Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Minority Report (Lippy)

It's all over bar the shouting, as far as reviews of Dead Centre's Lippy go: it had a run at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014, garnered positive feedback and has toured about the place, arriving in Glasgow last week (as part of the Behaviour Festival). And it's not a terrible play - there is a central sequence that follows the deaths of four women (the true story that inspired the piece), which has some striking visual moments. When the lights descend from the ceiling, or the women scatter their paperwork, shredded, about the stage, that maintain both the mystery of their suicide pact and the strange inter-personal relationships that held them together, even in the most extreme situation.

But there are several questions about Lippy that don't seem to
A good bit
appear in the reviews... at the risk of veering into dramaturgical rather than critical analysis (that is, to say what ought to have happen rather than reporting on what did), it seems that Lippy has some serious flaws that undermine both the consistency of the performance and raise ethical questions.

The format is a triptych. It begins with a post-show discussion, a sometimes humorous reflection on a play that has supposedly just happened - but it likely to be the central sequence - and ends with one of the most blatant acts of plagiarism in theatre this century.

Another good bit
The finale is a spoken monologue - ironically reflecting the lack of spoken dialogue for most of the play - that is presented through a large projection of a mouth. The detail of the lips and teeth, the flecks of spit in the corner of the mouth, the movement of the tongue: all fascinating and slightly disgusting, just like it was when Beckett used the exact same image in Not I. To compound the plagiarism, the text has a peculiar quality, just like Beckett's monologues. 

This is not a cool appropriation, it is more than a cheeky allusion or sample. Quite why previous critics were so generous with this is a mystery. It imitates Beckett to a level that would have it penalised for plagiarism at any reputable education establishment. It does not reference, it steals.  

The format itself is a problem: the casual humour of the first sequence undermines the melodramatic, but frequently effective and disturbing, serious visual theatre of the second. The ideas that are set up in the first part - the difficulty of lip-reading, the relationship between performance and the true life origins of the story - are barely developed, giving the impression of an incomplete sharing, in which two processes have been slammed together. When the actors talk about their research, the introduction and finale err on the side of leaving the research showing, not integrated into a theme.

This would not be a terrible failure, had the final panel of the triptych been so in hock to Not I.

Not I.
Lippy's middle section does ask some interesting questions: while the four women's suicide pact is portrayed with some compassion (although the death of the older woman, symbolically portrayed by a technician shifting her off-stage with a grass-blower is as silly as it sounds), the roaming presence of the actor, who wants to understand their intentions but fails, does elaborate on his doubts in the pre-show post-show chat.

There are also the spectacular moments: the women dressed in hazard suits preparing their home; their appearance holding balloons and the wrecking of their house; the slow decline of the final woman as she slumps to her death. 

Yet the first and third acts are predictable (the post-show as the performance was explored at the Fringe in 2013, and before that by Rob Drummond, and belong to a more flippant, and derivative show. 

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