48 – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre – Review
by Brian Merriman
48 by Gemma Kane
Directed by Clare Maguire
February 07 – 26, 2022
Time: 1pm (doors open 12.40)
Featuring – Eoghan Collins, Emily Fox, Gemma Kane and Ruairí Lenaghan, directed by Clare Maguire
Duration 60 minutes
Certain tragedies embed themselves into memory. I lived in Dublin 9 in 1981. I celebrated my Valentine’s night with friends, but on the Southside. It was a good night and I was awoken the following morning by a doorbell. I got up and opened the door to receive my first ever telegram. ‘Heard about the Stardust fire. Are You ok?’ It was from my college friend in Salt Lake City; the story of this tragedy was global, in a time when communication was limited. I turned on the radio to realise that my generation was no longer protected by youthful immortality. What emerged was a dreadful tragedy that changed Ireland.
48 by Gemma Kane is billed as ‘A true story about the Stardust Tragedy of 1981’. Gemma Kane (Sarah Farrell), Ruairi Lenaghan (Tom Kane), Emily Fox (Maggie Noon) and Eoghan Collins (James Gannon) ably bring us back to a simpler time of love, communication, and ambition in the hungry 80s, where jobs were limited but as always, young people find their space to grow and love. Based on true testimony, Kane’s labour of love comes across the footlights to charm and resonate.
This is not a docu-drama that enlightens us in any way, as to the still unanswered questions about the excess of secrets that enlarged this tragedy to further torment the families of the bereaved to this day. Instead, Kane chooses to use the tragedy as a backdrop to the ordinary lives affected, to set out through a range of local characters, who illuminate the time and circumstances of Dublin in the 1980s.
The actors are confined in the performance space (with a great floor) but still bring great energy and colour to the lives and loves being portrayed. Kane is hugely at home in her character and Collin’s ‘Jackie Quinn’ is a comic highlight. This acting quartet is in harmony, both vocally and psychologically throughout, with some glorious cameos and fine playing of the more juvenile central roles.
We are treated to youthful banter, the insecurity of relationships, the pressure of marriage for consummation and references to the bland industrial employment opportunities facing a generation of Northside Dubliners. With Lenaghan and Fox equally versatile and impactful making a strong quartet of charming and empathetic storytellers, which is the bedrock of this production.
There is no new information or speculation about the Stardust tragedy, but it does place the audience on the tragic journey which ends in the terror which scarred a generation and a neighbourhood to this day. Clare Maguire uses the small space effectively to project the colour of the characters and their lives, to create a strong and diverse ensemble presentation.
This is a human story. There is power in that approach as it brings us all back to the accident of circumstance that either placed you in the Stardust or elsewhere on that fateful Valentine’s night in 1981. To think that over forty years later, there is still no truth reminds us of Ireland’s relationship with the truth, our inability to admit what goes wrong and the ongoing added torment of survivors’ guilt. This piece allows the next generation to wonder what their parents endured, and to remember and re-live today.