Lippy (Dead Centre)
QPAC, Cremorne Theatre
September 14 – 17
Dead Centre’s “Lippy” is very much a festival show, fascinating in its inception and powerful in its execution, but far from everyone’s cup of tea.
Things begin on a slither of stage ahead of a projection screen. The setup of three chairs and a tech station (manned by Adam Welsh) on stage feels quite Brechtian in a way that suits its later meta-theatre mentions of the work’s one act approach (intermissions seem to be out of fashion these days). But it also suits its clever introductory premise of presuming people are gathered for a post-show discussion led by the work’s writer, Bush Moukarzel as a moderator of sorts. This is perhaps the show’s most interesting section as online and movie clips are shared by Mark O’Halloran in explanation of the nature and limitations of lip-reading (context is of considerable importance). And Moukarzel’s interjection references to the Dublin-based company’s first week Brisbane Festival work “Souvenir” make for a nice touch to those who are seeing the Irish artists in resident’s trilogy of shows.
As move is made from focus on putting fake words in powerful people’s mouths (as seen through a hilarious Mick Romney mashup) to the power of trying to put real words back into the mouths of ‘ordinary’ folk, the work’s premise becomes clearer. Lip reader O’Halloran, talks about his work with police investigating the extraordinarily strange real-life deaths of four women, three sisters and their aunt, apparently by voluntary starvation after barricading themselves in the house they shared in Ireland in 2000. And when he does an onstage demonstration of his skill in interpretation the work merges into the multilayered women’s story, of sorts, through recreation of a crime scene to be inhabited by the women (Joanna Banks, Clara Simpson, Liv O’Donoghue and Ali White).
There are haunting scenes as the women appear to be attempting to destroy evidence of their earlier lives into garbage bags of shredded documents and shattered plates. When they seek to speak, however, their sounds are disjointed and ultimately overcome by white noise. Indeed, application of this reimagining of the family’s final days, is far from realistic. Staging is precise in its chaos, but intriguing in its imagery, for example, when perspective is played with by positioning a table setting, complete with characters around it, up against a wall. Supported by a dynamic soundscape, this creates some powerful moments, none more so than when performers are dragged about like mannequins.
In the hands of Directors Ben Moukarzel and Ben Kidd, there is immense effect in its silences too, as should be the case in a show of such few words. And often throughout its palatable 70 minute duration, audience members find themselves in shared shock within its economy of words and measured pace; it is uncomfortable, but compelling, almost-voyeuristic viewing.
Things end as the show was conceived, through words, with a final soliloquy shared on screen as just a close up of one of the dead sisters, Catherine’s lips, stimulating memorable imagery (though drawing on Samuel Beckett’s “Not I”) through her evocative statements about being witness to the process as opposed to event of death and of the thoughts of her last living moments.
“Lippy” is far from a joyous work; anticipatory reading of any kind is sure to prepare the audience for its chilly content. And any show with consideration of tough themes like identity and death is sure to give its attendees much to take away in contemplation. The fact that it is based on real-life events, however, not only gives added weight to its ‘art intimating life’ themes, but proves the truth of the adage that truth is often stranger than fiction.