Scene To Be BelievedSíofra Ni Shluaghadháin offers her view on two plays in Smock Alley Theatre’s Scene and Heard festival of new work. [br]IT is a rare and pleasant experience to get access to the artist’s studio, to get to see the bare bones of a work in progress. Such was the feel of this double bill in the Boys’ School in the Smock Alley Theatre. Sitting up on the balcony, looking down on the performance beneath us, we were treated to an hour of bold and fresh Irish theatre: two short performances which were part of Smock Alley’s Scene and Heard festival of new work. The atmosphere at the Temple Bar venue was a particularly casual one, with the performance beginning at 18.15, an unusually early time for a theatre performance, but not an unpleasant change.What transpired over the hour that followed was an emotionally charged set of plays. The first, Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws, is written by Joyce Dignam, co-founder of Tea and Toast Theatre Company, and directed by UCD student Méadbh Hennelly. The play is like so many of the best works, a story about children, but absolutely not intended for children.Based around the premise of two sisters, Lara and Rosie, who are “too young to understand” the turmoil at the heart of their family, the play was powerfully acted; the simplicity of the stage lending a particular child-like poignancy to its content. This is a play about childhood, growing up, keeping secrets, and learning what it is to be an adult.
“It is a testament to the cast and crew, along with the playwright, that such fascinating storytelling could be delivered within such a limited time."The costuming also added a compelling element to this work as both actors donned the garb of young children to add to the reality of their roles. It is also a play which demands every ounce of your attention, and when the lights finally went down, there was a tangible sense of shock amongst the audience. It is a testament to the entirety of the cast and crew, along with the playwright, that such complex and fascinating storytelling could be delivered within such a limited time as 25 to 30 minutes.For the audience, it was a joy to watch work of such calibre; a new voice, unweighted by the conventions that often hamper more "traditional" theatre. In the case of both of the plays, there is a lot to be said of the merits of a small cast and a limited budget. Part of what made the piece so gripping came in the explicit yet unspoken contract between the stage and the audience — we were to suspend our disbelief for the hour, while they worked their magic. It paid off.Meanwhile, the beginning of Infinity, written and performed by actor and playwright Nessa Matthews, signalled a definite shift in the dynamic of the performance. This is a work which utilised beautifully the space available within the Boys’ School, using the lack of a raised stage to engage directly with the audience. Beginning as a confessional, discussing the difficulties of bringing a piece of art to fruition, Matthews skilfully weaves a narrative that is equal parts truth and fiction.
"Both Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws and Infinity offer a great sense of hope for the future of Irish Theatre.”Infinity speaks about the “What Ifs?” within all of us, making the audience question what it is to be alive and the meaning of their everyday lives. Infinity offers something unusual: science-fiction, stripped down and brought to the stage, as the two mediums rarely mix and yet Matthews mingles them effortlessly. It's effect lay in its universality; it would be safe enough to assume that few, if any, of the people present that night were astronauts, but Matthews' tale of loneliness, long distance travel and the fear of the blank page ahead spoke volumes to us all.What came from the evening, overall, was a sense of shock and awe, to borrow such a hackneyed phrase. To borrow another, it was a perfect exercise in the first rule of good writing. In these two works, the audience was exposed to a masterclass in "showing, not telling.” Theatrically, it was also a masterclass in its own right: a showcase of using space, movement and the spoken word in perfect tandem.It is not often that such deep and complex themes and concepts are brought to stage in such accessible formats as those seen in both of these plays. Both Fizzy Drinks with Two Straws and Infinity offer a great sense of hope for the future of Irish Theatre. The youth of both playwrights also offers an exciting insight into what is to come from both Irish and international theatre over the coming years.[br]Fizzy drinks with two straws is showing until 8th April. For more information or to book tickets see www.theatreupstairs.ie