First dates can be rough. In John Morton’s new play, Taboo, co-devised with Lisa Fox, a stimulating conversation about soup eventually progresses to television criticism and a negative review of the soap opera Neighbours. “It’s not realistic” opines Lily (Fox), a young woman clad in classic dress. If that’s a sly nod to an exaggerated reality, it’s a cop-out for a dark comedy ambitiously set to tackle real stigma.
Produced by the White Label collective, the play opens with Lily busily preparing for the arrival of her date. She vehemently sprays her dining room with air freshener and practices rehearsed responses to conversation. Tom (Morton), a polite supermarket worker, arrives with wine and flowers in hand. Lifting their spoons for the starter course, the drama takes ease in bland topics and comfortable silences.
On one level, it’s a smart critique of dating in a modern world dogged by endless apps and devices. Technology and alienation fit Morton’s modus operandi; his 2013 play War of Attrition was a ferocious look at individual isolation and the ethics of the internet. Returning to a daringly old-fashioned dinner date might almost be a virtue.
For all its charming nuances, the typicalities are glaringly obvious. Fox determinedly tries to ground a role written in type to that sacred cow of Irish comedy: the overly polite Irish ‘Mammie’. That’s perhaps a bit unadventurous compared to Morton, whose restraint on the opposite side of the dinner table cuts a guileless and intriguing figure.
However, there are signs that the distance between characters can be overcome; director Sarah Baxter highlights moments of connection, aided by Seán Dennehy’s love song-inspired sound design and Maggie Donovan’s soft lighting. Meanwhile, the clever details of Helen McGinty’s peach domestic set point to previous decades, suspecting something out of place.
By the time the shepherd’s pie is served, the duo are engrossed in career ambitions and family-histories of illness. But a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom triggers an astonishing spiral of events. Police are called, dead bodies are discovered, and someone gets tied up with duct tape. Abandoning the subtly of previous scenes, these histrionics are probably not the most serious methods to examine what is revealed to be a severe case of Munchausen syndrome.
Yet, this play feels well intended. A genuine back-and-forth on local myths – gossip stories about questionable men and supposed ugly-faced ‘Medusa’ women – exposes not only their superficialities but also the destructive power of rumour. By the end, Fox and Morton reveal individuals withdrawn from a society that would readily denounce them as disordered. There’s a reason why demons retreat to the closest; we built it especially for them.
Taboo is on until 27th February 2016. Click here for tickets.