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The Vacuum - Issue 13 - Wonking with the Community spacer The Vacuum - Issue 13 - Wonking with the Community
Wild About Harry
by Arthur Hughes
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The first thing you see on stage in this show is a Big Telly. Which is subsequently revealed as a passage into an alternative reality for Sinead Quinn and Harry Houdini obsessive, Vince Doyle. Vince is a man who seems to gradually acquire an ever greater power to move back and forth between tv-land and real reality. Something is surely being thieved in all this tricksy passing back and forth, but it's never clear what it is. Finally tv-land, endless in its irritations to Vince's good humour, irks him beyond measure when one of his idols is, in his eyes, slandered by insufficient praise. He takes definitive steps to redress the balance of things, and moves into yet another dimension
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If you take this show as good fun, then it's certainly good fun. There's a strong central performance (and the only live stage performance) by Michael O'Reilly as Vince Doyle, nerdy neurotic protagonist who metamorphoses mid-way into a charismatic comedian cum mind-reader cum escapologist. Even in this latter phase of the evening there's enough residual edge remaining from Vince's first segment performance to keep the audience slightly edgy and unsettled, waiting for the trick behind the trick. There are very well integrated filmed cameo appearances by lots of local celebrities, who show themselves in a tremendously good light by being able to really act. Frank Mitchell won't ever seem quite so annoying again, and Pamela Ballentyne, should she choose to avail of it, has a big future in arch period drama. There's a great set with a big telly, a big cinema screen, a big tank of water, all of them imaginatively and flexibly used to make a dynamic staging in the small OMAC space. There's very good effective lighting. And there's great twisted playfulness in all this movement between dimensions of enframing, performance, illusion and reality. If you let yourself go with it, as most of the audience seemed very prepared to do, this easily passes the crucial 'would I have been better off staying in and watching Coronation Street?' test.
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Viewed in a different light, as a funny but serious exploration of our capacities toescape from reality or into reality from where we are lodged in the age of the image, there are certain aspects of the show which are less satisfactory. The set up of the interaction between on-screen characters and Vince Doyle is wonderful, but then doesn't really go anywhere beyond the humourous. Even this humour is undercut by the somewhat grating aggressiveness with which Michael O'Reilly plays Vince in almost all this portion of the performance, leeching out potential niceties of what could have been played as a more interesting character. The paradoxical effect is that the tv characters, even in their most plastic modes, seem as nuanced, if not more, than Vince himself. When Vince metamorphosises into a new persona, the professional escapologist, he manages to transcend his televisual trauma only by adopting as a vocation the line of balance between escape and the illusion of escape. This all makes a kind of sense if you are trying to demonstrate how complete, physically lived, fluid and inescapable is the movement between fantasy and reality, yet it leaves, in theatrical terms, a performance made up of two distinct halves which exist in unresolved narrative balance. This can only totally succeed as a performance if the audience has been taken to some very interesting places along the way, and there was a nagging sense that more could have been done in this regard. The attempt to create a final definite horizon amidst all this balance and relativity came in the form of a life-threatening feat of escapology, performed with all due ceremony and as the climax to the show. The problem here is that, in these post-Blane days, no audience can take seriously the idea of a trick as life-threatening until they actually see the dead body and get to poke it with a sharp stick. No escape there then.
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On a third level of analysis it has to be said that it's tremendously refreshing to find a local company that engagingly and professionally goes beyond the standard realistic dramatic forms, themes and stagings that are such a cancer on Irish theatrical life. Not only that but this piece, with its easy movement between (local) television and live performance, and the inter-weaving of local personalities, is beautifully crafted as a piece of experimental theatre that is very welcoming to an audience that might be only familiar with theatre, if at all, in the standard local forms. The 'localness' of Northern Ireland is used as a route into experimentation, rather than theatrical experiments being performed on the locals.
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