Natural History of Hope – Project Arts Centre – Review by Frank L.
Presented by artist Fiona Whelan & Rialto Youth Project in collaboration with Brokentalkers
12 May 2016-14 May 2016 8.00pm – Tickets €12 – €15
This piece opens on a sombre note with the members of the primary cast responding to the statement:
“We did a play here years ago,
A lot of the cast from that play are dead now.
We couldn’t save them”.
The cast are all women and drawn from many ages. The script has evolved through many phases over a four year period (2012 to 2016), “tapping into the generations of women connected to Rialto Youth Project and the majority female staff, the project set out to engage individuals, families and friendship groups to explore and respond to women’s experiences of life. It has its roots in community youth work, collaborative arts practice, radical education and activism”. Last year “Fiona Whelan and Rialto Youth Project invited theatre company Brokentalkers to work with them to co-develop [the current] performance.” “For six months, [they] have worked side by side to combine our skills to co-develop what you see today.” All of the above statements in inverted commas are taken from the programme notes which are a useful guide to understanding the commitment and energy which came together to create this piece.
The story is that of one girl called Hope who begins in swaddling clothes and continues through to old age. The universality of her fate is acknowledged by making her a doll or “a mannequin”, as the programme notes state, rather than have one or more actors playing her role. The use of the mannequin helps make Hope an everywoman, not just one particular woman. She endures rejection by teachers at school, a teenage pregnancy, the birth of her son and in her early thirties a diagnosis of cancer. The coffin with pall bearers even makes its entrance on stage but a theatrical intervention manifests itself and the play takes an unexpected turn. At the back of the stage throughout as Hope’s life twists and turns are four knitters who represent a sort of maternal continuity and calmness. Into Hope’s life joy and dreams do enter which are represented by 12 young majorettes and then in large straw hats the cast enjoying the heat on that precious two weeks holiday in the sun, when Hope’s problems can be set aside for a while.
In order to appreciate this piece of theatre it has to be seen. Each performer, other than the Majorettes, appears in her everyday gear. The piece eschews in that sense theatrical artifice. It does however not only use the mannequin as a theatrical device but also a mask to create a wolf as the story of the three little pigs is told.
“Natural History of Hope” is a piece of theatre which has evolved from a community of women coming together to make something positive happen. The voices proclaimed in the piece are not often heard in society, at best their voices are usually muffled through other spokespersons. Here the women tell their story in their own words and in their own way. The end result is one of which all the collaborators can be proud. Probably even more importantly, each member of the audience has an opportunity to encounter these rarely heard voices and contemplate their value. The collaborators are entitled to take a well-deserved bow in the theatrical limelight.