Three (arguably) gay prison inmates (arguably) learning about Oscar Wilde. A (painfully) earnest(!) drama therapist and her husband Omar with a dark past. Pig masks, a chase sequence and a bus trip to Bundoran.
There is so much to love in this show. I am glad, to quote Kirsten Dunst in The Importance of Being Earnest in Spiderman II, because I've never written a review before. I didn't want to pick a fight. I didn't want to call people I sorta know by their second names. I didn't want to pointedly take notes like a wanker. I took notes on the back of my programme. These are the notes I took:
Craic (tainted every bit of)
Most of these will only make sense if you go see the show. 'Music(!)' is as good a segue as any into the consistently pretty deadly design. I liked Si Schroeder's music a lot, though it was often left to hum away under a scene to little effect, like your dad waiting in the car with the engine on to drop you to a teenage disco. You know he's only trying to help, but you can't help being stressed by it. Still. Sensitively slow, nice harmonic flavours, neither a five-minutes-on-Ableton dronefest nor a neurotic-muzak-carousel. Aedín Cosgrove's set was functional in its components – fair enough, we're in a prison – but telling in its spare spacing: undemonstratively characterful. (I wonder does she prefer making referential spaces or Beckett deathmazes?) Zia Bergin-Holly did wonderful things with geometric strips of light, not so much demarcating spaces as giving the performers something to play off. They're more what you'd call guidelines than rules, as Geoffrey Rush's skeleton once said to Keira Knightley.
To take a moment to tell you something you already know: Mark O'Halloran is a performer of rare empathy and beauty. Someone give him all the jobs and 19 boyfriends please. Andrew Bennett and Dylan Tighe, similarly, both please and provoke with a bruised sincerity.
With my feminist hat on, I could complain that Una McKevitt and Judith Roddy don't have the same scope for play. It's hard to embody the human experience in the margins. That said, McKevitt does a lot with very little, turning self-conscious overshares about her husband – and girlfriend – into stage-action-halting laughs. Roddy's eleventh hour performance, dignified and pained, is a cracker. (I wish they had left it bare, without music. Sometimes it's enough to listen to one thing. (She also 100% turbomintyfresh did not have to sit there that whole time.))
At its best, this is a clever and teetering handling of sexuality, dysfunctional masculinity, art and its purpose, class, and love, operating in a space on the other side of our crudest symbols for these things. It's peopled by people for whom our norms aren't, and there's some sort of bon mot about Caliban, mirrors, and Oscar Wilde to be had here. I'll settle for a parallelism: they find truth in Wilde's affectation, and the affectation in their everyday existence. It's intensely human, funny and touching in equal measure. I could have watched the good parts for much much longer.
The show's weakest parts were not in spite of the above, but because of it. Given the confident design, given the beautiful performances, given the questions the plot provoked about who and what art is for, I was annoyed by its fairly tame gesturing in the direction of some experimental-theatre-prestige-dialect, with all that implies re: an uncritical relationship with #GoodArtWeAllLikeCosIt'sGoodCosWeAllLikeIt. The primary effect on me was to make me wonder whether the show's strengths had been stumbled into. I say this as someone who likes (committedly) weird shit. Go further, or admit you've produced a Play™ with Characters™ with Feelings™ who talk about Stuff™. Either way, don't lampoon Una McKevitt's character for behaving the way you're behaving.
Still. All the same. End of the day. It throws a lot of its spaghetti at the wall, like Mace Melonas in A Kid Called Danger (1999), but there's a meal in it and then some. I laughed a lot, left both grinning and moved.
Dylan for DRAFF
The Importance of Nothing by Pan Pan Theatre runs at Project Arts Centre until November 19th.