“We’re big fans of sincerity, as a thing,” says Colm Gleeson, laughing. He is not being insincere: the laugh, one suspects, attempts to cover up a heartfelt sentiment that others might find quite precious. He is one of the founders of a new theatre company called Felicity and wrote the script for its debut, Papini.
Papini revolves around a group of friends, Claude, Val, Mongrel and Ash. Squinting, one might be able to make out the outlines of four young people with as much angst as they have time to wallow in it. Case in point: Claude locks himself in his room for days on end writing stories, while Val sits around wondering why, if Marina Abramović can do it, she can’t. Such a thing would make (and have made) for worthwhile watching among to those who can’t be bothered to lift their gaze north of their navels. Everyone else can use that time to learn a new language.
Look closer, however, and the whole thing takes on colour, texture and a pulse: On their eighth birthday, Claude and his twin, Andrew, go see a performance by a magician called Papini. By sheer chance, Andrew gets chosen from the audience and invited onstage, where he is made to disappear—for good. One day, years later, Claude has locked himself in his room, trying to figure out how it all happened, how it could—if it could—have been avoided: “I hunted out the forks in the path, the moments where, with the slightest alteration, things could have turned out differently,” he says. Val, driven desperate by what she feels to be the unbearable weight of her own consciousness, uses a particularly sensational trick of performance artists as an excuse to inflict injury on herself—anything to make what she constantly refers to as ‘it’ go away. Mongrel is haunted by the phantom pangs of what she never thought she would ever have considered a loss, while her boyfriend, Ash, looks on helplessly. And, above them all, Papini, a lunar influence over these tiny ships lost at sea.
The driving conflict in the play, Gleeson says, is that the characters feel their lives have been “defined by something—either within them or outside them—that they don’t have control over.” That ‘something’ might very well go by the name Papini. This does not, however, necessarily lead to despair: the play gives its characters the agency to resist. If, by the end, Claude, Val, Mongrel and Ash fail to transcend their personal lots, the sincerity of their resistance might nevertheless endow with them with something that might be called grace. Stretching the ship metaphor further (up to where it just about snaps!): While nothing can be done about the waves, ships adrift should at least be serious and sincere in the attempt to reach shore.
It might not be so bad after all to be “big fans of sincerity, as a thing.” There, Felicity might have found the apt expression.
Words: Olen Bajarias
Papini is on in the Black Box in Smock Alley Theatre with a preview on Wednesday September 20th (9pm, €11) and performances from Thursday September 21st to Saturday September 23rd with a Saturday matinee at 3.30pm also. €12/€14