Bush Moukarzel and Dead Centre
Young Vic


Fifteen years ago, the bodies of Frances Mulrooney and her three grown nieces were found in the small Irish town of Leixlip. Discovered at home, the women had barricaded themselves inside before starving themselves to death.

The Mulrooney’s left no explanation as to the motive of their actions, hand-shredding all personal documentation as if to completely eradicate their existence.

Created by Bush Moukarzel and Dead Centre, Lippy is a performance of self-conscious speculation, absurdist and challenging, that asks questions only the dead can answer.

Opening with a fictional post-show Q&A—Moukarzel chairing the panel in amusing self-parody—the audience are forced to abandon any hopes of a smooth ride.

David Heap—the actor/director behind the unwitnessed play—is welcomed to the stage by an amused Young Vic usher. Amidst the ensuing abstract dialogue it transpires that Heap is also a dab hand at lip-reading and was recruited by the police to assist in the Mulrooney case—the last public sighting of the nieces caught on CCTV.

However—he warns, pulling up clips from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Mitt Romney’s campaign trail as examples—lip reading can be unreliable, misconstrued, ambiguous. After all, how can you distinguish between ‘bear’ and ‘pear’?

Heap has the somewhat dangerous power of ‘putting words into people’s mouths’ and it is through this rather tenuous link that the malleable set transforms into the decaying Mulrooney residence, the figures of four woman visible in the gloomy light.

Q&A quickly forgotten, Lippy strides into new territory, imagining the women’s final days through a series of stark tableaux and a disconcerting soundscape.

Words give way to images under the careful hand of director, Ben Kidd, and it is in this respect that the production succeeds. A sprawl of bin bags containing discarded identities evokes pathos, whilst slotted bodies around an upturned table provides a visual distortion worthy of its fragmented context.

Lippy purports to ‘listen to the true words of the powerless’ and in some ways it does: Moukarzel refuses to indulge interpretation or cohesion, and whilst that may prove frustrating to the audience, it is a clear attempt to demonstrate the mystery of the case. Lippy is a puzzle and Moukarzel does not pretend to have all of the pieces.

However, as a projected Beckettian mouth overwhelms the stage, verbalising the final thoughts of Catherine (the last of the women to die), the initial promise of ‘true words’ comes into question.

There is also the unsettling feeling that the Mulrooney’s sought to be erased and yet here they are upon a stage—powerless and present. I, for one, am not sure how I feel about that.

Reviewer: Alecia Marshall

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