You are lying in bed in the dark, listening to the weather unleash itself. You are mildly hungover, a little dehydrated. It is significantly colder than you remember it being yesterday, but perhaps your memories aren’t accurate and it was indeed as cold as it is now. You do not want to get up. You do not want to go to work. You can smell the sleep from your pillow. It is toying with your consciousness like formaldehyde. As your lids drop, you are suddenly hit with recollection. You sit bolt upright and remember the review of Souvenir at the Project last night that you must do, the reason you have set your alarm so early. You recall there was only one actor, that it lasted barely an hour, that the set looked like a complete mess. Paper everywhere. But mostly, you remember the doves and your obligation to let the readers of No More Workhorse know: ce spectacle est magnifique.
Written and performed by Bush Moukarzel, Souvenir uses Marcel Proust’s masterpiece ‘In Remembrance of Things Past‘ as a foundation from which to build a fragmented narrative centred on memory, time and desire. Things fall apart quickly. A straight reading of Proust breaks down after the first line, the audience denied its right to hear, the spectator denied the same as the clever set (Florence McHugh and Andrew Clancy) literally explodes in front of us. The metatheatrics are delivered with humour, from the labelled cardboard boxes that litter the stage (‘Theatre, The; Punches Thrown; Madeleines; Weather) to the charming and conversational style with which Moukarzel engages audience members to help him put on the show. Last night’s performance would have meant more again to those in the Irish theatre scene, replete with allusions to Pan Pan, Fringe funding, or the ultrameta self-referencing of Dead Centre themselves, both named checked and with the Helium for Lippy cardboard box acting as a reminder of the company’s recent production for the 2013 Fringe.
The surreal humour works as a contrast to the existential despair that runs through the narrative. From Proust’s 1896 awakening to a contemporary clubbing scene, from the deceit through words the writer used to gain access to his mother as a child to the Air France Flight 447 that crashed en route from Brazil to Paris, the contradictions of human behaviour, the moth like desire to seek out what hurts us, are highlighted again and again. ‘Stay still,’ comes the sharp command as Moukarzel as Proust tries to remember his lover Albertine, why the need for her grew stronger the more she repelled him, why the desire to hold her captive outweighed even his sexual preference.
The loneliness of the individual in the face of this desire, in the inability to communicate properly with others, hits home in a strange, arresting image of bicycle shaped glasses. The dark interior world that forms so much of Proust’s writing has a light shone on it (literally, of course, under Ben Kidd’s direction) as we’re asked to consider why one human being would disown another. Societies in transition, a dearth of real communication, the dream worlds we concoct to get through life – so much so Proustian, but Souvenir presents an innovative and modern way at looking at both Proust’s text and these age old themes.
Friendships are as life affirming as furniture, madeleines are scoffed and slap-sticked to great effect, the cheeky ‘half’ towards the end linking in nicely with Adam Welsh’s soundtrack, Josh Pharo’s intense strobe lighting and the paroxysmal choreography that ensues. Memory is demolished in numerous guises – the madeleines, a misfortunate goldfish, an upended cardboard box. Another box is full of time itself. The treadmill is there from beginning to end, Eliot’s coffee spoon measured moments cluttering the stage and script, leaving little space for what’s supposed to matter. Or as Moukarzel archly tells us: ‘None of us has time to live the true dramas of our life.’
Souvenir premiered at the Dublin Fringe Festival 2012 and has toured to London and New York. It runs at the Project Arts Centre until December 14th.