The Crumb Trail, Dublin

The Crumb Trail, Dublin

The Crumb Trail

by Gina Moxley
Pan Pan Theatre
Dublin: Project Arts Centre
29 September – 4 October. 2009
Presented as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival
Directed by Gavin Quinn
Featuring: Gina Moxley, Arthur O’Riordan, Aoife Duffin, Bush Moukarzel
http://www.dublintheatrefestival.ie
http://panpantheatre.com

Crumb Trail, Dublin

If the Druid Theatre and Martin McDonagh represent the most prominent  
international face of neo-classical Irish theatre, then Pan Pan  
Theatre probably best represent the edgier contemporary dimension as  
they continue to present themselves on the international scene. The  
company frequently foregrounds technological avant-gardism, certainly  
active deconstruction of representational and logistical frameworks,  
and continue to advocate for a radical aesthetic voice on the Irish  
stage. The Crumb Trail has been on tour since late 2008, garnering  
strong notices in Germany, Denmark, and the US. We know this not  
least of all because actor Bush Moukarzel, not quite yet in character  
near the beginning of the show, reads excerpts from actual press  
coverage of the play on tour, and somehow the gesture does not appear  
wholly narcissistic. It is rather a signal of the sense of  
contemporaneity and context – that the play is alive and in progress  
as a work of theatre – and invites debate and active reception.

The show is a melange of interconnected musings on the  
responsibilities of adulthood in the digital age, or indeed any age  
in which people have sought to reproduce and raise children. It takes  
the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel as its fairly significant jump-off  
point. There is no particularly coherent attempt to ‘tell’ the story  
of Hansel and Gretel though most of its narrative markers are there.  
Writer Gina Moxley (who also stars) focuses more on the meaning of  
its first act – impoverished parents abandon their children in the  
woods as a solution to their resource problems – than its resolution  
as a fable. What are the responsibilities of an adult towards their  
children, and at what point and why do children assume adult  
responsibilities? Is the abandonment of the children in the woods  
(‘have you learned about metaphors in school yet?’ asks Moxley as  
‘Gina’ – the mother and also later the witch) in any way akin to  
allowing children unsupervised access to the internet, or  
surrendering their sensibilities to the despair of boundless  
possibility in a world where democracy and capitalism seem to be  
failing humanity? An ecstatic moment of dance (much included), free  
of form or order can also represent the terror of the instinctual,  
which may soon turn to sexuality, introverted or extroverted. As  
Gretel encounters an online chat room identifying herself as 28 year  
old Aoife (28 year old Aoife Duffin plays the role), are we still  
dealing in fantasy and fable? Indeed, are we ever dealing in anything  
else?

The show is a multimedia heavy collage deploying YouTube feeds, a  
Skype conversation, overhead projectors, live music and dance,  
reflexive direct address (the actors introduce themselves by name,  
then tell us their characters share those names), all contributing to  
various degrees of mirroring and shadowing that provide layers of  
narration and signification. Scenes will be played out on YouTube by  
either the cast or by other chosen (and some well-known) performers,  
then mimiced or re-presented ‘live’ in the theatre, sometimes  
duplicated, sometimes with variances wherein they are slotted into  
the story, such as it is. Meanwhile the important question of how  
long it takes to bake a loaf in a bread-maker is answered, along with  
that of how quickly quick-dry paint takes before an actor can crawl  
across it – little physical markers of time and space that feel  
playful rather than very significant.

Though there is a serious point being made by this whirligig of  
referentiality, the overall tone is definitely sardonically  
humourous. The poker-faced performances refuse psychological  
complexity, driving the audience back to the big picture created by  
the imagistic excess and the ‘classical’ fable at the heart of  
things. The reflexivity becomes comical, demanding awareness of the  
process of construction and the means by which we extract meaning  
from what we see. When the witch screams in hysterical laughter  
sufficient to trigger childhood or folk memory of the embodiment of  
evil, her apology that she’s not using to talking, delivered with a  
flat expression, reflects on the story while enjoying the moment.  
Even what is ‘random’ here is highly mediated (literally), and the  
result is the impossibility of engaging on one level. There is an  
element of evident self-parody inherent in the doubling of YouTube  
clips, and Moxley’s appearance in a Gingerbread Man suit at the  
climax can evoke nothing but a recognition of the quality of  
nightmare and farce to which the show aspires from beginning to end.  
However scenes in which ‘Arthur’ (Arthur O’Riordan) is interrogated  
on suspicion of inappropriate contact with a minor retain a frisson  
of real drama even as they blend abstraction and intertextuality with  
the dynamics of the scene. There’s a dare we say Kafkaesque quality  
to this encounter that evokes associations with yet another set of  
labyrinths.

The show is superbly executed and never as chaotic as it pretends to  
be. Director Gavin Quinn appears as a spectral presence by the use of  
his Skype contact list and, presumably, his laptop, but his ordering  
presence is felt along with that of Moxley as author (and performer)  
and the evidently collaborative nature of the performance (O’Riordan  
quips that Moxley didn’t exactly write it all herself). There is a  
high degree of precision here, deployed as a means of complication.  
The result isn’t entirely obfuscated, but there is certainly a sense  
that we as a species are being led by our own volition into the deep  
dark forest with a very uncertain sense of where we are going to end up.

Harvey O’Brien