Spliced at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: honest, bold and self-reflexive
Timmy Creed is a man on a mission.
Growing up in Bishopstown, Republic of Ireland, his community was united by ‘hurling’ – a contact sport somewhat similar to shinty – and the organisation that controls it, the GAA. Although Spliced is a piece written, one gets the sense, for ‘GAA men’, Creed does an admirable job of conveying the importance of the sport and the organisation to thousands of communities across Ireland to a non-native audience.
But, as with any male-dominated team game, hurling is saddled with an immovable toxic culture. Laddishness, emotional firewalls, and a mentally damaging environment plague what is ultimately an amateur sport, and Timmy Creed wants to change that.
Spliced, performed at Edinburgh Sports Club in a table-tennis arena (which is basically a squash court with seating), relays his life experience in three acts that talk about his hurling career, his radical move away from the sport and its culture, and then finally the show itself and its role in reconciling these two extremes. It’s a bracingly honest, bold, and self-reflexive piece of work that manages to be equally thought-provoking and thrilling, often at the same time.
This is a sweaty, brutally physical performance – one that I couldn’t imagine even getting through five minutes of without collapsing. In a heart-attack intense scene set to vicious strobes and pounding club music, Creed recreates his breakdown and turning point at the end of his hurling career. Blending the hardcore, punishing training regime and game dynamics of the day and the party-hard, drunken stupor of nights blending into unprotected sex, it’s a spine-tingling, terrifying couple of minutes that have the audience on the edge of their seats. I must admit that I was, at times, slightly distracted by the fact that the woman in front of me had decided to bring her two young daughters to a show which was clearly not intended for young children.
Creed spends most of the first half of the play hitting a sliotar (a small ball) around the room with his hurl (basically a big wooden stick) – expertly managing to do so whilst relaying the text to us with captivating skill. At other points, he engages in training and warm-up exercises, running around the space until he becomes breathless. At more angry, intense moments, he slams the hurl against the wall of the court, creating a visceral smack that rings through the space. In the second act the physicality of the performance changes – a simulation of snowboarding, ballet, physical theatre and yoga. You can see how the physicality of Creed’s world remains constant even as the culture seismically shifts around him.
The transition to that second act is slightly jarring, although that’s probably the point – turning away from his hometown, Creed realises that there’s another way of life and another way of being a man that doesn’t involve the pitfalls of his hurling career. In a stunning highlight of the show, he performs an exorcism of his hurler self, and literally turns into a tree – visual designer David Mathúna really pushing the performance space beyond its expected capabilities.
In fact, after seeing Spliced, I feel the boxed-in feel of the squash court environment has untapped cinematic potential. Thanks to Eoin Winning’s fantastic lighting design, spotlights point in either direction, filling the walls with increasingly huge silhouettes of Creed in dramatic poses – like a butterfly made from light. The tall walls allow Mathúna to make use of a cross-like formation of video collage – a narrow beam down the middle, and two large TV-sized rectangles up top. When the play starts, the video content is like something out of a PowerPoint, but as it goes on the images become fittingly more abstract.
Particularly as it nears its third act, and in its final stretches, Spliced is a remarkably honest, open piece of work that leaves Creed nowhere to hide. In the text available for purchase at the venue, the blurb sets out the possibility of others performing this work, although it simply wouldn’t make sense for anyone else to do so: the work is Creed. It gets its power from his life experience, and its energy is directed towards the things he’ll do with it in the future. But I don’t think it would work any other way – the key characterisation of the theatre presented in Spliced is as a place of openness and honesty, as opposed to the sports field as an arena of closed-up hostility. The message, then, is one of bringing that sort of openness and healthy emotional dialogue to the tight-knit community of the sports team.
In a way, then – although it is never explicitly said – this is a show about gender and the collapse of traditional roles in society. The traditional masculine archetype – strong, sporty, emotionally closed-up finds its thesis in the sports team. Dance and yoga, on the other hand, represent traditionally feminie activities – the antithesis. Sport is about winning, aggression, and strength; about competition and beating the other as opposed to working together. The delicacy of dance, and yoga and meditation are graceful, delicate and collaborative. In turn, even the uniforms we wear reflect the gendered nature of the activity – sports players donning loose, sweat-wicking shirts and shorts whilst dancers are squeezed into revealing tights and leotards.
All too often, these feminine attributes are seen by men to be inferior; all too often, women are seen by men to be inferior. What is really being Spliced, then, in Creed’s synthesis, are the rigidly defined roles which people have been forced to inhabit by society for centuries. Stereotypically masculine and feminine attributes have their strengths and weaknesses; both men and women would benefit from a blend of both.
This is the rare piece of theatre that makes you think ‘this could make a difference’. Creed has already performed Spliced at hurling clubs in Ireland (to success, we’re told) and has plans to do so at many more in the future. At the Fringe, especially the Traverse, he may be preaching to the converted – most of the audience will never have been part of the kind of culture Creed is aiming to change, and probably already despise it. At the very least, theatregoers are used to open-hearted performances and disarming vulnerability. Still, that doesn’t make the experience of watching this remarkable piece any less thrilling, and it certainly doesn’t diminish the idea behind it – the knowledge that Spliced will be making its way to people who may be changed by it is itself a triumph.
Powerful, intense, and personal, this is dynamite theatre bound to explode far beyond its origins.