What does it take for an audience, no less than a nation, to take notice? At a time when the degrading realities of Ireland’s Direct Provision system for accommodating asylum seekers have come to light, how can a response be galvanised? Playwright Fionnuala Gygax proceeds cautiously, as if it’s not her place to give an explicit representation of foreign nationalities. Dressing her play with Irish parts, the hope is that something familiar will hit closer to home.
Guided by testimonies of asylum speakers, Gygax’s play is a solemn drawing of life within a Direct Provision centre. Suspended figures, penniless without the right to work, are captured in director Raymond Keane’s slow moving tableaux, with the simple floor markings of Lisa Kearn’s set conveying punishing confines and a lack of privacy. This limbo resembles a prison.
In close quarters, tensions are bound to reach fever pitch. Aidan Moriarty provides a frightening note as a furious teenager, prone to power plays and outbursts. When he turns his rage to his mother (a wonderful Nessa Matthews), she tries to ease him with perspective: “Do you know how many people died back there?” she asks. “I don’t care!” he roars back. This positions her between two warzones outside her control.
For the younger residents going to school, the realisation dawns that their lives are different than their peers. A child (boundless Megan O’Brien) excited for a birthday party is later dismayed by the size of her friend’s garden, and a teenager (Gygax) hopes to go to college despite her circumstances and her depressed mother’s sneers (Aisling O’Mara, with few lines but still a powerhouse). The system has pushed people to the brink. But word is spreading of holding a protest.
“If you disrupt the system it will turn on you,” warns a concerned resident (Colin Campbell, with nice restraint), reminding that the fear of deportation is reason not to shake the status quo. Disagreements and conflicts (Laurence Falconer strikes a very menacing figure indeed) may be part of the community but so are acts of kindness. Danielle Galligan shows great flashes of warmth as a parent and friend. Generosity among those that society’s left behind is a powerful thing.
The washes of Bill Woodland’s lights, a nice signal from day to night, fall again and again on sleeping figures. How much longer are they expected to stay there? But just when you think nothing will change, someone takes a stand. The audience of this urgent piece of theatre may well follow suit.