Monday, June 20, 2016

A tale of the unexpected as the cast of IGNITION faced their fear (Tinderbox Theatre)

Four actors, a director and a dramaturg walk into an empty theatre. It’s like the start of a joke … or in the case of the cast, Patrick J O’Reilly and Hanna Slättne, a self-imposed five day nightmare.

The external instruction they received on Monday would shape the entire week.
“What could we do if we weren’t all so afraid?”

It’s a great question for the entire arts sector in Northern Ireland never mind the recently refreshed team at Tinderbox Theatre. [You can read my preview post for more background on the production.]

The Friday and Saturday night audiences had no idea what was ahead when they walked into the Upstairs at the MAC theatre for IGNITION. Unless the team had sat in the pub for the last week, between the group exercises and the perspiration accompanying the ever-closer deadline, they must have dreamt up something?

What happened next was reminiscent of some of the shows in the Old Museum Arts Centre. There was gentle audience participation as we took our seats, joining in the cast’s new ball game (a cross between a net-less-volleyball-badminton-baseball variant). Later the show paused for a moment of reflection and we helped servce refreshments.

The main show – which can’t really be distinguished from the moments of breaking the fourth wall – is a metadrama, increasingly self aware of the pressure under which it was created. Flipcharts and post it notes cover many of the walls around the stage. There’s an air of incompleteness and unanswered questions that drives the performance forward.

Snippets of contemporary news from a local newspaper propagate belly laughs in what becomes a roller coaster of emotion. Panic is stirred up by kill joy Keith Singleton. Louise Matthews and Michael Patrick are joined on stage by Julie Maxwell who doesn’t escape a shower of water (though less immersive than her previous role in the Upstairs theatre!) while her eyes have a lethal glare. There’s even room for some multi-lingual tongue twisting around the fear-ridden referendum.

One giggler audience member in the front row described it as a “pure geg” as the performance reached its conclusion. What we witnessed was what happens when six artists face their fear. There’s latitude within the scenes to ad lib and stretch the boundaries, while

IGNITION is a promising format. A sustained burst of creativity tested out on an audience before complacency and script rot can set in. A different cast and we’d have a totally discrete show. A different line of inspiration and we’d have been transported to a totally new destination. Nerve-racking for the company, pretty nerve-racking for the audience too. Not a bad way to light up an evening.

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