It Folds is a harrowing, heartbreaking and sometimes darkly humorous investigation of death and grief. It is mostly the story of lost children. Children abused or abducted or run over or gone missing, permanently. It is a story told by a (holy) ghost in a sheet with holes for the eyes, and trainers; a dishevelled, twitching angel; a pantomime horse with a rebellious rear end; and a banjo-playing, grieving mother.
The onstage world presents us with a series of disturbing dream images, conjuring up a bardo of becoming beyond death for those who have departed, and the confused and frightened imaginings and memories and rituals of those who are left behind.
Objects – real or imagined – play an important part. There are at least two pairs of broken spectacles spoken of – a blue plastic pair found somewhere near where a dead boy might be buried, and a distraught father’s specs with a broken lens that he dons to read an eulogy to his son at the funeral (much to the embarrassment of the boy’s friends). As for real onstage objects: we have a toy horse pinata dangling from the ceiling and an ornate padded chair. That’s our lot. Everything else is in or on the bodies of the performers. A tatty horse costume, a gold cardboard party hat, a blindfold, a stick…
It Folds is a collaboration between Total Theatre Award winning theatre company Brokentalkers, and dance-theatre company Junk Ensemble. Both companies are based at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin. The piece is a perfect mesh of the two company’s styles and mores. Brokentalkers’ talent with earthy, deconstructed, poetic text; an interesting and surreal exploration of physical object and costume; and ritualised action is very present. See, for example scenes that give us an older woman talking to an empty suit sat in a chair; re-enactments of a visit to seek the advice of a spirit guide; or the repeated motif of the happy birthday song that recurs throughout the show. The beautifully real and edgy choreography from Junk Ensemble includes a wonderful duet between two men – an older, sturdier man moving and manipulating and imposing upon a boyish and slim figure who stiffly leans and falls whilst being hugged and pulled about, then is dragged across the floor whilst straight as a plank. It makes for an extraordinary and disturbing picture of abuse.
There is a large cast, the professional actors/dancers joined by a community choir who play a host of ghosts singing angelically. But often the stage is occupied by just two or three performers at a time. There is space to breathe – visual images, exchanges of words, or choreographic sections are allowed to play out; to have the time and space to work their way into our imaginations.
Disturbing, but not distressing – a surreal exploration of the elephant (or stuffed horse) in all of our rooms, death. We are the dead.