Veronica Crosbie and Ana Wardell review a striking theatre experience at the Axis Theatre, Ballymun, involving service users from St. Michael’s House, Dublin.
The play centres around a young lady and her struggle from darkness into light. Lost in a depression she battles many demons and is helped by teachers along the way. A play not to be missed!
Poignant, beautiful, lyrical: these are words that come to mind when recalling Love | Loss | Life, an ensemble piece which ran in early November at the Axis Theatre, Ballymun, Dublin, starring users of St Michael’s House Service Dublin, and directed by Nicola Kealy of Rhythm Room, whose mission is making theatre accessible to all.
The play opens in darkness, tuning the audience into the frequency of the set piece by having us listen to a series of voices aging in range from very young to old, musing whimsically on the meaning of the titular three words. These thoughts become embodied once the lights go up, to reveal a scene in a restaurant with a young broken-hearted woman (Sandy O’Gorman on the night in question) coming to terms with loss, and being comforted by a waitress (Norah Chawke), who begins to narrate the story of The girl with the broken heart (illustrated graphically by Jane Lee’s artwork). The narrator’s voice then switches to Kealy, who draws us gently into the fable, which, in archetypal fashion, begins a journey of discovery. This is no ordinary story, however, as we embark, together with the characters, on a voyage through the main vein (vena cava) towards the heart. Our senses are beguiled en route by trippy, psychedelic artwork projected onto a backdrop screen (courtesy of Mike Winkelmann) and plaintive and playful music by a quartet of musicians on saxophone, guitars and percussion (Mischa Langemeijer, Lee Frayne, Terence Tau and Alexis Nealon).
The girl is lost in a deep, dark depression, which grounds her, literally, as we see her pinioned and flailing on the floor. However, in time she is slowly drawn out by a light, which leads her down a tunnel towards discovery, and ultimately transformation, aided on the way by five Heart Keepers, characters that challenge and galvanise her into action. The first one, Warrior Man (John Mahon), emboldens her by teaching her how to fight, helping her thus to win back the first piece of her broken heart. However, she soon succumbs to the darkness again, aided and abetted by The Platelets, clad ominously in giant white coveralls, clogging and blocking the life force. Her mother (Sandra Healy, a memorable Juliet for the same company four years ago, who is also assistant director here) comes to the rescue, reminding her of her unconditional love, and reassuring her that she is on the right road. Next, she meets, in turn, a joker (Aidan Gouldsbury) and a dancer (Andrew Murphy), who teach her to laugh at herself and help her regain her composure and passion. The final character, the Lover (Alan McHugh), woos her gently, restoring her confidence and belief in herself; and we see them move together towards a happy ending as her heart is fully restored to itself-
What we witness here as the story unfolds is a case of capability expansion as Kealy expertly, and with care, draws out the talents of her diverse cast, supporting them as they embody the characters and thus embolden themselves. In Frontiers of Justice, Martha Nussbaum writes that care is one of the hallmarks of a decently just society and that capabilities are ways of realizing a life with human dignity. This entails the ability to form affiliations and provide stimulus for senses, imagination and thought. The support and camaraderie between the ensemble cast on stage is evidence of this heartfelt care-work, evoked in particular through subtle hand gestures, smiles and bodily integrity.
Love, Loss, Life plans to tour nationwide in 2016. Miss it at your peril.
Nussbaum, M. C. 2006. Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership, Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press.