Lippy (Edinburgh Fringe)

A strange but theatrically powerful investigation of the unknowable

© Jose Miguel Jimenez

Fourteen years ago, four women sealed themselves into their house in the town of Leixlip in Ireland and slowly starved themselves to death. Lippy, the piece of theatre created in response to this death pact, does not attempt to ask why. Instead of meaning, these theatre-makers are interested in meaninglessness.

It all opens as a post-show discussion for a show that never happened. Writer Bush Moukarzel, playing a good-humoured parody of himself, interviews actor Daniel Reardon at the front of the stage. They end up talking less about the imaginary production, however, than about Reardon’s questionable talents as a lip-reader – talents that led him to work on the case in Leixlip in 2000.

But it is when the production rips itself apart that things suddenly get a whole lot more interesting. Deafening sound shreds the air and a screen slides away to reveal the four Leixlip women, surrounded by their shredded documents and clutching bin bags that bob like helium balloons. This turn for the surreal only continues, as Reardon inserts himself into the enclosed horror of these women’s final days.

Moukarzel and director Ben Kidd, together with the brilliant design team of Grace O’Hara, Andrew Clancy, Stephen Dodd and Adam Welsh, have created a bleak meditation on the unknowable, realised through a series of stunning stage images. So often theatre, like lip-reading, is about putting words into other people’s mouths. Lippy acknowledges and problematises this act of speaking for others, never falling into the trap of seeking easy explanations and ending with as many – if not more – questions as it began with.

Narratively, this is a bizarre and sometimes baffling way of tackling the subject matter, and one that will no doubt alienate some of its audience. Theatrically, though, it’s utterly thrilling. From the bold, comic opening to the final Beckettian howl of despair, Lippy rarely relinquishes its strange, captivating hold.

Lippy runs at the Traverse Theatre until 24 August.