This innovative Irish production exploring a family’s grief is intriguing, but doesn’t quite deliver on its compelling premise.
Have I No Mouth, written and directed by Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan, explores the aftermath of tragic events which have shaped the Cannon family's lives: the death of Feidlim’s baby brother soon after birth, and the preventable death of his father. Presented by Irish theatre company Brokentalkers, it is performed by Feidlim, his mother, Ann Cannon, and their real life psychotherapist, Erich Keller, all playing themselves.
Brokentalkers is promoted as an experimental theatre company, employing participants from outside conventional theatre stock, in order to bring a rawness and honesty to performances. In this case, unfortunately, there is too obvious a discrepancy between the actor (Feidlim Cannon) and non-actors (Ann Cannon and Erich Keller) who are somewhat self-conscious and wooden. While the practice could be viewed as challenging conventions, in this case, it is jarring. Scenes in which Keller questions Cannon, as his therapist, feel contrived. Cannon is too clearly acting while Keller is too obviously enacting his true profession of therapist, resulting in a discordant clashing of technique.
It is difficult to critique a performance that is so autobiographical at is essence. How does an outsider comment on another’s experience of and depiction of their own grief? All we can ask is whether it gives us insight into this family’s journey, whether the production shows us something new or moves us. It is, in essence, a very physical performance, involving dance, fighting, noise, balloons and film (a film screen and various cameras are employed through the performance). Indeed the physical bombardment of the audience becomes distancing, at times and distracting: we lose sight of the meaning behind the technique. The balloons referred to and interacted with throughout are an example of this. They consume time and space but add little in terms of meaning. Alternatively, the cardboard cut-outs of the brothers are used to great effect; they are unsettling.
Ironically, despite all the movement, there is no real sense of emotional progression. Character development seems hamstrung by the intense physicality, and possibly even by the subjectivity of the performers.
What is evident is the strong bond between mother and son. This pivotal relationship – shaped by the family's encounters with death – is the most compelling element, but is perhaps depicted too cautiously and with too light a touch. We never really get to the crux of it.
The risk-taking in this production is admirable; however, it doesn't quite deliver on the fascinating premise.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Brokentalkers' Have I No Mouth
Written and directed by Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan
Performers: Ann Cannon, Feidlim Cannon and Erich Keller
Sound Design: Jack Cawley
Video Design and Production Manager: Kilian Waters
Choreographer: Eddie Kay
Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Shiels
Costume Design: Emma Downey
Stage Manager and Props: Francis Fay/Stephen Dodd
Merlyn Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse
Melbourne Festival 2014