‘Nothing will come of nothing.’ Bush Moukarzel’s wry delivery of King Lear’s famous line may have gained a laugh from the audience at last night’s production of Lippy in The Lir, but it also archly summed up the play’s underlying theme: the meaningless of life and death that forms the basis of so much art. Part of the Dublin Fringe Festival 2013, Lippy is a meditation on this void, loosely based around the real life suicides of three sisters and their aunt in Leixlip in 2000.
This is not a play interested in whys and wherefores. Under the directorship of Ben Kidd, Dead Centre’s production goes to great lengths to avoid explaining or pontificating on what may have happened to the four women in the run-up to their deaths from a hunger strike that lasted 40 days. Instead it employs a range of metatheatrical devices to highlight the limits of art when dealing with the incomprehensible. With lighting by Stephen Dodd and sound distortions by Adam Welsh, surreal shifts in time and place, and a cast that leans more towards cypher than character, Lippy refuses to let its audience rest, constantly asking us to question society’s need to explain the unintelligible. The play, if it can be deemed that, warns of the dangers of imposing script and structure on real life tragedy. Putting words in the mouths of other people, especially dead people, is a dangerous game.
The opening framing device of a post-show discussion to a fictional play highlights theatre as artifice. Actor and lip-reader Daniel Reardon explains to Moukarzel’s self-congratulating host that both roles require him to interpret and give meaning to events that might otherwise remain unexplained. ‘Context is everything,’ he says, proving his point some moments later as he dons a set of head phones with loud music and attempts to decipher his host’s speech by lip reading. Although some sentences survive intact, the majority are altered – close becomes cold, arousing is now drowning – and we are left in no doubt about the ineffectiveness of interpretation. After teasing the audience with a seemingly straight forward, mediaesque report of the suicides, which is suddenly distorted and cut short, Moukarzel’s production then drops us into the horror of the Leixlip house, offering snippets and imaginings that circumvent the story but never open up a narrative.
Incongruous music, fluorescent lighting, a rainstorm, mounds of shredded paper, dead flowers and discarded domestic paraphernalia – Lippy’s set and technical tricks have been devised to assault the senses, showing us that normal associations mean nothing when you are trying to compare the incomparable. And through it all, the physical reminder of the four women who wander the austere but beautifully evocative set trying to tell a story that will never be heard. Even the addition of ‘cameo playwright’ Mark O’Halloran’s monologue is refused traditional form. The words emanate from a life-sized screen projection of a mouth, the teeth and lips at once recognisable and grotesque as it tells of the horrors that lie beneath everyday life.
Drawing our attention to the performance as a construct, Lippy is an ambitious production that refuses to neatly box off its subject matter. By seeking to alienate the audience it allows us to imagine a world of alienation that would otherwise be inaccessible, achieving in the process, something of nothing.
Lippy runs as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival at The Lir – Studio 1 until September 14th.