Bush Moukarzel and Mark O’Halloran’s ‘Lippy’ is an extraordinary and challenging piece of theatre that will probably infuriate as many people as it moves. But I loved this Irish production’s strange, sinister odyssey to the outskirts of human comprehension.
Moukarzel and Ben Kidd’s production begins as a rather good, fairly straightforward comedy. A performance of an unnamed play has just ended and a post-show Q&A is about to start, hosted by Moukarzel, playing himself as a dim, oleaginous self-parody.
On comes veteran Irish actor Daniel Reardon (again, as a fictional version of himself) who is subjected to a titteringly unprofessional interview from Moukarzel, who is childishly fixated with the fact that Reardon is able to lip read.
During the interview, Reardon both demonstrates the inexactitude of lip reading (because many words involve the same mouth shapes) and reveals that he occasionally uses the skill to help the police read CCTV recordings, and that a recent case had been attempting to decipher the last footage of the Mulrooneys, three middle-aged woman and their aunt who starved themselves to death in Leixlip, co Kildare in 2000. He says there was going to be a play about them, but it was not made. Moukarzel is uninterested.
Then everything we thought ‘Lippy’ was is ripped apart, as deafening roars of noise break out and the set splits opens to reveal the four woman, eerily, ritualistically living out their self-confinement in the long week before their starvation. It is creepy, suggestive, non-linear and deeply surreal, with Reardon still flitting around as a character, reflecting the immense and futile task set to him by the police – to try and explain what happened to these women based on a silent CCTV conversation between two of them.
It is, I think, a play about unknowns,about the fact that some things about the world will remain forever sealed off from us, out of reach. The playwrights draw upon a poetic note that one of the sisters, Ruth, sent to a friend a couple of days before death, but they never attempt to fully explain or create a straight narrative. The Mulrooneys are an unknowable people, locked inaccessibly in time. This strange, visceral play isn’t an explanation of their mystery, more a monument to it.
By Andrzej Lukowski