4 stars ****
IT BEGINS WITH a post-show discussion about a show we have not seen, a show that involves lip-reading, and a live demonstration of lip-reading skills. As the interviewer plies the lip-reader with the usual post-show questions, though, the lip-reader begins to tell the story of his involvement in a notorious Irish suicide case, in which three sisters and an aunt locked themselves into their house in Leixlip, County Kildare, and starved themselves to death over a period of 40 days. Then, with a rush and a roar of rising theatrical energy – carried on Adam Welsh’s tide of tense and ominous sound – the stage opens up to reveal the small room and kitchen in which the women suffered and died; a space peopled at first by police pathologists collecting evidence, but then, in a chilling reversal of time, by the women themselves.
Based on a real-life incident that shocked Ireland 14 years ago, Lippy is presented by the Dublin-based company Dead Centre, and co-written and devised by Bush Moukarzel, with cameo material by Mark O’Halloran; and in essence, it is a play about the ultimate unknowability of the women’s motives, captured in the plight of the lip-reader, who is brought in to try to decipher a last conversation between two of the sisters, caught on security camera during a shopping trip in central Dublin.
In a whirwind of recorded sound, music, and live action – and with a final monologue spoken by the hugely magnified mouth of the last woman to die, in an echo of Beckett’s Not I – this magnificent and chilling show hints at the women’s reasons, and at the strange mix of furious rebellion and conventional Catholic piety that may have driven them. In the end, though, Lippy mainly reminds us that the imaginative act of putting words into the mouths of others – an act at the heart of theatre – always involves a risk of profound mosrepresentation. And in that sense, this show stands not only as a stunning piece of theatre, but as a tribute to the four women, superbly played by Joanna Banks, Gina Moxley, Caitriona Ni Mhurchi and Liv O’Donoghue; and to the privacy they claimed, as they withdrew from the world, and prepared to die.