Lack of a finale and a need to grow

Mary Leyland reviews Exit Strategy and The Tallest Man in the World playing as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival


Exit Strategy;
The Tallest Man in the World
Cork Arts Theatre / Triskel Arts Centre

Put a frog into boiling water and it will leap out. Put it into cold water that is then brought to boiling point and the unfortunate creature will adapt to the rise in temperature until it dies.

The fate of the frog is a metaphor for the exploration of financial selfimmolation that forms the scaffolding supporting the plot of Exit Strategy.

This Makeshift Ensemble production (one is reluctant to call it a play, except in a sportive sense) works a thread of another kind of exit, that of personal departure, into its lengthy dissertation on behavioural economics.

Introduced by a live performance of the final movement of Haydn’s Farewell Symphony no 45 – the one in which the musicians leave the stage individually – it has been developed, written and performed by Eszter Nemethi and Leah Hearne, and directed by Nemethi.

Engaging the willing audience in games such as Prisoners’ Dilemma as a way of illustrating its themes of economic idiocy, the piece has some fun deflating local pretensions, not least that Cork’s skyscrapers are so-called only because skies are much lower in Cork.

Clearly great effort was required to animate and to link the theories of risk and investment with cultural migration. Under this mind-trickery lies the urgency of identity, purpose, and knowing when to get out, as with Nemethi’s decision to leave her native Hungary.

But the performance energy flags, and as the exemplary frog is placed on a mercifully unlit Primus stove it becomes obvious that any presentation using Haydn as a prelude should end with a similar resonance.

This one doesn’t have it.

If Exit Strategy is a further proof of the Cork Midsummer Festival philosophy that theatre, like language, is an ever-changing tool of expression, meaning or experience, or even an expression of the meaning of experience, The Tallest Man in the World is a reminder of its commitment to experimentation and growth.

Ailís Ní Ríain’s play is offered as the result of a three-week workshop at the Theatre Development Centre at Triskel. As a writer and composer, Ní Ríain is a significant talent, but a workshop presentation cannot provide anything much more than a taster, and this one doesn’t pretend to do so.

Directed by Pat Kiernan, the confessions of three characters caught at the illuminated corners of a triangle are brought to a kind of unity in a fantasy of separation and sadness; it must be remembered that several things, including the contradictions of the text, may change before the play comes to theatrical fruition.