Celebrity (Project Arts Centre, Dublin) – A Theatre Review
The opening act of this play is engaging, as it races through a humorous mélange of scenes inspired by both the lifestyle and relationship advice of glossy women’s magazines and the modern contrivances of dating-by-Internet. Moreover, the cast of Jody O’Neill (whose play it is) and Matthew Ralli make for an attractive, amusing, and animated pairing, as they overcome their feelings of personal inadequacies and uncertainty to find love through a combination of dance, movement, and interlocking monologues. Unfortunately, once they do become hitched, the play soon gets bogged down in more conventionally-depicted dilemmas of marital tedium and the thunderclap-heralded issue of one spouse (guess which one!) wanting to start a family. From there, the play unconvincingly bridges over into the vulgar modern culture of “instant stardom”, including one scene that (unintentionally) contains echoes of the still unsolved disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
In essence, though, the play wishes to explore the increasing sense of shallowness and disconnection to be found in modern-day living, from something as visibly obvious as his-and-her beanbags, being represented here as islands remote from each other, to the fantasy-riddled desire to be more like Brad, Angelina, et al. Even the couple’s “child” is symbolically represented here as a stylish but ultimately disposable plug-and-play accessory. However, as can be readily anticipated, even this loveable product of convenient and consumeristic union has a limited shelf-life when it comes to resolving problems of a more fundamental nature. Hence, we must endure Simon’s infantile pleadings, more than once, to start all over again.
Admittedly, at an early stage, Margaret does observe that Simon is primarily judging her based on the women of his limited experience – namely some dubious perceptions of an assortment of actresses, models, and pop singers. However, save for a passing reference to the death of reality TV contestant Jade Goody and the parodying of some other tawdry celebrities (Posh & Becks, Peter & Katie) late on, any real questioning of why such people have come to mean so much to so many essentially fails to materialise. Equally, having presented Margaret here as being a character of such remarkably low self-esteem, the character’s only onstage growth is into anger, frustration, and rejection here. Given the vast fortunes being made by a few from offering such dubious advice and aspirations to a desperate many, this is particularly a pity.
At the same time, the sound design of director Carl Kennedy is spot on from the aural representation of “Facebook thumbs-up” to the HAL-like voice of baby Plum, whilst the clever and fluid choreography of Laurie Schneider enlivens the performance immensely. However, for a work that initially identifies so well with the pitiful humanity sitting in front of all those computer screens, the limited means to which such preoccupations are ultimately explored in this play does end up costing the latter some of those all-important hits.
Update: Since publishing this review, I have become aware of this innovative way of promoting the play – Celebrity Magazine. Kudos!
Photo Credit: Emily Quinn