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  • Chris O'Rourke

The Battle of Kildare Place

Sinead Murphy and Darina Gallagher in Tbe Battle of Kildare Place. Image Keith Jordan.


If Dublin endures a torturous relationships with landlords, it's also endures a torturous relationship with architects. One exacerbated over the last century. A tension that underscores Emma Gilleece and Michael James Ford's The Battle of Kildare Place, where estranged sisters, representing opposing architectural viewpoints, clash in an effort to find healing. A walkabout, site specific work whose pretensions towards impartiality prove anything but.

A lightweight tale akin to the proverbial spoonful of sugar; its charm is deliciously sweet. Gráinne (now Gina) meets sister Meadhbh at Kildare Place to discuss a memorial plaque for their deceased father. A Georgian conservationist whose values his tourist guide daughter, Meadhbh, avidly subscribes to. But Gráinne has no time for sentiment, or for the past, having left for England in pursuit of a brutalist, well paying life. As they argue, architecture provides ammunition as old wounds get reopened. For Meadhbh, both Dublin and Grainne sold their souls so they could rock 'n' roll. Driving people away, more concerned with homogenised, professional consumers with no loyalty to place or people. Gráinne sees Niamh as an anachronism and architecture no longer as a local concern. It's global now, driven by commercial not communal forces, with Ireland needing to keep pace by not getting locked in the past. A debate more than a relationship ensues, its contrived, sugary ceasefire leaving you wondering if it's going to hold?

As far back as the 1930s, when the suburbs began their slow, steady sprawl, modern Dublin has undergone significant changes. Even in the 1970s Dubliners were lamenting the loss of The Rare Old Times, gentrified into memory. Writer and Director Michael James Ford, mindful of these tensions, uses the space of Kildare Place well, even if a rendition of The Parting Glass looks twee. If Darina Gallagher's emotive Meadhbh walks a thin line between credible and grand pantomime, Sinead Murphy's Gráinne, vocally more robust, keeps everything grounded. The chemistry between Gallagher and Murphy both settling and seducing, adorable in itself. Though the longer the show goes on, the less you care about the siblings and more about the views by which they identify themselves.

Were this a debate, and it is, Daddy's girl in the flouncy dress with the old bike and a new saddle would have lost to her smarter, sophisticated, independent sister. Who dismisses Daddy as a half assed conservationist on account of him being a half assed parent. An argument that sets off alarm bells. If having half the facts doesn't mean having half the story but a half baked story, then The Battle of Kildare Place is half baked, sending its audience away half informed with the illusion of balance. Ward and Gileece, an architectural historian and activist with a passion for mid-twentieth century architecture, carefully frame arguments in favour of the self-assured modern, side-stepping the thornier issues modern architecture engenders, Meadhbh never looking up to the task of properly responding. Architect Sam Stephenson's offices on Wood Quay are now an integral part of the city's architecture, Gráinne chimes. If architects forget how vehemently Dubliner's fought against Wood Quay, Dubliners have not. Many still register disgust when they pass Stephenson's "War Bunker Memorial," built on the bones of The Irish House, Molly Malone's grave and a Viking settlement. Including many not old enough to remember the massive protests and how the people's wishes were steamrolled over by Dublin City Council. Then there's Grand Canal Dock; a lovely, vibrant tourist haven, Gráinne claims. Ignoring that by late evening it becomes a mortuary of squat, cramped, coffin glassed windows. A ghost town crowded less with buildings so much as feats of engineering many don't care to look at or live in. Looking like anywhere for looking like everywhere. Leaving The Battle of Kildare Place revealing more in what it omits, or spins, than in what it selectively offers.

Concluding his introduction to Frank McDonald's thought provoking A Little History of the Future of Dublin, Eamonn O'Reilly, Chief Executive of Dublin Port, makes a telling admission; "Dublin is a Viking city and my hope is that, by 2050, it will be a city any Scandinavian would want to live in." Begging the question, why? Dubliners aren't Scandinavian. Whose vision and decisions are shaping Dublin's future? And for whom? Stephenson said; "people should stop bleating on about all of Georgian Dublin being preserved for posterity – posterity might not want it.’ Given the outrage and boycott at the removal of the four statues at the Shelbourne Hotel last year, and the celebrations following Stephenson's ESB building being finally levelled, it seems Stephenson's vision was what posterity didn't want. They told him so at the time, but to no avail. And if history teaches anything, it's that history most likely repeats itself. Something not even the largest spoonful of theatrical sugar makes easier to swallow. Then again, maybe the Shelbourne princesses suggest room for more open conversations.

The Battle Of Kildare Place by Emma Gilleece and Michael James Ford, part of Bewley's Café Theatre Walkabout, runs till July 16.

For more information visit Bewley's Café Theatre


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