Sunday, June 21, 2020

Lucid – dreaming up success at the end of Tinderbox’s 2020 Play Machine programme

Tinderbox Theatre Company never aspires to be ‘normal’, and this year’s Ignition production at the end of its Play Machine programme certainly surprises and astounds. Artistic director Patrick J O’Reilly’s works with what any cast and creatives bring to their rehearsal room. And even without a physical space to collaboratively occupy in this period of extended lockdown, this weekend’s online showing of Lucid demonstrates his ability to inspire others to create and invent.

Confined to their homes, the 11 artists who had taken part in the six-months of Play Machine run by Tinderbox out of the Crescent Arts Centre are having a frustrating time rehearsing over Zoom. But a somewhat left-field suggestion from the director to meet up in a dream, where they’ll be free from social distancing constraints, takes the tale of Mr Ruffle’s Truffles in a whole new direction.

Isaac Gibson’s troubling soundscape enhances the creepiness and sense of distress that lingers throughout our window into the cast’s surreal rehearsal escapades, while Conor O'Donnell’s video editing gives the piece real pace and overcomes the smorgasbord of self-filmed clips he stitches together.

The opening act describes the less-than-ideal rehearsal process, and walks a fine line between honest appraisal and complete piss take as the young actors talk excitedly about playing supernumerary villagers in the ever-name-morphing production about Sir Ruffalot and his Truffles.

Once you lean into the handbrake turn into ‘lucid dreaming’ – an interesting metaphor for the Play Machine cast wrestling back control of their final production from the hands of the coronavirus nightmare – the real acting begins and O’Reilly fades from the picture and the cast take over. Mr Ruffles haunts their every action, Harry Styles is suitably disrespected, and general craziness ensues as the cast try to break free of the shackles of isolation. It’s dynamic, physical, absurd and never humdrum. For those not living alone, goodness knows what family members thought as they were asked to film people sliding down the stairs or acting out their nightmares.

I’m left wondering what a stage version of the Ruffle/Truffles production might have looked like? No doubt it would have been equally dark, equally zany, and equally unpredictable. As theatre adapts to closed venues and necessary distancing, these 11 artists – Vicky Allen, Aoife Browne, Jonny Cameron, Conor Cupples, Rory Gillan, Orla Graham, Joe Loane, Faith McCune, Calum McElwee, Seon Simpson, Fergus Wachala-Kelly – will have learnt things about themselves, theatre and filmmaking in the final weeks of Play Machine that weren’t envisaged as part of the curriculum back at the start.

I think I’ll avoid too much cheese before bedtime tonight in case Mr Ruffle creeps into my subconscious. But I will look forward to seeing where these talented artists next turn up.

Caricatures by Fergus Wachala-Kelly.