This provocative and amusing, if truncated, chronicle of Derry-Londonderry leaves one wanting more
Arriving hot on the heels of the game of contrasts that was At Sixes And Sevens, Derry-Londonderry and Donegal's AnNua Theatre Company's production of Derry 24 plays a similarly-themed game, a historical and contemporary chronicle of the lives, loves and losses in the Maiden City. But Derry 24 is more than just musical; it's also mystical, mysterious and not-so-mysterious, all at once. It is a series of disparate threads weaved around an effective central narrative, creating a rather provocative and amusing tapestry of sight and sound.
Much of the "action", if you can call it that, is gently soundtracked by Lorna McLaughlin of The Henry Girls, Martin Coyle of Balkan Alien Sound, Gay McIntyre's saxophone and the nimble feet of dancer Bridget Madden. Unusually for a Playhouse Theatre performance, the seating centres itself around the theatre floor in a successful bid to bring us closer to what's going on, so that we really feel the atmosphere of the piece. The atmosphere is enhanced through the clever use of various visuals on numerous LCD screens at the back of the theatre, in addition to orchestrated explosions of off-stage sound, be they suitable sound effects or past and present radio broadcasts. This is one of those rare productions where you hear about the Troubles and Dr. Leah Totton's Apprentice triumph on the same night; local adversity and local triumph in equal measure.
The focus mainly rests on a young, haunted woman played by Geraldine Foy. She speaks bitterly and expressively of a lost love, clinging on to memories of memories as if it's her only way of living. It's an extremely well worn theme, but Foy and the AnNua group work very hard to express it in a novel fashion. A shopping sequence, in which Foy's character is standing alongside a Venus De Milo mannequin, is particularly telling; perhaps the absence of her beau has deprived her of the drive to do anything but dwell on the past. Hence, she might as well have no arms. It's sequences like these that illustrate just how thin the line between visions and reality become when one is grieving.
Elsewhere, a monk played by Paul Moore puts his own unique spin on the Saint Padraig story, telling the history of the patron saint through the ages. When he speaks about the historical Padraig trying to sell sandals in ancient times, in a sandal-dominated market, many present-day entrepreneurs will relate to the risk or folly of starting up a business in a hugely competitive market. Moore is in fine form here, delivering his lines in a nicely satirical manner: when he says "I have a cunning plan!" the reference and relevance to a certain classic comedy couldn't be clearer. And just when we think he has no more left to say, he makes a reference to a more-recently-historical Padraig having to move to England to be successful, a sad reminder that this island isn't big enough for everyone's commercial needs.
That's far from all Derry 24 has to say. We also watch, among numerous things, a funny puppet show featuring a young Swedish girl who learns about the history of our city; a cleaner who preaches about overcoming prejudice on the road to hopeful equality; our cultural promise and prospects, epitomised by Bridget Madden's dancing silhouette and Gay McIntyre's favourite instrument; a baker and a mother chatting about what Derry-Londonderry was and what it is today; a nostalgic conversation by the seaside in which a crumbling sandcastle also represents the vulnerable foundations of today's society; and an ingenious moment where crassness can become culture when you least expect it, featuring even more marvellously rhythmic dancing from Madden. The feast for the eyes and brains that AnNua provide here cannot be underestimated.
And yet, the running length - a mere seventy minutes - and message-heavy approach rob Derry 24 of raw humanity that would make it an even better production. Too many actors, especially Amanda Doherty, are underused, and too much perhaps rests on Geraldine Foy's hugely admirable shoulders. Things move so fast that it would probably take one more viewing, or quite a bit of after show contemplation, to make the most of things.
Nevertheless, over-shooting the mark is far preferable to under-shooting it, and AnNua's programme announcement that they will continue to build on this story throughout 2013 makes you eager to see what they will come up with next.