The three performances on this triple bill – part of the Postcards Festival at Jackson’s Lane – ostensibly have little in common. A degree of connection is achieved through the versatile use of the venue, but the decision to shift the audience from the site to site throughout the evening eventually became frustrating.
The performance begins in the foyer with circus performer Frederike standing against the edge of a mirror, juggling batons and creating grotesque reflections of her disembodied arms. It is the first of her three linking performances, stripped down versions of the circus experience. She uses an arrow to point the audience into the main studio, where the first 20-minute piece of the evening takes place.
In 20 Hours and Counting, mime artist Ian Marchant channels Buster Keaton and other silent movie greats with his exaggerated hangdog expressions. The repetitive nature of his act soon becomes tiring and it is only when he begins using 1920s music, half-way into the performance, that momentum builds. This however is undercut by certain sequences – such as the attempt to flip a sugar cube into a teacup strapped on an audience member’s head- which go on too long.
The audience are ushered to the other side of the studio for Frederike’s second performance of the night. She crawls on netting suspended across the ceiling, using hoops slotted through to the underside to create patterns. Despite the raspy backing from a cellist, there is little anticipation and tension. The low-key nature of her act is its undoing, and the same is evident in her final performance where she casually juggles balls on a sofa in the huge practice space upstairs.
The audience’s frustration becomes palpable when we are led downstairs once again, this time to the foyer, for the beginning of Lightning Ensemble’s 1908 – Body and Soul, which is inspired by the 1908 London Olympics. There’s a sense forced jollity, with performers handing out Union Jack flags as Nicholas Boulton – as Lord Desborough, President of the games – stands in front of the audience and talks about the unrest over the Irish Home Rule Bill. Bizarrely, we’re then led out into the rain, only to re-enter the main studio via the back entrance.
Written by Sarah Weatherall and directed by Marie McCarthy, 1908 – Body and Soul blends circus with storytelling; but while it contains plenty of acrobatic moves,there’s little narrative to string it all together. It tells the story of the real-life Martin Sheridan, captain of the Irish American Athletic Team, which won 23 Gold Medals for the US at the 1908 Olympics. His homesickness for Ireland is outweighed by his drive to win and beat the British. A solidarity grows between Patrick O’Kane’s Sheridan and Rowan Thomas Clift’s Tom Longboat based on their shared colonial histories. But these themes of colonisation and republicanism aren’t really developed. If the play is about giving voices to real Olympic heroes such the Native American Longboat, and the first female gold medal winner Madge Syers then it fails to do so, as they remain outlines rather than fully rounded characters.
1908 – Body and Soul contains the most enjoyable part of the evening when Jake Goode, as Clifton Pennycock, boorishly commentates on the women’s figure skating. Lisa Truscott as Olympian Gwendolyn Lycett excels at physical comedy, but Jessie Walters as Madge Syers is less convincing, botching a few of the moves. Clift confusingly runs around the studio throughout all this, demonstrating just how much he’s under the whip-hand of his Irish-American trainer.
At the end, there is a brief speech about how people can all come together under the aegis of the Olympics despite race and nationality, but this seems to undermine the themes of emerging identity politics. The company’s use of staging and spectacle for immediate effect ultimately overwhelmed what was a strong premise: the narrative felt oddly truncated and there was little in the way of development of its nascent themes.