Glorious movement lights up dystopian drama

REVIEW – Arbitration (or a life worth living) – Brick Wall Theatre – The O’Donoghue Centre

Arbitration (or a life worth living) written by Niall Carmody and presented by Brick Wall Theatre, is a strange, unsettling show. It fuses movement, text, music and video in a dystopian world where citizens must justify the worth of their lives to their government on an annual basis.

If they are deemed unworthy of living, based on a number of criteria set out by that government – which is represented by a mechanical, disembodied voice – their fate is death by burning. It sounds grim.

But there’s beauty and humour in this one-man piece too, aided by Jérémie Cyr-Cooke’s superb performance as Alan.

Living in a space that resembles an office, with cardboard boxes all around, his world is strange and isolated. The uniform boxes are all stamped and their purpose gradually unfolds. There’s a fridge, a mechanical ‘friend’ and a ‘forever bed’ which is a perfect example of the show’s dark humour.

Everything, except for a rack of colourful clothes, is grey. As Alan emerges from his ‘forever bed’, and embarks on breakfast, it becomes obvious that this is a significant day. He is distressed, agitated and increasingly discombobulated. Today is the day of his government review. A deeply troubled soul, he’s torn between the desire to rebel and the knowledge that he must comply.

That involves presenting evidence to show the merit of his existence, which he does by filling forms and offering a snapshot of his life, using photos and images. But, as he attempts to assemble these, the harmless-looking images cause deep distress, the source of which is slowly revealed.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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