Fun for all the family

Fun for all the family

11 April 2017

Casual satire or historically inapproproate? Phoebe Graham reviews The Iconoclasts

Love it or hate it, The Iconoclasts is such a satisfying show title to say out loud. Call me superficial, call me shallow, but this is how I took The Iconoclasts – not very seriously.

The ever-so-faintest tints of Birdman seep through with themes of washed-up stars and failed ambition in this absurd tale of a dysfunctional family performance in honour of a deceased sister and daughter. It takes the brave risk of revealing an entire backstory of what seems like a pier-end cabaret (but also slightly cooler than that, so maybe like a Brighton pier-end cabaret). Lightly taken and self-aware, The Iconoclasts is instinctively raw, ironically humorous and musically idiosyncratic.

As the show goes on, gossip is shared, clashes are made and secrets are revealed. The live format both adds and detracts from this narrative. The variety show format taints the play with a fun and eccentric nostalgia that makes you think of the kind of people who would see this kind of thing in real life (as in, the show in the show, not the actual show – get me?).

On the flipside, a lot of vital information for building exposition has to be forced down your throat. When tensions rise, they rise exponentially, so the audience aren’t ready to emotionally react. The revelation of one of the brother’s aborted children, considering the Irish traditional culture of Catholicism, then seemed shoehorned in for dramatic effect.

But the tale is certainly not lost. In the discussion today, the writer and director, Ben Price, acknowledged the need to make part of the action happen off-stage to make the onstage stuff seem more realistic. Perhaps they could open up the backstage area through the use of a backstage camera projection to allow this action to be observed and understood, meaning that the drama could build more naturally. But what do I know? I’m just the critic.

An interesting point was raised in today’s discussion about how the use of Irish history was too fleeting and insensitively appropriated; its emphasis on the tacky glam of the cabaret show cheapened the referenced real-life matters. It was at this point that I honestly felt embarrassed that I didn’t consider the weight of the more controversial undertones until the discussion this afternoon.

But maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a part of my initial reaction, I didn’t see the treatment as anything more than a casual satirising of both British and Irish contemporary culture. People do make jokes in order to deal with the time in which they’re living. And there’s a difference between the writer’s voice, the character’s voice and the values they endorse.

The problem with The Iconoclasts is that it touched upon too much in too little time with fear of losing the context that justified the climax of the show. Keep the history there, but use it as accepted background noise to keep these characters afloat, driving the pacing through their interaction, rather than struggling to juggle both extrovert people and extrovert politics.

The Iconoclasts need to take ownership of their context and sharpen any frayed edges. History is there to be handled, scrutinised, but make sure not to tire yourself out. There are so many good things to say about The Iconoclasts and I encourage Dear Hunter Theatre to keep developing their discovered niche.

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Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca