Jericho review: A show that wrestles with all of human history

Dealing with nothing smaller than human history, Malaprop’s stimulating new show might have taken on more than any one metaphor can properly smack down. Unless wrestling is the answer . . .

Maeve O’Mahony v the world in Jericho

Maeve O’Mahony v the world in Jericho

 

★★★★

Bewley's Cafe Theatre, Powercourt Centre, Dublin 

There’s a reason Malaprop’s engaging new show can’t seem to get started – its chosen subject, picked with less restraint than most examples of lunchtime theatre, is nothing less than “the world”. Before she can begin, the charming Maeve O’Mahony tries out various possible theme tunes, from urgent orchestral music to disposable eurobangers, as though the tone is also up for grabs: in an over-informed, indecisive and querulous world, do you risk more by being earnest or trivial?

An alternative title, she admits, was Where Do You Begin?, an understandable shrug for anyone daring to address the spirit of the times, particularly when “recent and current politics”, as she lightly describes them, beg the gloomier question, Where Will it End?

Like a carefully-wrought play, or a mischievous piece of postdramatic theatre (both of which Malaprop’s performance stealthily synthesise), Jericho hunts for a supple device to contain otherwise overwhelming themes, alighting finally on professional wrestling as a surprisingly capacious metaphor. O’Mahony’s character once harboured dreams of pursuing serious journalism, but now finds herself preparing a “gas” listicle on professional wrestling for an online publication that peddles in click bait. (These days that could be anybody.)

Like an obsessive grad student, though, she finds in her topic – a performance that everyone seems to play along with – a way of seeing politics, history, life, the universe, everything. In wrestling, the vitriol is gleefully fake, but in the ring, online, or around elections, even mock aggression can become indistinguishable from the real thing. Watching Vince McMahon, the ludicrous WWE impresario, having his head forcibly shaved in the ring is weird enough. To later see the person doing it, a man now in possession of nuclear codes, is mind-bending.

Devised by the company with Dylan Coburn Gray, Jericho has a remarkably true understanding of itself, though; even when its subject is confusion, it never seems confused. O’Mahony makes for a refreshing performer, neither too ironic nor excessively sincere. Under Claire O’Reilly’s assured direction, the stage is busy, but not bombarded, with the jittery multi-media that makes everyday life seem like information overload. In John Gunning’s precise design, it flickers with video clips, intermingling voice-overs and podcasts, helping the performance pursue the dramaturgical equivalent of ever-accumulating browser tabs.

That, fascinatingly, is where it reaches a crescendo, in an online comment war between an alt-right troll and our social justice warrior, imagined as a giddy gladiatorial combat and adjudicated in “likes”. It’s futile, the show recognises, just another kind of performance, yet Malaprop’s is slyly instructive all the same: these distractions aren’t getting us anywhere, they know, and what seem like the the loose strands of Jericho’s thinking begin to tie together artfully. What if we just stepped out of the ring, it wonders; what if we started again? Ends March 4th