Last Orders at the Dockside: Requiem for the docklands overloaded with political cargo
Last Orders at the Dockside, Abbey Theatre, Until October 26
Writer Dermot Bolger has always been an important literary voice for the under-represented working-class Dublin milieu in which he grew up. This new work, commissioned by Dublin Port, continues in that vein.
The three-hour show unfolds in 1980s real time, in a Dockland bar during the funeral after-reception of a dockworker, Luke. On the television is the 1980 Eurovision song contest, which Johnny Logan wins for Ireland with the ballad 'What's Another Year'. A five-piece band plays a variety of numbers, some covers, some original. Luke's widow Maisie and his son Alfie are joined by various in-laws and neighbours as they revisit the past. This is a requiem, for both the man and the dockworkers' way of life.
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As with other Bolger writing, the tentacles of a burgeoning criminal element are reaching into the community to destroy it. Dockworkers unload cargo, so are vulnerable to smuggling gangs. A local youth, Macker, having been sent to Daingean Reformatory, has returned to his home place with a whole criminal network behind him. Young mothers fear the growing presence of drugs on the streets.
The characters are all aware that their way of life, a community economically sustained by income from dockworkers' skills, is becoming obsolete. But recognising an emerging disaster isn't the same as knowing how to avert it. And each of the next generation must find their own path, be it emigrating to Russia, Baghdad or Coolock.
A fully stocked bar set by Alyson Cummins establishes a tone of pure realism. The convention of a couple of isolated characters having a conversation in a pool of light, while the others stand around at the bar, never fully settles down. There is an awkwardness to the band entering without motivation. The script might have fared better with a more expressionistic approach.
Bríd Ní Neachtain impressively leads the cast as just-widowed Maisie, the ex-alcoholic who used to find solace in the bottle. She is the best written character. Anthony Brophy does a wonderfully conflicted job as her son Alfie, the family man trying to do the right thing in the face of a sinister blackmail attempt. The play examines various issues, from workers' rights, to contraception, to women's rights. Director Graham McLaren and writer Dermot Bolger, in a sort of folie à deux, have encouraged each other's worst tendencies. The characters spend too much time unloading political cargo at the expense of story. Ideological freight usually works best when it is smuggled aboard.