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The Vacuum Issue 11 spacer Issue 11
Contemplating an Iceberg by Rita Duffy
The Iceberg by Stewart Parker
Read Lead Arts and the Lyric Theatre
November 3rd - 5th 2003

by Eugene MacNamee
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The assembled crowd of hacks, actors, artists and normal people at this frosty feast was initially blocked from entering the play-reading venue and shoo-ed around through the Duffy Iceberg installation. This was in two parts; first a series of painted images of icebergs and secondly – in another room - a double video installation.
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The painted images were vaguely reminiscent of William Blake in the quality of swirl and loom attempted, the pretty ic-bergs standing architectural and pure in maelstroms of heavily stroked dark pastel shades. In this shipyard context the connection of an iceberg to a destiny of collision was unavoidable, but here the standard narrative was reversed in promoting the pre-story of the iceberg before the fateful bump. Here we saw the innocent and aesthetically beautiful navigation of the ice, to be interrupted by the hull's iron thrust. A more starkly figurative large charcoal portrait of an iceberg played to the more familiar theme of the dark power of nature to lay low man's hubristic progress, and was consequently less interesting as well as less visually attractive.
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The video installation consisted of two looped films, one of a frothing river pool below a low but voluminous waterfall, the other of an iceberg, floating. The frothing pool went into and out of focus while intermittent salmon attempted the leap up and through the waterfall. The iceberg continued to float while the camera picked out different angles of its shape, images fading one into the next. While this second film had the merit of continuing the theme of beauty, vulnerability and architectural quality of the iceberg established in the paintings, the limited use of filmic imagination and technique was disappointing. The first film with its lumbering metaphor of escape and redemption was entirely out of place.
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The play, performed by five actors, Derek Halligan, Marc O'Shea, Libby Smith, Ian McElhinney, David Gorry and Miche Doherty, some playing several parts each, was worth the wait. Stewart Parker, as in other of his works, didn't allow the constraints of real time or location to get in the way of the good story he wanted to tell, as two dead stowaways take the listener on a tour of the Titanic's maiden voyage. The play turns the iceberg into a metaphor for the complicated beauty that exists as a feature of life where perhaps we're all leading a 90% hidden existence. The particular contexts here were the Belfast shipyards and the Titanic itself, sailing in all pomp to its doom with a dark mass of conflicts, sectarian, class and personal, carried beneath.
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While it's always a slightly odd experience to watch a radio play, the actors and director did a good job of achieving performances pitched appropriately for this hybrid form. At times the stripped down quality of the event even heightened the sense of craft and quality that the cast brought to the performance.
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