Surrounded by shopping bags and reclining in a fold-up chair, Fus’s home doesn’t seem permanent. As the proud descendant of a rebel in the 1916 Rising, he’s now living in a disused warehouse occupied during the fighting, hidden from view. When we first see him, in the mettlesome form of Aaron Monaghan, he is at once drunkenly adrift and forlorn, sinking into relaxation and sadly abandoned.
It’s clear that Cristín Kehoe’s new play, staged by Druid, is a drama taking issue with a nation’s direction. Another resident Tommy (Rory Nolan), the building’s security guard, announces he’s been fired because of one of Fus’s stunts. They’ll have to leave the squat and live on the streets.
Kehoe is well aware to how promise is stripped by poverty. Tommy, a man seeking safety in Nolan’s sympathetic performance, confronts his friend for costing him his job. But Fus, full of discouragement, cruelly tells him he’s been wasting his life. Such disempowerment feels like the symptom of a wider problem.
That decline soon takes shape in quite heavy-handed metaphors. Another squatter Bren, tattered and destitute in Brendan Conroy’s superb performance, is paranoid that “The Man” will get him. With the arrival of Fus’s sniping and pregnant girlfriend Majella (Lauren Larkin), we’re reminded that their child won’t be born into the liberated world envisioned by the 1916 rebels.
There is a sense that director Oonagh Murphy is interested in seizing this as something more tangible: the basis for dramatising the complexities of the nation’s homeless crisis. With the group sat round in serious discussion, we hear about dangers to be found in hostels, and the icy exposure of sleeping outside. A real estate worker (Rebecca Guinnane) shows up, somewhat implausibly, to voice the interests of privatising landlords.
Indeed, the play often seems guided by unbelievable forces. It’s unclear why Fus’s friend Polish Tomas, played with intensity by Mark Huberman, arrives, if for no other reason than to reveal Majella’s history with addiction. Guinnane’s Angela is intimidated on arrival, but still decides to stick around. The play, much like one character’s lengthy phone call, is put on waiting, and even takes time out to recreate a dance-floor for two lovers to sway and connect.
It’s a shame because there is an interesting interrogation here about the country’s legacies, but when its plotting and metaphor is out of control, it seems more unfixed than focused.
Shelter is at Galway International Arts Festival until July 29th. For more details, click here.