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  • Chris O'Rourke


Adrienne Truscott and Feidlim Cannon in Masterclass. Image Ste Murray


A famous musician was once asked why they insisted on having coloured M&Ms separated into individual bowls at every venue they played. Especially as the M&Ms were never eaten. They replied that moving into a venue requires lots off moving parts. If a venue separates the M&Ms you could be confident they paid attention to details. It wasn’t a diva move, it was a way of quickly ascertaining competence. In a similar manner, Brokentalkers latest production Masterclass, written by Feidlim Cannon, Gary Keegan and Adrienne Truscott, and presented in association with Truscott, carefully separates its gendered M&Ms into respective bowls. Deconstructing creative power dynamics in a way that seems to be saying one thing but might well be saying something else entirely.

Adrienne Truscott in Masterclass. Image Carmine Covelli.

It's a show that could just as easily have been called Master Race. The master race being the white privileged male artist. Like a Parkinson episode being sent up by Kenny Everett, the format pokes fun at reverential interviews in a way that would have looked hokey even in a comedy skit from the 70s, with Ellen Kirk's set capturing the atmosphere perfectly. Yet the diva motif proves apt given that Truscott is playing that legendary, misogynistic, enfant terrible of screen, page and stage, Adrienne Truscott. As Truscott and Cannon play verbal tennis, with Sarah Foley's costuming suggesting rejects from Halls Pictorial Weekly, Truscott talks of art in the Hemingway way. Lots of loud blustering with barely sketched women to hide a sense of inadequacy. Denying claims of traumatising female actors while looking for a raw visceral reaction. It was never women per se that Truscott attacked. It was all done for the sake of art.

Adrienne Truscott and Feidlim Cannon in Masterclass. Image Ste Murray

A clever conceit midway sees pretence being dropped for a pretence at the real, with Truscott undoubtedly relieved to drop the excess weight of her male costuming. As horns lock in unresolvable tension, it immediately becomes clear that equality in the arts is never about power sharing. It's really about power shifting. For there isn't enough room or resources for everyone and white men have told all their stories. Time for them to get off the stage and make way for others. All for the sake of art of course.

Feidlim Cannon in Masterclass. Image Ste Murray

If Masterclass dishes out some smart and relevant insights, especially around men and their relationship to women's bodies, it can often feel like being sold a three legged racehorse and told it's guaranteed to win for being lighter without the extra leg. It makes a kind of sense even when you don't really buy it all. Regurgitated gendered tropes and some well worn stories prove relevant to debates currently taking place. Particularly in theatre which has seen so many firings and hirings around gender and BIOPC (Black, Indigenous and Other People of Colour) issues. Redefining who, what, why, where, and if someone should be represented on stage. Thereby redefining theatre. Even in this radically changing landscape Masterclass's solution of swapping out who gets marginalised doesn't sell itself convincingly.

Adrienne Truscott and Feidlim Cannon in Masterclass. Image Ste Murray

Yet Masterclass is about provoking not problem solving. And having a lot of fun while doing it. Always on the lookout for a laugh, its carefully framed provocations suggest there's more going on than meets the eye. Like reference to Cannon's own background and career which complicates the final image as Cannon sits tongue tied, barely able to string an intelligible sentence together. Competing for the stage with a military looking, middle-class sounding Truscott, whose academic vocabulary suggests greater intelligence. Both entrenched in a power play stand off. Or so it would seem. Yet look closer at that sharing arrangement. The one that made Masterclass happen. Two masters of their craft mixing up their M&Ms. Suggesting maybe we should do as they do, and not do as they say.

Masterclass, presented by Brokentalkers and Adrienne Truscott, co-produced by Dublin Fringe Festival, Project Arts Centre & Mermaid Arts Centre, runs at Project Arts Centre as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2021 until September 18.

For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2021.


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