This week, anyone with a spare hour at lunchtime got to see something a little different at the Players theatre. Mercifully, ‘Night at the Museum Building’, written and directed by Úna Harty, had little to do with the Ben Stiller film. It was an hour of sound and spectacle which touched on student themes and concerns, including Tinder, mental health, and the 24-hour library. With a tongue-in-cheek attitude, it still contained a serious undercurrent that broke through at rare moments.
The play follows the story of two unnamed students, male and female, each struggling to get an essay and lab-report finished in the Ussher library at 3am. Taking time out to explore the dark and empty Museum Building, when they get inside they are snatched up by four monsters who live there and prey on students during the night. An impressive show of music, lights, and physical acting follows, and in a dreamlike sequence the monsters expose the frictions in the students’ lives.
For an audience member, the biggest challenge of this play was getting in to see it; I was only able to get a seat on Friday after being turned away the previous day and reserving a ticket, saying “Trinity News” multiple times. I saw many others who had less luck. For those who were successful in acquiring a ticket, the set was immediately striking: hanging high above the ground was a large deer’s skeleton, made with all kinds of colours and materials, and glowing in the dark. Marking off the four corners of the stage were four makeshift pillars, covered with sheets and painted with vibrant patterns. Someone was playing on a drum set on a raised platform at the back. This was the Museum Building, but it was altered. It was eye-catching. That sense of spectacle would come to characterise the entire performance, as characters danced and chanted and put on many different voices. The whole thing was like a carnival: a play where the lights and set and sounds were their own performance. Credit here goes to Choy-Ping Clarke-Ng for set, Ferdy Emmet for lighting, and Ellen Finnerty for costume design.
The drums deserve special mention. As I was queueing, I heard the two people in front of me saying that there were going to be drums playing for the entire performance and began to brace myself. Contrary to what I expected, they gave the whole show a powerful rhythm. There were a lot of quiet strokes on the cymbals, a lot of crashing during the loud parts of the performance, and silence during the most serious bits that gave them an inescapable weight. They were thoroughly impressive. The Facebook event description, where the characters are listed, includes a role called ‘Drums’. Played by Ezije Okponu, the drummer was dressed like the monsters – his costume glowed in the dark as well – but he never spoke and never left the drums. Was he one of them? His presence onstage made him an interesting figure, and added to the mysticism of the performance.
The lives of the two students were the subject of the play. We had a contrast between someone who was quiet and reserved, and someone loud and high-energy, with an exploration of the values and insecurities that underlay these as the play developed. The humour in the play was genuinely funny and easy to identify with. A particularly memorable moment was when the four monsters acted out parody Tinder bios (“interested in food, Netflix, parties, books, people, films – I’m fun ok!”), and another one had the second of the unnamed students make a lot of noise as she sat down and got out her things in the library. The more serious elements were well-delivered, and gave the play a sense of shape and purpose. The most impressive performances came from two of the monsters; Drowzee and Beeheeyum. Played by Dom Henderson and Coco Millar respectively, they moved between comic energy and slow, serious parts without friction. Both seemed to have a different voice for each new part their monster played. All of the performances worked well in bringing out the sense of fun and play that characterised the whole show.
This was a good romp: it was fun, colourful, showy, interesting. Everyone involved seemed to understand the note it was trying to hit, and pulled off an arresting and visually striking show. When I came out onto campus and past Áras an Phiarsaigh it felt like I had been in a completely different place. Those turned away missed out.