Dublin Theatre Festival 2017: this is a room...
For All We Know
Director Veronica Coburn ensures the opening to Dublin Youth Theatre’s “this is a room...” situates the audience right where she wants them. As over twenty young people list off all the things they don't know, or wonder about, it soon becomes apparent how much the audience share in their experience of knowing so very little. Both young and old. If many of the questions “this is a room...” poses can take a lifetime to answer, others have more immediate answers. But only if the conditions are right. Only if you have a place to think, to be, to explore, to experiment, to express, and to seek those answers on your own terms. Yet where do you go when you don’t have a room of your own to live life on your own terms? Will you ever be able to find such a place? Will young people ever own their own houses? If "this is a room's..." endless questioning overextends its welcome, initially it connects everyone into the same experience. An experience that, textually and thematically, has a number of issues, but theatrically is an absolute joy with a stunningly impressive ensemble.
Written by Dylan Coburn Gray, “this is a room...” came into being after a residential weekend of workshops with Dublin Youth Theatre members exploring the theme of home. Ambitious and thought provoking “this is a room...”, at its best, captures something of the freshness and power of Coburn Gray’s brilliant Boys and Girls. Yet it also over extends itself thematically. Built on a simple, repetitive structure, “this is a room...” explores young peoples formative experiences of living at home, or in care, but also of their wishing to move out, of their fear of moving out, or of not being able to find a place of their own. When it explores within these parameters, “this is a room...” packs a pretty powerful punch. Yet too often it strays into areas that, while intriguing, dissipate “this is a room’s…” impact. Following grown ups from their twenties to their forties, a party scene that suggests fiddling while Rome burns, or imagined tales of refugees might inform proceedings a little, but they a create a sense of “this is a room...” trying to be all things to all people, of trying to cover all possible bases. The result is a production feeling twenty minutes too long, its power spread over too broad a spectrum, ultimately becoming a shallow stream rather than an ocean deep.
Textually, the repeated set up might work well as a structure to hang it all on, but it also restricts as much as it frees. Indeed, the word ‘imagine,’ and the phrase ‘this is’ get used so often, one suspects John Lennon and Aslan might well have a case for copyright payments. Yet this conflict between structure and expression is ever present, with ‘this is a room…’ seeming to slip uneasily between voice of the young and voice of the author. Granted, Coburn Gray needs to exercise a certain degree of latitude in bringing all these disparate voices together, but the uniformity in expression, coupled with a frequent use of language that seems a little more mature, raises the question of where the words of the writer ended and those of the young people began.
Theatrically, if certain drama games are very much in evidence in places, director Veronica Coburn ensures they always serve the needs of the script, crafting some wonderfully powerful moments. Never more powerful than seeing over twenty young people, homeless and begging as one, serving as an indictment on society as it is, as well as being a compelling warning for the future. Indeed Coburn Gray's more developed scenes often craft some intensely poignant moments. A mother and daughter conversation about moving out and going to college is profoundly moving, a tale of a young girl attracted to another equally so. A man arguing with his wife over custody of their child living in a hotel breathes with humanity and heartbreak, as does a scene with two brothers talking about living together in the same room. All of which is vividly realized by a young cast of Abigail Adrian-Sisson, Liadh Blake, Isaac Casey, Niamh Cotter, Jane Finnegan, Jessie Flynn, Eoin Fullston, Joe Gallagher, Briain Hudson, Eimear Hussey, Aaron Katambay, Finn Kilbride, Pippa Molony, Sibéal Ni Mhaoileoin, Celine O’Brien, Colm O’Rourke, Andrew Richardson, Daniel Roddy, Amy Shields, Lee Stafford, Seán Talbot, Ceri-May Thomas who are outstanding throughout.
Feeling like The Breakfast Club meets St. Elmo's Fire at times, as teens turn twenty and try to figure out their lives and themselves, “this is a room...” is never more powerful than when it portrays young people in the here and now, trying to understand where they are, and where the can, or cannot go. There is a sense that had “this is a room…” remained true to this central premise, this could have been an extraordinarily brilliant and powerful production. Yet even if “this is a room...” looses some of its impact, it still packs a considerable wallop and its young cast are an absolute joy. Reminding us, once again, of the value and importance of Dublin Youth Theatre, and of its willingness to make brave, relevant, and risky theatre.
“this is a room…” by Dylan Coburn Gray, and presented by Dublin Youth Theatre, runs as part of The Dublin Theatre Festival 2017 at The Project Arts Centre until October 7th.