This Beautiful Virtual Village
This Beautiful Virtual Village by Lisa Tierney-Keogh. Image uncredited.
Welcome to Woke 101. Otherwise known as Lisa Tierney-Keogh's "This Beautiful Virtual Village". More woke than Dear Ireland continues, or a truck load of caffeine, "This Beautiful Virtual Village" has all the isms covered. Feminism, socialism, racism, all will be properly explained just as soon as you shut up and get over yourself. For you might think you're woke, but you're not. Or at least not as woke as "This Beautiful Virtual Village". Adapted from her award winning play, This Beautiful Village, Tierney-Keogh's online version certainly plays tighter than the original staged offering. Featuring several new cast members, it cleverly shifts its timeline to during the Covid lockdown for a more immediate resonance. Yet the longer it goes on, the more its carefully framed arguments, once again, come to obliterate everything in their path. Till it all begins to border on the condescending.
Which is a shame, for it gets off to a cracking good start. An informal Zoom meeting of the Willow Residents Association soon degenerates into all out war. Scurrilous graffiti, missing money, a passionate lasagne, the ties that bind steadily unravel as friends and neighbours undertake a woke power struggle. Well, sort of. When the baddies are so clearly delineated, like Native Americans in an old Western movie, you're really not required to struggle. Or think. Just go with the woke profiling and let it do all the work for you. Really, it's that simple.
Originally scheduled to remount at the Abbey this summer, arguably the biggest issue facing "This Beautiful Virtual Village" is its themes eclipsing its theatrics, which are very much top class. Beginning with a wonderful cast which sees Amy Conroy, Steve Blount, and Luke Griffin join original cast members Pom Boyd, Michael Ford-Fitzgerald, and Bethan Mary-James to deliver six stunningly engaging and perfectly paced performances. A production which uses the Zoom format superbly (though saturation level is such that many are now praying for other ways of putting work online), immediacy and intimacy are richly palpable. Indeed, under David Horan's impeccable direction the opening song, Little Boxes, takes on a whole other layer of meaning when played over a Zoom chat.
Narratively, Tierney Keogh's script might have little going on, but when it stops self-consciously lecturing it often has fascinating things to say. The initial back-biting and bitchiness prove wonderfully insightful, before a series of handbrake turns spin it off into a creepy language interrogation of white male privilege and white supremacy. Referencing George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, racist Ireland isn't all that different just because police don't carry guns. And every woman knows what it's like to be a second class citizen in Stillorgan. If it's tempting to dismiss Tierney-Keogh's attacks on misogyny as old hat, recent events in the US have shown it's a sordid song that's still being sung at the highest level. The high profile insults directed at US Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by one of her male colleagues confirms that the notion that men have now moved past misogyny doesn't equate with the lived reality.
Even so, many men are appalled by such vile misogyny. And many Irish aren't racist. Not that you'd know it here. Leaving "This Beautiful Virtual Village" steeped in the tropes of propaganda. Propaganda, woke or otherwise, frames its arguments to favour its case while reviling its opponents as a homogenised unit. And it really is pitched that obviously. So much so you can't help feeling like you're being set up to be played by a dishonest reductiveness. Leaving "This Beautiful Virtual Village" aspiring to something of substance, while its revolutionary Puritanism ensures it never rises above the level of the next social media post.
A lecture dressed up as a debate, hung on a bare boned skeleton of a story, "This Beautiful Virtual Village" evangelises to the converted. The dominant, final image might claim 'we're done here,' but many will come away thinking; 'no, we're not. I'm listening. I want to fix the world too. But, like you, I won't be told to shut up or be put in a box. Which gives pause for concern, wondering what exactly is your vision for achieving a brave new Ireland?'
And, once again, themes eclipse theatrics. Which really are top class, and so worth the price of admission.
Lisa Tierney-Keogh's "This Beautiful Virtual Village" is available at The Abbey Theatre Online until November 17th.
Tickets/Digital Pass: €5.00.
For more information, visit The Abbey Theatre.