The Party to End All Parties: There is a lot going on in one-and-a-half smallish packages

Dublin Theatre Festival review: Summoning the despair of an urban space in the time of Covid

The Party to End All Parties
★★★★☆

Online until Sat, Oct 10th

One unexpected consequence of the current move to virtual theatre has been the rise and rise of the extended take. The latest production from the ANU company, playing (or screening) at the Dublin Theatre Festival, is composed largely of long shots weaving around everyday Dubliners on and about O'Connell Bridge. The technique presses home the immediacy of the staging. It also helps connect old-school theatre values to a hybrid form.

There is a lot going on in one-and-a-half smallish packages. On April 18th, 1949, thousands gathered on O’Connell Bridge to celebrate the declaration of a Republic. Weaving commentary from that evening in with contemporary stories, The Party to End All Parties – a profoundly ironic title – is here to speak of lost opportunities. A young woman (Nandi Bhebe) finds work with a marketing company called Ballast (remember that name) and is required to follow citizens about the street with a clipboard. Another woman (Niamh McCann) worries over engagements with Dublin Region Homeless Executive. A distraught man (Robbie O’Connor) becomes engulfed in debt and personal trauma.

The play has much to do with time. Towards the close, we hear about the Ballast-Office time ball – once the most observed item in Dublin, according to James Joyce – that, positioned high over the bridge, dropped six feet once a day to help mariners set their timepieces. The Ballast employee (see?) is required to ask Dubliners their opinion of plans to abolish daylight saving time. Those ideas come together in a bifurcated structure that has the production start more or less identically at 5pm and 7pm before one heads off with McCann's character and the other sticks with O'Connor's. The late matinee takes place in daylight. The early evening show straddles dusk.

Twin runs at the opening help clarify some oblique storytelling. It’s never entirely clear which disasters are hounding which characters. But the concentrated writing and committed acting do good work in summoning up the despair of an urban space in the time of Covid. Bhebe is particularly impressive in a role that requires movement skills of the highest order. The other two performers work hard at emotionally intense monologues.

The unfortunate outbreak of self-help advice at the end does little to dull the originality of an ambitious production.

For booking see dublintheatrefestival.ie 

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