Rescue Annie. Image by Algorithm
A medical doll used for practising the kiss of life, the death mask of a woman found in the Seine, Ophelia's efforts to return Hamlet's tokens, a stoic mother advising her daughter on love. Just some of the uneven scenarios Eoghan Carrick and Lauren Shannon Jones conjure in the disjointed, one woman show Rescue Annie. A title leaden with hidden subtleties. In a show that feels off from its opening moments. Yet maybe that was always the point.
Messages are mixed to say the least. Jones, speaking directly to the audience, confesses Rescue Annie is about intimacy. Informed by intimacy workshops Jones participated in as an actor. Which are designed not to facilitate intimacy but to learn how to fake it safely. Much is made of analysing Hamlet's break-up with Ophelia. But break-ups usually occur at the end of intimacy, or due to the failure of it. In an effort to facilitate a sense of intimacy with the audience, headphones are used so we can hear Jones directly, occassionally switching from ear to ear. But intimacy involves more than one-way listening, and much more than intellectual analysis. Already it feels like there's a disconnect between the intent and the experience. Like Jones is trying to control what should be a two person process. But, again, maybe that's the point.
With its use of headphones and its reimagining of Hamlet a sense of Dead Centre's Hamnet and Chekov's First Play hangs heavily in the air. If headphones are intended to facilitate intimacy and immersion they don't quite land. After what feels like a failed guided meditation, you become a spectator listening in on someone else’s introspection, their word heavy thoughts placed directly into your head like the text of someone else's diary. Throughout, Ellen Kirk's scenography, Paul Freeman/Algorithm's video design, Dennis O'Connor and Frank Sweeney's sound design, and Suzie Cummin's light seemed focused on keeping you out rather than bringing you in. Leaving you isolated rather than intimate, unable to comment when something feels forced, or when scenes, like drinking afternoon tea, overplay their hand.
Throughout, Rescue Annie is layered with so many themes intimacy almost feels like a ruse. Identity, invisibility, independence, loneliness, the perception of women in life and literature, expectations of beauty and purity; the list goes on. Mixing in the mind into a complicated cocktail that doesn’t taste as well on the emotional palate. Despite running for an hour, it feels like a longer journey as Jones projects onto her rescue doll, onto the audience, onto herself thoughts and ideas about what has been projected onto her as a woman. Leading us to wonder what are we seeing and what are we projecting?
If there's something cold and clinical to Rescue Annie, Jones' humour and charm when she talks about a break up prove her a captivating delight. Or is that one of her learned intimacy techniques, faking it to make it? A deliberate ruse to remind us that some people talk too much, or think too much because they find intimacy almost impossible despite craving it. Like her rescue doll, the blood doesn’t pump in Rescue Annie, and the mind chills any attempts at real connection, like academic footnotes. Not necessarily a problem in itself, but the introspection feels like a one-sided conversation. And there is nothing less intimate and, on occasion, less interesting. Yet what Rescue Annie lacks in intimacy, it more than makes up for in integrity. There's a sense of Jones being as vulnerable, honest and intimate as she can be right now. Bravely disclosing a private truth made public. And that’s what carries it over the line.
Rescue Annie, written and performed by Lauren Shannon Jones, written and directed by Eoghan Carrick, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2021 until September 18.
For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2021
Part of DUETS, an artist support initiative made with the combined expertise of Irish Theatre Institute, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Dublin Fringe Festival.