• Chris O'Rourke

Mespil in the Dark: Live



Mespil in the Dark: Live. Image Ros Kavanagh.


***

Content and form collide in Pan Pan Theatre's ambitious Mespil in the Dark: Live. Using Pan Pan's 2021 film Mespil in the Dark as a jumping off point (made during COVID restrictions), theatre is interrogated as text and production offer conflicting perspectives. The film providing meagre context, in which a tyrannical theatre maker and three of his neighbours in the Mespil Apartments set about rehearsing a play. Pan Pan's mesh of realism and abstraction presented in a Cubist-like frame. In which, if content suggests a theatrical past, and form its present, its future looks technically contrived.

Ahmed Karim Tamu in Mespil in the Dark: Live. Image Ros Kavanagh.

Beginning with a bang, and ending as a whimper, meta-theatrical self awareness kicks things off with a deluge of smoke and a concert vibe. Looking like a knock off Flavour Flav, all sanitised and corporate, Ahmed Karim Tamu raps glibly to Buffalo Springfield's Stop Children What's That Sound. Why Pauline Hutton doesn't sing it raises curious questions because she clearly has the stronger voice, the power to crank it up, and the personality to work the room. But the thought barely has time to land as Andrew Bennett in drag sends the Heebie-Jeebies up and down your spine, walking round the stage like Miss Jean Brodie card-announcing the next round at a boxing match. Not that you’re disturbed by Bennett, or aroused, or maybe you are, but because Bennett is uncannily brilliant detailing the gestural expressiveness of a woman who has too long suffered humiliation at the hands of madmen. Like Robert O’Mahoney's insufferable theatre maker, Bill O'Malley.

Andrew Bennet, Robert O’Mahoney, Ahmed Karim Tamu, Pauline Hutton in Mespil in the Dark: Live. Image Ros Kavanagh.


Defined less by pushing boundaries as by staying within predictable bounds, repeated movements, like choreographed gestures, soon become artificial signatures. Beautifully offset with visual moments of utter mundanity, like making tea, or the brilliantly conceived raffle. Meanwhile, text serves up an anglicised rather than an Irish theatrical past, sounding as if someone rifled through Kenneth Tynan's diary. From which O'Malley, resembling James May's orphaned brother, whines and declaims his megalomaniac whimperings. Given his patriarchal flatulence, married to his endless bombast, the kindest thing would be to take theatre out back and put it out of its misery. Or, at the very least, take O'Malley out back and put us out of his misery. Which, in part, is the point. Even as what's being offered as replacement looks equally unfit for the task.

Pollyanna Ennis in Mespil in the Dark: Live. Image Ros Kavanagh.


Created by Andrew Bennett, Aedín Cosgrove, Jimmy Eadie, Pauline Hutton, Grace Morgan, Eugene O'Brien, Robert O’Mahoney, Gavin Quinn, Mary Sheehan and Ahmed Karim Tamu it's a case of too many collaborative cooks spoiling a central broth. Throw in some diction and sightline issues, and an ending with the energy of a death rattle, things soon become flabby. Untethered, by Soto Dance Company, a moderately engaging dance routine choreographed by Simone O’Toole, proves the energetic highlight. Performed by Mollyanna Ennis and Alex Vostokova, both give invested performances, with Ennis serving up another reminder why she's one to watch. The devil being in the details: knees and shins raised as her arms shudder, making imbalance a genuine risk. Ennis pushing for more, making O'Toole's modest choreography look even more powerful.

Robert O’Mahoney in Mespil in the Dark: Live. Image Ros Kavanagh.


Suggesting a rediscovered lost episode, Mespil in the Dark: Live maintains a contrived, tenuous link with the movie that inspired it, making some big claims it doesn't quite deliver on. Its ideas and themes having been trawled through before, and trawled through better. Slanting the frame, it serves up an easily digestible conflict that preaches to the converted, its arguments and subversions too neatly polished, telling you what you want to hear rather than offering real interrogation. Like the findings of a focus group who'd already made their minds up. Even if they're mostly right about the past, it can still feel like being played when it comes to how the future can play out. That said, Mespil in the Dark: Live crafts striking, potent images giving rise to optimism, insight, and questions. If only it did so more often.


Mespil in the Dark: Live, by Pan Pan Theatre, runs at The Samuel Beckett Theatre until September 10.


For more information, visit Pan Pan Theatre


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