Dublin Theatre Festival 2018: The Lost O'Casey
Requiem for a Dream
Boxty emerges somewhere between The Gate Theatre and the garden whose name he can no longer remember. But Boxty remembers more than his gaps have forgotten. Especially when it comes to Dublin’s architecture. Buildings are spaces of living and memory, integral to the city’s history and culture, where the then and the now converge. But irony of ironies, part of the city’s landscape will soon be eradicated, its inhabitants moved on, to make way for a new cultural quarter. Yet whose culture is it that’s laying claim to their homes? And how will wanderers find their way home when their home is no longer there?
In ANU and The Abbey Theatre’s “The Lost O’Casey” Dublin is changing, and changing utterly, and a terrible beauty is being born. Unlike many of ANU’s previous works “The Lost O’Casey” doesn’t speak to a historical past but to a significant present in which the crimes of the past are repeating themselves. We become witnesses not to an act of memory, but to an act with visceral immediacy. One in which the past and present, the living and the dead, the lost and the forgotten, the dreamed and the dreaded all converge in an epic, site specific, immersive tale that relocates theatre back into the street. But whose street? Whose, and what site is being inhabited? Into whose tale are we being immersed?
Inspired by Sean O’Casey’s forgotten play, Nannie’s Night Out, director Louise Lowe weaves O’Casey’s text and inspiration, alongside Penelope’s tale from Homer’s Odyssey, to highlight, as another Dubliner once did, the epic in the everyday lives of Dublin’s inner city royalty. A requiem for a dream and for a dying generation, “The Lost O’Casey” does what only theatre can do, and does it to ANU’s exacting standards. No book, no film, no piece of music can capture the visceral immediacy of standing next to a queen, regal in her anguish, surveying her crumbling kingdom from the castle walls of the flats. Allow you to share with her in the knowledge that this castle too, built on a foundation of miraculous medals, must soon fall. Or partake of a moments friendship with princes of the city as they lament the loss of a fallen friend. Speak with a could-have-been king of the ring, or wannabe king of the cruise ship, their ambition a fantasy blurring into failure. Or fall unforgettably in love holding the hand of a pure hearted princess, her soul on fire, whose only desire is not to be forgotten.
An overwhelming sense of a culture, and community, being reduced to a subculture within its own city is reinforced in “The Lost O’Casey” by virtue of language. Like Anthony Burgess' use of Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange, the language of Dublin that once filled the streets for generations, often sounds strange, like an embarrassing memory. Indeed, memory, it’s failing and forgetting, prove crucial in “The Lost O’Casey.” Part of director Louise Lowe’s genius lies in constructing the “The Lost O’Casey” like a vastly intricate and complex mechanism to accommodate all variables of past and present. Like the inner workings of a delicate pocket watch, there are wheels, coils, and cogs spinning that you don’t always see. Different stories, paths, and possibilities always at play, asking hard and pertinent questions. About us, the State, drugs, homelessness, and the communities who live in the city. Yet “The Lost O’Casey” always keeps perfect time, while looking like a thing of beauty, courtesy of its powerhouse ensemble and Owen Boss’ impeccable design.
Like everything else in the “The Lost O’Casey,” Boss’ design asks big questions. If one flat speaks eloquently of masculinity and its propensity to danger, this danger is most likely to the men themselves. Theirs is a world of self harm, or worse, which “The Lost O’Casey” never tries conceal or varnish. Polly’s flat, simply and beautifully rendered, poses the most pertinent question of all: why are these buildings being torn down in a house deficient, 21st-century Dublin? Even the stairwells demand answers. As do the trials and tribulations facing a young doctor, stretched beyond breaking point in a mobile unit, her life mirrored with the homeless Nannie she tries so desperately to help.
While Liam Heslin, Leanna Cuttle, Gillian McCarthy, Daniel Monaghan, Michael Glenn Murphy, Robbie O’Connor, Thomas O’Reilly, and Matthew Williamson each turn in award-worthy performances, there is simply no denying the brilliance of Sarah Morris’s Nannie. Inspired by O’Casey’s character, Morris’s Nannie is unequivocally one of the great characterisations of recent years. Homeless and alone, Nannie is nothing, no-one, and everything. Past, present, and prophecy, Nannie embodies the tragedy and stupidity of cycles endlessly repeated. Morris’s painfully detailed performance not only makes you understand, she makes you care, feel outraged, helpless, knowing you have to do something even if you don’t know what to do. For Nannie makes you need what you did not know you needed, feel what you had forgotten how to feel. Her deepest wish is granted: you will never forget Nannie. Nor Morris’s stunning, tour-de-force performance.
You will most likely come away from “The Lost O’Casey” stunned and reeling, sure in the knowledge that you've just witnessed one of the most important and powerful productions of the year. Perhaps you’ll ramble towards Dorset Street where Sean O’Casey’s home, reduced now to its facade, lies concealed like a shameful secret behind plastic sheets and scaffolding mere yards from the flats. There’s a slim hope it might not be levelled with the rest of the surrounding culture being destroyed to make way for…culture. Or perhaps you’ll find yourself standing on a Dublin street corner. Parnell Street. O’Connell Street. Moore Street. Or Henry Street. Maybe even Grafton Street. And like many Dubliners you might find yourself looking around and thinking, 'I know where I am, but where the hell am I?'
Is it too late? Can something yet be done?
Touch H for luck.
“The Lost O’Casey,” by ANU and The Abbey Theatre, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2018 until October 12