Shibari

Fri, Oct 12, 2012, 01:00

Peacock, Abbey Theatre ***

THE COY way of describing Gary Duggan’s intricately constructed new play for the Abbey is as a tangle of connections; from loose strands between perfect strangers to more intimate relationships with ties that bind. The more sensational way to describe it, which will make sense to anyone who’s Googled the title (then nervously cleared their browser history), is that it is inspired by the art of Japanese bondage.

It says something about the emotional sensitivities of Duggan and his director Tom Creed that while Shibari makes room for both a sauna and a celebrity sextape, its most erotic scenes by far involve a ballroom-dancing class and a sensuous display of flower arranging.

With more shades of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde than Grey, and filmmaker PT Anderson’s criss-crossing city narratives, Duggan uses sex as a metaphor, mapping out cosmopolitan Dublin through a succession of apparently random collisions. A black English film star hits on a Romanian bookstore employee; a Dublin entertainment journalist buys Valentine’s Day flowers for his girlfriend from a widowed Japanese florist; a woman recovering from her husband’s suicide and gradually returns to social life while her sister explodes in reckless behaviour.

Without skimping on character detail, Duggan turns those lives into the warp and weft of his drama, prompting further reflections from director Tom Creed’s production on the new fabric of contemporary cities. Frank Conway’s set, saturated in red and literally turning the traditional kitchen upside down, recognises deeper roots beneath urban facades and flashy professions, while Eimear Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costumes, in Benetton-bright hues, turn a full 360 degrees through the colour wheel as the play itself comes full circle.

There is a tragicomedy in such relationships in casual racism or unexpected confidences – most amusingly when Ian Lloyd Anderson’s hack pours out his heart to Michael Yare’s film star during an interview – while families and lovers become sealed off and separate. “I restrain you,” Alicja Ayres’s beautifully played Ioana tells Lloyd Anderson, without labouring the theme, “I have you tied up in knots.”

Duggan isn’t always so subtle. Constrained by the brisk episodic form, he sometimes struggles to keep exposition light (bringing up suicide or venereal disease in casual conversation can be a challenge) and his weakness for a well-crafted exit line can teeter towards melodrama.

Dennis Clohessy’s ambient electronic music is a pleasure, but it covers a number of pace-sapping scene transitions that could still be more sharply executed.

One late exchange, which Creed handles seriously and delicately, seems to hint at another consequence of Duggan’s own artful approach, when Ioana claims she is the opposite of claustrophobic. “Claustrophilic?” offers Orion Lee’s excellent, sympathetic Hideo. That encapsulates the play, which is engaging, detailed and fiendishly clever but finally ties up everything too neatly. Shibari enthusiasts will disagree, but it can be rewarding to leave some loose ends.

Until November 3rd

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