Anecdotal Evidence & By the Skin of our Teeth –Smock Alley – Review by P McGovern
Block 34 – Smock Allies – Scene + Heard Festival – Festival continues until March 4th
At Large Company at Scene and Heard, Smock Alley
“Is this a circus?” asks the stentorian judge, seated at the bench in his off-the-shoulder toga and day-glo, orange wig, in Grainne Curistan’s Anecdotal Evidence. Well, yes, your honour, it looks like it. After all, both the counsel for the prosecution and counsel for the defence are in full clown-like make-up, having made their highly theatrical, ultra-gymnastic, balletic entrances, moving to the too-fast, then too-slow music of a familiar tune, distorted almost beyond recognition. If we are not in a circus, well, neither are we in an orthodox courtroom.
The accused is hauled before us, charged with having done “that thing” and “the other, the worse, thing”. We are none the wiser as the piece belts along, never missing a beat but leaving us in the dark as to where we are going – if indeed we are going anywhere. Evidence takes the form of big envelopes marked DNA and MORE DNA. Defence is admirably concise “I did not… I did not… I did not” while the prosecution counsel becomes so manic that he has to be called to order. Meanwhile we the jury are cajoled by the petite, coquettish counsel for the defence, admiring our physique, lauding our work-out regime. It is all very engaging, funny in a zany but slight macabre way.
Suddenly it turns. We start to grasp what “the thing and the worse thing” may be. The parallels with a real-life, particularly gruesome murder of some years ago, are unmistakable. Part of the accused’s defence is that he is “from Shankill”, so he couldn’t have done it. Echoes of Alan Bennett’s famous “but I’m from the BBC!” The non-speaking part of the victim is beautifully acted. In fact, there is no weak link in this impressive ensemble and the re-enactment of the crime is superbly handled in Noel Cahill’s imaginative direction, spot-on in every detail. The writing depends too much, perhaps, on the excellent cast and direction, but there is no doubting that there is a deal of talent and huge potential in this company.
William Dunleavy’s By the Skin of our Teeth is an uneven piece. It is not quite sure whether it is serious or comic, or both, but doesn’t quite succeed whatever the intention. Set in a prison for serious criminals, in the wake of some unnamed (apparently nuclear) apocalyptic event, the writing of the play does not match the enormity of the event. There are probably more stage blackouts than words in the first five minutes and it becomes a mere distraction, never allowing things to develop. A number of the actors are indistinct while a few are required to bellow in an uncontrolled level. Far more shape and discipline will be needed if the piece is reworked but there was enough seriousness of intent to suggest it would be worth a try.