Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Is there ever such a thing as the lighter side of prejudice? Or does any marginalisation, from playground taunts to online bullying, curdle steadily into hatred?
With fleet means and an engaging lightness of touch, Noelle Brown’s new play begins as an exploration of “gingerism”, a discrimination against redheads so casual and unchecked, the show even opens with a catchy song about it.
Performed live by Sarah Kinlen, Ode to Redheads is a clever trap, a catalogue of such imaginative and juvenile abuse that it's hard not to laugh at the chorus ("Your head is on fire") or the snaking thoughts within its verses: "Your gene's in recession, but so is the world's economy."
Brown’s play, inspired by real circumstances and events, but woven together as fiction, is a similarly considered and coiled affair. We begin with Mark Fitzgerald’s Irishman abroad, a redhead in New York, stunned to discover that an American spermbank is no longer accepting redhead donors (owing to lack of demand) and further goaded to believe that the gene may be dying out.
Naturally, for further research, he hits the internet, the modern valley of the twitching curtains, where matters of discrimination are vigorously debated on “ginger forums” and rumours breed on message boards. Brown supply lets the tale wander from this figure, though, a “white middle-class well-educated male” for whom “everyone else is ‘other’”, to the story of a Traveller, played by Michael Collins, at the centre of a clear case of ethnic profiling. As a Traveller among settlers, he says, “You try to stay invisible,” a piercing sentiment even before the sharpening lens of the Carrickmines fire disaster.
Director Oonagh Murphy wisely doesn't need to amplify anything for effect. Staged in the traverse, across a floor strewn with autumnal leaves, her cast address us with a nimble directness, where Sorcha Fox winningly summons a myriad voices, moments of conflict are communicated with subtly affecting movement, and any threat of self-seriousness is avoided with ironic humour: "Caps lock on," says Mark, as he becomes a righteous chatroom warrior.
Brown and Murphy are more effectively lowercase; like a toy that emerges unseen from the foliage, they artfully explore the consequences of what we keep buried just below the surface. Until Nov 7th