Project Arts Centre / Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin

Opened 10 October, 2009

**** / ****

The Dublin Theatre Festival is now officially over, although several productions which opened under its banner continue in performance. One such is Freefall by the city’s Corn Exchange theatre company. In superficial form Michael West’s play is fairly conventional: as its protagonist hovers between life and death, his memories, fantasies and preoccupations play out in flashback. Annie Ryan’s staging is fluid and imaginative, using semi-opaque hospital-style curtains as “wipes” between scenes and live foley work as actors visible at the side of the stage provide sound effects for mimed events onstage. However, there is a deeper chord being struck: this is to some extent a state-of-the-nation play. It is not simply a matter of alluding to the Celtic Tiger’s collapse by talking about business receiverships, job losses and money being generally tight: the undercurrents of anxiety about a disintegrating marriage, about the son who never appears onstage and the sister missing for most of a lifetime, are also analogues of the national uncertainty in Ireland at the moment.
The festival also saw the latest of Berlin-based Rimini Protokoll’s “expert theatre” pieces, in which non-theatre people portray their own lives and activities. Radio Muezzin succeeds both in countering the increasing western response to Arabic and/or Muslim people, and in portraying the depth and resonance of the culture. Four muezzins from the Cairo area share with us their biographies, their relationships with their mosques and with their (no pun intended) calling. Although the call to prayer (or azan) from most mosques is now amplified by microphones and speakers, the call is still sung live by a muezzin in the mosque itself. However, the Egyptian government will shortly implement a trial programme whereby some 4000 mosques will broadcast the azan from a centrally maintained pool of only 30 muezzins. Actually, in this production, one of the performers – appropriately, the one recruited to this central body – is already virtual: he left the production some months ago following tensions with his fellows, and is represented now by archive video as his words are read by someone else. There is a cheeky delight in seeing the vanity of his recollections of his bodybuilding exploits and appearances at the world Qur’an recitation championships intercut with simple and essentially far more dignified memories from the working life of a retired electrician who came to be a muezzin only in his latter years.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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