Dead Centre’s acclaimed production Lippy is a nightmarish production that teeters on the brink of comprehension. 14 years ago four female relatives in a small Irish town decided to die. They stopped eating and over 40 days prepared for the end. Lippy presents Dead Centre’s version of their story told through clever use of multimedia, playful theatricality and astonishing sound design by Adam Welsh.

As the women left nothing behind there’s no way of knowing, with any certainty, what happened. The production addresses our desire to tell, and hear stories, especially when faced with the incomprehensible and darker sides of the human condition. Lippy isn’t an easy watch and I can’t say I enjoyed or even liked it, but I don’t think this is the point.

The opening lulls the audience into a false sense of security. It’s a funny, playful exchange that works with the pretense we have just seen a production about lip reading and this is the post-show discussion. Actor and interviewer discuss how this fake show was made and through this we’re introduced to the idea of lip reading and putting words into people’s mouths.

When this light-hearted section gave way, in a transition marked by sounds that can only be described as an auditory assault, it felt odd and out of place, as if the previous section had been tacked on. However, as the disturbing scene of the women in their house – surrounded by the bin bags they had filled with the shredded remains of all traces of their existence – plays out, the need for this opening scene becomes clear.

The construct with which Lippy opens provides a framework through which we can view the piece. The production situates itself in the heart of nightmare territory, and without this framework it may well become unbearable. The actor from the ‘post-show’ appears in the scene with the women. He’s already told us he is a lip reader, and he helped the police with their investigation of these deaths. His presence enables us to see their actions, and hear their minimal words through critical eyes. We can bear in mind that this is a story being told by someone putting words in people’s mouths. This may not be what happened, and this can be a comfort whilst at the same time affirming the disturbing fact that we will never know what happened.

Lippy’s subject is dark, and its structure and design matches this whilst being, thankfully, scattered with much-needed moments of comedic lightness. Working as a tight ensemble, Dead Centre has created a world that is indecipherable, incomprehensible and brutally poetic. As we watch the closing monologue played out on screen in a Beckettian close-up on the speaking lips, we’re left questioning our obsession with telling and hearing stories, especially when they’re as dark as this. We may want them to help us comprehend the more curious aspects of human nature, but sometimes they simply can’t.

Lippy played at The Old Market as part of SICK! Festival. For more information, see the SICK Festival website.