FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2023
Production Photo: Rachel Foran
An energetic and vibrant exercise in transitional and thoughtful endurance, Kirby Thompson and Orla Graham's Float, directed by Thompson and Caoimhe McGee, shines a thorough spotlight on a literal land of confusion to present and provide an enriching genesis for its characters and audience. It's a play that brings laughter, intelligence and poignancy from the ugliness and rewards in the truths of youth, by delving into what makes a group of twentysomethings who they are. The supposed "golden age", where you're too old to be a teenager but too young to be an "adult", is reflected in the actions within a quartet of liberty-treasuring young women who appear to take pride in not being told what to do, yet don't seem to fully know what to do themselves.
It's just one element of a fresh spin on a classic dilemma for Caitlyn (Graham), Mia (Annie McIlwaine), Grace (Leah Williamson) and Erin (Ellen Andrews), who live together in student accommodation in Belfast. The girls' early expressions and screaming bring out a near deafening but understandable loudness within the close confines of the play's venue, on this viewing Bewley's Café Theatre at the Dublin Fringe. This loudness also hints at a surface-level confidence in a newfound "freedom" glossing over a hidden panic of the clean homes and school structures no longer being there to rely on. It's perfectly natural to sweep aside serious questions when the excitement of the student lifestyle is thrust in one's face, and anyone watching our heroines is certain to latch on and relate to such recognisable and powerfully expressed memories.
As the play proceeds, sensitivity emerges in the scripting and acting, a forceful and tactful presentation of the realities of emotion ahead of honesty, or too much trust and honesty bubbling – even floating? – to the surface in a desire to feel loved, or at the very least recognised. The mixed emotions of Caitlyn, Mia, Grace and Erin are prominent in this depiction of lives that were neither what we thought they were nor what we once thought they were going to be. I find it intriguing how Thompson and Graham bring out who and what someone can be when "in their element", and why this is so – whatever the disdain for the limitations of cliques, how can one ignore their impact?
What shapes our personalities is equally capable of hindering them, particularly when the vulnerabilities of sudden change are thrust upon us as unexpectedly and unwillingly as they are to at least one of the characters here. It's deliberately, and compellingly, contradictory and puzzling, and Thompson and Graham have bravely gone right to the core of these moods in a way that puts Float right up there with the best ensemble works of the year. The questions asked by the play are numerous and invaluable - even if one feels that they aren't being fairly treated, can they run the risk of aggravation? When does one confront the loss of control? And what if, even if one is visibly getting better, they're afraid to allow themselves to be happy in case everything collapses around them again?
Those moments where one's head feels "fried", exhaustion, that fear of keeping up... it's hard to think of anyone who hasn't been there. Almost certainly because of the longing for others, let alone significant others, to value us in the same way in which we value them. And so, from Float, we find that our twenties aren't necessarily a time for everything to be figured out but a time where we can build the promise for our future. A point where we can, aptly, "float" to, and hopefully rise higher and higher, away from the raw and rough to the stable and secure. Where the bluffers that weigh people down can become the buffers that hold people up – and where people, as they are likely to do in the aftermath of this play, can feel both rewarded and inspired.
Float is currently running at Bewley's Cafe Theatre, Dublin, as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival until Sunday September 17. It will also run from November 2-3 at The MAC, Belfast. For more information on the current Dublin run, click here; for more information about the forthcoming Belfast run, click here.