audience for The Abattoir Pages queue on the street next to
a sign reading ‘Helen Mayer’s Private Party’, before being called in one-by-one
and icily instructed to sign in. The eerie hostess then leads us into the
bowels of the building, where the fun starts. The first part of the evening is
an exhibition by 21 artists, including video installations, sculptures and
weird dead things in medical jars. As instructed, the audience shuffle around
in silence, watched by members of the cast, dressed in animal heads and
tuxedos. The effect is unsettling, like a David Lynch nightmare, and no one
wants to stray too far from the crowd.
one of the characters calls everyone together and announces that we are to
witness some of the last work of (fictional) visionary writer Helen Mayer, who
has since retired. Disconcertingly, the audience is then divided up and
escorted, by the animal-heads, to various rooms and spaces to meet the wealth
of characters in this FoolishPeople production. The setting, put together by
Guerilla Zoo, is integral to the experience. A series of warehouses and
alcoves, with booming acoustics, means you can always hear the screams and
whispers of various scenes taking place in other parts of the building.
Helen Mayer’s creations as they try and understand themselves and their grim
setting. There is not much narrative on offer, but this no bad thing. The drama
is most exciting when we are disorientated, catching fractions of conversations
and piecing together our own version of events. By far the most disappointing
part is the denouement. This needless tying together of the evening robs
The Abattoir Pages of some of its mystery.
Harrigan’s production seems to tread a thin line between creepy creativity and
pretentious pomp. Some features, particularly Lillick’s house ‘beyond the
veil’, are genuinely unnerving, and consequently very entertaining. At other
times, the action is a little too intrusive, and a bit silly. The production
can take itself too seriously, and I would advise anyone to avoid reading the
programme, which is self-important in the extreme. Overall though, a memorable
experience, and probably best to take a friend.