Date Show – Menu One | Review
The MAC, Belfast • Wednesday 31 January ’18
By Conor O’Neill
Well, this is a first as far as I know for CultureHUB. Three’s Theatre Company second outing requires two journos for their trouser leg of a production. The principle is simple. Turn up at Belfast’s MAC and pay your money and opt for either menu one or two. Myself and fellow HUB reporter, Stewart Robson, had the choice of either menu one or two. I let Stewart pick. Jammy journalist blindly chose menu two… I was secretly hoping he’d pick the other as it featured comic trio Scampi, Chips and Tartar Sauce, but fate knows best and didn’t let me down.
With multiple writers and a cast of 14 or more, many playing multiple roles, the MAC was networked with all three floors plus the deepest bowels of the underground all featuring acts or non-acts of some description.
Fully booked for opening night is a success in itself and with the two sets of audiences crossing wires at times it was more than difficult to know where you were being led and who was cast, crew, performer, watcher, MAC staff member or possible vagrant seeking heat and shelter from a wet and wild Belfast winter night.
Throw in all 30 of us travellers through the maze that is modern dating and the addition of earphones which had to be turned on and off depending on the scene and the result is an unnerving piece of theatre the like of which I’ve never attended before.
Even before the Appetiser, we’re given ukulele rendition of Can You Feel the Love Tonight from Disney classic The Lion King as ukulele player Dan Leith sang a locker popped open and young woman (Aishling Groves –McKeown) joined him in this unlikely start. With director/writer Colm G. Doran and the lovely pair of Sophie Flight and Aimee Montgomery as our attendants, we’re marched upstairs, downstairs, crushed into lifts – quite a feat as all 15 guests had to press in without anyone being brought before a magistrate for unintentional touching of flesh.
We’ve deal breakers, a sort of get-to-know-you icebreaker for the audience of strangers, ‘Do you smoke?’ ‘Do you drink?’ ‘Do you like Marmite? Myself and a chap called Nigel were the only two males with 13 women out-numbering us. I don’t know who pressed the button to shift the lift from floor to floor, but I was never going to make a move to press anything fearing a slap in the face!
As illustrated above, artistic director, Anna Leckey is not only a Virgo – all cast and crew members’ star signs are listed on the MAC’s website – but a sadist to boot. Nigel and myself were led first into the female toilets followed by the other 13 more used to such an environment. Writer, Patrick Higgins Starter of I Will Not Be Swiped is a blind date/role play situ which starts off with Josie (Mary Jordan) putting on make-up in the ladies. From her bag, she pulls lippy, rouge, other beauty products and a gun. Led to a room, Graham (Dan Leith) offers: “Can I get your chair?” “No, I’m not disabled.” comes the reply. He’s got a good sense of humour, charming start to a date. Recognition creeps in. A job in Zurich, another involving air conditioning, widow and widower, multi-linguists, and an undercover Interpol dead waiter (Dan Kelly) getting a tip because: “Some of these people are on zero hour contracts.” Asp and Raven head off.
The service bell rings and the Main Course arrives. Colm G. Doran’s Last Date has us sat at a long table. Mel (Aishling Groves-McKeown) is at the head of the table balling loudly into a mobile at the unidentified listener, who’ll be surely suffering tinnitus by the end of the run. Mel believes her girlfriend is on the way to the bar with a marriage proposal in hand. “A platinum ring, with five diamonds, one for every year we’ve been together.” Lex (Jessica Samoy Plunkett) is carrying something of value, an eight-month-old fetus, and another burden. One that comes as quite a shock to Mel: “Did you meet her here?” yells Mel, I paraphrase; “No don’t tell me, I don’t want to have to avoid a bar due to your infidelity!” To quote E.A Bucchianeri from Brushstrokes of a Gadfly, ‘So it’s true when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love’. During the brutal exchange, our heads turn left to right, right to left like ice-cream and strawberry eaters at centre court with a DUP gay marriage joke thrown in for good measure. No platinum ring, there isn’t and won’t be a first, second, third, fourth, or fifth diamond. A career got in the way, networking, the second novel
Joseph Nawaz’s L.O.V.E involves all diners. 30 of us gather round as a love guru talks us through the plan to achieve Love United States seminar style. I’ll leave Stewart Robson to explain further.
Travel Through Time by Sophie flight has the earphones on and is a voyeuristic peer into the lives of an older couple’s day at a café, Maggie (Lynne Webber) stirs tea while husband John (Richard Palmer) reads from a paper. It’s impossible to imagine what he remembers as his head is turning to mush due on Alzheimer’s. Maggie’s favourite colour is blue, the colour of his handkerchief on their wedding day. Flight’s brilliance is her juxtaposition of the two as their thoughts rattle from the glorious past to the anxious present and dreaded future. After all our tales of love and doubt, devotion and our deepest desires being crushed by the rush of modernity, this is perhaps the most endearing of stories, probably why it was included on both menus one and two. Through our earpieces, we hear their thoughts. Maybe that’s all we need to put the perplexity of love into context?
Dessert served by Jordan Hannah is the tale of Ben & Kathy. Apologies, immersion theatre’s rush and the amount of cast changing costume and character has left me without the actor’s names. But mutual friend, Philippa has maybe through either spite, or mischief or sheer misunderstanding lined up a blind date between Ben and Kathy. While waiting, Ben (Thomas Finnegan), drinking everyman beer from a bottle desperately tries to wash off a non-descript tattoo from his forearm, removes jacket, remembers said tattoo and puts the jacket back on. “So I believe you’re a writer.” says cucumber cool Ben. “Oh, just articles on the arts, book reviews etc. etc.” is the reply. Kathy (Aishling Groves-McKeown) is chic on legs with a neatly fitted red dress and a taste for espresso Martinis. “You’re a painter I believe?” Kathy questions, “Maybe one day you’ll cut off your ear for me?” Unaware of the Van Gogh reference Ben carries on. One of the most imaginative pieces of this little gem is the wall behind the miss-matched and confused couple. Words are said while their true feelings come up in lights behind them. Behind Ben it reads ‘Jesus, she’s so profound, I can’t do profound’. ‘Avoid this topic’.
Forthright and by far the more sophisticated and modern, Kathy asks: “So, how many women have you slept with?” Behind Ben, the board is lit up with equations that’d leave Einstein stumped…”400 or there abouts.” Kathy is more than surprised and quite impressed – her number may be high but pales compared to Ben’s lie. The board behind Ben lights up like Leicester Square on a Saturday night. ‘She loves me’, ‘She wants to marry me’, ‘How many kids will we have?’ Kathy is twigging on that perhaps she hasn’t got a genius painter on her hands and more likely a rough from a council estate more used to skirting boards than oil on canvas. The lights behind Ben and his miscalculations move from the board and start spewing for his lips. Marriage proposals, an invasion of space, Captain Cucumber is now a jabbering wreck of a man. Kathy gathers her belongings, retreats to the toilet, only to appear moments later, a menu covering her face she trots to her car parked outside with Ben in tow. The car drives off leaving a distraught and broken man. Surely the worst blind date in history.
Cocktails/Tea and Coffee has all 30 of us gathered around the upper deck with earphones on again as a young couple (Lizi Watt and Gerard Kelly) dance to Connie Francis’ Young Love. “Just because I’m a gentleman doesn’t mean I’m not taking you to bed.” Intermingles through the music. The older couple from Sophie Flight’s Travel Through Time (one of two tales tale seen by both groups during the show) make their way up to join the young couple, the blue dress of Watt matching Maggie’s favourite colour. Frank Sinatra’s The Way You Look comes on and all four dance, the generational divide broken, dancing is the universal sign of love regardless of age and soon all 30 audience members, plus crew and actors are hand in hand, changing partners and laughing as we try to make sense of a beautifully construed/acted/danced/sang and enjoyed piece of immersion theatre.
Best be quick, of the four night/multiple shows run only two shows on Sunday 04 February have tickets remaining. For booking details visit www.themaclive.com or phone the box office on 02890 235053