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  • Chris O'Rourke

Love Songs

Love Songs. Image by Pato Cassinoni.


The poster looks hot. Two faces locked in an intense gaze above the words Love Songs. The blurb describing the production as asking how Philip Connaughton’s grandparents might have viewed him as a gay man, charting changing attitudes to love. Once inside, eight dancers, dressed like robotic flappers, execute a short step, slow motion pirouette in smoke drenched shadow as a piano player, tucked against the wall, plays with haunting melancholy. It's sultry, sexy, with an adrogonyous twist, and seems to belie what Philip Connaughton’s latest creation is grappling bravely with. Namely, grief at the death of his mother.

Not for the last time are expectations subverted. Connaughton starting with a big, singalong show tune catches the audience unawares. Like life, or an excess of campness, it’s too much too soon; we’ve only just got here. But it sets up the silent, lonely finale exquisitely. A robotic dating app named Jack, and Connaughton’s obsession with singer Helen Jordan since his mother's death, allow for a series of questions to be set up. The relationship with Jordan looking particularly Oedipal, a full on kiss adding strange fuel to a curious fire.

Love Songs. Image by Pato Cassinoni.

If Jordan delivers show styled songs with glitz and glamour, a series of dishevelled dance routines explore darker dimensions. Some, like a single dancer trying to get past three others, or Connaughton having the hell kicked out of him, seem clear, the latter as much an emotional kicking as physical. Others - four dancers moving like deranged wind up toys to a recurrent moan suggestive of a distressed goat - look untidy. Yet these often reveal a deeper truth. That Love Songs is seeking a form to contain an overwhelming emotional flood. Connaughton, a King Canute kicking at waves, the tide of grief refusing to turn back. Humour and laughter as much an avoidance of pain as expressions of joy.

Those familiar with Connaughton’s more personal works, such as the gorgeous Mammafesta Memorialising, understand the importance his mother played in supporting him to become who he is today. Her absence defining much of Love Songs, as does Connaughton’s taking stock of himself. Much more so than changing attitudes towards love. At times, there’s shape and form to it. At others it feels like a heartbreaking cry, next to which all you can do is be present. Always, Love Songs is heartfelt and soulful. Lonely yet life affirming. The audience, surrogate lovers, right there, watching on lovingly. Beyond the lights, just a little out of reach.

Love Songs by Company Philip Connaughton, runs at Project Arts Centre until December 17, and at Cork Opera House on February 22.

For more information visits Project Arts Centre


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