Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Dead Centre present this breathtakingly beautiful and completely original piece of surreal storytelling at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.
I can’t think of a place to start. Lippy was such an exciting and, at times, overwhelming assault on the senses, I have come out battered and bruised and disoriented. All I know is that I was thrilled by the hour and twenty-five minutes I experienced.
Lippy begins in reverse order with a slightly cute post-show talk from The Interviewer (Bush Moukarzel) and The Lip Reader (Daniel Reardon), supported by Adam the Technician (Adam Welsh). What follows is an acute and funny study of lipreading, including clips from 2001: A Space Odyssey and YouTube hit Bad Lip Reading. This seemingly normal set up is interjected with surreal moments of suspended action, which are a portent for things to come…
Eventually the mundane set up dissolves into a surreal telling of the story we’re here for: in the year 2000 in Leixlip, County Kildare, an 83 year old mother, Frances Mulrooney, and her three daughters, Josephine, Brigid Ruth and Catherine, were found, barricaded into their suburban house, having starved themselves to death. The only reference to this pact was a series of letters Brigid Ruth left in the house, which are used as the basis for the play.
Clues are scarce. Answers are non-existent. What little information there is, we are drip-fed at an agonising pace. Which would be almost unbearable were it not for the breathtaking visual set pieces and the fact that every single move made by every single actor feels considered and significant.
The main setting is the bleak house of the Mulrooneys, which transforms, floods, crumbles before our very eyes. Music on the radio and television conjure images of Small Town America, religious fervour, Devilry, temptation and Catholicism. As the house corrodes so too do the Mulrooneys, one-by-one succumbing to starvation and passing away.
There are no scenes as such, more a relentless, snowballing, incoming-tide of stark imagery and tension, which left me trembling. I was gasping for an answer as to why any of this was happening. Why are the women starving themselves? Who lead them to this? How powerless must they feel to not fight back?
Dead Centre say themselves that ‘maybe theatre should be concerned with investigating meaninglessness’. With that clearly as their goal, they succeed with gusto. For a young company only founded in 2012, this production has the bravery and confidence you would expect from long established companies like your National Theatre of Scotlands or your Kneehighs.
At times I was longing for substance, for some conventional drama to be built through dialogue but, really, with such delicateness and precision in every other aspect of this production, a lack of textual solidity can be forgiven. My only gripe laid with the finale – a video projection closeup of a mouth, delivering a ten minute monologue. The text was lyrical, the effect of watching a mouth in grotesque detail for so long was nauseating and intriguing. But, having created so many fabulous and sumptuous live images previously, I felt like a prolonged recorded sequence was a disappointing note to end on.
This production is beautiful. This company will go far. Mark the moment.