Review: Looking for Work

The anti-style of Martin Sharry’s severely minimal new play takes a hatchet to both bourgeois conformity and representational theatre. But does it work?

Looking for Work: an allegory of conformity. Photograph: Louis Haugh

Looking for Work: an allegory of conformity. Photograph: Louis Haugh

 

Project Arts Centre, Dublin

**

 

Film-makers call it ambience: the incidental noise and sounds in the background that mean nothing is completely silent. In Martin Sharry’s new production, so severely minimal that it verges on brutality, those noises become amplified in the wide gaps between words or the gulf between actions, almost registering with the force of character: the hum of lights; the clicks and creaks of metal; the flush of water.

Asceticism is the point of this harshly denatured depiction of a couple divided by unemployment and idleness, where a lodger offers an escape route through adultery and ambition. It’s as though a soap-opera plotline had been pummelled into shape by austerity measures. As writer and director, Sharry pursues a style, or anti-style, resembling that of contemporary American theatre maker Richard Maxwell, where actors perform in static poses, issuing lines without inflection.

Here it becomes somehow more alienated, and alienating, as Rebecca Guinnane and Timmy Creed stagger their words, and lay unusual stresses, as though deaf to all sense. The dialogue is mainly banal (“Where is he?” “Drinking, of course”) and it’s curious to hear colloquialisms come equally flattened out: “Arrah, to hell with you,” precisely enunciates Barry O’Connor. If an alien wanted to dissect human intercourse, this is where its puzzle would start.

The purpose here seems twofold: to expose the mundane slavery of capitalism – O’Connor’s Neil has walked out of a job and taken to his bed, while Creed’s Alan is working his way up the ranks – while taking a hatchet to representational theatre. Do you think Alan and Sheila’s infidelity and dreams about home ownership are bourgeois? (“I have a car. We can go anywhere”.) How about theatre that pretends, politely and persuasively, to mirror reality?

The problem is that this experiment is oddly shy to provoke. Neither Neil’s later epiphany nor Alan’s ambition are treated with much beyond bemused indifference, which is partly the point. Even Sheila merely pivots between them, and can barely distinguish between options.

The more discomfiting moments of the short performance come when a cast member stares into the audience, or Eoin Winning’s lights illuminate our space, an invitation for something potentially transgressive.

Instead, we are more passive, disinterested, while the performance obediently follows through on its plot, an allegory of conformity. That ought to be an electric issue, but making it work still requires more searching.

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