“Can you see me?” a man dressed as a ghost asks. “Yes,” the audience eventually replies, unsure of what to expect from this strange figure.
Star rating: ****
Venue: Summerhall (Venue 26)
He tells us that he used to be an altar boy; he was in charge of ringing the bells at a church where people “go through the motions” of Mass. Later, we discover that he’s been murdered.
A piñata hangs overhead; a young girl comforts a woman who repeats song lyrics with the same monotone voice as she does passages from the bible; a headless man sits motionless on a bench.
Superficially this might seem like a piece of absurdist theatre, but it soon becomes clear there is something tangible underneath: the story of a family struggling to cope in the aftermath of their son’s abduction. Scenes gradually connect: a young girl is the boy’s sister; the pantomime horse piñata is from the birthday he missed and the man and woman, his parents, broken by the insufferable trauma they have undergone.
Spliced into the surreal imagery is a play about the times when words aren’t enough – and so instead music and movement often take their place. And as the relevance behind the unopened present, the patches of freshly dug earth and the tumbling bodies becomes clear, there’s a shift from something strange and intriguing to extremely sad.
When the piñata is finally torn apart, so are the boy’s family. Never has a child eating a slice of birthday cake seemed so tragic as, behind him, a choir of ghosts sing ‘Happy Birthday’ as if they are performing at his funeral.
Melancholic but beautiful, strange but full of hope, this collaboration between the Irish companies Brokentalkers and Junk Ensemble proves that innovative, experimental theatre needn’t come without an emotional punch.
Until 28 August. Today 1:40pm.