Samuel Beckett Theatre, TCD
TCD Drama Department Devising Debut Festival
Taking the 1984 Kerry Babies Case, in which the body of a baby was found on Cahirciveen beach, and another buried on a local farm, leading to an investigation that was fraught with issues around Garda conduct and veracity of information, as inspiration, Efficacy 84 is a heartbreaking piece of theatre that examines the society in which such an event could occur. This work, devised by Luke Casserly is an insightful exploration of a personal and public story.
Using effective distancing techniques, including microphones and the blurring between actors and characters, the piece recreates a sense of distance from the people involved, such as Joanne Hayes who was suspected of killing the children. As the piece develops the audience gradually realises the effect of this separation from the characters as people; the investigation clung to Joanne Hayes for so long despite scientific evidence to contradict suspicion against her because investigators saw her as an example rather than a person. She was not just Joanne Hayes; she was a woman caught between the Old and New Ireland, a woman who, for some people, embodied the change that was taking place in the country. It is easy to let injustices slip by when the victim is not recognised as a person, when a connection is not made with them. The framing of the piece, with Casserly joining the cast on stage and directly addressing the audience, combined with highly stylised performance, brings this to life and puts the audience in a position whereby they are engaged in the act of distancing.
The performances are consistently strong, with the actors finding a balance between levity and intensity under Casserly’s direction. Lisa Nally delivers an open, powerful performance as Joanne Hayes, and the entire cast operates as an impressively connected ensemble.
The design of the piece also plays a large part in the distancing discussed earlier, with Sorcha Flanagan’s costume design standing out as a particular example. By dressing the female actors in simple floral dresses and plain brogues and the only male actor, Simon Geaney in a classic shirt and jumper, Flanagan suggests a sense of timelessness of the story – this is based on a story from 1984, but it is just one example of the effects of a long-held mindset in Ireland. Benedict Esdale, as the pianist, is dressed in a luxurious velvet jacket, suggesting the conscious theatricality of the piece.
This combination of many small details makes Efficacy 84 a strong, well-rounded, affecting piece of theatre that confidently involves its audience in its development.