Friday, May 08, 2020

New Speak Re-Imagined – vignettes of propaganda, surveillance and self-expression for a time of pandemic lockdown (Friday nights at 7pm from Lyric Theatre)

Half-way through its run of four weekly instalments, how is the Lyric’s repackaged New Speak Re-Imagined season of short works to accompany Bruiser’s COVID-19-affected coproduction of 1984 shaping up?

What might Orwell’s Newspeak from 1984 sound like in coronavirus-laded 2020? Dominic Montague has adapted the format of bullish and simplified messaging to create a frighteningly familiar yet contemporary vision of state control. In Real Talk, Patrick McBrearty at first delivers the deeply cynical talking points to viewing citizens – “please remember that viewing is mandatory, and you may be tested” – with enthusiasm in the first episode, with director Oisin Kearney allowing stylised jump cuts to amplify the sinister feel of the messenger’s implorations. Yet by the second episode, even the professional mouthpiece seems to be finding it hard to swallow some of the key messages, and I can only assume that his descent into possible thoughtcrime will continue to audibly drop in coming weeks. Close to the bone when viewed alongside the nightly press conferences from 10 Downing Street, it’s a wonder Montague and McBrearty haven’t been tapped on the shoulder by a government spin doctor to work on their national communications.

Another aspect of 1984 is picked up by Lata Sharma in Sausage Sodas and Onion Bahjees. The surveillance state may be on the rise, but her experience as an Indian growing up in Belfast was accompanied by twitching curtains and a tiny ethnic community who could communicate gossip and criticism faster than you could get the bus home sitting beside a good-looking lad from college. Emily Foran keeps the monologues moving and allows Sharma’s autobiographical reminisces to speak into modern times as the viewers wonder how much has changed.

The Perception of the World Through My Eyes adds dance into the New Speak mix with high energy routines – week one in a small white-walled studio, week two on a bridge while dog walkers pass by in the distance. Poetry is mixed with movement Zara Janahi stares into the camera as if wilfully continuing to find ways to self-express in isolation..

The Great British Lockdown drops into Rebecca and Graham’s living room as they mull over their lockdown situation. Their often unknowing and mostly ignorant misinterpretation of guidelines and rationale reminded me of Jim and Hilda Bloggs in Raymond Brigg’s When The Wind Blows. They were isolated and unable to properly process the nuclear holocaust. Rebecca and Graham are bamboozled by the unprecedented isolation. Pray for wee Josh who has to survive the pandemic and his parents! Amadan Ensemble are often sinister and in your face in their real life performances, but these histrionic performances are no less effective in conveying fear and unease.

The final part of each week’s instalment of Lyric Theatre creativity come in the form of a music video from Katie Richardson. My Mind is a Weapon enjoyed a forest performance, while the second episode’s The Dark That’s Settled In is endued with a simple yet ornate shelving motif with mini-Katie heads subtly integrated into the household tableau of ordinariness.

Each Friday evening at 7pm, a new episode featuring these five strands pops up on the Lyric Theatre’s YouTube channel to pay homage to the continuing themes of George Orwell’s prescient work and the creative industry’s heartbeat of imagination and expression that refuses to lie down in the face of adversity.

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