EFR - Reviews of Lippy

Lippy

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2016

reviews

Becky Wilson

at 17:27 on 23rd Aug 2016

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‘Lippy’ is an incredibly powerful play. The starting point of this twisted, meta-theatrical drama is a true story: at the turn of the millenium, 86-year-old Frances Malrooney and her three middle-aged nieces locked themselves into a house, in order to slowly starve themselves to death. At the time, the media inflated this quietly tragic act with hyped-up speculations of religious zealotry, cults and suicide pacts. Sixteen year later, we still don’t know why these women decided to die. But this play doesn’t seek the answers; quite the opposite in fact. It gives these dead women space to breathe.

‘Lippy’ criticises our habit of imposing false meaning upon events we cannot explain. This idea is presented to us, ingeniously, through the metaphor of a failing lip-reader. In a humiliating demonstration intended to showcase her lipreading skills, Grace Dickson (as The Lip-reader) with headphones on, almost entirely misreads what her volunteer is saying. In a neat parallel, through CCTV footage and a paper trail of old letters, the character fails to grasp the reality of these four suicidal women.

The play’s opening is disorientating. The actors – three of whom are so believable in their stuttering, crowd-shy spontaneity that I’m still convinced they genuinely are venue staff – simulate a lighthearted Q&A session. This interview set-up becomes almost vulgar in its cheeriness, when subsiding into the sobering environment of the suicidal women’s self-imposed prison. Each is introduced on the cusp of a desperately painful death.

No suspension of disbelief is remotely necessary here: these women’s performances are stunning. Aided by shrewdly chosen costumes and their similar looks, their expert performances cannot be faulted. Jennifer Jones (as Frances) does not need words. Completely inhabiting the corporeal reality of being 86 years old and starving to death, her performance is the most captivating. Likewise, the most powerful moment of the play is also one of its quietest. Bridg-Ruth’s last dying words (“do not grieve for me”), when delivered in Erin Whalley’s agonized, musical lilt tear at my heartstrings in a way I’m unlikely to forget.

The Lip-reader tramples over this most crucial moment with her comically wrong interpretation of what has just been said (“remember to put the cat out”). Just as with the inventive use of a leaf blower, and the violently careless, noisy movements of the crime scene investigators, the fragility of these women’s reality is made clear.

Fortunately, with Brett McCarthy-Harrop’s stone-faced, dignified monologue as Catherine, the women have the last word. “Death”, she concludes “is not an event, but a process. Who knew that there was worse in us than blood?”. This is, oddly, a hopeful ending. The four women, previously fodder for the rumour mill, finally exist as individuals. Having drowned out the lies, their lonely poetic voices linger victoriously in the air.

With impossibly powerful acting and an important but oft-neglected issue at its core, ‘Lippy’ must absolutely not be missed.

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Lizzy Galliver

at 18:47 on 23rd Aug 2016

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For the first twenty-five minutes of ‘Lippy’ I think I am in the wrong room. Interviewer Sarah Lamb welcomes us to a post-show Q&A session with lip-reader Grace Dickson. A cursory glance around the room partially reassures me: everybody looks very confused. This confusion remains, to a certain extent, throughout the performance – as it often the case with absurdist theatre – but it is swiftly joined by a number of other sentiments: awe, disquietude, sorrow. Complete, utter absorption. When I leave the venue, my mind is swimming.

Adapted from the acclaimed script by playwright Bush Moukarzel, Theatre Paradok’s version of ‘Lippy’ tells the chilling, true story of the Mulrooneys, three Irish sisters and an elderly aunt who, at the turn of the millennium, starve themselves to death in their sealed Leixlip apartment. While the correlation between the opening scene and the ensuing tale may at first appear somewhat tenuous, the fundamental theme of the unreliable narrator is broached early on. As Dickson agrees reluctantly to the interviewer’s request for an impromptu onstage lip-reading demonstration, the difficulty of precision is comically revealed. Inaccuracy and misrepresentation, we discover later, is a haunting memory for Dickson, a former Garda investigator in the case of the Mulrooney suicides.

My complete uncertainty between reality and theatre at the start of the performance is testament to the remarkable standard of acting on offer in ‘Lippy’. As technician Spencer Bellows carries out routine sound checks and scene transitions with a hilariously dead-pan expression, Lamb eases into awkward, brash interviewer mode effortlessly. Later, time is reversed in the Mulrooney’s crime-scened flat, as forensic scientists in coveralls transition seamlessly into four gaunt, vacant women dressed in high-buttoned blouses, long corduroy skirts and ‘50s brogues. Dialogue is sparse, but deafening silence intensifies the fraught atmosphere and allows some more subtle but equally superb acting to unfold. Hunger is excruciatingly palpable through visibly trembling hands, and slow, laborious movement. The sound of a single slap, as it transpires Josephine has bought a Mars Bar, reverberates throughout the audience. A special mention should go to Brett McCarthy-Harrett as Catherine Mulrooney, and for her final spine-tingling soliloquy as she sits beside her dead sisters, eagerly anticipating death as penance for her “karmic debt”.

‘Lippy’ is not a performance to enjoy. The wonderfully awkward humour of the play’s meta-theatrical inception descends quickly into despair, and I spend the majority of the show feeling out of my comfort zone. It is, however, an incredibly rich story about death, religion, family, and interpretation. It is a story about deciphering the inexplicable, reading the unreadable. As Dickson's profession so clearly shows, this is no easy feat. Hauntingly jarring and terrifically executed, ‘Lippy’ is an immediate must-see.

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