Sunday, 17 August 2014

Lippy - Dead Centre on Telling Stories

How do you tell a real-life story that isn't yours? This question was
one of the driving forces behind Lippy, the hit show of the 2013 Dublin
Fringe which is currently playing at the Traverse Theatre. Initially
inspired by events that took place at the turn of the century in
Leixlip, County Kildare fourteen years ago when an aunt and three
sisters boarded themselves into their home and entered into a forty-day
suicide pact, the Dead Centre company's creation becomes less of a
docudrama detective story and more a speculative voyage of discovery
for the company's own methodology.

“It's one of those stories that is so extraordinary that it reaches out
into an entire collective consciousness,” says Bush Moukarzel, who
created, co-directs and performs in Lippy. “There are events like 9/11,
which change the whole world, and then there are other, more
idiosyncratic and private events that gauge the temperature of
something else. That's what this story had about it, and I became
fixated by it. I gathered up all the newspaper reports and any other
information that I could find, and there was a Channel Four documentary
about it. Then, after amassing all this material relating to it, I was
left asking myself  what's theatre got to do with any of it?”

The end result includes a lip-reader and a cameo monologue from author
Mark O'Halloran in a multi-faceted mixing and matching of form and
content that is as far removed from journalistic theatre as you can

“For all these strategies and effects,” says Moukarzel, “we aren't
trying to be clever. We only want to find the best way to tell this
story, which has ended up being a performed meditation about the ethics
of telling stories that aren't yours. It's a very pertinent question to
ask what right we have to tell these women’s' stories when we don't
know anything about them other than what we've already read.”

Lippy is Dead Centre's third show. Their first, Souvenir, sourced
Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past as well as material from
Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, TS Eliot, Shakespeare and Orson
Welles. The company's follow-up, (S)quark! Questioned whether James
Joyce was a genius by way of the author of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake's
two pet parakeets. As with Lippy, whether dealing with real or
imaginary characters, Dead Centre's total theatre approach remains
something of an anomaly in Ireland's theatre tradition.

“Ireland is a nation of writers and playwrights,” Moukarzel observes,
“but what's happened in the last twenty years is that we've got more up
to speed with a |European tradition. People can either embrace it or
resist it, but theatre is up for grabs. This is in no way an affront on
the well made play. It's just saying that there are different ways of
doing things.”

Given that a sister of the dead women the play looks to survives them,
what sense of responsibility, one wonders, do Moukarzel and Dead Centre
feel towards the women’s' family?

“That's something I thought about long and hard,” says Moukarzel,
“about whether I should contact the family, and whether or not I needed
some kind of legal permission to do something. Obviously, if we were
trying to psycho-analyse the background to what happened it would be
different and we would've contacted them, but for us, we found out
quite early on that that wasn't what we were doing, and that it wasn't
the story we were telling.

“Of course, if anyone from the family saw the show, I hope it would be
something they wouldn't be offended by. I do know one sister knows
about the show, and that she chose not to go and see it.”

Next up for Moukarzel and Dead Centre is an investigation of Chekhov's
first play. Given the company's fusion of styles, however, one suspects
the result won't be a straight rendering.

“We're just trying to give pretentiousness a good name,” says
Moukarzel. “We're not making a Hollywood movie here. We're sitting in
an unusual space just now. When we go to the theatre, we're trying to
save our souls, and if we fail, fine, but we don't go out for a slight
night. You don't want things to be too comfortable, but you're not
wanting to be hostile either. You don't want a fight.

“For me, the big problem is, can fiction ever be as extraordinary as
real lives? That interplay between falsehood and the real world makes
Lippy quite an extraordinary event. When we do the Chekhov piece, the
backbone of it is fictional, so how do you make that as extraordinary
as reality? I haven't found an answer yet, but that's how Lippy has
made me think.”

Lippy, Traverse Theatre, Aug 5-24, various times

The Herald, August 11th 2014


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