Shibari at the Peacock Theatre

October 28, 2013


Like the STI caught by one of the characters in Gary Duggan’s new play Shibari running at The Peacock Theatre until November 3rd, the actions of each person infects the next until all loose ends are tied up in this contemporary drama set against the background of Valentine’s Day.

An Afro-English movie star hits on a Romanian shop girl as she leafs through a book of bondage photography ordered by a Japanese flower arranger. He is subjected to a racist tirade by a drug addled office manager whose brother moves in with their sister after her husband tops himself. Said brothers girlfriend, the book seller, kicks off over his apparent selfishness. It continues in this vein until all of the characters have met each other once, drawing more on the movies of Robert Altman than the traditional Irish drama satirised in the topsy-turvy blood red set (replete with an old kitchen stuck to the ceiling). It’s like theatrical speed dating, where each pairing is given a few moments together in front of an audience to explore the ties -familial, professional and interpersonal, that bind us to one another.

It’s often amusing and mostly entertaining but like much of the new writing that has preceded it at the National Theatre of late, it is too slight. Duggan has made a play that features a multicultural cast but that is not about multiculturalism. What it is about is harder to answer. We move from one scene to the next, given one revelation after the other, but the structure of the play means we have little time to connect with what’s going on before the buzzer goes and we change partners.

Like Nancy Harris’ No Romance, there is a lot going on- the recession, sexual health and journalistic ethics are but three of the topics raised, but nothing is duly explored. Drawing on Stacey Gregg’s Perve, the rapid handover of scenes is deftly handled by director Tom Creed, who with the help of his design team transforms the space into a sauna, a hotel suite, a karaoke bar and a restaurant with what seems like little effort. Unlike that last piece however, Duggan’s aggressive exposition can seem didactic and make the characters, particularly Alicja Ayres and Kate Nic Chonaonaigh, seem intensely unlikeable.

The cast do their best, with Janet Moran and Ian Lloyd Anderson a familiar joy, but we spend too little time with them to feel for what they are going through. Some of the bigger revelations and connections towards the end of the play pivots it into melodrama, which undermines the more interesting questions asked about identity and expression asked.

It’s great to see contemporary Dublin mounted on the stage in this way, reflecting the concerns of people in their twenties and thirties without resorting to cheap laughs or microphoned true life stories. But new plays in the national theatre never seem to be about anything. They seem to be about everything. And by paying lip service to such a wide range of topics they speak effectively on none.

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