Dublin Theatre Festival 2015 is underway with Conor McPherson's much anticipated The Night Alive opening in the Gaiety; but this is not the only participating production debuting this week as Pan Pan Theatre snuck their latest production into Smock Alley's black box. Newcastlewest, written by (also starring) Dick Walsh and directed by Pan Pan's resident director Gavin Quinn.
Marya, a twenty-something stuck at home with her gruff elderly father Angus wants to move on; but a lack of education, direction and a bad leg has left her wallowing. That is until her housemate Katy (also living with Angus) sets up a meeting with an old schoolmate currently working in Brussels who may be able to find her something. Summing up the play this way makes it seem incredibly trite and dull... and in many ways, it is, but the banality of the plot is accompanied by fascinating staging.
The entire play can be described as a battle and interplay between banality and experimentation. Its realistic dialogue (full of "like"s and you know"s) is as close to pedestrian you're going to find on the stage, but beyond this, this production relishes defamiliarisation with a very sparse and ever expanding set, uncomfortable silences accompanied with staring at the audience and the female characters having what are essentially puppeteers. The play's content consists mostly of trite realism that will be familiar to everyone watching, while at the same time, formally, it is deconstructing the idea of reality as something that can be presented on the stage. In every moment and movement it calls attention to its artifice, going beyond even Dead Centre's Lippy in its efforts to dismantle drama. Vincent Doherty's sound is also fantastic: lush synths, electronica, drum beats, the music perfectly complements the oddness of the play's imagery.
While Newcastlewest's aesthetics are fantastic, it is an absolute slog. These are the longest seventy minutes of something you will sit through due to the crawling pace, pedestrian plot and the (intentional) flatness of language - but it is this unremarkableness that allows for the interesting clash between banality and creativity. This makes for an interesting dramatic and artistic experiment, but not exactly a night of great entertainment, though it never promised it would be anyway.