Lost in space
The Iconoclasts is packed full of charm and memorable moments, even if it does spread itself a little thin, says Florence Bell
The Iconoclasts is a miscellaneous show. It’s half gig, half stand-up routine, half-cabaret, half family drama, half magic show. The Iconoclast family is the Irish equivalent of the Kardashians, trying to
boost their fame remember their dead sister and daughter Estelle with one final tour, a family reunion extravaganza. Each member of the family performs their own set before the occasion *SPOILER* inevitably ends in a fight.
This comedy with music (not a musical) is at its canniest when it blurs the boundaries between character and actor. There’s humour in each character’s attempt to portray a certain version of themselves to the audience, but at points it’s difficult to tell how much of the Iconoclasts’ personalities are being revealed to the audience and how much of the actors are being revealed. The nature of the piece is very intimate (each character’s set verges on the confessional) and the ambiguity of character/actor adds to that feeling.
There’s a full spread of different styles of comedy, from laughs about people hurting themselves while punching a bin in anger to the semi-vulgar one liners in Danny Iconoclast’s (Will Taylor’s) set. The high points are the interview sequence in John Iconoclast’s (Tom Williams’) set and the moments when actors come down into the audience. The comedy is at its best when it’s subtle – it sometimes falls flat on the louder jokes. The interaction between actors and the band (frontlined by Thomas Parrish as Sweet Stax) adds to the play-within-a-play, metatheatrical feel of the show; there’s a hilarious parody of “Man! I Feel Like A Woman”, reappropriated to the EU referendum and the finale song after the family’s bust up is the best intersection of comedy and music in the piece.
Overall, the content of the play is a little tangled: it’s about abortion, religion, family, the IRA and Anglo-Irish relations and it doesn’t quite manage to fully investigate all of these within the structure of each family member’s separate set. It tries to be so many things at once that’s it’s both overloaded and lightweight. Not all the jokes are fully expressed: the age-old joke of Things Going Wrong On Stage takes the form of the lights occasionally flickering off and then doesn’t go any further. The show spreads itself a little thinly and tries to cover too much. Sometimes less is more.
Perhaps Dear Hunter Theatre’s original staging with cabaret-style seating should have been retained. The show gets lost in the space; the (minimal) audience participation and intimate ethos aren’t suited to a massive lecture theatre with a sprawling gap between the stage and the audience. The pithiness of Patricia Iconoclast’s (Katie Coen’s) songs are lost to the hugeness of the space. The show hinges on the importance of the audience for the future of the Iconoclast clan but the seating is miles away from the stage to the extent where the audience feels physically separate from the performers in a play about the art of performance. The stage is too big and the show is spread too thinly across it, perhaps not just spatially but also in terms of content. There are too many different strands that are never pulled together.
Alexander Cosgriff’s act as Alec Iconoclast is the most performative section of the show and the only act that is suited to such a big space, with an abundance of dry ice, a non-speaking magician’s assistant and various props to fill the stage. The stage is simply too big for one person standing in the middle to not look drowned out, with images of the family emblazoned on massive drapes stretching from floor to ceiling.
Nevertheless, the fight scene is appropriately tense and the show smoothly flicks between the different genres with clever comic reveals. Even if the plot is slightly transparent, the stand-up comedy and cabaret style feels razor sharp. Some of the political and religious concerns of the characters feel like dead ends when the family ending up at loggerheads is inevitable. The family’s Irishness is important to their identity, but the repeated references to Anglo-Irish relations and the IRA feel like a half done joke. Altogether, though, the shrewd characterisation and memorable songs make this a charming show.