Futureproof – Project Arts Centre – Review by P McGovern
Lynda Radley’s Futureproof – until 01 July 2017 @ 7.30pm
A huge, forbidding-looking gate, topped with barbed wire, dominates the otherwise empty stage. A fog hangs in the air, cut by a harsh light. It could be a prison, even a concentration camp. But no, the characters are travelling players in a kind of fit-up troupe. However, the initial sense of foreboding isn’t entirely misplaced for, in a sense, the characters are indeed imprisoned. They troop onstage, a caravan of grotesques, and stare at us from behind the grille. Eventually one of the players cuts the lock and they come downstage, staring at us confrontationally, challenging us to engage with them in some way yet to be defined. The silent stare is disconcerting, as indeed is the play as a whole, its themes and the excellent performances.
The setting is the backstage goings-on of an ‘Odditorium’, a travelling freak-show, the kind of thing that was common in Victorian England. However, playwright Lynda Radley is hinting at contemporary parallels rather than something historical. The manipulation of the weak and vulnerable by the unscrupulous is clearly an issue.
As the puller of strings and cracker of whips, Glenn Murphy’s Riley is slick, slimy and ruthless. He spends his time coaxing, cajoling and bullying to get his way. For him, profit margins are what matter; the performers are expendable pawns. Food and comforts can be squeezed to fit the accounts, if the show needs to be more sensational, the human cost is not considered. Is there a hint at the scramble for ratings in hyped, populist media? Perhaps. Karen McCartney’s mute Serena is far from serene, locked in a world of nervous doubt and frustration, wearing a mermaid’s tail for performances. Her mime and movement express her brewing anger and frustration as she sees through Riley. If the explosive breaking of her silence is a riveting moment, its muted aftermath is even more so. It is a demanding part and the actor rises to it in some style.
Gina Moxley’s bearded Countess Marketa makes up in attitude and ambition what she lacks in… arms. Gerard Byrne is the world’s fattest man – until the need for novelty in performance demands that he lose weight. When his discipline collapses, literally stuffing his face, the fusion of intense pleasure and harrowing guilt is powerful, hinting at the experience of those who suffer from eating disorders. Amy Conroy’s George/Georgina is divided down the middle, half man, half woman. If there is a gleam of optimism at the end, it derives from the suggestion that the character may, at last, have decided what direction to take in life. Gillian McCarthy and Julie Sharkey are conjoined twins, Millie and Lillie. Their late night chats allow us to eavesdrop on their intimate hopes, longing and fears, confirming their essential ‘normality’. Indeed, the author’s concern with issues of identity and stereotyping (and the way people are excluded and isolated) is reflected in all her characters.
Radley’s play is ambivalent and challenging. It engages the head but keeps the heart firmly in its place throughout. If it falls short of being a “well-made play”, that seems intentional on the writer’s part. It will be interesting to see where the young Cork-born playwright goes next.
Paul O’Mahony’s set is brilliantly designed, executed and lit, from the stark gates to the tawdry backstage with its lights and tinsel. Tom Creed’s detailed and focused direction ensures that the audience’s attention never flags. The show, produced by Cork’s Everyman, in association with Cork Midsummer Festival and Project Arts continues until Saturday July 1st at 7. 30 nightly.