iGirl: Olwen Fouéré stalks the stage in Marina Carr’s multidimensional piece of theatre art

Dublin Theatre Festival: This deeply collaborative work asks how to make sense of our own stories in the continuum of human history

iGIRL

Abbey Theatre, Dublin
★★★★☆
"I Neanderthal Prince of the Plains," Girl declaims from the darkness, as the sculptural face of Olwen Fouéré emerges ghostly from the black of a floor-to-ceiling scrim: "I saw Eden/ It wasn't much."

Addressing us across time, through different personas, this prehistoric version of Girl calls to her descendent sisters as well as those to come; those “Ugly/ Whining/ Puny/ Pea brained/ clots”, who share “eyes/ Ears/ Skin/ The heart”, who share the capacity to speak and, more than that, to sing.

This opening proclamation is lifted from the middle of Marina Carr’s iGirl, which is presented in text as a 21-part epic poem. The fragmented form allows Carr to present the impression of embodied voices rather than character, and mostly she draws on archetypal figures of girlhood from myth and history: Antigone, Persephone, Jeanne d’Arc.

In one arresting confluence of the digital and embodied human figure, Olwen Fouéré appears to summon another version of herself from smoke

A dramatic narrative appears to clarify in several linked parts, where Girl writes a letter to her daughter, for example, a letter that draws a connection between the primitive past and the dawning doomsday future. What does the end of civilisation mean but a return to the primeval forces of nature, Carr suggests with dark romanticism.

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Caitríona McLaughlin, the production’s director, harnesses the dramatic imperative in Carr’s formally challenging text, offering an impressionistic stage world that shifts in and out of focus under Sinéad Wallace’s lighting design, which alternates between strips of bright light and umbral shadows. Joanna Parker’s impressive video design (created in collaboration with Daniel Denton) heightens the haunted feeling of the performance.

In one arresting confluence of the digital and embodied human figure, Fouéré appears to summon another version of herself from smoke. Parker anchors the digital design with a Beckettian mound of sooty sediment, which disappears midway through, only to reappear as scattered thoughts and ashy footprints later on.

It is Fouéré’s performance, of course, that creates the grounded reality of this deeply collaborative, multidimensional piece of theatre art. She stalks across the stage on two legs or four limbs, crouching like a primitive hominid, prowling like a hunter, her breasts bared like an ancient warrior queen. She lets Carr’s words pour through her like nectar through a rare and precious chalice, brimful with ancient stories.

The lack of a determined through-line for the rich material of iGirl will be problematic for some in the audience, especially as the final frame unfolds in an uncertain, anti-dramatic key. But Carr's text could be blown apart and stitched back together in a more formally coherent way – perhaps even as it is presented on the page – and that is what audiences will consider as the images linger: how to make sense of our own stories in the continuum of human history.

Runs at the Abbey Theatre until Saturday, October 30th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival