Sunday 17 December 2017

Young Turks strive for change with theatre of protest and celebration

I'm back under fire on the frontlines of Irish political theatre. This week I'm taking bullets from the young Turks at Theatreclub, who burst on to the Irish fringe scene a few years ago at the age of about 12, tend to stage about one show a week, and are hotly tipped for the Nobel Peace Prize. (I may be exaggerating slightly. But only slightly.)

Their show Heroin plays Limerick's Lime Tree Theatre from September 25 to 27 and plays Ballymun and Bray in October (see for details).

Theatreclub are activists in two senses. They're frenetically active within Dublin's fringe scene, organising mini-festivals and facilitating the work of other theatre makers. And their own theatre often looks at fractured homes and communities, aiming to bring clarity to the issues that affect them, and dignity to the lives portrayed. Heroin is the first show in a trilogy about contemporary Ireland.

The second part, Family (also playing in Ballymun), takes an intimate look at a typical family, and the third part, History, will be based on the company's ongoing work with the community in St Michael's Estate in Inchicore.

Heroin was developed after a period working with recovering drug addicts in Rialto. At St Michael's, the company has learned how generations of residents were "let down time and time again" by the State, says company co-founder Grace Dyas. Growing up in Rialto in the 1990s, "poverty and drugs was the backdrop of my childhood, really", says Dyas. So have these experiences made her theatre angry? "We get angry while we make it," she says.

"We have to. But anger is straightforward. Our job as theatre makers is to move past that anger towards something more complex.

"We want to activate people. We don't think that can be done through us all expressing how angry we are. I want the theatre we make to be a place where people talk about what we need to talk about now. I want real conversations that lead to real change to happen after our shows."

Their theatre isn't merely one of protest. It's also a celebration. "We've seen the strength and courage that human beings are capable of. We've seen how community resistance and protest has triumphed and that gives us hope." Dyas and her colleagues are impatient with the traditional response of mainstream theatre to social issues, one that sees classic plays staged with a contemporary twist and billed as "urgent", or established writers commissioned to write slow-gestating works for big stages.

"We need new language, new forms," she says. Heroin has that new language. But another company is experimenting with new language in a more literal sense.

The new production from Polish Theatre Ireland, Bubble Revolution, by Julia Holewinska, will be performed in both English and Polish, on separate occasions. It runs till September 21 at the Theatre Upstairs, with performances at 1pm and 7pm; check their Facebook page for details.

"We don't make 'Polish theatre' in Ireland," says company founder Anna Wolf. "We make 'Polish-Irish' theatre." Wolf set up the company in part to create work for Polish actor friends who only ever got offered parts in Irish plays as prostitutes or cleaners, even though Polish people now work at all levels of the economy. "Irish theatre hasn't accepted the change in Irish society," she says.

I wrote recently about the high points of African-Irish theatre; there's also been some good work done by Irish companies responding to demographic and cultural change.

But given the strength of Polish migration to Ireland, it's extraordinary how little we've seen of that on our screens and stage. Bubble Revolution is a play about Wolf's generation of twenty and thirtysomething Poles, whose grew up during the transition from communism to capitalism, and who have witnessed the failures of both. But it doesn't explicitly address emigration, or the Polish-Irish experience. Where is that play, I can't help wondering? "I'm thinking of writing a play myself," says Wolf. I hope she does. It's part of our recent history.

Though if she doesn't do it, perhaps Theatreclub will.

Irish Independent

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