The Play Machine, Lucid, – not quite theatre review, Mr Ruffle and The Truffle
By Conor O’Neill
If there’s one thing we’ve come to expect from Tinderbox Theatre Company over these last few years, it’s probably ‘expect the unexpected’, A cliché I know, but clichés become such by having more than a grain of truth, repeatedly.
The tagline to the piece reads like this: “It’s not a play, not a documentary, not a dream, not anything. But it’s all of them too and Mr Ruffle is coming soon.” And with such a conundrum of paradoxes even Countdown’s Susie Dent would be scratching her noggin over, it’s left to me, dear readers, to explain the inexplicable.
Play Machine, Tinderbox’s annual gathering and grouping of emerging talent has been disrupted this year due to you-know-what… that gripping fear that’s had us shuddering in our homes, checking kids’ temperatures every two freaking minutes, treating those without a mask as social pariahs, and those with even a suggestion of a cough sectioned to leper colonies somewhere east of Tasmania with bells around their necks.
The concept is quite easy to understand: the show must go on. Yes, the ghost light of theatres burns brightly, as long as we’re all connected. Patrick J. O’Reilly arranges a Zoom meeting with all 11 actors. Either cancel or try it afresh and see what happens. 12 people, all over-talking one another, one yawning – another thing that may become infectious – and it’s agreed to go back to the drawing board and start again.
A dream intervenes: Mr Ruffle visits O’Reilly during beauty sleep. An idea hatched, a seed planted, or a truffle spores to life. The malevolent Mr Ruffle in a quick southern accent whispers: “All your dreams turned to shite, and I turned to dust.”
Zoom call number two. Patrick suggests the lucid dream rehearsals to the 11. All but one accepts, though some are unaware what a lucid dream actually is. Joseph Loane is the one actor to refuse this nonsense stating: “I don’t rehearse in dreams, I’m an actor, grounded in reality.” We’ll see.
Patrick J. O’Reilly recently stated in an interview with CultureCrush NI that: “I like to create work that is more about feeling than a linear narrative.” But fear not, though feeling is the crux of this one hour and five-minute film, there is a narrative. One that doesn’t get in the way of the 12 managing to get through the creative process. In fact, it could be argued that the narrative is the trying to cope, the isolation; add to that the intrusion of Mr Ruffle and the chaos of a shared lucid dream, even to those who are unaware of being involved, and what you have is an interesting, somewhat deranged, yet playful piece.
Emphatically objective journalism is hard to come by, and I make little effort to revive such a notion. Yes, I of course, have my favourites. And you will too. The preparations on how to lucid dream shows us viewers little nuances that conventional theatre or simple linear film production would not allow. We get our programmes and watch it with little regard to who that actor is in real life. Be it sleep induced by meditation downloads, hot baths, praying to a shrine of Harry Styles, a bottle of alcohol free Schloer filled to the brim with Baileys or trying the exact opposite: be it eating coffee by the tablespoon followed with energy drink chasers or the lactose intolerant making cheese smoothies.
You’ll recognise a character trait somewhere that’ll tickle your elbow.
Lucid night one, doesn’t go to plan, only Mr Ruffle and O’Reilly enter the twilight zone.
Another Zoom meeting.
Another try? Why not?
And then things go strange. Hiding, running, paintings, Harry Styles iconoclastic imagery appearing where no human should dare to tread, and post-it notes popping up all over the show; potatoes seemingly growing here and there with little reason. We witness breakdown upon breakdown and as the cast, who we now consider as close to the family members we haven’t seen in months, fumble and bumble through chats they don’t know whether fact is, fiction, faction, fake realities or real fakes?
Of course, no Tinderbox production is complete with tension building music, again the talents of Isaac Gibson again fills the role. As is his want, electronic music is the fare for the performance. Low and slow at times, tempo raised and daunting at others. That and shots of O’Reilly and Mr Ruffle silhouetted make the viewer ask questions. Who is the puppet and who is the puppet master?
I have watched this piece twice. Once taking notes and stopping every other minute. The second time sat back and running with the flow. What did I come away with? Well, I think that’s best described by the summary words of Harry Styles fanatic, actor Seon Simpson describing her insecurities: “Usually you have your cast members and your crew, and sometimes, you just need a hug.”
Hats off to all 11 actors, plus P. J. O’Reilly; producer, Jen Shepherd; artistic collaborator and editor, Conor O’Donnell; Isaac Gibson as sound designer and puppet maker, Diana Ennis.
Mr Ruffle and the Truffle is available through this link: https://www.tinderbox.org.uk/ and runs until 10pm, June 20th, 2020
At only £10 per device, you’d be mad to miss out.