DTF review ¦ I’m Your Man: Redemption through the power of love and music

Mark Palmer and Thisispopbaby create a rock and roll journey through Matthew’s passion

 

I’m Your Man

Project Arts Centre, Dublin

***

A young man, Matthew, confused by his sexuality and gender, struggles in an urban environment that seems like its trying to suffocate him with concrete and corporations. An indifferent chorus of friends watch from the wings with fixed happy house smiles as he stumbles through drink and drugs, not caring whether he’ll find himself intact at the other end. “You heard about the man that hit rock bottom?,” runs one lyric. “He suddenly heard a scratching from below.” This is not a show that puts its faith in a saint; Matthew’s passion is beset by demons and depression. Redemption, if it happens, will be hard won, and here it comes through one reliable refuge: the power of music and song.

It’s this rock-pop core that powers I’m Your Man, a mixtape of theatre and music from Thisispopbaby. The show, with music and lyrics by Mark Palmer and book and direction by Phillip McMahon, reduces its theatrical elements to a supporting slot. The set is a bare, black-and-white striped stage around which a live band are ranged, giving centre stage to the songs. That plays to the show’s strengths: Palmer’s tracks range from spiky pop punk to slick, plaintive ballads, with some Thisispopbaby glitz in-between. Excellent arrangements, with production by Donal Scannell, give Palmer’s songs nuance and balance, and all the space they need to breathe, and the band’s trio of excellent vocalists raise the show’s bar. Adam Matthews brings clean, smooth confidence, a slick contrast to Ruth McGill’s thrilling, wild tonal energy. Alma Kelliher saves her rich soul and punch for some show-stopper moments towards the end.

On stage, Palmer’s role is more uncertain. Unable to compete vocally with the rest, he writhes and moves between tracks as Matthew, in an oblique script that is filled with snatches of memory, conversation, taped messages and therapeutic reasoning, with action that’s largely dictated by the other cast members. The play’s themes aim for the universal, much like most good music: love, the power of transformation, and the grace to be found in healing and love. The obscure nature of the script, though, holds the audience at arm’s length: the power pop might want to hold you close and dance you clean, but the between-song banter could leave you confused by its intentions.

Runs on Sept 26 and Oct 3