Dublin Will Show You How – Abbey (Peacock) Theatre – Review by Frank L.
Written by Tracy Martin
Images by Ros Kavanagh
4 – 6 April at the Abbey Theatre
9 – 13 April at The Complex, 21-25 Arran St East, Dublin 7
This play has emanated from various women’s groups in the North Inner City brought together by Vanessa Fielding of the Complex Arts Centre in June 2017 who wanted their stories to be heard. In workshops led by Fielding, the women’s stories were listened to by Tracy Martin who transformed them into a play. Martin had to overcome the need of ensuring that no particular story could be traced to any individual, so what is seen on the stage is a composite of many stories as ‘it is still dangerous for many of [the] collaborators to be identified’.
The stage is in the centre of the auditorium with two ascending rows of seating facing each other. On each side of the stage are two raised platforms accessed by wooden stairs. The platforms are reminiscent of the walk ways which run along the front of many city blocks of flats which are an integral part of the inner city. The specific address is not identified but it lies somewhere in the vicinity of the Four Courts, Smithfield and North King Street. A video screen, one on each side of the stage, plays from time to time, excerpts of street scenes from the area with predatory seagulls playing a prominent role. They feature in the text with all their thieving cock-suredness.
There are a great many characters so each actor plays more than one part. The oldest of them is in middle age. The two older women are Tina (Karen Ardiff) and Joan (Denise McCormack). Joan is alone, her children having predeceased her, including the one son who managed to finish school. Tina is under pressure as two of her younger kids are in care, while the third James (Thommas Kane Byrne) is on the edge of making some decisions which he will live to regret. The play begins with Cathleen (Leah Moore), who is just about surviving living on the streets, describing her plight. Josie (Liz Fitzgibbon) is an unmarried mother with a kid in a buggy constantly reciting, like a mantra, what pittance she will put towards what scrap of food or which utility bill. Leo (David O’Meara) is the face of the criminal gangland world while Shane (Luke Griffin) is a smaller fish in that world and under pressure. The inner complexities, if any, of these two men are not revealed. On the opening night Karen Ardiff took the role of Tina at very short notice and had to read the part. She undoubtedly rose to the occasion but as the part is substantial it had to have placed a strain on all of the actors.
The structure of the play is, as if, a camera actually entered these women’s lives at some random point and subsequently then left. Consequently, when the play ends there is uncertainty surrounding the fate of many of the characters. It is a reflection of the chronic uncertainty that surrounds these women’s lives as they continue the daily struggle to exist. This loose structure is open to question but these women’s lives are not suitable for narratives with defined beginnings and endings; there is a never ending uncertainty.