As dusk fell at Clarke’s Road in the Cork suburb of Ballyphehane on a chilly and blustery Thursday night, a scene that might have caused alarm a short few months ago began to unfold. Five men wearing hazmat suits, safety goggles and masks emerged from vans parked at the local green.
Akin to sinister Ghostbusters, they marked and measured out the ground, assembling and erecting a perspex screen, circled by blazing white lights. Such imagery has become part of our cultural vernacular now, and it made for a fitting framework for Corcadorca’s latest live performance, Contact, part of the re-imagined Cork Midsummer Festival.
This was a made-to-measure, socially distanced theatrical experience for extraordinary times but there was a reassuring ordinariness to the surroundings. As the men in suits began to set up, residents, some clad in their pyjamas and dressing gowns, emerged from their homes, pulling out garden chairs, standing at their doorways or sitting cross-legged on the ground. There was an air of curiosity and conviviality, as neighbours chatted and joked, but the audience stood well back from the action — we have become used to keeping our distance now.
Then the chatter stopped as a colourfully dressed man carrying a large box emerged from a car parked on the edge of the green, hopping on to its roof, waving across to a woman on the other side. It was clear that this was a love story for our times — before they approached each other at the screen, they were sprayed in disinfectant.
It made for a poignant, purely visual, mise-en-scène, as the couple tried to connect through the perspex, each like a prisoner granted a brief reunion. They danced, swayed and twirled, mirroring each others movements, the symbolism heavy as they held heart-shaped balloons that soared and touched high in the air.
Ultimately, this tale of love across the barricade(s) didn’t have a happy ending, as the simple and once taken-for-granted joy of touch was denied, and the performers (Cormac Mohally and Eadaoin O’Donoghue) were again disinfected before returning to the enclosed spaces of their cars. However, although the actors and audience were at a distance from each other, this novel performance emphasised how we can come together in other ways, and the importance of community and culture in our lives.