Warning: This review contains multiple plot spoilers.
Melt is a very weird play and I don't know how to feel about it.
What's it about?
Melt is a play about the Antarctic, about how humans are messing up the Earth because of human industry, insatiable curiosity and desire to research every aspect of our surroundings. We go and drill giant holes in the ice caps just to see what happens. In the programme, author Shane Mac an Bhaird says that the play will explore two questions: 'Why do humans have to investigate every mystery?' and 'Why do we humans destroy our natural environment from which life springs?'
Who is it? and What's it about?
There's an A-plot and a B-plot. Without wanting to appear irreverent, I'm going to spend more time on one plot than the other. One is a semi-love-triangle, the other involves a glacier baby.
Three and a half characters. Boylan is an old researcher out in the Antarctic. We know from the look of him that he has a tough exterior but will eventually warm up to someone. He also has a tragic past. Boylan will definitely kill himself during this play. Cook is a young, eager UCD graduate (who, in my opinion, seems like he went to a Holy Ghost school). He becomes very fond of Boylan despite his disrespect for academic conventions. We know from the look of things that they'll become friends but Cook will betray Boylan just as Boylan starts to open up, but also that they'll probably make up. Enter Dr. Hansen, researcher, boss to Cook and ex-wife to Boylan. Cook is in love with Hansen. Hansen has mixed feelings towards Boylan, they do share a tragic past after all. A love triangle blossoms. Hansen is beamed onto the back wall via Skype [Note: Hansen is never physically on stage, just appearing on computer monitors in video chat. At the curtain call, she comes out wearing the same clothes as she does in the video calls. Was she Skyping from backstage, changing costumes for different chats? Or was she just waiting patiently for the curtain call for two and a half hours?]
Boylan and Cook live in a research centre based around a 3km hole drilled into the Antarctic ice. In an unfortunate choice, the hole is designed to appear on stage, a rim made out of wood. A gigantic, monstrous hole to the centre of the Earth looks good in CGI and in the mind's eye, but maybe when it's made out of plywood is has a bit of a bang of a hydrotherapy pool. This could have been placed off stage, letting us imagine something more impressive. As is, it takes up a huge amount of the stage, disrupting movement, making all the actors move a bit like Roombas.
Boylan goes down the tunnel and at the bottom finds a baby. It's at this juncture that the play loses its mind. The play flits between moments of farce and high drama; it's deeply unclear when you're supposed to laugh or cry. Boylan brings the baby to the surface. At first, Boylan is very protective and paternal, while Cook is analytical and cold. After five seconds, Boylan decides to slice up the baby's arm and burn its leg "to see if it's a real baby". This play, by and large, resists coherent analysis, but I can tell you now that this baby represents Earth and the scientists are damaging Earth with their experiments. Over the next three days, the baby turns into a beautiful woman (with the mind of an infant) running around in her underwear. She lays two eggs. Things turn sexual. She corners Cook, sticks her hand down his underwear and jerks him off until he cums. In a moment of childlike innocence she licks her hand, makes a displeased face, and uses the cum to fertilise the eggs. Then she runs into the wilderness.
Remember, in the programme Mac an Bhaird told us that two questions were asked in this play: Why do we destroy our ecology? Why do we chase every mystery? We started there, now we're at children eating cum.
She comes back a few days later, sees that the two researchers have eaten one of the eggs (fertilised by Cook, which is supremely gross) and kills herself in sorrow. Then Boylan kills himself for some reason. The End.
Melt set out with a very clearly defined set of goals and very quickly abandoned them for no discernible profit. It is a play that fails by the standards set in its own programme, and maybe also by the standards of common sense.
James for DRAFF
Melt, directed by Lynne Parker for Rough Magic, ran at the Smock Alley Theatre as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until October 8th.
Posted: 09 October 2017