Faultline – Anu Productions – Review
by Fran Winston
Location – 11 Parnell Square East, Dublin 1
Runs until December 1st. Tickets €15-28. Shows run nightly Tuesday-Sunday 8pm and 9.30pm. 5.30pm shows every Friday and Saturday. No shows on Mondays.
Recommended for audiences of 16+
This co-production between the Gate Theatre and ANU Productions is set in the early 1980s and recreates the underground LGBTQ+ scene of that era. A site-specific piece, it takes place just across the road from the Gate Theatre in the labyrinthine 11 Parnell Square East which, for the purposes of this show has been transformed into the offices of the Irish Gay Rights Movement and its nightclub from back in the day. Although the nightclub was called The Pheonix for the purposes of this it is called Faultline. The title Faultline is representative of the social “Faultline” evident in the society of that era in regards to its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.
This can only accommodate twelve people per performance and they are split into two groups of six so not everyone will experience everything in the same order. The audience sit in on the scenes and occasionally interact with the cast and there are three main sequences. One is set in the offices of the organisation which runs their helpline and is also the base for organising all their protests, the second in a men’s toilet and a final sequence is set in the nightclub.
The attention to detail in the sets is astonishing. In the office, even the tiniest detail isn’t overlooked. You will actually feel like you are back in the 80s. The toilet setting is grimy down to the graffiti that is peppered on the doors and makes reference to bands and icons of the era as well as having some more salacious postings as you would expect. Meanwhile, the nightclub even serves the old style glass bottles of Lucozade and a quick look at the menus will draw a gasp when you see how cheap food and drink was.
The cast all do a great job. They are highly energised and are able to deal with the audience interaction while completely remaining true to the story. They seem exceedingly well researched and were able to handle anything that was thrown at them.
In the office, we meet helpline workers who are frustrated by recent murders of gay men alongside ongoing persecution and the fact that they can’t do more for people. As the audience listens in on the phone calls you get some inclination of how claustrophobic, shameful and stressful it was to be gay in this era. In the bathroom, we are treated to a beautifully visceral choreographed sequence when two gay men furtively meet there. Meanwhile, a London diva takes us on a journey through her childhood where she was too boyish for the girls and too girly for the boys, creating huge issues with where she could actually sit in school. Having found her place in the gay clubs she transfixes us as she hosts a club night at the final stop of the production (where both sections of the audience come together) including another choreographed piece with a Garda who enters the club.
There are also one or two segues that not every audience member partakes in. At one point I was taken off by a club patron who had been attacked as it was easier to “pass” on the streets with a woman in tow. As we encountered a Garda on his way to the club the tension was palpable.
Directed by Louise Lowe this will no doubt spark debate amongst audience members about the historic treatment of the gay community in Ireland. The only area it really falls down in is that some of the issues are implied or left open to interpretation – this particularly applies to the dance segments – and sometimes seem to fade into the background in favour of the stylised choreography. It is quite an affecting piece but perhaps could have pushed it slightly further. This was the era of the murder of Declan Flynn which led to the first Pride march and maybe they could have been specific in referencing this instead of alluding to certain things. Perhaps this may be explored further in future incarnations of this work – there is probably a whole piece in the work of the helpline alone. As a production, however, this is an extraordinary and extremely engaging experience that really taps into your psyche thanks to the interactive and immersive nature of it.