Review: Shibari at The Abbey

Rachel Donnelly
Posted October 18, 2012 in Theatre Features

First, a crucial piece of information: ‘Shibari’ is Japanese for ‘to tie’ or ‘to bind’ and is a term that has come to be used in Western parlance for the art of Japanese bondage (Wikipedia). It is also the title of Gary Duggan’s latest play, a piece with a cast of six set in a contemporary Dublin. Although no more than two characters ever appear on stage at once, it becomes apparent as the play progresses that these six individuals are all connected, whether through blood, romantic relationships, friendships, or sexual desire.This connectedness (or the feeling that Dublin is more like a village than a city) is at the heart of Duggan’s latest work.

Shibari positions itself firmly in the now. The gruesome spectre of the recession hovers over much of the action, and somecharacters speakof the recently changed face of the capital city. In one scene, Kate Ni Chonaonaigh’s ‘Eva’ and Michael Yare’s ‘Nick’ snort lines of coke in a karaoke bar, Eva recalling how the place used to be a grungy rock pub she frequented in her youth before she got a manicure, donned towering heels and became a coke-snuffling sales team leader at a Dublin rock radio station.

True to this excavation of a modern Dublin, the cast is made up both Irish and foreign voices. There’s a Japanese florist, a Romanian bookstore worker, and an insufferable English film star, two of whom show themselves to feel as much at home in Dublin, perhaps even more so, than the Dubs themselves.

Shibari’s strength lies in Duggan’s funny and incisive one-liners and director Tom Creed’s deft evocation of scenes that are recognisably part of the modern Dublin landscape, conjured through little more than the stance of the actors and a handful of props. In particular, the scene in the karaoke bar, or the one where Eva and Ioana (Alicja Ayres) go for cocktails in a club, or the painting of a slick office environment purely through NíChonaonaigh’s gestures and wardrobe, are all spot-on.

What’s perplexing is how all the elements of the piece are supposed to hang together. There’s bondage involved and, for a reason that is not fully clear, psychological interpretations of why a person might be ‘into that sort of thing’ (lack of a father-figure in childhood) are loosely tied to an appraisal of the claustrophobic nature of Irish, and particularly Dublin, society.

Duggan seems to be saying lots of things, all at once. There’s a spot of wince-inducing casual racism thrown in at one point, aimed at Orion Lee’s measured Japanese florist ‘Hideo’ by the ever-acerbic Eva, while in another scene Romanian Ioana reacts violently to being asked if she ever thinks of returning ‘home’. Intermingled with this exposition of the cultural clashes that inevitably arise in a (relatively) newly multi-cultural society are observations on the Irish psyche. Grandiloquent lines are mouthed by the characters, puncturing their otherwise appropriately-toned dialogue, as when Ioana declares “This place has no idea of the value of things” or another character asks “Have we learned nothing from history?”

Frank Conway’s set design also seeks to make a statement about Ireland now. Minimal and cleverly transformed from scene to scene through lighting and smoke effects, helped along in no small part by Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh’s intelligent costume choices,the stage is overhung by an upended traditional Irish kitchen scene, a wicker basket and table and chairs dangling unobtrusively over the actors for the duration of the piece. Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone? Our past hangs over us claustrophobically in this country?

The final tableau of the work, involving an extended demonstration of the Shibari technique, sounds a hollow note. As a collection of aptly-pitched snippets of the contemporary Dublin topography Shibari works well, but, unfortunately, its efforts to excavate some deeper aspect of our national psyche or tendencies are obstructed by an overcooked analogy.

Shibari runs until the 3rd of November and tickets can be ordered here http://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/performances/shibari

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