• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Real-life tragedy inspired a voyage of creative discovery

How do you tell a real-life story that isn't yours?

post-mortem: Dead Centre's latest production Lippy came about after its creator became fixated by the story of four women who boarded themselves into their home in County Kildare and made a suicide pact. Picture: Jeremy Abrahams
post-mortem: Dead Centre's latest production Lippy came about after its creator became fixated by the story of four women who boarded themselves into their home in County Kildare and made a suicide pact. Picture: Jeremy Abrahams

This question was one of the driving forces behind Lippy, the hit show of the 2013 Dublin Fringe that is currently playing at the Traverse Theatre.

Initially inspired by events that took place at the turn of the century in Leixlip, County Kildare 14 years ago, when an aunt and three sisters boarded themselves into their home and entered into a 40-day suicide pact, the Dead Centre company's creation becomes less of a docudrama detective story and more a speculative voyage of discovery for the company's own methodology.

"It's one of those stories that is so extraordinary that it reaches out into an entire collective consciousness," says Bush Moukarzel, who created, co-directs and performs in Lippy. "There are events like 9/11, which change the whole world, and then there are other, more idiosyncratic and private events that gauge the temperature of something else.

"That's what this story had about it, and I became fixated by it. I gathered up all the newspaper reports and any other information that I could find, and there was a Channel Four documentary about it.

"Then, after amassing all this material relating to it, I was left asking myself 'what's theatre got to do with any of it?'"

The end result includes a lip-reader and a cameo monologue from author Mark O'Halloran in a multi-faceted mixing and matching of form and content that is as far removed from journalistic theatre as you can imagine.

"For all these strategies and effects," says Moukarzel, "we aren't trying to be clever.

"We only want to find the best way to tell this story, which has ended up being a performed meditation about the ethics of telling stories that aren't yours. It's a very pertinent question to ask what right we have to tell these women's' stories when we don't know anything about them other than what we've already read."

Lippy is Dead Centre's third show. Their first, Souvenir, had as sources Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past as well as material from Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, TS Eliot, Shakespeare and Orson Welles.

The company's follow-up, (S)quark! Questioned whether James Joyce was a genius by way of the author of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake's two pet parakeets.

As with Lippy, whether dealing with real or imaginary characters, Dead Centre's total theatre approach remains something of an anomaly in Ireland's theatre tradition.

"Ireland is a nation of writers and playwrights," Moukarzel observes, "but what's happened in the last 20 years is that we've got more up to speed with a European tradition. People can either embrace it or resist it, but theatre is up for grabs.

"This is in no way an affront on the well-made play. It's just saying that there are different ways of doing things."

Given that a sister of the dead women survives them, one wonders what sense of responsibility Moukarzel and Dead Centre feel towards the women's' family.

"That's something I thought about long and hard," says Moukarzel. "About whether I should contact the family, and whether or not I needed some kind of legal permission to do something. Obviously, if we were trying to psycho-analyse the background to what happened, it would be different and we would've contacted them, but for us, we found out quite early on that that wasn't what we were doing, and that it wasn't the story we were telling.

"Of course, if anyone from the family saw the show, I hope it would be something they wouldn't be offended by. I do know one sister knows about the show, and that she chose not to go and see it."

Next up for Moukarzel and Dead Centre is an investigation of Chekhov's first play.

Given the company's fusion of styles, however, one suspects the result won't be a straight rendering.

"We're just trying to give pretentiousness a good name," says Moukarzel.

"We're not making a Hollywood movie here. We're sitting in an unusual space just now. When we go to the theatre, we're trying to save our souls, and if we fail, fine, but we don't go out for a slight night. You don't want things to be too comfortable, but you're not wanting to be hostile either. You don't want a fight.

"For me, the big problem is, can fiction ever be as extraordinary as real lives? That interplay between falsehood and the real world makes Lippy quite an extraordinary event.

"When we do the Chekhov piece, the backbone of it is fictional, so how do you make that as extraordinary as reality? I haven't found an answer yet, but that's how Lippy has made me think."

Lippy, Traverse Theatre to August 24, various times. www.traverse.co.uk

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

253754