking tickets at DTF you will see a Save Me A Seat link. This allows you to make donations of €25.00. If you can afford to, it will be the best, and most appreciated donation you will make this year.

The Party To End All Parties by ANU and Dublin Theatre Festival is online until October 10.

For further information visit Dublin Theatre Festival


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