The Words Are There – Theatre Upstairs – Review

The Words Are There – Theatre Upstairs – Review by P. McGovern
Mat 5th – 20th 2017

World Premiere by Ronan Dempsey

The Nth Degree’s production of Ronan Dempsey’s new play, The Words Are There, makes you reach for words like ‘compelling’ and ‘riveting’ to convey the magic of the actor/author’s spellbinding performance.  For 50 minutes he utters just one mumbled phrase. But his mastery of physical theatre is such that indeed, as the title says, the words are there, every last one of them. They are in the eyes, the hands, the shoulders, the movements – both deliberate and ‘accidental’ – and, in all its silence, the mouth. Dempsey studied Commedia dell’Arte techniques under Jos Houben of Théatre de Complicité and at L’Ecole Internationale de Théatre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. It shows.

As the actor sidles onto the stage, his face is set in a mask somewhere between vacant and traumatised. The stillness of a statue and the intensity of the expression rivets the audience’s attention and so it continues for the duration of the play. We are in a grotty flat in Bettystown as the silent ‘narrator’ prepares a welcome for the woman who will arrive shortly. The man has been stunned into silence by things she revealed to him and by an action of his own during the relationship that may now be ruptured beyond recovery. Perhaps not; he is hopeful. His attempts to spruce up the place involve balloons and bunting, wiping the rims of used wine glasses, spraying air-freshener on a stagnant mop head etc. He is definitely not your metrosexual ‘new man’.

‘Play’ is the wrong word to describe Dempsey’s solo performance. What it is, is a powerful piece of theatre telling the story of a failed, romantic relationship, as if the other party were there onstage. In fact, the voice of actor Jessica Leen is all we ‘see’ of the woman. Her ‘alter ego’ is created onstage – as a kind of puppet – from the arm of a lamp, a multi-coloured feather duster, a mop and such things. The strands of the mop become a head of hair, in a way that is as ingenious as it is imaginative. We hear her phone calls, by times cajoling, apologetic, dismissive, pleading, the actor listening in silence. The audience, however, can read his every response: the words are there, alright.

The themes of the play are common enough in man/woman plots: desire at times thwarted by fear of intimacy, feelings of rejection, the reality of violence, regret, longing for reconciliation. What makes the show special is the ingenuity and innovation of the presentation, from the recordings of voices on a trip to London, to the snippets of phone calls, to the reliving of key moments before the all-important, pivotal incident. All that and Ronan Dempsey’s remarkable performance. Continuing at Theatre Upstairs until May 20th.


Ronan Dempsey / MAN
Jessica Leen / WOMAN


Ronan Dempsey / WRITER
Gavin Hennessy / SOUND DESIGN
Jessica Leen / PRODUCER


Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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