Culture Shock: Lippy’s explosive theatrical experiment
Bush Moukarzel’s show, a centrepiece of Dublin Fringe Festival, takes the biggest risk imaginable in the closed-in world of modish theatre-making: he adds the explosive element of reality, in the strange and horrible deaths of an aunt and her three adult nieces in Co Kildare in 2000
The best put-down in theatrical history must be Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s reply to a young playwright: “Your play is both good and original. Unfortunately the parts that are good are not original and the parts that are original are not good.”
The problem of being both good and original has beset the theatrical avant-garde for some decades. Too often it has tended to assume that being “original”, in the sense of making a break from the literary play, is much more important than being “good”, in the sense of making a work that has some weight in the world. Bush Moukarzel’s Lippy, one of the centrepieces of Dublin Fringe Festival, is impressive because it manages to be both.
The original bit is, in broad terms, easy enough. It has by now very little to do with actual innovation. There’s a romper room of non-naturalistic theatrical devices that is raided over and over. Most of those devices belong to what we might call the retro avant-garde – a long-ago version of what it meant to be radically experimental in the 1920s and 1930s.
Artaud, Brecht, Pirandello, Piscator and Meyerhold are now almost as distant in time as Chekhov, but their techniques (stripped of political content) are still presented as if shockingly new. Add some mock Beckett, some (preferably wordless) physicality, some digital technology, a fractured narrative, self-reference and some postmodern pastiche, and you have a recipe for the theatrical equivalent of snail porridge: tasty morsels of outrage for the jaded palate.
Lippy has all of these. It is “created” by Moukarzel, not “written”. It presents itself as literally postdramatic: the opening gambit is that what we are seeing is a postshow discussion between Moukarzel and Daniel Reardon, one of the actors in a show, about lip-reading that we have not, of course, seen. It makes extensive use of clips from YouTube and from the movies Casino and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It highlights a change in the pecking order of authorship: the estimable dramatist Mark O’Halloran is credited as “cameo playwright”. It keeps the audience at an emotional distance by changing rules and shifting forms with such regularity that we cannot settle down within any given set of conventions.
So far, so traditionally radical, so conservatively postmodern. But Lippy is much, much better than the run-of-the-mill theatrical “experiment”. It recombines the familiar elements of the avant-garde playbook in genuinely interesting ways. More importantly, it has weight. Something is at stake. Moukarzel takes the biggest risk that can be imagined in the closed-in world of modish theatre-making: he adds the explosive element of reality.