The intimate Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan’s Bar plays host to Hugh Travers’ new play ‘Clear_The_Air’, and a close to full capacity crowd is in attendance along with Goldenplec on a wet Thursday afternoon. Travers, director Ronan Phelan and set/lighting designer Zia Holly are current participants in Rough magic Theatre Company’s SEEDS programme, an initiative dedicated to fostering new talents in Irish theatre, joining forces here on this tale of one band’s odyssey told from three different viewpoints.
The corner stage is decked out in floor to ceiling cardboard eggboxes in the DIY fashion of soundproofing that every band talks about doing but never gets around to. Immediately we are set in a certain space with the three principals – Richie, Lenny and Lisa – the main players in our fictional band. Barry O’Connor is Richie, the ambitious, intense frontman and driving force behind the band, portraying equal parts self-belief and incredulity at his colleagues’ actions. Dylan McDonough’s Lenny is a more grounded and affable presence, drummer and brother of Margaret McAuliffe’s career-distracted Lisa.
The minimalist play charts the band’s journey from friends with guitars to the cusp of success, detailing the age-old real life grievances of band politics, while the actors make clever use of the small stage. They variously switch from monologue to argument, changing position throughout, lending a sense of dynamism to what seems at first a static stage. Travers skilfully manipulates proceedings as scenes transform temporally and spatially, binding past and present, often mid-dialogue.
A subtly effective lighting set-up augments the tone, whether emulating a confessional glare or a conspiratorial darkly-lit one-on-one, directing our attention or pulling back to push everything out in the open. This is clearly a work written by someone who has experienced the inner workings of the band dynamic first hand, so astute and close to the bone are the observations. Anyone who has been in, or has associated with a band will recognise the scenarios Travers humorously details.
It would do the play a disservice to give away much more, but rest assured every musician and long suffering boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/friend/family member who sees this will variously laugh, groan, shuffle their feet in embarrassed acknowledgement, and identify with at least one of the players at certain points. It’s about more than just a band though; it’s a warm look at friendships, relationships, families, and the reason why those dysfunctional families that are bands put themselves through all this in the first place.
Disclaimer: bands going along to see ‘Clear_the_Air’ are advised to sit apart from each other during performances. It really is uncomfortably spot-on.
‘Clear_the_Air’ runs at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan’s Bar from Tues 5th February – Saturday 16th February @1pm (no shows Sunday & Monday), plus Thursday & Friday evening shows @ 7pm. Tickets are priced €10 (€8 concession)