Debris – Great and challenging fare late nights at the Old Fitz. (Theatre Review)
Old Fitz Theatre
At the time of publishing this review, the very short run for Debris is over.
Fabrication, alienation, obsession and guilt are the primary feelings through which Denis Kelly feels we engage with the world around us, the world that we both partially build and partially observe through a lens that finds its flawed beginning with the individual as nexus. It’s all very post-christian, as Debris begins with a suicide sacrifice by crucifixion of the father of behalf of freedom of his only son. Witnessing crucifixion by suicide (remind you of another famous crucifixion that was allowed to go ahead for the so-called freedom of the children?) does not, of course, free the child Michael who witnesses it, it will confine him to a life of servitude on behalf of his guilt. The crucifixion that starts Debris is a flash forward to its inevitable end in a play that centres around the abject horror of navigating human emotional depths. Michelle and Michael may be siblings trapped in decaying poverty, but their circumstances are emblematic rather than factual as we come to understand this duo trying to understand their place in the world could exist in any socio-economic group. Indeed it is the shiny sit-com world of television and movies that is suggested to be false. Fathers may not all commit suicide by crucifixion, and not all mothers willingly die in childbirth, but they are strong metaphors for the unwelcome sacrifice of parenting all procreating humans inevitably take out on the bodies of their offspring. When Michael finds baby Debris he is sitting in a pile of garbage. He claims he now knows where babies come from. They create themselves from the refuse of human activity. He holds the child that eats his bleeding flesh and claims he now knows what love is.
It’s all very post-Christian with some nice twists such as the television as medium for communication (prayer) and an intuitive scene where Michelle describes herself as a plant feeding off the rotting corpse of her dead mother from which she was born. The plant is ignored by her father untill it grows and stretches toward the television set, revealing the nature of alienation and the prayers that are supposed to bring us closer to God, our great parent. Denis Kelly’s point is never about God however, rather the reason we needed to invent him in the first place, locating all the imagery we polish up for Christianity in the filth of human existence. Debris is very much a which-came-first question. When God is removed, unearthed and distanced he becomes less real and more manageable. God is not just the great father, he is equally the great dead mother, the missing woman – the alienating consequences of which is our own fault of course. Debris, the baby found in the dumpster becomes the God we needed to invent for our own salvation.
If all of this feels irrelevant in a post-Christian-athiest world, you’ve missed the point. If our feelings and emotions have informed our invention of God without our conscious knowing, it stands to reason the same processes are at work in the creations we use to take his place. Kelly uses the real world to inform the uplifting narrative and suggests all constructs designed to elevate are sourced in the same debris of human emotion. This suggests Christianity (in our culture) informs not only our religious and social practise but all social constructs. Lofty ideals such as democracy, Capitalism, Socialism are obvious, but Debris has a lot to say about pop culture, science and the law in its shadowy way also. To imagine our Christian ideals are absent from these engagements is to recreate Christianity under a new name.
Debris is a small play that you won’t soon forget that packs a lot of questions and examinations into one hour running time. Director Sean Hawkins keeps the action tight and located which works well against the enormity of Kelly’s words. For my money, Kelly realises more in Debris than he did in his longer running play Orphans, staged at The Old Fitz earlier this year. Hawkins’ direction is character focussed, leaving elucidation to the audience which in this case is a clever move because Debris plants seeds that gestate into ideas over several days. In-yer-face is never easy theatre to digest and the material in Debris is confronting, but Hawkins doesn’t shy away keeping the disturbing action close to the front and centre of the stage, overlapping the earlier shows set. Debris is a great choice for a late night show, and as was suggested to me, goes better with a bit of booze under your belt.
All hinges on the important performances and in this case Hawkins casting is spot on, bringing great performances to the late night stage from Megan McGlinchey and Felix Jozeps. Jozeps gives us a visceral performance that is as in-yer-face as the play he presents, while McGlinchey contrasts this with a steadied containment that forges its own creeping wily ways. The duo contrast through performance styles and yet compliment via emotional resonance. The paired performances are gripping, well complimenting the difficult material. The sense of alienation coupled with enormity of unused feeling is further enhanced by Tom Hogan’s sound just as the filth of human waste is brought to the fore through Antoinette Barbouttis design. Debris is a well executed production of a difficult play that takes great risks in challenging its audience. Its my favourite kind of theatre.
(Debris ran at The Old Fitz for only four nights. Keep watching the space, because a production this good might return for a brief stint sometime soon)