Danse, Morob review: a magical-realist imagining of a dark time in the Troubles

Laurent Gaudé’s play, translated by co-director and star Olwen Fouéré, tells the tale of a Republican hunger striker’s remains disappearing between myth and reality

Danse, Morob ★★★
Project Arts Centre, Dublin

What happens to a living, breathing body when it finds itself transformed into a symbol? Laurent Gaudé's new play, Danse, Morob, translated by its co-director and star, Olwen Fouéré, for The Emergency Room and Project Arts Centre, concentrates on one stark example from Irish history, which has since acquired the contours of legend: the Republican hunger strikers of the Maze prison in the early 1980s.

Even the prison’s mention to a bitter enemy, “shakes everything he believed was unshakeable”. That alone ought to confirm the play’s status as a piece of magic realism; opponents in Northern Irish politics aren’t easily shook.

Morob, a one-time hunger striker, is not in his grave. This we learn from his unnamed daughter, played as a mythic filial avenger who, like Hecate, is attended by a pack of dogs. Though she correctly assumes Morob has been disinterred in a grotesque sectarian revenge, it turns out that her father’s remains were already missing.

Played out on an almost bare space, her quest to find them shifts the performance back and forth between material and mythic worlds. Most action and imagery here is described rather than portrayed, taking place in the mind, where details become distended as though in a lucid dream. Specific Irish contexts blur into otherworldly abstractions.

Directed by Fouéré and the choreographer Emma Martin, the performance likewise diverges from the text, sometimes finding just loose correspondences: a harshly functional space is heaped with black bin bags, filled with clothing and personal effects, a penitential representation of the prisoners. Gaudé’s images can come couched in poetic phrasing (“that hour when shadows grow long and hungry”) but he dwells on rawly profane and earthily evocative details - the stench, stains and shame that cling eternally to the protesters, and their family. “Shit was our weapon,” says Mani Obeya, as an embittered prisoner, Seamus. “Like our nudity. Like our beards. They couldn’t get at that.”

What Danse, Morob is trying to get at, in its split between mind and body, is that reintegrating the prisoners with family and society was no easier. Fouéré's speaker frequently sees herself leaving her body, like an onlooker, while the performance itself is trying to dissolve.

That’s why Sinead Wallace’s lights first emphasise the edges of the theatre space, then later melts them into hovering mists. A video projection of prison corridors, roads or trees will rupture into digital glitches, just as reality is overtaken by fantasy. Morob is finally presented as something literally disembodied, speaking in fractured deteriorating words, delivered by Fouéré in a voiceover.

This father figure is much more venerated than explored (Gaudé writes his characters with little psychology; everybody as flat as a folktale, some, like Judith Roddy as the Mother, from beyond the grave), yet the play finally pushes Morob and his daughter to become purely mythic.

In that you can see a through-line from Fouéré’s recent solo works based on Joyce and Beckett, and despite Roddy and Obeya’s talents, they seem superfluous here, unnecessary bodies in a piece that is trying to leave the corporeal world behind.

- Until Jan 28th

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