There is no doubt that 2012 has been a great year for theatre group THISISPOPBABY. The group, which is part of Project Catalyst, an initiative of Project Arts Centre, has carved a unique space for itself in Irish Theatre Circles over the last five years since its conception.
Back in April, they launched their sensational play Alice in Funderland which beautifully captured the best bits of The Rocky Horror Show, fairytales and Dublin and then combined them into one of the most unique pieces of theatre to hit the Irish stage in a very long time. Two years in the making the play was absolutely flawless in both its writing and delivery.
Their most recent production, Elevator, is airing as part of the Absolute Fringe Festival from the 16th-22nd of September, is a much darker and more sombre affair. Set in a large house, in a forest, the outside world is painted as bleak and cold. Inside, six indulged twenty somethings party while they wait for their host, Johann. In the background, they are being watched over and almost pitied by the maid who knows something that she just cannot disclose.
The clue is in the title, Elevator, as the audience are swung up and down, almost hypnotically, through the highs and lows that are experienced by the characters drug abuse. At one stage everyone is hyper, the next they collapse onto the couch. With each line of cocaine sniffed everyone becomes more and more paranoid. “Where is Johann?, Where is our host?”
Music punctuates the chilling character of the play, underpinning the eerie undertone of the black and white colour scheme on stage. Flash lighting and the use of animal head masks induce the audience into a state of surrealism similar to that experienced by the characters, who line after line, sniff after sniff, redefine their surrounding reality.
Behind it all this is really a play about destruction. Self-destruction to be exact. The six principal characters are devoid of care or compassion, even for themselves. They manipulate themselves with cocaine to make the world spin faster. As multiple sex acts ensue between all of the characters even the lines of sexual orientation become blurred. Everyone kisses each other and some go much further. These are people who have never grown up, brought together because they shared one thing: wealthy parents.
There is no linear narrative to this play. Instead various stories and encounters are pieced together as if it’s a game for the audience to work out. What you are being offered is a panoramic view of life at a high-class party. Steadily the play gets darker and darker building up to that moment where everything is going to end.
Although it lulls in the middle, there is certainly moments that draw you in. Bursts of humour pierce the plays dark sole and release some tension in a similar way that the sexual encounters on the stage give each character a momentary release from their self-inflicted pain. It is not clear whether or not the characters take drugs to make their world better or their drug abuse is what makes their world so sad.
The key to this play is very much in the writing because it is so much more than a script. It is a piece of visual art which verifies Philip McMahon as one of Dublin’s most consistent playwrights. McMahon has a gift at transcending the lines between humour and pain so beautifully and I have no doubt that in ten years’ time, his work will be studied in detail by Irish Drama experts worldwide.
In the end Elevator earns itself 4/5 stars. Flawless choreography and strong acting, particularly from Conor Madden who plays Edward, compliment the striking dialogues and chilling atmosphere that leave the audience walking away with both confusion and a lust for more. Although it’s no Alice, I desperately want to see it again to watch twice for details that were missed on my first viewing.