The Bystander, Dublin Theatre Festival 2018

7 October 2018

Ciara L. Murphy

What would it take for you to help someone, to get involved? This question is at the core of Junk Ensemble’s latest production The Bystander. No answer is provided, but that’s the point.

In 1964 Kitty Genovese was murdered outside of her New York City apartment. Thirty-eight people were witness to the attack. No one called for help. The ‘bystander effect’ (a phenomenon named after this incident) is the basis for this dance-theatre production.

Performers Steve Blount, Stephanie Dufresne, Stephen Moynihan, and Tilly Webber traverse the complicated dynamics of contemporary society by combining highly stylised choreography and performance.The set, designed by Sabine Dargent, has great symmetry. The imposing metallic windmill bears a striking contrast with the softer overhead fabric ceiling that expands from the stage into the auditorium, creating a sense of softness and fluidity. The lighting (Zia Bergin-Holly) and sound (Denis Clohessy) creates a sense of closeness and intimacy in the space.

By contrast, the choreography imposes a distance between the bodies onstage, even in moments of incredible physical intimacy. The break from the ensemble for a series of solo pieces by each performer accentuates the individuality of the performers. The cyclical, accumulative choreography coherently guides the audience through the narrative.

It is easy to get lost in The Bystander. All the production’s creative elements work smoothly together. It is a piece that poses more questions than answers, and its abstract, dance-theatre form provides the audience space to ponder the answers for themselves. A mesmerising and engaging production.