Dylan Coburn Gray’s review of RECOVERY at Live Collision Festival for DRAFF magazine
'The first sentence of every novel should be: Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.
As part of a double bill with Louise Ahl's YaYaYaAyAyAy, I also saw Recovery, which I loved.
Recovery's copy says it's 'a show about family and letting go, told through song'. The only thing I'd quibble is whether Recovery tells a story; even if it doesn't, that's not a criticism. Story feels like the wrong word. Rolling with the idea of musical meaning and building a show on it, I could quote that quote people love to quote about how it's hard to talk about music not because musical meaning is too vague for words but too definite. Recovery has an identity that defies itemisation. I wouldn't hesitate to say its elements – harmony, lyrics, movement, the odd bit of chat – cohere, even if I can't name the criteria I'm using to say so.
Something similar holds true for the performers, who're united in their distinctiveness. One of the lovely things about music is that it's cyclical- in interesting contrast to the probably-accidentally-super-linear YaYaYaAyAyAy - so you can refract the same material through different voices to see what colours you get each time. Peter Coonan growls and/or is twinkly-eyed. Aoife McAtamney belts the anthems. Stephen Quinn can be plaintive and wry all at once. Aoife Spratt is queen of the snarly bent note. It's less about a unitary style, more about sensitive contrast. (Get used to that phrase.)
I'm going to detour via nerdsville in order to arrive at the lyrics. A lot of the show's musical language has a natural minor feel, able to pivot smoothly into its relative major for colour but not governed by it. For me, that mode's epic melancholy is most effective when played against rather than leaned into; lean into it and everything starts to sound a bit like the music you hear when a film crew in a helicopter pans over the rolling plains of Rohan before fixing on a single rider bound for Edoras on that totes gorj New Zealand horizon. Recovery, thankfully, doesn't lean. It uses that musical heft to highlight banal speech, to force a reappraisal of its reduplication, its redundancy, its something else beginning with R. Music is used as a provocation to look again and deeper, and a further strength of music is that it affords emotion without realism, distance without insincerity, in what you could call a – here we go – sensitive contrast (2).
Looked at a certain way, the show's hardest-hitting, hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-raisingest, heart-string-pulling-est songs also emerge from that same logic of – yep – sensitive contrast (3!). Middle Watch, The Best of, and the song I know only as The One With The Music Box are all in unapologetic major keys. That sudden clarity only means in relation to its absence; you have to be coming from elsewhere in order to make an entrance. Middlewatch and The One About The Dress enact the same arc vertically as well as horizontally; they slowly establish a range so they can briefly soar past it.
The sweetest harmony of all closes the show, right as the text gets most concrete and painful. That's a rhetorical gesture that doesn't make sense as long as you're thinking of tonality as a set of fixed points like pegs that you hang songs on, rather than the vectors they are. Major and minor are less like high and low than they are like the irish aníos and anuas, both a location and an aspiration, not just a present but a past, present, and future. Major key music is not the denial of sadness so much as its acceptance, sadness as story rather than static essence. In case you're thinking that's a hopeless overreach, there's a happy echo of that idea in the copy's description of a family 'dealing with the past in the present tense'. So there.
Zoe – I'm going to call her Zoe because I know her – talks in mini-DRAFF [a one-off series of four tiny DRAFFs produced as part of Live Collision] about the piece having 'not flatness but steadiness in its rhythm'. The word that kept coming to my mind was patience, a sense that things would take as long as they took, that the moments of musical glory will arrive when they are earned and then go when they're over. There's a bravery in austerity. How lovely it is to watch something and trust absolutely that the maker trusts absolutely that what you're watching is enough.
The big fuck off video of Springsteen that opens the show is a great example; it's long, but there's lots to be got from it once you're not too worried about getting something specific from it. The fact that it ends up being part of a beautiful book-end structure-y ah-HA moment – like in an Ali Smith novel(*) – is a beautiful extra.
To close: I couldn't decide between two Ondaatje quotes, so I put one at the start and the other here. I could unpack why they cohere, or you can just trust me that they do.
I do not know what to say
about this kind of love
but I refuse to lose it
Dylan for DRAFF
Recovery – Project Arts Centre – Review
19 April 2016-23 April 2016 8.15pm
The programme for this production is in the form of a slightly over sized inlay booklet for a CD. It’s complete with track list and lyrics to the individual songs, but it proudly proclaims on the cover that ‘This Album has not been recorded’.
This is a live performance of an album, or a collection of songs performed live on stage, but there is a strong theatrical element to the production. It opens with a song by the Boss; Bruce Springsteen. It’s a live performance of Dancing in the Dark where Bruce dances with his mother and sister. The video is projected onto a large circular screen, possibly an upturned trampoline or large drum, that is on the back wall of the set. After the song ends, Peter Coonan emerges on stage and there is a spoken word piece about what Bruce means to this lonely character. He works in a bar in New Jersey and feels that Bruce has altered his life, changing him from a loser into a character in an epic poem. It is at this point the music begins in earnest.
There are four actors/ singers on stage; two men and two women. There are only a few words spoken between songs and it largely flows from one song to the next without a clear narrative. The arrangements are unusual and while there is never a band on stage, there are instruments playing in the wings. Some songs are pieced together from samples of the sounds the singers make. The percussion and bass lines are made up from taps, bangs and other inconsequential sounds that are looped. The vocal pieces are also recorded and looped to form a many layered and complex sound. Other songs are simple A cappella tracks with the singers showing impressive skill with their vocal harmonies. The audience are also involved in some songs, as we sing the chorus or response to ‘Why don’t you ring someone?’
‘Last night I saw you
On the couch at a quarter to three
You were watching Ricki Lake
And drinking Barry’s Tea’ – Why Don’t You Ring Someone?
The actors on stage all dance/ move and act out scenes during the songs. For some songs the actions are quite mundane but are carried out in an irreverent or bizarre fashion, transforming them into something new. Other songs have movement and dance associated, Peter Coonan bouncing off the walls to one song. All four singers have their moment in the spotlight and it adds variety to the evening. The production displays great invention and creativity, never resting on any one idea. This is difficult to pigeon hole as it is neither a play nor a gig, but it’s certainly a unique performance.
ENJOY by Toshiki Okada
Enjoy review: stark and strange, arresting and infuriating
Toshiki Okada’s drifting 2006 play offers a fascinating description of a generation caught between recession and recovery
Project Cube, Dublin
At a certain point in Toshiki Okada’s drifting 2006 play, translated by Aya Ogawa, a young woman full of complaint and short on compassion recounts dumping her depressed boyfriend. She recognises at least some cause for sympathy:
“because well he was a part-timer... barely scraping by... I’m a temp... and a temp is really just the same thing.”
In this intriguing vision of Tokyo, which could really be any city where existence feels precarious, nothing seems permanent.
The dialogue, for instance, is a non-committal patter: “It’s a little, like, too bad, you know.” “That doesn’t have anything to do with anything.” “I mean, whatever’s fine.”
In performance, even inhabiting a character seems like too much effort; instead they are described, adopted and sometimes even swapped between 10 actors. In a play determined to use as many words as possible to say very little, it may frustrate those who require a higher signal-to-noise ratio from their theatre. But as a description of a generation, caught between recession and recovery, it’s quite fascinating, and in the painstaking detail of Zoe Ni Riordáin’s direction pursuing deadpan performances over minimal design for Rough Magic SEEDS Showcase, the banality of this “lost generation” gets close to hypnotic.
Set in the break room of a comic-book café, which designer Cáit Corkery realises as a non-descript grey tomb, it begins with gossip. A new recruit in her early 20s (Ashley Xie) has been seen out with an older employee, a wizened man of 30, and the “excitement” - not to mention anxiety - it arouses is conveyed by Gerard O’Keefe and John Doran with the flatlin chatter of people under reasonably heavy sedation. (Doran’s garrulous, muted crisis, in particular, is dazzling to watch.)
Within all this evasive verbiage is an accelerated sense of ageism - the “spoiling age” of a woman, the prejudice against part-timers in their 30s - which spills into the vilification of homeless-looking “Jesus types”; people who have slipped through the net of society.
Ní Riordáin nails a sense of contemporary paralysis, where people may have few prospects but plenty of distracting devices, which could serve as a description of her stage. As the sounds of Karaoke bleed in, Erica Murray, Breffni Holoha and Dylan Coburn Gray sing snatches of their dialogue to the tunes of faded power ballads, while the stage transforms under the candy colour of Zia Holly’s expert lights, gradually populated with glitchy dance moves and erratic motion. It matches the play’s downbeat sense that everything has been said before, and better phrased.
That could be an inhibiting thought for any new theatre maker, but the play concludes with a thawing sense that if words themselves become trite, feelings still burn brightly for each generation. Stark and strange, arresting and infuriating, this production seeks encouraging new ways to express them.
The Well Rested Terrorist
The Well Rested Terrorist
“The well rested terrorist sleeps on a plane,” begins alt-pop musician, Maud Ní Riordáin. “They say his heart’s not in it and he’s doing it for the fame.” So begins a musical meditation on performance, where an electropop gig framed as a theatre piece summons up relationships and realities in break down. It’s an ambitious undertaking, directed by Zoe Ní Riordáin, which replaces the spontaneity of a concert with genre switches, choreographed set pieces and stark, stylised motion.
This could easily tip into a halting cabaret, but Maud Ní Riordáin is a striking, controlled presence with a pristine voice, and together with actor/singer Rory Fleck-Byrne, they coolly peel back a world of surfaces on songs such as She’s an Actress, Odyssey and Je Suis Contente. A little ironic aloofness goes a long way – videos of abrasive therapy and excerpts from Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia are conceptually arresting, but feel inconsequential – while the stagecraft often takes more risks than the song craft. Yet it is always absorbing; a painstaking work, given startling execution.