Meet outside the Grand Social Club, DublinSHE MATERIALISES from out of nowhere, a tiny, tripping figure in a yellow Mackintosh, and her voice slowly emerges from a cacophony of others. This is Sylvia, played by the elfin yet commanding Elitsa Dimova. A Bulgarian living in Dublin, Sylvia divides her time between archaeological studies and poorly-paid cleaning work, and divides herself between memories, mythic fantasies and intruding voices.
With a distinctly tangled identity, Sylvia makes an unreliable guide for Wonderland Productions’ new performance, which is part play, part audio tour. Sylvia’s speech comes to us through headphones, sometimes embedded in a chorus of other characters within Tommy Foster’s intricate sound design, and she leads us with a flighty pace through Temple Bar. Her quest is elemental and age-old – the search for home – but the way is unclear.
Nudged along by voices both real and imaginary (a “prophetess”, her Dublin employers, family calls from home) Sylvia leads us through a labyrinth, which writer/director Alice Coughlan turns into a psychological and physical maze. It’s a considered approach, but it’s easy to become disoriented by its turns, and finally confused.
Three layers of narrative are warped and woven together: a socially-conscious tale of an economic migrant in recessionary Ireland, a mistily suggested pattern of mental illness, and heavier allusions to Ancient Thrace and Greek mythology, particularly the story of Orpheus. At times, Coughlan hints at schizophrenic delusion, in which even the audience members (often addressed by name) could be Sylvia’s hallucinations.
Negotiating between realism and metaphor, Dimova can indicate an underworld of despair, but plays much of it as a lighter fantasy.
Some elaborations are vivid with detail: the exploitative manoeuvres of Sylvia’s desperate employer, her easily shared rye bread and casual prejudices, or the worries of her distant grandmother. Others, though, such as an inconsequential character named Deadlaus or knotted yellow motifs, feel more like noise – a distraction that isn’t helped by occasional technical glitches.
At such moments, the promenade form seems less essential; the places we visit rarely correspond with Sylvia’s journey or assert their own character. There’s much to consider in the accumulation of its material, the dauntless command of Dimova, and the deep immersion into Sylvia’s headspace. Without affording us an outside perspective, though, even the warm-hearted resolution to Sylvia’s search may leave her accomplices feeling a little lost.
Until Aug 31