JUNK ENSEMBLE
THE STATE OF THE ARTS

It Folds Review ****

11 September 2015 

Rory Knox

 

It Folds begins inscrutably. A piñata hangs above a bare stage, the ghost of a teenage boy – represented by a man wearing a tattered white sheet – relates a treatise on the act of epiclesis and a young woman helps an elderly man in a game of word association. Although it may appear nonsensical, there is some directed purpose to each element – set as they are – to deliberately form compelling juxtapositions. The young interact closely with the old and life becomes inextricable from death.

The play is structured as a series of vignettes, each centred around the theme of loss. More specifically, this is a parent’s loss of a child. As the performance unfolds – forming yet another contrary, this time to its title – the play expresses the harrowing reality of unnatural absence through every possible medium. Movement, dance, music and – occasionally – language, are all used to express the sheer depth and all-encompassing emotive power of such a bereavement.

Due to thorough critical breeding, an instinctive reaction to the piece would be to use labels such as ‘surrealism’ or ‘post-modernism’, but in many ways it is tracing an older lineage. Where post-modernism and post-structuralism are often anti-formalist – finding meaning in the act of artistic transgression – It Folds is more of an a-formalist piece. It is built from a truly blank canvas and adopts an entirely open and unrestricted approach to stage expression. It more closely resembles the works of Strindberg and the early 20th century symbolists and, like their work, succeeds in constructing its own semiotic language. This language is built from a two-person horse costumes and piles of fake dirt sown with plastic flowers.

What is most ambitious about this performance, however, is not its attempt or non-attempt to pertain to any theoretic framework. It is the simple confidence and audacity displayed by the creators that the audience will come to an understanding or, failing that, will sit back and enjoy the show regardless. For some part that confidence is well placed. There are enough visceral thrills indulged that the show remains enjoyable up to a point.

The pacing, however, is uneven. The scenes of comic absurdity feel stretched. In comparison to the immediate impact of Jessica and Megan Kennedy’s expertly choreographed dance sequences, too much is set up with too little payoff. This may, of course, be part of the point. If the play has any specific argument to make it is about the inadequacy of language in the face of life’s greatest tragedies. This is something the Irish writing tradition is not unfamiliar with, and perhaps the fluctuating dynamics if It Folds are simply carrying this culturally embedded idea to its logical conclusion.

In the end It Folds is the best kind of fringe theatre. It feels at once exciting, experimental, and expertly polished with a number of artistic flourishes that evidence how carefully the experience has been crafted. Key images are first introduced in miniature before being exploded outwards, and early foot-noted ideas are later resurrected to form grand conclusions. All of the disparate elements are tied to a cohesive aesthetic of dreamlike imagery, glimpsed through a haze of colour and smoke. For these momentary glimpses of fire, this show is worth enduring the grey.