Lippy lads: A meditation on meaninglessness
If a suicide pact in Leixlip was a pointless tragedy, how can an experimental theatre maker and a traditional playwright make sense of it?
Theatre maker Bush Moukarzel (left) and playwright Mark O’ Halloran. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
‘You need to try this, Mark,” says the theatre maker to the playwright.
Bush Moukarzel is standing in the middle of a room strewn with mounds of shredded paper, pulsing the engine of a leaf blower. Mark O’Halloran smiles, takes the machine from him, and begins to whip the confetti into a blizzard. “I f***ing love it,” he says.
The main theatre of the Lir already resembles a picture of chaos: chalk outlines of bulbous human figures stretch across its black wall like bloated paper dolls; ceramic coffee cups have broken rims like cartoon bite marks; and all around the space, black bin bags sag and slump. “The corners are very effective,” advises Moukarzel, the creator of the new show Lippy, and as O’Halloran, who is writing one scene for the production, steers the paper into an updraft, it feels for a moment like being trapped in the world’s strangest snow globe.
This moment of abandon comes as some relief, following a rigorous rehearsal with the performer Gina Moxley as she delivers O’Halloran’s monologue: the disturbed words of a woman who has chosen to die. Moukarzel’s company, Dead Centre, co-founded with the director Benn Kidd, made its debut at the Dublin Fringe Festival last year with Souvenir, Moukarzel’s brilliantly cluttered one-man riff on Marcel Proust’s magnum opus, À la recherche du temps perdu. This was followed by (S)quark!, a work inspired by James Joyce. Now Moukarzel has found a story somehow harder to tell and more troubling to adapt.
In 2000, the 83-year-old Frances Mulrooney and her three adult nieces barricaded themselves into their home in Leixlip, shredded every personal document, donned matching nightdresses and – over the course of 36 days – starved themselves to death. How could Moukarzel, a fresh talent fluent in the engagingly estranging ways of contemporary theatre, make sense of such a tragedy? How could O’Halloran, a stately and sensitive writer of fiction for stage and screen, give it a shape? That, however, was not really their intention.
“I certainly would never have chosen the material,” admits O’Halloran when I ask about his participation (he is credited as “cameo playwright”). “Because there’s something so absolutely meaningless about it. She’s not a martyr. She hasn’t sacrificed herself for the things we’ve lost in the modern age. She’s a woman who died in a really ugly way – and she chose it. There’s no attempt to hammer that into a shape to make us say, Oh, I have an amazing insight into myself now. You try to find somebody’s voice within that situation and find out what their realisations are before they move towards death. It was incredibly difficult.”