Wednesday 23 January 2019

inspiring play cracks the docu-drama code


The art of blending documentary settings with coherent stories and characters is one that continues to stump many an Irish playwright. It's all about finding the right balance. Inform and engage, basically.

Writer and director Shaun Dunne of Talking Shop Ensemble might have cracked the code with Advocacy, a short yet truly inspiring play about intellectual disability service provision in Ireland.

The 'plot' focuses on the practice of care workers and the people whose lives they help to improve on a daily basis. The cast members are required to juggle turns as both workers and clients as Advocacy takes us through various role-playing exercises and informal board room meetings. Assertiveness is the aim of the game.

Some of the exercises evolve into serious incidents. Inner monologues take shape as characters struggle to block out the voices in their heads that tell them that they can't do something as simple as, say, brushing off "shady shopkeepers". Or telling a boy you like him.

Those voices, for the sake of clarity, are audible throughout, as Niamh McCann, Lisa Walsh (above), David Fennelly, Rebecca Guinnane and Lauren Larkin work in sync to provide a busy yet articulate piece.

It's a heavy offering, and it doesn't claim to have all the answers. In lesser hands, Dunne's script could have played out like a series of disjointed ideas and functions (red lights flash whenever tempers flare, and recorded, real-life voice-overs pop up at the end).

Two years in the making, however, and Advocacy excels thanks to a vibrant and impassioned young cast. A tightly-bound, sensitively-handled demonstration, it also sets the bar for documentary theatre in Ireland. HHHHI

Advocacy runs until September 13

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