Ellamenope Jones @ Project Arts Centre

December 2, 2010

It would appear that Willie White has decided to dip the Project Arts Centre in KY and throw it to the gays for Christmas, ending this heinous fiscal year with a musical and a specified festival that has the pink pound clearly in their sights. If the content of the Queer Notions festival is a quarter as amusing, as innovative or as enjoyable as Randolf SD’s Ellamenope Jones then this truly is the season to be jolly.

Not that jolly is the first word that springs to mind when one thinks of Ellamenope. Vicious, outrageous and utterly heartless this all female production explores the desires, aspirations and weaknesses that lead a group of women to invest in the titular characters pyramid scheme. Interspersing cinematic monologues with rough and ready musical numbers, the salty script dries the audience out and leaves them gagging for the next deranged put down. This is theatre for the boys (and girls) who stood before the bathroom mirror, hairbrush in hand and, instead of mouthing along to Madonna’s latest hit, imitated 14-year-old single mothers and 40-year-old divorcees.

It opens with an explosion of violence before harking back to see how each of the women got involved in the scheme. The insecurities and ambitions that are preyed on by women like Ellamenope (Kathy Rose O Brien) to secure an initial down payment of €5,000, the promises to multiply it four fold and the methods used to attract more victims to the scheme.

Women like Sophie Sunday (Elaine Fox) a bundle of nerves drowning in self-help books and Jane Fonda videos or Crayola Box (Sarah Greene) who loves her new life and thinks it might be just the thing to help her sister Cleopatra (Louise Lewis) stand on her own two feet, independently of her and her louse of an ex. The final brick in the pyramid is Crayola’s cleaner and Cleopatra’s confident, Cassandra Crowe (Natalie Radmall-Quirke, referred to as Polly the Pole even though she is Ukrainian) who sets in motion the events of the play when she refuses to get on board and become one of Cleopatra’s five new initiates, required for the plan-and in turn the women to flower.

It’s perfect timing for a show that looks at the nature of the national greed that got us into our current predicament, where we ripped up the Proclamation of the Republic and declared a Republic of Getting The Fuck What I Want. Where even our dreams were held up for scrutiny and discarded if they were not proper dreams “like what you want and how you are going to get it”. So you drown the singing kittens in your brain and make “space in your mind for possibility.”

Wayne Jordan enlivened the pontifical Christ Deliver Us with his distinctive directorial touch and separated his Plough and the Stars from the horde with a Brechtian approach. But here, working with greater creative freedom, the plays the thing and his contribution is subtler. He works with his exceptionally talented cast to bring about characters who, though heightened as is the norm within the genre, are also credible, affecting and, at times, utterly ghastly. They break the fourth wall, acknowledge the musicians (led by composer Carl Kennedy) and tear into one another, both physically and verbally.

The use of sales speak and Dublin vernacular infuse the piece with relatable tragedy (as does talk of coffees in Dundrum and yoga in the community centre) while the beautiful descriptive flair Jordan gives to the girl’s monolouged close-ups lend it its humanity. However this piece is above all else a maniacal musical with a seriously cuntish kink in its comedic armour.

The singing and dancing are not of the standard you would get in the Grand Canal yet is the latest in a series of Irish musicals (Phaedra, Coconut Raft) that utilizes its casts general lack of training in hoofing and harmonizing to attain their own stamp on the genre. Here the women may not be the best singers in the world, but they attack each song with the same gusto that they apply to their dreams of becoming “ladies who lunch”. We need to feel their aspiration over any talent they may posses.

It’s more like a comedy skit with musical interludes than a song and dance show. It revels in its rawness, highlights its improvisational roots and has more rattled sabers than jazz hands. I don’t know if Ellamenope Jones will go down in the annals of Irish musical theatre or if it will stand the test of time. But even though you won’t leave the venue singing along to the ditties or retain any of the malignant humor, right here, right now I can’t think of a show staged in the past 12 months that split my sides as much as this very Irish bitchfest.

Photographs by Fiona Morgan


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