As with most things, Oscar Wilde said it best when he spoke of the love that dare not speak its name. Something Wilde knew only too well when, in the late 1800s, he was prosecuted for being homosexual and incarcerated in Reading Gaol, his life and reputation in tatters. Move forward almost a century and we find nothing has changed in the Dublin of 1982. A year when gay bashings leave three men dead, and Garda out 1,500 to their employers and families, essentially ruining their lives and creating a social fault line which drove many to leave home and move abroad. Or to even worse fates.
Yet even as the rosary beads were tightening around the nations heart, a new breed of apostle was beginning to evangelise for the criminalised homosexual, preaching a more inclusive message of love. Modern day apostles with names like John, Paul, Mark, and Donna Marie, crucified for their faith, martyred for their love, seeking salvation from the damnation they’d been consigned to. Lost prophets whose voices in the wilderness spoke of a new day, a new dawn, and a new life. Epic in aspiration, biblical in power, divine in execution, ANU’s “Faultline,” in association with Gate Theatre, explores the universe in a grain of sand. Or in an underground gay nightclub in Dublin of the 1980s to be precise. One which speaks to the larger, gay lived experience of the time, and to the lived experience of many gay people today. Serving up a timely reminder that no one does immersive theatre quite like ANU.
If director Louise Lowe has often used the city as her canvas, in "Faultline" she invites us into one of its secret and subversive spaces. For even while they're rapidly disappearing, underground nightclubs remain a haven for many, both here and across the world. Safe unsafe spaces that constitute holy ground, places of sanctuary and refuge from which resistance is born and celebration blossoms. Knowing the devil is in the details, the devil delights in Owen Boss and Maree Kearns’ meticulously detailed set. From parts for model aircraft to Larry Grayson themed graffiti, some clever product placement for The Gate to the ghost of the National Ballroom, Boss and Kearns resurrect a time and place with immaculate precision. The nightclub, its corridor and bathroom, and an office for a gay support helpline make the past immediate, both foundational and solid, built from memory and history rather than a throwaway and easy nostalgia. Superbly supported by Jack Scullion’s detailed costumes, along with Ciaran O’Melia’s impressive lighting and Sinéad Diskin’s exquisite sound.
If the experience varies slightly depending on which story path you travel, at its core "Faultline" offers up a series of spiritual encounters with some sainted sinners, each one hitting like a divine revelation. Always, the body is a conduit for truth and expression, often speaking more powerfully than words. Seen in an impassioned activist way past the point of burnout, deeply and sensitively portrayed by Matthew Malone, sinking fast yet unable to help himself from helping. Seen again as two men in a bathroom dance a duet, crafting a crucifixion of erotic energies that wrestle with desire. Preceded by an exquisite solo by Matthew Williamson, executing simple patterns and sequences speaking to a conflicted and convicted soul, tortured with desire, and whose desires are being tortured. Scourged by guilt, fear, and shame. A final solo by an impressive Stephen Quinn, speaks to the onset of AIDS with stunning simplicity. All played out against Carl Kennedy’s superlative score, ranging from Morse Code-like blips tapping out urgency and emergency, to a haunting evocation as the body begins to fail.
With Robbie O’Connor stepping in exceedingly late in the day for the ill disposed Domhnall Herdman, O’Connor proves he’s some man for one man with an exceedingly strong performance, marvellous as the man who likes to party while he works. Yet if the men are likely to sear your soul, Nandi Bhebhe’s vivacious nightclub singer, Donna Marie, will take full possession of it, courtesy of a stunningly intimate performance. Again, the body acts as a conduit which words are there to support, with agitated energies competing for Donna Marie’s soul as she restlessly struggles between who she is and who she’s supposed to be. Collapsing under the unbearable weight as she delivers her sermon from the mountain top, calling on everyone to love and to let love in the face of overwhelming ignorance and hate.
At one point two men argue over what constitutes the real face of the gay community. An argument, like many in “Faultline,” that still resonates today. If Dublin has moved on so such debates can openly take place, the absence of Hate Crime Legislation still leaves the gay community particularly vulnerable to attack. Attacks growing alarmingly more frequent, supported by the global rise of homophobia, often at government level. Uganda, Chechnya, certain states in the USA to name but a few, remind us that if many battles have been won, the war is far from over.
To reduce “Faultline” to a history lesson, or confine it to its politics, is to commit something of a mortal sin. For characters transcend both history and politics even as they’re being informed by them. Exhilarating, unsettling, and gently confrontational at times, “Faultline” asks big questions that challenge any self-satisfied complacency. A production about being and being seen, “Faultline” is a production that demands to be seen. And you should. You really, really should. It might just save your soul. It will most certainly enlighten it.
“Faultline” by ANU, in an ANU and Gate Theatre Co-Production, developed as part of Live Collision International Festival 2018 and presented as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2019, runs at 11 Parnell Square East until December 1.
For more information, visit The Gate Theatre.