Friday 24 January 2020

48 at Viking Theatre: Young lives in the shadow of horror in Stardust tragedy


Viking Theatre, Clontarf, Dublin

Gemma Kane, Niall O'Brien and Laurence Falconer. Photo: Sadhbh McLaughlin
Gemma Kane, Niall O'Brien and Laurence Falconer. Photo: Sadhbh McLaughlin

Emer O'Kelly is moved by a tale set around the Stardust tragedy

It's a scar on the memories of all those old enough to remember the tragedy: Valentine's Eve 1981, the night 48 young people, their exuberant lives stretching out before them, died, hideously and suddenly.

More than 200 others were seriously injured, scarred for life by dreadful burns. It was the night the Stardust nightclub in a north Dublin suburb went on fire.

And all these years later, there are still no definitive answers. Yes, there have been facts about the materials in some of the fittings, in common use at the time. And of course, theories about other faults and oversights.

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But families and friends as well as survivors are still looking for answers, their memories of the horror still raw. Last year the Attorney General announced, after years of public campaigning, that there are to be fresh inquests into the deaths of the 48 young people who never came home.

Some campaigners claim that answers would have been found long ago if the tragedy had happened in a middleclass area of Dublin instead of the working-class suburb of Artane.

That's the background of 48, by Gemma Kane, a No Desserts production at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf.

She takes four young people: Sarah, her on-off boyfriend Tom, her best mate Maggie and Maggie's not-quite boyfriend James, who is also Tom's best mate.

And she tracks them in the days leading up to the tragedy, with Sarah and Tom splitting up in disillusion to find some unfaithful snogging elsewhere, only to come together (ruefully and a little more wisely). Along the way, the dialogue snappily captures the tremulousness of people who both long for and fear adulthood.

It also captures the underlying resentments of an urban society with little prospect of satisfying career prospects and an inadequate national provision for education as we teetered on the edge of a recession which would send hundreds of thousands abroad in search of a better life, but ill-equipped to find one, while a crass government told them the country was living far beyond its means. Some were, but not the youngsters who went to the Stardust nightclub.

The author herself plays Sarah, with Emily Fox as Maggie, and both give sterling performances. The support from Niall O'Brien as Tom and Laurence Falconer as James is slightly less happy, but only in comparison.

Direction is by Clare Maguire, and it's designed (minimally) by Sinead Purcell and lit by Shane Gill.

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