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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Ireland Trilogy - HEROIN

Gerard Kelly and Barry O'Connor in HEROIN. Photo by Pierre Borasci


HEROIN is a theatrical high

Whether you consider it history or nostalgia, there are those who will tell you they can still remember a time when you could safely leave your front door open. When violence amounted to nothing more than the occasional straightener. When no one would dare rob the elderly, not even in so called disreputable, inner city spots like Sherriff Street, because the community wouldn’t tolerate it. A community who looked out for each other through the hardest of times.

Then, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s it all changed. Heroin came on the scene and, for many, suddenly it was all over with heroin deemed the cause. HIV followed shortly, sharing a strong link with heroin, and whole communities and an entire generation were decimated. Some would say they’re still being decimated, and believe they can tell you exactly who is responsible. But in HEROIN, their scintillating interrogation of the drug’s dark relationship to Irish history and society, with its deep held convictions and death dealing addictions, THEATREclub know matters are much more complex. Whirling like a cyclone, dealing in organised chaos, HEROIN is a devastating piece of theatre that tackles an issue many wish would simply disappear, but one which is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Lauren Larkin in HEROIN. Photo by Pierre Borasci

Originally the first show to be produced of the three that comprise THEATREclub’s “The Ireland Trilogy,” HEROIN seems to naturally belong as the second of that trilogy. Chronologically and thematically it naturally follows on from “The Family,” sharing many similarities. All the THEATREclub signatures are here: Grace Dyas' compelling direction, a heightened meta-theatricality, the construction and destruction of space and performance in real time, the repeated physical and verbal motifs, a playful seriousness and a devastating honesty in its interrogation of the cultural, social and historical issues it addresses.

HEROIN’s meandering tale of two men and one woman struggling with their experiences of addiction plays second fiddle at times to its broader ideas, contextualised history and meta-theatricality. Here, Barry O’Connor’s over controlling director, Gerard Kelly’s long suffering actor and addict, and Lauren Larkin’s woman suffering in silence create a rich dynamic that covers so much ground thematically and theatrically. Larkin, coming on after a long silence to relive and portray her story of abuse and addiction, marries text and physicality in a truly powerful portrayal. Throughout, Larkin, O'Connor and Kelly deliver stellar performances.

Photo by Pierre Borasci

What exists on stage may question what exists off, and the whole might be organized chaos, but if theatrically HEROIN shifts the frame, the framing is still there. If it pushes the boundaries, boundaries are still there. Indeed, performatively, regular patterns emerge that appear in something of a stop start fashion, with HEROIN’s performance palate being less diverse then it might have been. Flicking through the years like flicking through the intros of songs on a playlist is cleverly done, with historical fact poured out like a verbal tirade giving ample support. But it soon becomes obvious and predictable and looses something of its impact. Similarly O’Connor’s frequent howls of anguish and despair, which risked undermining what is an utterly sensational concluding speech. Where it did throw up surprises, as in Larkin’s physical rendering of her tale, or the two, brave young performers who opened the show, HEROIN was much more fresh than when it overly depended on recurring patterns.

When it comes to heroin there are no easy questions or answers, and you nearly always walk alone no matter what the songs say. HEROIN knows this. It knows you can tell all the stories, but you will still never know the story. You can give all the reasons, but you will never find the reason. All that can be said for certain is that if you chase the dragon, she’ll likely swallow you whole. But, of course, this doesn’t happen, even if it cannot be ignored. Yet this is happening. As is this brave, bold and brilliant production, a production so good you simply cannot ignore it.

“HEROIN” along with “The Family” and “ HISTORY” comprise the “The Ireland Trilogy” by THEATRECLUB. All three productions are currently running at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until November 26th

For more information, please visit The Abbey Theatre or THEATREclub

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