Friday, 12 June 2009
PERFORMANCE REVIEW: The Bay
The Bay – Fragments
The Space, Isle of Dogs
At times of social unrest and political disputes, it is often left to the stage to become society's mouthpiece, voicing discontent and providing a forum for a variety of stories and opinions. And so, with questions of what it is to be British coming to the political fore over the last few weeks, no time is more apt for Fragments to be presenting this response to the 2002 murder of a New Age traveller.
Shane Dempsey's autobiographical story of a group of Romany Gypsies settling in idyllic coastal Ireland, is born out of a number of improvisations with students from East 15 School of Acting which have been formalised here in Hannah Burke's script. The story, - based on the aforementioned true incident - tells a tale of the human need for “somewhere to call home” . Territorial nature leads to the murder of a local man after he returns from prison to find his beloved taking part in a drug-fueled new age marriage ceremony with a Romany man.
The Space is intimate and, for this production, set in the round meaning there's little room for escape. From the outset there is an incredible intensity and energy from the actors without exception, breathing heavily into the silent space as the audience enter.
The play is made up of large physical set pieces involving most of the cast with recorded music being pumped loudly through the theatre, interspersed with a mainly duologue-based text. The physical theatre aspects create a spectacular effect, given the audience a feeling of chaos, but, importantly, chaos that is controlled. Burke's text is at times witty and beautiful but unfortunately, I feel as though the two are never quite married.
It feels as though there is a gap between the two elements - the actors channel the manic energy gained from the physicality into most of the text, making it difficult to keep up with and comprehend. A greater variety of levels would have given the text more room to breath. However, saying that, a special commendation should be given to Conrad Sharp's grounded and cutting portrayal of Asis, a Romany elder, which brought a much needed level of control to the proceedings.
The company's economical use of set is commendable and innovative. Four car tyres provide parameters for settings, chairs, toys and a vat of magic “mushy brew”. The use of music is personal to the director's real life experiences of the story and works well. It does seem a shame not to use the guitar and djembe drum more often. They do make brief cameos and appear to fit succinctly with the 'Total Theatre' style of the rest of the show.
The lengthy finale of this show is an interpretative movement piece leading to the climactic murder scene as played through the eyes of a young man having his first trip on magic mushrooms. It is a remarkable performance piece created by the company and manages to draw your eye to all the right places while telling the story in minute detail.
I was shocked to learn the entire show was put together with just seven days rehearsal. Taking this into account, and the freedom director Shane Dempsey allows his cast, it is clear this piece will continue to grow, and is well worth watching.
The Bay runs from the 9th-18th of June at The Space and then joins the Big Green Gathering programme from 30th July - 2nd August.