Jonathan M Daley
Headrush, Ireland
Lyric Theatre, Belfast

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Catherine Rees, Keith Singleton and Simon Sweeney Credit: Sean Fitzgerald
Catherine Rees as Caitlin Credit: Sean Fitzgerald
Simon Sweeney as Danny Credit: Sean Fitzgerald
Keith Singleton and Simon Sweeney Credit: Sean Fitzgerald
Catherine Rees, Keith Singleton and Simon Sweeney Credit: Sean Fitzgerald

Much is at stake in Jonathan M Daley’s Vection at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, where reality retreats into virtual reality, threatening personal relationships and even the very future of humanity.

Not, regrettably, that you come away caring much one way or the other, such is the numbing effect of a single dramatic idea repeated so often and to so little consequence in a 90-minute piece, presented by by Headrush Ireland, where less would definitely have been more.

The play’s central notion is fascinating. A young couple on the verge of first-time parenthood live their lives immersed in virtual reality. He uses it to escape to ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome. And for less educational reasons. She is intent on assembling emotional memories—some 57 in all; a veritable Heinz varieties list—to gift as instructional videos to their as yet unborn child.

Intrigue is added by a giant panda toy that comes to life to serve various functions, passive and active. Agreeably diverting, its point or purpose is frustratingly never wholly explicable beyond its first, beautifully done, slow-mo reactions.

Writer Jonathan M Daley pursues his ideas with dogged determination, turning every situation over and inside out in pursuit of whatever truth might lie within an artificial world shaped by the “prompts” each user gives it. It’s a device distinguished by two suspended, spotlit microphones that are eventually all but abandoned.

We’re in a Carrollian looking-glass world diffracted through a virtual reality headset, Orwell’s telescreen turned in on itself, a slide into the anarchic dystopia of The Matrix. But such glancing intricacy is at the expense of characterisation in Daley’s underwritten, over-long script.

Catherine Rees and Simon Sweeney’s personable young couple, and Keith Singleton’s Panda, do what they can with what they’re given, but they’re feeding on thin gruel.

In his dual role as director, Daley takes his own slight script at a face value. Failing to interrogate its artifice or realise its ambition, the well-intentioned result ultimately risks seeming somewhat trite—a suspicion reinforced by the bathetic naming of the unborn child as Hope. The most effective moment sees the drawing back of the cladding on the Lyric’s Naughton Studio’s windows to reveal the world outside.

Staged with clearly slender resources, Emma Quin’s sparse, snow-white set is atmospherically lit, Ronan McManus’s sound design providing duly ominous chiaroscuro contrast.

Admirable for its willingness to experiment with form and content, Vection relies too much on the virtual reality conceit of its title—the illusion of self-motion—in a piece lacking forward momentum and forceful meaning.

Reviewer: Michael Quinn

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