What can be said that hasn’t been said already, in this information age? Brokentalkers have found a fitting response to that question on more than one occasion. 2011’s The Blue Boy, for instance, set out to shake an Irish public fatigued by reports of clerical abuse by framing church history through stirring new displays: a mix of brutal contemporary dance and arch use of archival footage. Turning to the migrant crisis, directors Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan have neither history nor access on their side; the story of survival is seemingly the survivors’ to tell.
Sensitive material comes with a note of restraint (by this company’s standards). Cannon and Keegan have actually written a play, fitted as allegory with Bjarni Jonsson’s neat dramaturgy. That’s not to remove the prefix in postdramatic theatre. Performances are neutrally cool and the scenery – a tacky beach designed by Sabine Dargent – fantastically artificial.
The curtain opens to show a drowned body washed ashore, borrowing shocking iconography from the ongoing crisis. A figure quickly removes the corpse from view before proceeding with events at hand: a wedding between Bryan (Bryan Quinn), a hot-headed soldier, and Breffni (Breffni Houlihan), a narcissistic artist. The drowned body, out of sight, is out of mind.
This timely production makes explicit that denial is rooted in the slipping sands of self-preservation. The father of the groom (Daniel Riordan) waxes lyrical about the ancestral beach, a colonial conquest going back centuries. His talk of apes and evolution easily offends the meathead friend of the groom (Carl Harrison), and his xenophobic remarks disturb the mother of the bride (Pom Boyd). Their routines of horseplay, sunbathing and drinking beer go uninterrupted by the cyclical washing up of bodies onshore, until someone arrives still breathing.
That’s a grim picture but an absolutely necessary one. Tensions are tested over the visitor (Neimhin Robinson), an intercultural individual who can speak German and quote ancient Greek literature, who is regarded with suspicion. Quinn and Harrison, despite being stripped to garish swimming trunks and sunglasses, skilfully retain an intensity. Riordan’s goofy imperialist is content once the young man is put to work, of course, and Houlihan’s twisted artist draws out his story before lending her own sensationalist slant. In all this, Boyd, a sly contender, is best placed to be a sympathetic figure. Extraordinarily, indifference is better disguised in some cases more than others.
Brokentalkers have long defended diversity (ten years ago, their promenade Track led audiences on a multicultural tour of Dublin, ending with dinner in a Chinese restaurant). A polemic lashing against resistance to the migrant crisis is true to form. That’s not to say the production ignores intercultural harmonies (Robinson is dressed striking and beautiful for a brief time, bald-headed and shawled like a Butoh dancer) but mostly it’s a warning. For the human race, it’s sink or swim.