Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Theatre review: Celebrity

'When a couple meet through online dating, with all the half-truths and Photoshop enhancement that social networking can provide, how will their modern day love story play out?'

Ten minutes into this play, I started to wonder: could this be the best play I see all year? It opens so well with a vibrant parody of the glossy-magazine approach to "how to win a man in 60 minutes", and then moves smoothly into the main story, a romance started on the internet. The various social media references and jokes felt right, not forced, and worked well. The audience loved it, laughing easily and often.

The actors' movements are beautifully choreographed, sometimes turning into moments of dance. The lighting and set are simple but effective, there's some nice music thrown in, and the acting is good. The play also features a few pretty amusing skits based on real-life celebrity couples.


Jody O'Neill, one of the actors and also the writer. Photograph by Emily Quinn.

And then, about mid-way through the play, the witty, fast-paced rom-com begins to turn into something slower and less amusing. It makes sense - part of the point of the story is surely that after the initial excitement in a relationship matters tend to slow down and become more prosaic - but the drop in pace means that the second half of the play just isn't as fun. Pace isn't the only change though: things start to get pretty wierd. The plot device used to drive the play at this point is implausible; if it's meant to be a cunning metaphor or a commentary or the transitory and vapid nature of modern celebrity, yawn. Theatre can get away with a lot of symbolism and downright bizarreness - but after the up-tempo, contemporary-life style of the opening, such oddness was jarring. It's as if someone stuck an episode of Sex and the City at the start of a Beckett play - I've enjoyed both but they just don't sit well together.

Having said all that, if you accept its contrived and wierd plot the play continues to be quite clever, perhaps even insightful. As a stand-alone act the second half of the play might be quite impressive; but as it is it's overshadowed by the very enjoyable scenes earlier on.

I'd love to be able just to praise this play. I want to like it. The characters are endearing, the actors are attractive, the online promotional material behind the play (including real social media accounts) is far ahead of any other play I've seen... and of course Project Arts Centre is a wonderful venue. The social media romance theme works very well, so it's just a pity that the celebrity theme doesn't.

Would I recommend seeing this? It depends: if you're looking for a play that's easy to watch and enjoy, right now it's hard not to recommend Arrah-na-Pogue or The Field. However, if you're willing to accept the drop in pace and want to see something new and unusual, Celebrity is worth seeing.

Although this play has its flaws, I'll finish on this point: it is very encouraging for Irish theatre to see a production like this. At its best this play was superb, so those involved clearly have the potential to create great plays in future. When I next hear that Jody O'Neill or Peer to Peer have a new play out, I will go.

Celebrity continues until 29th January 2011 in Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar. Tickets cost €15, or €12 for Saturday matinees.

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