Debris – Review

Bogeys, bananas, and parasitic babies


When I sat down to summarise the story of Debris, I realised that it was a Sisyphean task. Dennis Kelly’s two-hander, by its very nature, eludes simple narration with winding monologues and unreliable narrators. I shall, however, endeavour to try.

The audience voyeurs upon two neglected siblings, Michael and Michelle, as they attempt to narrate their violent childhood from the Quaver-strewn squalor of their living room. In a quest to escape the bleakness of their own existence, fact jostles with fiction and truth battles lies. All in all, a thoroughly depressing yarn.

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Michael (James Rodgers) is pretty terrifying

James Rodgers has the unenviable task of opening and setting the tone of the play. But his Michael is absorbing; he captivates the audience before he even has a chance to speak. Lit only by a naked lightbulb, he straddles the threadworn sofa like a malevolent puck, and begins to cast his spell. Like all good folk tales, his song is soaked with blood, orating how his alcoholic father, in a fit of devotional fervour, took the decision to crucify himself. Michael found his half-dead corpse.

The teenager appears not to share my revulsion for this macabre tale. Though immensely amusing, his gallows humour (or should i say Crucifixion humour?) reveal an irrevocably mangled psyche. Even more disturbingly, his witticisms are punctuated by shrieks of agony, as his younger self claws its way to the surface of his persona.

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They only have each other.

Not to be outdone, his younger sister replaces him on the tiny stage and begins her own epic monologue. Orli Vogt-Vincent's Michelle makes an admirable go at one-uping the drama of his story, by setting out the circumstances of her own birth. Though it should be the Nativity to Michael's Passion of Christ, it too stinks of death.

The only glimmer of life in this play can be found when Michael finds a baby in a pile of rubbish, and names him 'Debris' (because it sounds French). He nurses the freezing child back to health and lets him feed from his own breast. It would be comparable to Little Shop of Horrors if it wasn't so clear that this infant is in serious danger. Both siblings have been so mistreated that they have no idea how to love properly.

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Animated by her own imagination

I was fascinated by the shadow that religion casts over the play. It can be said that the siblings are engaged in acts of creation, God having died alongside their father figure. Their memories are like lego-bricks, going mouldy and brown with age. In vain, they try to fit them together but it is as if they have lost the instructions.

I can't reveal too much more (because you really ought to see it). I would however say that the most interesting thing about the play is also its biggest weakness. The narratives are tangled and refuse to be fixed by space and time. Adults who interact with the children are also played by the lead actors, making occasionally difficult to follow what was happening on stage, although this may be a product of the source material itself.

Debris was made for the snug confines of the Corpus Playroom. The staging is spartan but effective, and phantasmagoric music eerily wafts through the room at regular intervals. The lighting is done particularly well by Lara Wolfe, somehow conveying the colouring of room only half-lit by a television.

Considering that it is her directing debut, Ella Burns has done a fantastic job at directing this production. This was an hour very well spent.

4/5