Saturday 24 March 2018

Notorious red-light district play a surprise hit at Fringe


A provocative sell-out show set in and about Dublin's once notorious red-light district, Monto, with a budget of only €1,000, has been one of the big hits of the Absolut Fringe theatre festival.

World's End Lane was last week shocking and enthralling audiences who are drawn into the life of prostitutes in the exact locations where brothels operated during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some 1,600 prostitutes worked in Monto, which was in its time the most infamous red-light district in Europe.

As part of the performance, the audience are brought into a dimly lit bedroom to interact with one of the Monto girls. Before going in they are read a 'guide' on etiquette about how to interact with the prostitute, taken from Ireland's new internet red-light district,

Inside the room they are met by actress Zara Starr, playing prostitute Mary-Kate Lawless, lying on a bed with her legs open -- but dressed. The notorious madame, May Oblong, played by Niamh Shaw, then tells audience members that they have to instruct Mary-Kate what to do.

Director Louise Lowe based the work on research into the lives of the people who inhabited the district up until 1925.

Outside the Hub arts centre at the corner of what was once Montgomery Street and World's End Lane, actress Deirdre Burke was mistaken by some of the public as a real-life street walker. Dressed in modern Dublin street style she was accosted by a gang of youths during last Tuesday evening's performance.

Her performance entailed leading audience members up the former Montgomery Street into a still existing laneway, once called Purdon Street, which was known as "the Man Trap" during Monto's time where street prostitutes lured men to be mugged by their pimps.

Burke told audience members how brutal life was for many prostitutes and the horrific punishments meted out by the leading madame of the time, May Oblong. Oblong slashed girls' faces and had some gang raped by up to 30 men if they crossed her. She recounts how 12 was the "prime age" for prostitutes working in Monto.

Harriet Butler, the prostitute played by Burke, was murdered by a jealous admirer who shot her in the face.

As part of the show, the two girls engage audience members in a skipping game while singing the now shocking Monto children's street song, Mabbot Lane.

Lowe comes from a family who grew up in the area. Her grandmother was one of 11 children in a single room in the tenement known as Corporation Buildings, long since demolished, in Foley Street.

She researched the history of the area for three years before creating the work which is to be the first of a four-part series on Monto.

Monto was closed down as the Catholic Church began to assert its power in the new Free State after petitioning by the Legion of Mary led by the lay evangelist Frank Duff.

Lowe said: "Duff led a big procession, carrying a crucifix and they had torches at midnight on March 12, 1925. That has so many horrible overtones. They threw the girls out on to the street, literally. There were 1,600 women working here at the time and they were left utterly destitute."

She said the actors and production team all worked for nothing.

Sunday Independent

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