How much can a revolution cost a family? In Laurent Gaudé’s new magic realist play, translated by Olwen Fouéré, it sends a woman desperately searching for the remains of her dead revolutionary father, now missing from his grave.
Yet the setting for this intriguing co-production between TheEmergencyRoom and Project Arts Centre resembles an interrogation room where Gaudé’s woman (Fouéré) is observed by two silent guards (Judith Roddy and Mani Obeya). Like parent, like child: she is leading a life under suspicion.
Gaudé finds more than mild ways of articulating the price for having a radical in the family. At one point, an old prison guard remarks: “The same smell of shit as your father, it will stick to your skin for centuries.”
More conspicuous, though, is the play itself. Written specifically for Fouéré, this is a fascinating distillation of recent revolutionary history weaving in the performer’s biography (her father, a Breton nationalist, sought political asylum in Ireland). The particles of the piece, however, come first. Gaudé presents the drama as a tapestry made of meticulous and clever patterns, before giving it a hard-working skeleton.
As the mystery of the missing father deepens, the clues disappointingly become less earned. Truth is fought for, at least, when the woman interrogates her father’s old prison guard, breaking his silence by threatening him with her pack of dogs (“If I ask them, they will run at you”).
Intel from a former inmate (Obeya), however, flows without any struggle and serves only to provide a portrait of the father as a radical beyond radicals. We get another convenient picture from her mother’s ghost (Roddy), displaying a family whose celebrations and grief are as public as they are private.
This leaves directors Fouéré and Emma Martin searching for tensions. Martin, a choreographer, will of course look for corporeal means: the daughter gently bows and rises in ragged dress designed by Molly O’Cathain, while the mother, neatly made-up with legs crossed, remains fixed and resolved.
Elsewhere, the static hisses of Denis Clohessy’s sound design, combined with shadowy video displays by José Miguel Jiminez and Luca Truffarelli, work to instil a sense of restlessness. They can’t, however, make up for the script’s shortcomings.
For a porous play blurring space and time, cast with players from diverse backgrounds (Breton, Northern Irish, Nigerian), it surprisingly revolves a fixed point: the Northern Irish Troubles. But why chose such an indirect form for making references so direct, such as Long Kesh and the no wash protests? The piece seems primed for more ambiguous meanings.
We have to give some credit for another boldly chosen work by Fouéré, who plays the central part with well-measured despair. Gaudé ends the play with a final inter-textual flourish, touching on the performer’s growing affinity with rivers (most significantly her Finnegan’s Wake-based work: riverrun). Earned or not, there is often a sense that Fouéré is pushing at the limits of what’s possible.
Another river, another rebirth.
Danse, Morob is on at Project Arts Centre in Dublin until 28 January 2017. Click here for more details.