Saturday, October 1, 2016

ANU and CoisCéim, 'These Rooms': Claiming Damages

The unfinished business of 1916 is dug up in a miraculous co-production. Photo: Pat Redmond

85/86 Upper Dorset Street, Dublin Theatre Festival
Sep 29-Oct 16

Will be writing a round-up of Dublin Theatre Festival for The Stage next week. But in the meantime, a few thoughts on These Rooms coming up just as soon as I hand you your handbag ...

Inside a 1960s Dublin pub, despairing figures look on as a nation celebrates its freedom. 

We’ve arrived at the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, a commemoration that made clear the unfinished business of building a 32 county republic. Immersive theatre impresarios ANU and dance company CoisCéim recognise something else abandoned: the enquiry into a civilian massacre on North King Street during the Rising. This searing co-production, informed by newly released records, exposes the wounds of those left without answers as they staggered into the new Republic. 

Striking choreography combines Sixties rock with swigs from the whiskey glass in David Bolger and Louise Lowe’s powerful staging, suspecting a history of trauma. Leave the pub to move through the building and you’ll encounter glimpses of civilian attacks up close: a fearful youth (committed Craig Connelly) darting along a balcony to evade gunfire, and a guarded couple (nicely played Niamh McCann and Daniel Monaghan) hiding from raiders. The fear is palpable.

The detail is extraordinary, especially in Owen Boss’s miraculous design, transforming whole rooms into scenes of homes ransacked and destroyed. Other installations are not as naturalistic; when a fraught woman (a well judged Emma O’Kane) leads you into a claims office dressed with boxes labelled 1916 and an unanswered call bell, it resembles more an expressionistic nightmare. 

That slyly signals the hang-ups of a nation, in a production where hidden histories are literally shut behind pub doors. You won’t get to see everything but you’ll find the stirring finale, a heart-breaking duet (Una Kavanagh and Justine Cooper with full fire) revealing painful postures of patriotism when your nation refuses to pay damages. 

What did everybody else think?

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