The latest play in Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar is The Family, by THEATREclub. As this is such a distinctive and intricate play I've a lot to say about it, so I'm going to separate my comments into two articles. This first post is a review; the commentary in the second post (on Saturday) won't make much sense until you've seen the play.
Right, so is it any good? Yes, very much so - but I have to warn you that some theatre-goers would hate it. I mean really, truly hate it. The subject matter (the Irish family) is conventional but the style and structure aren't. Anyone looking for an easy-to-follow, linear narrative with clear relationships between characters will be disappointed. Dion Boucicault or Sean O'Casey this most certainly is not.
For those of you who've seen previous THEATREclub plays and liked their style, The Family is strongly recommended. Think HEROIN, but better - and by quite a margin. As with HEROIN the "fourth wall" between the audience and actors is very thin, the relationship between actors and characters is (intentionally) ambiguous, and roles and status are fluid. There's a lot going on, and not just on-stage: THEATREclub have put several short videos on YouTube for this play, and there'll be a series of panel discussions about today's Ireland. This is an impressive and well-performed work of theatre.
A particular highlight of The Family is the combination of music, dialogue and choreography. (More about that in Saturday's post.) The quality of the acting is also praiseworthy - Lauren Larkin and Gerard Kelly in particular have moments of extraordinary authenticity, but all of the cast do well.
Given that it's got such strengths it might seem harsh to say that some patrons might dislike this play. Perhaps so, but even taking into account the play's unorthodox form it just takes too long for the play to grip fully and forcefully the attention of audience. Oh, The Family gets there, and some of the later scenes are superb - but could it get there just a little faster please? In combination with the lack of a story (in the usual sense of the word) the initial pace could turn off the interest of some people.
So it's simple: if you go to the theatre once or twice a year, want to see a play with a conventional narrative, and want to be sure you enjoy it, avoid The Family. If however you're a theatre regular and you want to see something thought-provoking with moments of exceptional acting, then you should definitely see The Family. Some people will love it, some will hate it, and I think THEATREclub can be happy with that.
The Family continues in Project Arts Centre until 28th January 2012. Tickets cost €18/€15. The play runs for 90 minutes.