Kieran Hurley’s powerful theatre work Mouthpiece has been transformed into a 25-minute short film Declan for Traverse Theatre’s online festival in lieu of the Edinburgh International Festival.
Angus Taylor revives the titular role of Declan with ferocity, anger and tenderness. Although the script is only altered slightly from the original theatre work, the relationship between Declan and failing playwright Libby is compromised here, but we gain a more intimate insight into Declan’s home life and lived experience.
Transferring Mouthpiece to film has allowed Declan’s artwork to come forth among animated sections of plot. Nisan Yetkin’s stunning and emotional animations bring interactions to life between Declan and an unseen Libby, driving the relationship between them with written dialogue.
The key questions raised by Hurley are just as pertinent in this work. In a world of storytelling, why are some stories never heard? How is poverty exploited through forms of artistic expression? Why is one man’s story being told through the mouth of another?
Hurley also explores the notion of pride and its interconnectedness to ownership and being heard. This theme is highlighted in a tender moment as Declan describes drawing with his younger sister. She draws with him and makes up stories to distract from the domestic violence on the other side of their bedroom wall. While talking about the theatre scene Declan has drawn, his sister theorises that the man on stage must be happy: ‘I think he’s happy. Look, all these people are listening to him and clapping and telling him he’s good.’
Juxtaposing Declan’s monologue with images of Edinburgh is a powerful addition to the work. Seeing the bleak walls of the apartment buildings in the unseen neighbourhoods of Edinburgh emphasises the polarity between the wealthy and poverty stricken in a city often overrun by tourists. The polarity between Declan’s ‘normal’ and the Edinburgh seen on postcards is shockingly brought to the fore in sweeping camera shots of the city paired with narrow laneways and bus shelters.
Some of the most salient elements of this work explore the idea of accessibility in the arts. Declan has never before stepped into the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art but is floored by size and scope of the artworks he sees – not unlike his own pieces. His energetic descriptions of his experience are shot in a laneway with a deflated soccer ball. A poignant location which lacks and contradicts the life Taylor breathes into the script.
In addition to accessibility, Hurley challenges the use of others’ stories for gain. Who profits from telling the stories of the so-called ‘voiceless’? Financially, socially, emotionally? As Declan champions:’ It’s all very well wanting to be a voice for the voiceless until you find out the voiceless actually have a fu*king voice and maybe they might want to use it.’
Rather than artists trying to be a mouthpiece for those less fortunate, should the arts world not be altered to more authentically accommodate them?
Hurley’s work has been effectively shifted from the stage to the screen in this time of adaption and change. His key social commentary carries through beautifully, and in Declan, we learn a little more about the inner workings of Edinburgh than in Mouthpiece. https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/declan
Reviewer: Laura Desmond
Reviewed: 1st September 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★