The Bystander – Mermaid Arts Centre – Review

The BystanderMermaid Arts Centre – Review by Lesley-Ann Whelan

The Mermaid Arts Centre Bray, 12th October

Junk Ensemble bring their new work, The Bystander, to the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray after performing it as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. The show takes its name from The Bystander Effect, whereby the murder of Kitty Genovese outside her apartment, in Queens NYC in 1964, was witnessed by 38 people who did nothing to stop the attack or contact the police. The piece is an exploration of how society and we, the ordinary person, behave as individuals and groups when faced with violent situations. What makes us help someone or would we just simply standby or walk away?

The piece is interspersed with the dancers recounting from interviews with Sophia Farrar, the neighbour who stayed with Kitty Genovese after her attack while she passed away, and from the attacker, Winston Moseley. In stark contrast to the movement of this piece, the dialogue is delivered in an emotionless way, downplaying the horror of the words, of what happened. However, the performers do not need words to convey the emotion, their movement is visceral and makes us feel what words cannot.

The show makes us look at ourselves and examine how we might behave by also looking at other examples of everyday violence in our society. How our online lives come in contact with videos of violent attacks where the incident becomes click-bait and no one goes to their aid because the temptation of a viral video is more alluring than actually engaging in an act of humanity.

Sisters, Jessica and Megan Kennedy, founded Junk Ensemble in 2004 and are committed to engaging with diverse audiences through the creation and presentation of work that sheds light on important human issues relevant to society. Their casts are often made up of dancers and non-dancers alike. The cast of The Bystander includes actor Steve Blount and dancers Stephanie Dufresne (seen in The Gate’s production of The Red Shoes last Christmas), Stephen Moynihan and Tilly Webber. Sephen Moynihan’s performance embodies our revulsion to violence but our inability to put ourselves forward to aid a victim due to a fear of being attacked ourselves, where self-protection trumps all other moral senses.

As part of last year’s Fringe festival, Junk Ensemble presented Soldier Still, which was developed from a series of interviews with current and former soldiers from the Irish Defence Force, The British Army and the Bosnian war. This beautiful and haunting tale explored the after effects of war, the retirement of a soldier and the indelible traces left behind. Soldier Still returns to the Pavilion Theatre on Nov 1st and continues touring in Cork, Limerick and Galway later in the month.

You might be someone who thinks that they have no interest in going to see a dance piece, but Junk Ensemble’s mix of dance, physical theatre and contemporary drama is worth taking a risk on. Their pieces will challenge you to discover things about our society you may not have contemplated before.


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