Dublin Theatre Festival 2022: G.O.D.
G.O.D. by Lee Coffey. Image by Amilia Stewart Keating
Poetic licence or political statement? In Lee Coffey's fiercely ambitious G.O.D. an interrogation of group therapy ends up indicting it. Beginning with a walkout and ending with a relapse, Coffey's fellowship of fiercely fighting addicts find rehabilitation the exception to the rule. Therapy a permanent holding pattern in which preventing relapse is the best to be hoped for. In which G.O.D. (good orderly direction) involves harnessing a higher power to help with your recovery. Except a higher power is barely in evidence beyond a reference to the Serenity Prayer. The only one with power being facilitator Stephen (Luke Griffin). With the bristling personality of a wire brush, the abrasive Stephen behaves like a know-what's-best Dad, more likely to drive you to addiction than free you of it. Around him a gaggle of addicts await his terse, irritated feedback. A sex addict, gambling addict, drink addict, drink and drugs addict; all the food groups covered, all following proscribed, generic patterns. Day by day. Monotony. Routine. Turning up a victory in itself.
There's the childlike Dave (Loré Adewusi), who didn't receive the Recovery 101 Memo which insists your recovery cannot be dependent on anyone other than yourself. Resorting to over exuberant sulks or screams when the world isn't the way he thinks it should be, his recovery is built around his pregnant girlfriend who is now having second thoughts. Damien (Simon O’Gorman), a sex addict whose back story is foundation level social studies, speaks far more eloquently to the pain of recovery and its inherent loneliness. Kate (Lauren Larkin), a woman who finds it difficult to speak, offers the least upsetting story after an interminable suspenseful wait. Real for her perhaps, it functions primarily as a device to impact on the impassioned walking wound that is Christine (Amilia Stewart Keating). Finally there's gambling addict Rebecca (Andrea Irvine), because every story needs a hero. Even if they only get to save themselves.
Under Coffey's good intentions, what emerges are less characters so much as controlled case studies. Yet if they don't always leap off the page, they pounce from the stage courtesy of six strong performances. Throughout, a hugely impressive cast dig deep, pulling emotional handbrake turns between a multitude of scenes with startling ease. Character articulated not so much through text or action as by the reactions of the five other cast members concentrating their focused attention on the speaker of the moment. Much of it undermined by director Eoghan Carrick's poor handling of the traverse, which sees key moments losing impact with bodies either masked or having their back to you, making outsiders of us all, especially those in lower level seats. Given the subject matter and the visceral talent on display, it's not good enough. Ellen Kirk's six chair set, minus the comforting paraphernalia of the recovery group session (the tea and biscuits, pamphlets, the posters of hope and despair) brings little to the table aside from functionality, compensated somewhat by a strong, visual finish.
For many counselling professionals, G.O.D. paints a worrying and, at times, inaccurate picture of group therapy, one unlikely to inspire confidence. Where relapse for addicts is as likely to recur not despite the presence of professionals, but because of them, due to an absence of real safeguards for relapse or burnout. Yet perhaps G.O.D.'s intent is to speak to the challenges facing an over strained, under resourced service in which the blinded often have to lead the blind. Substituting social coziness for workable recovery. Poetic licence or political statement? If it's not entirely clear which way Coffey leans, G.O.D. prompts some pressing questions, enveloped in some powerful performances. With Leper and Chips and A Murder of Crows, Coffey announced himself as a strong, original new voice in Irish writing. G.O.D. is not his strongest or most original work, but it speaks to a writer pushing into new territory and ready to take risks.
G.O.D. by Lee Coffey, presented by Bitter Like A Lemon in association with Axis, Ballymun runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2022 at Axis Ballymun till October 8.
For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2022.