Friday, September 14, 2018

Astronaut review: A caustic stream of consciousness thrums towards Apollo House

Joe Wright's impassioned solo work tells the story of a homeless man. Photo: Gary James Doyle. 

The New Theatre, Dublin Fringe Festival
Sep 12-15

My review of Astronaut by Joe Wright coming up just as soon as I introduce Christy Dignam from Aslan ...

“Change is good,” says a man at one point in Astronaut - unfortunately, in both senses of the word. A desperate and colour-muted figure, he appears before us without a home. 

First seen emerging from the shadows, singing snatches of a sports anthem, this man played by Joe Wright in his impassioned solo work gives voice to an outrageous hypocrisy. His reminiscence about a childhood home, where a father reads aloud a book about the Apollo landing, is intermingled with keen juxtapositions. There's a glimpse of a football fan cheering “C’mon Ireland!” while passers-by censure a homeless person, believing they’ll spend money on drugs and alcohol.

With an almost seething derision, Wright describes a city transformed by restaurant chains and franchise stores, while a man’s family struggles with grief and addiction. The play conveys the cracks through which he falls into an industrial school, and - in a scene recalling Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake - suspended in purgatorial confusion by an inefficient welfare system.

This is all reified, in a nimble production by director Emily Matthews, by repetition of doleful requests (“Has anyone any cardboard?”) and cutting daffynitions about Dublin streets (“Henry turns to Talbot. Talbot turns to tablets. And needles”). 

The caustic stream of consciousness eventually thrums towards the Apollo House occupation, where a video projection shows the frustrating lack of progress on building social housing. It makes the play seem at once enraged, and yet, collaterally, without a place to go in a real crisis unresolved.

Yet, its anachronistic rattle rings clear: promises have been broken. Something new needs to make a landing. 

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