Thursday, February 12, 2015

THEATREclub, 'HEROIN': Through the Eye of the Needle

THEATREclub's 2010 play finishes a national tour with a once-off performance in Liberty Hall, by special invitation of Dublin councillor Gary Gannon.

Liberty Hall
Feb 9

My review of HEROIN coming up just as soon as Lemass helps us play catch-up ...

If you've already seen HEROIN, THEATREclub’s play tracing three decades since the arrival of the drug in Ireland, chances are you passed two boys as you entered the auditorium, bold as brass, asking for tickets and kicking a football hazardly close to people's heads. This method of provocation (certainly intimidation) spoke volumes about the theatre-makers' wishes to prevent passivity in their audience.

A shy spectator might take comfort in the fact that the boys are nowhere to be seen in the company's most recent staging. Yet, isn’t it also a concern? Nearly five years have passed since HEROIN premiered. Those children are young men now, and terrifyingly not much seems to have been done to change the stark Irish reality depicted in THEATREclub's play.

We uncomfortably watch two muscular figures (Barry O'Connor and James O'Driscoll) wrestle to the ground in seemingly a freestyle contest with no predetermined victor. The winner, O'Connor, gets to assert a superiority throughout, commanding O'Driscoll to assemble a limber apartment, rolling in a couch, a refrigerator, a cooker, found objects that in Doireann Coady's set design signify no other reality than our own. Among these deliveries is Lauren Larkin, who reads from the memoir of Rachel Keogh, a survivor of heroin addiction and whose lines ring painfully and bravely in the actor’s shrewd delivery.

The decades reel in via vinyls and monologues, written in therapy-style affirmations but sounding off like slam poetry, bringing us from bust to boom to bust again. Vain-tapping scenes of dependency and control convey an extraordinary perception: this is the history of Ireland through the eye of the needle itself.

Tightly yet elastically directed by Grace Dyas, the pace of the piece varies, slowing at one point to allow us painstakingly see O’Driscoll’s addict prepare a dosage of heroin. We wince as he shoots it into his body. Dropping heavily to the ground in repetition, his co-actors are ignorant to his distress while engaging in a heated discussion on drug use. It’s an effective critique of society’s exclusion of the addict in such a conversation.

Its readings are fluid and interchangeable. Finally back on his feet, O’Driscoll, bruised knees and broken heart, declares the end of the cycle. O’Connor (who is the sure fire of this production) responds cynically, imaginable as a father who has heard his son’s false promise too many times before. Larkin tries to calm tensions, like a loving mother caught in the middle, before hell breaks loose.

It is Larkin’s courageous representation of an addict’s sacrifice of her body for drugs that haunts the most though. In all, the sensory chaos of half-heard utterances, un-choreographed fighting, and visceral visuals contribute to a possibility. HEROIN may very well be the closet some of us get to heroin.

It is Dyas’s ‘designing of the audience’ that intrigues this once-off performance at Liberty Hall, invited specially by Dublin councillor Gary Gannon. The turnout includes those availing of social care services and the politically powerful (a Sinn Féin deputy leader kindly steps aside to allow me to queue for tickets). The community feeling makes for one of the most non-commercial theatre experiences in recent memory, and audience members were so a part of the play world that when O’Connor mentioned crime families, someone from the seats actually posited a few guesses. Two gentlemen sitting beside me could identify the voices in the play’s final sound bite, presumably belonging to members of the Rialto Community Drug Team. One even momentarily lit his lighter while Larken was singing a song, as if the actor was Sinéad O’Connor.

THEATREclub’s play doesn’t give any easy answers. One possible direction was suggested by Dyas herself, who last year launched a campaign to decriminalise the drug user. The company have since created The Family, a deconstruction of domestic values (and probably their most sustaining work), and HISTORY, an epic about social housing staged with a strong leaning towards activism. The most that can be hoped for these plays is their ability to start a conversation. That starts with new audiences, new ideas. HEROIN at Liberty Hall feels the closest to that actuality.

What did everybody else think?

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