Carnival

Lucy Caldwell
Kabosh Productions
Part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's - Spiegeltent, Custom House Square, Belfast
(2008)

Publicity photo by Roger Hutchinson

Kabosh, despite all their valiant efforts, have not, for several years, displayed the sparkle of disciplined inventiveness which characterised their early years. Then they championed the newcomer Owen McCafferty’s Mojo Mickybo and were brought to their peak with first Karl Wallace’s ground-breakingly physical productions of both Ionesco’s Chair and his Rhinoceros, plus Rachel O’Riordan’s vibrant take on Dario Fo’s Elizabeth.

Of late, Artistic Director (and onetime actress Paul Mc Fetridge), previously of Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, has seemed to do little but revive her - and our - memories of Martin Lynch’s much loved Wedding, a multipart, multisite triumph delivered by many talented actors and directors, amateur and professional.

However till next year, when Graeme Farrow, Director of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s, can revisit and reimport the eastern European theatrical triumphs of one of his predecessors, Sean Doran, many hopes were laid at the doors of local companies such as Prime Cut, Tinderbox and Kabosh in the expectation of challenging Festival-specific productions.

However, while Prime Cut’s Antigone may be awarded marks for McCafferty’s script’s pertinence - and the impact of its older players, McGonagle, McElhinney and Towb - there’s almost nowt to be found in praise of McFetridge’s production of Lucy Caldwell’s entertainment, Carnival, an essay inspired by newspaper reports of the plight of starving Balkan illegals, brutalised by destitute racist Romas in a poor circus which is dying the death in rural Italy.

With the Spiegeltent’s sparkling mirrors and canvas Big Top, the performance site could not have been more pertinent, nor indeed could Caldwell’s energetic research in to the myths, dreams, language and rituals of continental Europe’s marginalised Romas. Thus, with Frederico Fellini’s neo-realist movie La Strada in mind, a film about a naive girl (Giulietta Masina) sold to the brutal strongman (Anthony Quinn) of a flea-bitten Italian circus, we set out to enjoy, encouraged by Oleg Ponomarev’s evocative gipsy violin and Drazen Djerek’ poignant Balkan guitar.

So far so good: Caldwell’s previous play Leaves, directed by Gary Hynes, had, after all, taken the George Devine Award at the Royal Court, plus, hey, you can’t loose with a threnody for run-down circus, the spangled thighs of the female aerialist (Kelsey Long), the thin moustache of the ringmaster (Vincent Higgins), the loves of the strongman (Paul Kennedy), the dreams of the handsome acrobat ( Patrick O’Reilly), the ancient wisdoms of the crone (Maggie Cronin), the treachery of the Roma gone wrong (Liam McMahon) the contrasting charms of the ingenues, perky Tanya Wilson, put-upon Claire Lamont? Or could you?

Well, sadly, yes you could. For, despite Caldwell’s text, one which would serve well, you’d imagine, for either a gritty movie about racism or a Polish-directed, Polish theatrical performance in the round, this was a sad evening for all of the wrong reasons.

The benefits of McFetridge’s previous experiences seemed to have quite deserted her: Wilson and Lamont appeared to have lost any vestiges of stage presence and even the more experienced Higgins and Cronin could offer little but cliché.

Kabosh must look to its laurels if it is to survive this doleful disaster.

Till November 1st

Reviewer: Ian Hill