When does the portrayal of poverty turn into glorified entertainment? Kieran Hurley’s Mouthpiece presents this question within the unlikely friendship between privileged playwright, Libby and working class teenage artist, Declan.
Libby doesn’t write anymore. She’s washed-up, living back with her mother and haunted by her failures. She’s had enough. She ventures to Salisbury Crags to end it all, until Declan pulls her back from the edge. The story begins.
Hurley artfully merges the classic play structure with the raw reality of the action playing out. He does this through Libby, who breaks out and explains the narrative arc that should occur, and the challenges a character faces at each stage. Meanwhile, we see Libby within the story beginning to bond with Declan, who gradually opens up about his home life, sharing his artwork and agreeing to being part of Libby’s idea for a new play. The dialogue is poetic, and darts between tragedy and humour, each intention landing perfectly.
Libby and Declan’s on-stage chemistry is natural, tender and raw; Neve McIntosh plays Libby with passion and strength, and an air of superiority, while Lorn Macdonald’s Declan shows his boyish charm, his vulnerability and feisty edge. You can’t help but be absolutely engrossed in their interactions. The most powerful point in the play is when Libby introduces Declan to 90’s grunge, and they both dance in their own styles, together on the crags. It’s a perfect moment of comedy and absolute peace.
Despite their class differences, they meet in the middle when it comes to art and creativity. Libby describes the united feeling of how the ‘audience’s heartbeat synchronises’; the idea that art can be enjoyed by every walk of life. The bigger question is: Is it really that simple?
Stage directions occasionally project on the back wall in Times New Roman, and we’re reminded that Libby is writing Declan’s story. As the action picks up and reaches a crescendo at the end, this serves as an effective dramatic device. These stage directions steer the story, handing the control over to Libby, while Declan spirals and disconnects from his own destiny.
Mouthpiece is an urgent piece of work, addressing ideas of class power and consent. It’s a huge wake up call amongst a stunning piece of writing – an important play of our times.