Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: Sylvia's Quest

If you're in Temple Bar this July or August you might spot a pretty girl dressed in yellow leading around a group of people wearing headphones. She's Sylvia Sylvana, the protagonist of Sylvia's Quest, a new show by Wonderland Productions. The play is set in contemporary Dublin and uses the city as its stage. As Sylvia (played by Elitsa Dimova) guides her new friends through the streets she tells them about herself and the country she came from - the experience of the 'new Irish' is one of the production's main themes. Sylvia is a Bulgarian archaeologist who works in Dublin as a cleaner, and the concept of the show is that the headphones let the audience listen to sounds and voices which normally only Sylvia can hear. As an archaeologist far from her native land many of Sylvia's thoughts are of Thrace, the civilisation that existed in antiquity in what's now Bulgaria. (You know the one - it's where Spartacus came from.) The headphones also let us listen in on the phonecalls which provide much of the play's dialogue.

Immersive theatre - plays involving audience interaction with the characters, props or location - has been a popular part of recent theatre festivals. It's often quite provocative. Sylvia's Quest uses a gentler, less confrontational form of immersion. I loved it, and I think other immersive theatre productions should learn from it. There's a lot I could say about that - so I'll leave that for another article.

By its nature immersive theatre is more subjective than traditional theatre, and that is particularly true in this case given that Sylvia's Quest uses the streets of Temple Bar as its set. The weather, curious glances (or comments) from perplexed onlookers, and Sylvia's conversations with the audience members guarantee that no two performances will be identical. This variation means I can't be certain you'll have as much fun as I did, but despite that I'm going to give Sylvia's Quest a five out of five.

Its innovative use of technology and contribution to immersive theatre are commendable - but most of all Sylvia's Quest is lots of fun.
Rating: *****

Running time 85 minutes. As this is an outdoor performance it's recommended that you dress appropriately for the Irish weather. Tickets cost €16/€14 and are available from In September Sylvia's Quest will run in the Phibsborough Community Arts Festival (Phizzfest), the Newbridge 200 Festival and in Mermaid Arts Centre. Due to its innovative use of radio technology in theatre Sylvia's Quest is part of Dublin City of Science 2012. The show has received support from the Arts Council and Dublin City Council.

Claire Bradley will be interviewing Alice Coghlan from Wonderland Productions on Artbeat on Dublin City FM on Wednesday 18th July at 8 pm.


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