Dublin Theatre Festival: The Bystander

Review by Siofra Nic Liam

The Bystander is brought to us from Junk Ensemble, the idea of the piece stemming from the bystander effect phenomenon of the murder of a woman in the 60s where none of the 30+ witnesses called for help. The company worked with sociologist Ciaran Smyth to develop this interesting piece of work.

The stage is bare, with four chairs and a large steel windmill placed at the back of the stage. Red material is hanging from the ceiling of the auditorium and over the stage, and due to the space it takes away from above our heads, it achieves the aim of feeling oppressive.

The performers vary between victim, bystander and aggressor. When two dance together they are never dancing in tandem, but are being pushed and forced to perform. The inability to connect brings out a feeling of helplessness.

One performer pads his clothes with different thing, such as bubble wrap, and tries to help the victim. The feeling of guilt pours from his movements, as we see him struggling with not helping more than he already has.

At the beginning and end we see the performers dance together as a unit, but one breaks away at the start, alienating herself from the rest. We are told that if you stop and stand in the London Underground, while everyone else walks to their destination, then “you are not one of us”.

The piece is fluid, although a few extended dance sequences drag a bit. Despite this small criticism, this is a beautiful piece to watch, and brings the audience fully into the isolated world of the characters on stage. This look is a look at human behaviour, with a simple design and a great pay off.


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