What does it take to change the world? Such is the tremendous ambition of Makeshift Ensemble and Postmodernsquare’s new co-production: a site-specific performance that is part immersive theatre, part documentary, part 30 minutes longer than its advertised time.
However, there are realistic expectations offered for such an idealistic question. On arrival to the performance venue we’re greeted by a life-sized cut out of Roger Casement, valorised Irish rebel and gay man, noted here for his inspiring humanitarian work. Pundits line up to take selfies, but its easy to suspect director Eszter Nemethi is perhaps sceptical of heroes and worship. Her staging seems more interested in what can gained from their deconstruction.
The location is both a gem and a curse. In the environs outside Cork Boat Club, the action plays against the picturesque backdrop of Cork Harbour, the second biggest harbour in the world. Nemethi and dramaturge Bart Capelle ingeniously recognise this this as a symbolic gateway to world trade, somewhere we might chance to reimagine the dynamics that impoverish certain parts of the globe. They’re less sensitive to the cold current rising from the water’s edge.
The players are made up of affable artists and activists, actors and non-actors, equipped with microphones to be heard. They often wade through the audience, carrying parts of the set like sailors lugging cargo. Teenager Siofa Richardson thoughtfully acts as a guide, even giving a crash course in site-specific theatre for those unfamiliar. Defiant activist Guylaine Lema strikingly casts herself as Roger Casement after tracing parallels between their aid work in the Congo.
Casement’s spirit is embodied in all these players, in Belgian artist Serge Vandeberghe and Brendan Richardson, an Irish ‘clicktivist’ (somebody who uses the internet to influence opinion), who provide protest histories from home and abroad. Casement is even the inspiration for actor Matthew Von Zweigbergk’s action movie premise, involving an imagined meeting between his great grandfather and the humanitarian on the open seas.
You’d appreciate the thoughtful tensions between East and West, between the goal of forming a sustainable global community and the reinforcing sense of national pride while singing your country’s national anthem, if they weren’t all consumed by the chilly atmosphere. An hour in and the environment becomes too hostile for the performance, and the audience, to sustain. The failing of the sound technology is also a loss.
This isn’t the best climate for the production’s latter stages. It begins to wane by disappointingly adopting a traditional structure to resolve itself, that is, conspiring for dramatic pathos. This life and times of activists in an apathetic world is rather lethargic compared to the dynamic note the production began with. It wasn’t concerned then as much with slumming these social warriors through a drama but in making use of their offstage lives, championing idealism. That loudspeaker isn’t going to lift itself.
Utopia Ltd., was on as part of Cork Midsummer Festival. For more of their ongoing programme, click here.