Lippy begins with a comedic post-show discussion for a fictional piece of theatre in which Bush Moukarzel fills the role of interviewer to David Heap’s actor/interviewee. It transpires that Heap is also a lip-reader and that his services have been used by the gardai, notably in the case of four women in Kildare, who died by self-engendered starvation. The women, three sisters and their aunt, barricaded themselves into their house and died over a torturous 40 day period. The last sighting of two of the sisters was on a shopping trip to Dublin, where they were seen on CCTV and their conversation subsequently lip-read. Through this faux post-show discussion, the inherent flaws of lip-reading are brought to light and we are advised that “context is all”.
This genteel introduction gives way to a change of set and things rapidly alter in Lippy. Sound, lighting, and action come together to portray a hideous and surreal scene that sets the pace for the next sixty-odd minutes. We are in that room, in that house, with those women. Or are we? With the premise that context is all and knowing that we truly cannot know the horrors that these women endured, we get a skewed version of events, a what might have been interpretation. As the figures on stage transform into the four women, excellently portrayed by Joanna Banks, Catríona Ní Mhurchú, Liv O’Donoghue and Eileen Walsh, we are barraged with imagery, action, audiovisuals, and dialogue that excites, disturbs and beguiles. This is full force performance. The women are joined by an observant Heap, who continues to translate and misinterpret the events despite his best efforts. The unknown is never truly made known in Lippy; the piecemeal story jars against the action and set with a sense of unrest that seems appropriate for such a horrendous tale. This, I think, is the point of Lippy. We cannot ever know anything fully, especially when it is vetted through various parties. Even the four women in this unrelentingly dark and psychological piece don’t seem to know why this has happened. Maybe only peace can be found in the acceptance of not knowing.
Lippy isn’t as simple as like it or loathe it. Don’t go to see Lippy if you want a nice night at the theatre. Don’t go if you want to relax after a busy week. If you want to be challenged, provoked, and even nauseated, then it’s the right choice. You will be entertained, you just mightn’t like it. Context is all.
Lippy by Bush Moukarzel and Mark O’Halloran.
29 January – 14 February 2015 on The Peacock Stage at The Abbey Theatre.
Presented by Dead Centre.
Directed by Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd.
If you’re on the other island, Lippy runs at the Young Vic, London from 19 February – 14 March 2015.