Decades ago, while driving to town with my mother and sister, we passed a wall, on which was emblazoned a girl’s name in graffiti (she was in school with us.) The statement read ‘Lettuce Bolognese is a rag’ (Lettuce Bolognese not being her real name). My sister and I creased up with laughter. Not out of any spite towards poor Lettuce, but rather through the sheer venom and malice of the scrawl. Children can be very cruel. The graffiti remained on the wall for several weeks. To this day, I feel bad for poor Lettuce – she had to endure that horror for weeks. I still don’t know what the graffiti meant but I know that it was not complimentary.
Last night I went to the Abbey Theatre to see ‘This beautiful village’ by Lisa Tierney-Keogh. It brought to mind the Lettuce Bolognese incident. This play recounts the tale of a residents’ association meeting in the leafy suburb of Stillorgan.
It opens in the living room of Liz (Ruth Bradley) as a mosquito buzzes around her head, and she tries in vain to kill it. One by one the six members the association gather in her house. All are bearing gifts of wine, beer or organic lasagne. The emergemcy meeting has been convened to discuss how to deal with some offensive graffiti recently sprayed on the side of a wall on their salubrious estate. The graffiti reads ‘Jessica is a dirty fucking slut’.
The play deals with how the neighbourhood is going to deal with this. Do they paint over it? Do they try to find the culprit? Do they report the incident to the school – as they rightly assume it is a teenaged boy who is the guilty party? If they clean it, who will pay for it?
Let me just say before I continue that opinions are like bottoms- everyone has one. There is no right shaped bottom – each person has their own preference. Just as my opinion is exactly that – my own. You can judge for yourself.
‘This beautiful village’ was an abominable piece of theatre.
When I review a show, I always want to like it. I hope that the script is good and that the performers give it their best. This does not always happen. However I never write a bad review for plays produced by self funded small companies, knowing as I do, what a difficult, time consuming labour of love staging a production is. In that instance I just don’t write a review. However when the play is on the national stage of the state funded Abbey Theatre, those restrictions don’t apply. If you are staging a play in the Abbey, you have been generously supported, nurtured and subsidised, and an honest personal critique is allowed.
How on earth was this play given the go-ahead for production?
The premise of the piece is very slight. Offensive graffiti is offensive. We know this. It is rooted in misogyny – this we also know. But how this element was stretched to such a neverending orgy of navel-gazing is quite astonishing.
With the subtlety of a sledgehammer the six cast members play out every conceivable angle of the battle of the sexes, without any thought to narrative flow. Each part of the flimsy script is debated on stage in microscopic detail. The characters harangue and berate each other using the crudest of cliches.
All the ‘woke’ talking points are discussed in forensic detail. Male privilege? Check. Misogyny? Check. Is feminism bad? Check. Racism? Check. The wage gap between men and women? Check. Consent? Check. Does porn dehumanise women? Check. ‘Mansplaining’? Check.
All of these might be subjects worth examining. When they are shoehorned into a plot for no discernible reason, it’s like being screamed at. The tone is lecturing and hectoring. A play with a message is fine but when the audience is treated like an imbecile, having to have very blunt messages explained in detail to it, then it becomes stifling.
The one shining light is the drinky character of Maggie (played by Pom Boyd). She seems to be inhabiting a different play entirely. That’s down to Boyd, who creates a complex, funny and interesting character. The other characters are caricatures – the token lesbian; the token misogynist; the token evolved male; the token black character; the token Corkonian living in the Southside of Dublin. All deliver workmanlike performances in a work that has the nuance of being banged upside the head repeatedly, with a frying pan.
The plot lurches from one signposted talking point to the next, without any sort of natural flow. Certain points are revisited repeatedly – to make sure we haven’t missed them the first three times they were roared at us perhaps? The play had its laughs for sure but these are announced well in advance – ‘Woke bloke’s’ homemade, organic lasagna is repeatedly referenced and I was predicting when he would be screamed at for thinking he deserved praise for cooking. And so it came to pass.
As an eighty-five minute play, it might have worked well as a thirty minute piece by an amateur dramatic society in Borris-on-Ossory. As it currently stands however it resembles the theatrical embodiment of the comments section on http://www.thejournal.ie.
I still feel great sympathy for Lettuce Bolognese from my childhood. She deserves better than this.
Running until 14th September on the Abbey stage. Avoid.