OTwo Review: An Archaeology

Image Credit: Rob Laughter via Unsplash

Literature and Drama Editor Laura Molloy reviews the performance An Archaeology performed in UCD’s new theatre Trapdoor.

On the 11th and 12th of April 2024, UCD’s recently opened theatre Trapdoor held a performance of An Archaeology, directed by UCD theatre scholar and practitioner Jeanne Tiehen. The performance was inspired by an unreleased poem written by Éireann Lorsung, and performed by eight UCD students. 

Trapdoor is a newly developed ‘black box’ theatre based at UCD’s Belfield campus, which allows UCD Dramsoc to return to their original theatre space. This new venue also represents an outlet for students to express their creativity, production and performance. 

Before the show commenced, the audience were instructed that the performance was “made for those displaced and touched by immense violence.” Such themes and concepts were prominent throughout the show. During one scene, the dialogue “I didn’t speak the language” and “no would hear me” were repeated by the group of characters, emphasising their struggles. 

The cast consisted of eight students - Gráinne Meghen, Esther Campbell, Ashlyn Pillai, Emma Ross, Camilla Marena, Francesco Neo Bach, Luca Haugh and Alice Fransson - who offered an enthralling performance. 

Particularly remarkable was Emma Ross’ embodiment of the Ragpicker, and Francesco Neo Bach as The News Report. The pair stood out through the effortless delivery of their dialogue, which allowed them to masterfully express their characters’ personalities. 

The setting was barebones, with minimal wooden furniture placed on the stage - for instance, a wooden table decorated with flags right at centre stage. The costumes matched the stage design, with the cast wearing basic black or white clothing that revealed little about their characters. 

Set design and costumes played a key role in the performance. Although, the black gown with a majestic white collar, worn by the Cartographer (Esther Campbell) especially stood out. Sound and movement were at the heart of the show. The performance was accompanied by music by Mattew Houston throughout its entirety, which dictated the pace and tone of each scene. 

The performance opened with soft guitar music while the character named Traveller (Gráinne Meghen) examined the wooden furniture in close detail. The actors’ movements were slow and carried out with caution, mirroring the pace of the music. The actors’ movements and the music were harmoniously synced, creating a rhythmic performance. 

Furthermore, the cast would frantically run around the table in the centre together, and usually performed on the same side of the stage. The synchronisation of the actors’ movements meant that rather than being separate individuals, they were a connected group that represented a collective meaning. 

Although the overall narrative of the show lacked a coherent structure, much of the story is left up to the audience and its own interpretation. As such, rather than engaging in dialogue with one another, the actors addressed the audience directly: they narrated what they wanted the audience to visualise, rather than act them out. 

Rather than engaging in dialogue with each other, the actors addressed the audience directly: they narrated what they wanted the audience to visualise, rather than act them out.

Themes of displacement were alluded to again during the scene where the characters referred to “the borders” that began “to close” and “the guards” that “were German speaking.” The themes of colonialism explored in the play transcended the lack of precise historical references. For instance, in a scene towards the end of the performance, the actors refer to “your new continent,” which is a space that remains unspecified. 

Speaking to members of the cast after their performance, it was clear that the audience were to be left curious, to ponder on the meaning of what they have just witnessed. Indeed, it was the cast’s intention for the show to be open to different interpretations and to leave the ending ambiguous. Despite not following the structure or expectations of a traditional genre or form, the show still received a loud round of applause at the end, highlighting its success and the audience's enjoyment. 

With the success of An Archaeology, more talent is likely to emerge from UCD’s Trapdoor.