Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Spliced – bruisingly honest reflection on the tribal worst of team sports and a challenge for quicker transformation (Chalk It Down Productions at An Cultúrlann until Wed 30 Oct) #BIAF19

Whether you’re steeped in GAA games, rugby, football, road-racing, netball, cricket, racquet sports, running or a complete lazy lump like me, the concept of being fully committed to a culture, the collective ambition of the team, and the shared pursuit is recognisable and universal.

Spliced is writer/actor Timmy Creed’s love letter to hurling. As a child, a teen and young adult he worked his way up the ranks and grew in experience, scored points, won medals and felt like a man.

There’s a physicality and fitness on display as the performer wields his ash hurl and bounces the sliotar off any available wall. Creed could give Belfast International Arts Festival’s closing dance artist Oona Doherty a run for her money when it comes to bouncing off walls. His level of fitness, never mind hand and eye coordination, is impressive to watch.

Simply lit with low-level spots that cast an army of giant shadows aping Creed’s every move on the white wall behind him, the show relies on one performer’s energy to fill the empty space. Slowly, Creed strips down the layers that his GAA activities and management have wrapped around him, choking his mental wellbeing. The soundscape and projection garbles as the values he thought were fundamental to Gaelic games are distorted.

There’s poetry and music in the rhythm of his recital of the 200+ GAA clubs in Cork. There’s a sickness in his recollection of the expected wilder activity – sex, drugs and alcohol – that came with “turning into a robot” and being a full part of the elite tribe.

Another location and a further sport confirm that Creed can bring other activities to life as convincingly as hurling. Broken and questioning, looking at life through “a new lens”, we listen to his reasoning as he figures out whether he can ever return to his beloved Bishopstown GAA, a source of love, loyalty and belonging, but also a mistress that sacrifices the individual for the cause of the tribe.

Spliced throws up a number of questions – including the one in the script: “how amateur is the sport?” – which could equally apply to many different pursuits.

The ending is deliberately low key. The switch from physical to cerebral is a hard shift, and while the audience are with Creed, the change of pace creates a few false endings. Creed may find that there’s more in common between the stage and the pitch than he hoped. The supposed salvation found in using theatre to challenge his old sporting orthodoxy is not immune from mental illness, poor coaching and destructive behaviour.

Spliced becomes a blur of good and evil. It’s got tension, passion, and real heart. Timmy Creed is certainly an artist to watch. You can catch Spliced back in An Cultúrlann on Wednesday 30 October at 8pm as part of Belfast International Arts Festival.