Root: Undeniable good will prevails over occasional awkwardness

Dublin Theatre Festival: Four talented actors provide good company throughout

ROOT

Samuel Beckett Theatre
Dublin Theatre Festival

★★★☆☆

The moment you enter the auditorium it becomes clear that this lively meditation on matters arboreal will tend towards a less confrontational school of experimental theatre. Like a piece of ambient music from the vinyl age, Root – devised by Shanna May Breen and Luke Casserly – fades in and, after an hour or so of amiable invention, fades out again. As you take your seats, the four actors, seated at the main points of the compass, are already chatting about early experiences of branch, root and soil. "What's the saddest tree you ever saw?" one asks. The voices lower and the cast take to rolling conkers towards a vinyl mat. That dedication to borderline tweeness continues throughout the succeeding movement exercises, snippets of biography and musical interludes. It takes a while for someone to play the recorder, but that most certainly does happen.

This would be hard to bear were it not for the creators’ personal charm and abundant self-awareness. “Making a performance about trees is really f**king hard,” one says. There are serious considerations floating about here – the stripping of the nation’s forest, our constant awareness of looming death – but that sense of playfulness never entirely vanishes. When we are told that the next chapter is entitled “Four Improvisations for the Fallen Branch,” we are clearly being encouraged to smile at the whiff of pretentiousness.

Familiar music starts up. Oh, they are dancing to A Forest by The Cure. A Forest. Get it?

It is a shame that the discrete units fail to come together as a cohesive whole. There is little sense of an argument developing. The performers seem to be constantly introducing themselves and telling us modestly interesting anecdotes about (I assume) their own backgrounds. Now, we are in a plane flying over the trees. Now, we are – yet more apparent biography – occupying parts of an imagined map and remembering childhood. On at least one occasion, the obscure shifts joltingly into the blindingly explicit. A light source is brought on to the stage. The actors begin moving mysteriously. Familiar music starts up. Oh, they are dancing to A Forest by The Cure. A Forest. Get it?

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For all the occasional awkward moments, the undeniable good will proves hard to resist. These four talented people from different generations are good company throughout. That is no small thing.