Dublin is known as one of Europe’s party capitals, a city brimming with pubs and clubs generating endless craic—Irish for a grand time in good company. However, there’s a flip side to the euphoria, a shadowy face you won’t see or read about in tourist guides but you can see anytime on the streets of Temple Bar, the city’s party-hub neighbourhood.
That darkness is at the core of Dublin Oldschool and I’m Not Here, two productions from Ireland at this year’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival that are very different in terms of structure and texture but spring from similar ground.
The subcultural backdrop to both works is the dance-music scene that’s developed in the Irish capital since the roaring Celtic Tiger economy of the mid ’90s. The financial crisis of 2008 hit Ireland very hard, and resulted in alarming rates of homelessness, addiction, and mental-health issues. Both Dublin Oldschool and I’m Not Here deal with the inability of young men caught up in this social maelstrom to express and confide their pain to others, and both were developed at Temple Bar’s Project Arts Centre, a pillar of support for new creations.
The germ for two-hander Dublin Oldschool was a startling and upsetting coincidence in the life of its writer and codirector Emmet Kirwan. On the streets of London, he ran into his brother, who he hadn’t seen or heard of for three years. He was homeless, and an addict. Later, Kirwan fictionalized and elaborated this as a series of meetings in the course of a single weekend between Jason, a would-be DJ who’s just lost his job and is on a chemically enhanced romp around Dublin, and his brother Daniel, a destitute heroin fixer.
Dublin Oldschool’s form is varied and immediately arresting. “It starts off in rap, then moves into poetic spoken-word monologue, and all of the scenes between the two brothers are in traditional theatre dialogue,” says Kirwan, who plays Jason, reached at the Project Arts Centre, where he and Ian Lloyd Anderson, who plays Daniel, are rehearsing.
“I wanted to write something uniquely Dublin, and done in the Dublin patois, the Dublin style of speaking in rhythms—something that rhymed with the prosody of Dublin slang, that straight out the gate was a verbal, vocal assault on the audience. As the play is about Dublin nightlife and what it feels like, it has the aesthetic of a standup club or a hip-hop club or an underground nightclub.
“The story delves into the subculture of dance music, and the dreamlike state so many of those people live in. Jason and Daniel are kind of mirror images—one is trying and failing to get his life together and the other is coming off the rails. And you have two types of addiction, the first seen as socially acceptable—like party drugs and cocaine—and the second a cultural taboo that leads to homelessness. The brothers meet, sometimes by chance, sometimes by design, and they hash out their lives and where things went wrong.”
I’m Not Here is a solo performance by the play’s writer, actor, designer, and director Doireann Coady, also a Dubliner. But in a sense it’s also a deeply moving and unique two-hander with her late brother Donal, who took his own life nine years ago, based on a series of tapes Coady was given in 2013 by their father.
“Our house was filled with secondhand tape recorders that Dad collects as a hobby, and he was testing one, so he placed it in the hall and let it record for an afternoon—unbeknownst to Donal as he went around the house, singing and mixing music on the computer,” Coady tells the Straight.
“My dad found these tapes, and I felt it was a sign from my brother that he wanted to be heard in some way. The first thing he sings is Radiohead’s ‘How to Disappear Completely’ with the refrain ‘I’m not here,’ so it was a very eerie experience first listening to the tapes. Donal was an aspiring DJ and a massive music fan. The score of the show is completely composed of his music and his voice. It’s very much a duet between us. And although it’s hard material, we do want to look after the audience, to bring people together about the invisible subject of suicide, and to look at each other.”
The form of I’m Not Here is ritualistic, a means for Coady to deal on-stage with the devastating effects on her of Donal’s death. The Irish Times described it as a “rhythmical incantation” that rewinds and replays snippets of recordings and music.
“In modern life one has to invent new rituals to deal with such a challenging, misunderstood, and unfathomable topic. A ritual seems like the most natural base, to draw back on an ancient kind of processing. And religion and theatre and ritual are so intrinsically linked. It’s been an amazing privilege to work with Donal as a collaborator in a way. Really fascinating—and healing. That’s not one of the reasons I was doing it, but it’s great.”