DTF 2016: The Circus Animals’ Desertion

‘It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.’

The Circus Animals’ Desertion is such a dream. Following This Beach at the Tiger Dublin Fringe, Brokentalkers’ new piece shows the afterlife of one man. He is all men; his death is the death of all men. What we see onstage is a representation of all that encompassed his life, from childhood to death, taking us on a journey through love, solidarity, propaganda, indoctrination, nationalism, violence, faith, fascism and racism.

Brokentalkers have been developing this show since 2007, working closely with academics and artists to write a piece based on WB Yeats’ experimental plays. Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan are primarily concerned with Yeats’ obsession with the occult and aim to show a side of his writing that is often ignored. From the first tableau, of the central character laid out in repose on a marble slab, the production values are astounding. Ger Clancy’s masks are the stand-out theatrical element; his set, Stephen Dodd’s lighting and Kilian Waters’ projections form a cohesive aesthetic which dominates the piece. Sarah Foley’s costume design is unsettling and out-of-time, a balanced and artful link to the occult. Sean Millar’s score, a mix of original music and modern lyrics (Chic, The Cure) is played and sung beautifully by Jane Deasy, Lioba Petrie and Maud Ní Ríordáin in their boxed-off string trio. Jessica Kennedy’s choreography is prompted by Yeats’ call for ‘non-verbal poetry’; it is treated with care by all of the performers. Eddie Kay is the stand-out; his speech is an unexpected and well-handled change of tone.

The play’s mixed forms and ritualistic, esoteric nature sometimes make it difficult to locate a narrative or identify a thematic centre. The aesthetic and atmospherics are engaging, but their meaning is blurred as a result of trying to say too much. Obviously I could be at fault here (the impetuses behind many choices became more coherent afterwards), but there were several points where I just couldn’t follow. The Circus Animals’ Desertion has the makings of a powerful, affective show, but it would be helped by having more clearly defined characters and concepts.

Eppie Claffey

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