Lyric Theatre’s New Speak: Re-Imagined, Episode One Review

Lyric’s New Speak: Re-Imagined Initiative

Episode One

By Conor O’Neill

When the Lyric theatre announced its month long New Speak: Re-Imagined initiative, I assumed it would be five shows each focusing on one of the artists.

Not so. The first instalment is five engaging short films crossing all spectrums: from simple kitchen-sink drama, to spoof, yet eerily close-to-the-bone public information broadcasts, to simple monologue, and song and dance.

Kicking things off is The Great British Lockdown – something we’re getting wearily comfortable with. The seven-minute-long sketch follows the plight of Rebecca and Graeme (Gemma Mae Halligan and Jude Quinn) and their ways of dealing with government restrictions/demands, and the nuances of living in a regular house with a small child and their two errant cats.

New Speak arguing couple pic

Graeme, a somewhat twittish ‘kids’ performer’, though wearing trousers in the sketch obviously doesn’t wear them in the relationship. Rebecca is a civil servant we’re informed and rarely smiles throughout the piece; scowls and acerbic remarks make a good 80% of her performance. Not hard to imagine with Graeme as a partner.

Self-isolation in a relationship does not comes easy, especially trying to keep the two metres rule when you’ve only got a 30 centre-metre ruler to work with. We learn of novel uses for condoms, “Not that we’re using them anyway.” quips Graeme – another disparaging look.

As for their treatment of son Josh – in ordinary times social services would be hammering at the door, but these are from ordinary times.

I pray these two are a constant over the next three weeks as their constant bickering is a joy to watch. Hats off to Arse About Face Productions.

Next up is Real Talk, a public service announcement like no other. Written by Dominic Montague, an unnamed TV presenter, played by Patrick McBrearty, brings us a rather disturbing few minutes on how to survive Covid-19. The theme is very Orwellian, but far from my memories of the book which are mostly grey, industrial and the ongoing war with Eastasia.

If the Ministry of Love was to be realised, Patrick McBrearty would be its CBeebies, high-octane, punch able face. Citizen points are to be awarded for those grassing up on their wayward neighbours and those who do can, “Cash in for – the most sought-after luxuries such as – tagliatelle, two-ply toilet rolls and salt.” Further on our Prozac-munching-maniac informs us that: “Extra Citizen Points will be awarded to anyone who ‘names and shames’ anyone they see acting suspiciously.”

New Speak three Patrick McBrearty performing Dominic Montague

This rocket has obviously forgotten the Northern Ireland credos that ‘Snitches get stitches’. If Real Talk and this idiot is the future, hand me the gun.

Third up is an environmentally themed dance piece with a calming voice over. The dancer, Zara Janahi, in collaboration with Belfast Ajendance Dance Company have produced a stirring few minutes of interpretative dance piece with a social, environmental message.

New Speak five Zara Janahi Adjendance

What I know about dance could be written on the back of a gnat’s elbow, but the changes in costume, from pure white to black and the stark studio sees Janahi whirl and twirl along to slow tempo, Sunday-morning-come-down music; a voice over states: “I’ve been here for over four and a half billion year; some call me Nature, some call me Mother Nature. I’ve been here 22,5000 times longer than you.” Stirring words to make us think about how insignificant we are and what a blip this Covid-19 is in the grand scheme of things.

A change in tempo, bows drawn sharp against strings, blurring of camera and Janahi is now in black. What a few seconds ago looked like good-time Bjork in her Big Time Sensuality video , now has an anger to it. The movements are jerkier in fitting with the thumps of drums, the movements elastic. Powerful stuff. Even a dance novice such as myself can see, or make or take, a message from the stark change. It ends with the dancer returned to white costume and the words: “I’m ready to evolve. Are you?”

Back to something more familiar to me. Lata Sharma’s monologue about cultural changes between her community and our ‘local ones’. Speaking for the most part in a broad Belfast accent, Sharma moves from to her ‘Maji’s’ – mother I assume? – and her network of ever gossiping and judgemental friends, then onto what can only be described as Belfast girls who’re not from Malone Road, if you get my drift. The general gist is Lata trying to go through the normal rights of passage as any teen does, with an overbearing mother hindering her every step.

New Speak Lata Sharma

But the mother alone is not the main focus of Lata’s vitriol. Us natives get it too: “And before you all start getting on your ‘sexually liberated high horses’. I’ve seen The Quiet Man enough times, and youse were like that back in the day.” A quick and inventive script, coupled with Sharma’s easy-in-front-of-the-camera manner make this another highlight of the five piece installation. Thankfully it’s not really politically based, but since the initiative is called New Speak: Re-Imagined, it makes for an interesting insight to a culture foreign to the majority of us.

Last up is another dance orientated piece. Namely Katie Richardson’s performance of her song My Mind Is A Weapon.

Katie Richards New Speak

Richardson appears in colour singing directly to camera, then the camera turns to black and white and a couple are dancing, semi fighting in some unknown forest. The man, Ryan O’Neill and woman, Vasaliki Stansinaki take turns in the forest to contort wildly, throwing themselves to the ground as if possessed.

New Speak 4 Ryan O'Neill Katie Richardson

What the message is here is hard to comprehend; the piece, directed by Emily Foran, is as powerful as it is strange. Imaginative dance set to a simple tune, kind of trip-hop mixed with a soul voice.


New Speak: RE-Imagined plays every Friday night at 7pm from April 14 – May 21.

Please donate all you can.

Stay safe and enjoy the episodes.

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