Peat review: A grimly funny, spryly involving show for young audiences

Two boys dig up more than anyone bargained for in Kate Heffernan’s subtle play

Peat: Curtis-Lee Ashqar and Kwaku Fortune in Kate Heffernan’s play. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Peat: Curtis-Lee Ashqar and Kwaku Fortune in Kate Heffernan’s play. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

 

PEAT

The Ark, Dublin
★★★★☆
They may have nine lives, but even cats are eventually perishable. That’s not quite the case with many of the things more thoughtlessly discarded through time: the unloved junk of plastics and synthetics rising high in landfills or far more casually strewn, so stubbornly persistent it will outlast us all.

So much, in fact, that the two children who come to bury a recently expired cat named Rhino in Peat, Kate Heffernan’s grimly funny and spryly involving play for young audiences (it was the bin lorry that got him in the end), even navigate their way to a peat bog using trash for signposts.

Past the mattress Rayy and Jo go, and around the plastic-bag tree. The bog, they soon discover, is a magical place of preservation, full of secrets. But the more startling thing about what they dredge up, swiftly excavating the contents of a deep cardboard box against a video-projection expanse in Lian Bell’s fleet, austere design, is how little of it was going to decompose anyway.

Take Kwaku Fortune’s proud early discovery, as the more headstrong Rayy, of an intricate fossil, which Curtis-Lee Ashqar’s more careful Jo reveals with careful washing to be a crushed milk carton – best before 2017.

The play is much brighter than some of its implications, yielding up fascinating treasures while planting seeds in the mind for later consideration

“It means we’re two year’s down already,” Rayy reasons, conveying a thrill that is part archaeologist’s and part time-traveller’s. Laying out their finds on small white plinths – vintage Quality Streets, perfectly preserved, or obsolete electronics and nostalgic toys from the ancient 1990s – they invite the audience into a kind of unnatural history museum with each revealed artefact.

Who recognises a hot-water bottle? Why would a primitive mobile phone have such a small screen and so few buttons? The considered tone of Tim Crouch’s production, which conveys all of their youthful thrill and just an undercurrent of adult shock, makes the show equal parts whimsy and wake-up call.

That also means, unconventionally, the play relies more on direct involvement than a gathering plot. Like two Shakespearean gravediggers, or Beckettian tramps, kids can make for wild philosophers, with Jo frequently asking us to consider a range of imaginative alternatives. Would you rather have no knees or no elbows? Have a finger for a tongue or tongues for fingers? Or, in a moment to still a grown-up that didn’t faze the audience of over-eights one bit, would you rather be the first person on Earth or the last?

The play is much brighter than some of its implications, though, yielding up fascinating treasures (like an old punt coin the boys wisely wouldn’t trust a bank with) while planting seeds in the mind for later consideration. That’s why, long after the show has finished, you might still be musing on the extinction of the giant Irish elk or, after a stormy rift in the boys’ relationship, bracingly enhanced by Slavek Kwi’s dissonant sound design, on how friendships endure. Their future, you realise, is layered with concern but also with promise.

Still, nothing can prepare you for the priorities that one generation has handed on to the next. What’s the first thing you would invent, Ashqar asks a boy in our audience who confidently opted to be the first person on Earth. The kid doesn’t blink. “Wifi,” he says.

Runs until March 31st

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