Play for the day

Zoe’s Play, The Ark, Dublin

Wed, Mar 13, 2013, 06:00

Zoe’s Play
The Ark, Dublin

Why was Little Red Riding Hood so eager to see her granny, and why was the Big Bad Wolf so hungry that he ate her whole? In Zoe’s Play , John McArdle provides a solid background to the hazy once-upon-a-time of the children’s fairy-tale, with a parable about climate change that pits the natural and material worlds against each other.

Little Red is Zoe (Áine Ní Laoghaire), an imaginative child whose parents (played by Ruth Lehane and Karl Quinn ) are too busy tending the farm to play with her. Zoe’s granny lives on the other side of the forest, but she is forbidden from going to see her. Wolves have been spotted stalking the farm and they are hungry; as the forest has been cut down to make way for fields, their source of food has disappeared, and the rumour going around is that they would even eat a baby.

Written for an audience of over-eights, Zoe’s Play is a structurally complex piece. It opens with a shadow-puppet show, an effective device that is interwoven throughout the drama to allow Zoe to explore her frustrations through play. Occasionally, however, the play’s themes intrude upon the action. The scenes between Zoe and her father, for example, suffer in particular. Their argument about the forest’s fate feels a bit like dramatised debate, reducing complex emotional issues to a conflict between tradition and progress.

But this is a visually sophisticated production directed by David Horan, and it moves quickly enough to stave off restlessness, even when the narrative wears thin. Sinéad McKenna’s lighting design is a marvel of dappled light and shade, while Maree Kearns’s set invites the natural world inside. An enormous tree shelters the domestic setting of Zoe’s home. A tiny replica of the stage sits upon the kitchen table as the sole gesture towards ornament, and it echoes the meta-theatricality of McArdle’s opening scenes as well as the magical power of Zoe and Nana’s dreaming.

Kearns’s ingenious millinery, meanwhile, gives realistic shape to the metaphoric wolves, which the cast embody with the aid of Bryan Burrough ’s movement direction. Combined with Denis Clohessy ’s sinister sound design, the effect certainly matches the age of the advised demographic for the show.

“The forest can talk all right,” Zoe’s granny tells her when they meet in a dream, “the question is, can you listen?” Ultimately, McArdle’s play may shout rather than whisper, but it is still a lesson worth hearing.
Until March 31st

[BYLINE1]Sara Keating[/BYLINE1]