New Speak Re-Imagined – Lyric Theatre – Review
by Cathy Brown
Episode 1 – 24th April
Episode 2 – 1st May
Episode 3 – 8th May
Episode 4 – 15th May
Renowned theatre director Peter Brook once said, ‘In the theatre, every form must be reconceived, and it’s new conception will bear the marks of all the influences that surround it.’ No one could have imagined the extent to which the idea of theatre, performance and creativity would have to be reconceived in response to the influence of the current pandemic, but arts organisations across the world are responding to the new restrictions by taking their work online.
Originally, the Lyric Theatre Belfast’s New Speak season had taken inspiration from a line in George Orwell’s 1984 – ‘I can see what the future will look like’ – and had engaged seven artists and directors based in Northern Ireland to respond.
Now that the work has been moved online, the theme remains effective and even more timely as the company presents their first episode of assorted performances each exploring the absurdity, difficulty and dangers of life in lockdown.
Standout of this first episode is The Great British Lockdown, conceived and performed by Amadan Ensemble. A fantastically dry take on reality television, it follows a young couple in their confused attempts to follow the rules of social distancing within their own home. From confining their child in his room, creating a one-way system around their living room and coming up with a novel way of keeping their cats’ feet germ-free, Amadan highlight the tensions that arise when there is a lack of concrete advice on how we keep ourselves safe. Gemma Mae Halligan and David Quinn are pitch-perfect as Rebecca and Graham capturing the language and tensions of event television to a tee.
RealTalk, written by Dominic Montague and performed by Patrick McBrearty takes online influencing to a darker place, as a perky vlogger uses the tricks and tropes of YouTube videos to disguise the chilling nature of his message about rationing, identity cards and a citizen’s points system that rewards spying on your neighbour.
Lata Sharma is well used to being spied on, as her monologue Sausage Sodas and Onion Bahjees makes clear, exploring the tensions between her strict Indian upbringing and the more easy-going conventions of life in Northern Ireland. She has been living a different kind of lockdown all her life.
New Speak also features a solo dance piece expressively performed by Zara Janahi and choreographed by Janahi, Annika Dreenan-Rocke and Clare Montgomery. The Perception of the World Through My Eyes moves out from our homes and into the wider world, exploring Mother Nature’s response to the ongoing pressures of climate change.
This episode of New Speak finishes with an atmospheric performance of My Mind is a Weapon by singer-songwriter Katie Richardson, which features a dance performance by Ryan O’Nell and Vasiliki Stasinaki, directed by Emily Foran. As Katie sings ‘my mind is a weapon and the war is reality’, it is a reminder that we are all fighting in one way or another to survive this new reality.
New Speak runs at just over 20 minutes, keeping the pace tight and the message clear. The ghost light might be on in the theatre, but the creativity hasn’t dimmed, as the Lyric and their team explore this new landscape with humour and wit, all the while reminding us of the need to interrogate, to question and to gather together, in whatever way that we can.
New Speak Reimagined will continue for three more weeks, with episodes being released on May 1, 8 and 15, with each episode being available to view for a week.