Classic 120 Days of Sodom redubbed for Irish context

Classic 120 Days of Sodom redubbed for Irish context
A scene from ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom’. Picture: Park Circus/ MGM Studios

Dylan Tighe’s overdubbing of a classic tale of depravity to give it an Irish context is one of the most interesting offerings at Dublin Theatre Festival, writes Alan O’Riordan.

PIER Paolo Pasolini’s last film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, remains one of the most controversial of all time: unparalleled, until very recently, in its depiction of depravity and dehumanisation.

Pasolini’s work was a transposition: taking the Marquis de Sade’s 18th-century novel and placing it in the context of Italy’s fascist period. Now, at the Dublin Theatre Festival, Dylan Tighe is transposing Pasolini to an Irish context, via a redubbing of the movie with live actors in what he promises is “not going to be an easy night at the theatre.”

Like Pasolini, Tighe has a certain period in his sights, namely the Ireland of institutional abuse. And like Pasolini, Tighe is keen to stress it’s not a historical piece. What he’s dealing with he says is not history. “Pasolini was at pains to explain that, for him, the film was about consumerism rather than classical fascim,” says Tighe. “In his opinion, the new fascism of consumerism was worse that classical fascism.

Consumerism homogenised Italians in a way fascism never managed to do. He saw it as the degradation of human life under capitalism essentially, which I think we are seeing now to a degree he could never have imagined. What he’s really saying is that fascism is a manifestation of a deeper human impulse, which is what I’m trying to get at. Institutional abuses are an expression deeper-rooted values and beliefs.”

Indeed, history has shown it to be a universal truth of humans, that, where unchecked power exists, it will be abused. Where that power is over the weak and vulnerable, then it is they who will be dehumanised and abused. Nazi Germany is, of course, the poster child for this, but that is merely the extreme. Every modern society has its bureaucratically enabled horrors: fascist Spain, the “disappeared” of Argentina, Russia’s purges, the stolen generations of Australia, any colonial project anywhere, and of course, Ireland’s network of incarceration and slavery, to name but a few.

“What is interesting is to look at what creates those conditions of unchecked power,” says Tighe. “And I think what Pasolini’s film does, and hopefully what mine will too, is create a thought experiment. I want people to reflect on that question. What happens under conditions of impunity? What will human beings do to other human beings in those conditions?”

Dylan Tighe. Picture: Kathrin Baumbach
Dylan Tighe. Picture: Kathrin Baumbach

Tighe first became aware of Pasolini’s work while studying in Bologna. It was the late 1990s, he says, just as the lid was beginning to be lifted on Ireland’s history of institutional abuse. “Somehow this idea formed in my head about the contrast between Pasolini’s extreme representation of human cruelty and the context in which it was received.

“I suppose that contrasted with the reality of what was going on in Ireland, which in many cases was worse than the film. I was thinking about what it means to be outraged by a representation when there is not as much outrage, culturally, about the facts. I think that is still very relevant and a very interesting question for this project. I think we are at a very early stage in conceptualising what this means. In terms of even understanding that it’s not history. It’s ongoing, still being covered up, buried.”

Societies have a problem facing up to such traumas as Tighe is talking about. But they also have the problem of how to keep facing up to them. The week of the Ryan report, for instance, as nationally cathartic. But what does it mean 10 years later? How does a society carry the memory, and responsibility for what that report contained?

“One reason we’ve not been able to process it,” says Tighe, “is because the forms in which we’ve been given this information are, in a sense, impossible to grasp. You can’t read the report. It’s too big. It’s too unwieldy, it’s hard to access. Emilie Pine and others at UCD has done great work with the Industrial Memories project, to make it searchable. A major piece of work. But as time goes by, the memory needs to be reactivated. We have to ask, how do we reckon with it again? I think that’s where this kind of project comes in. From the beginning, when I proposed it to the Abbey, I was adamant that that was where it needed to happen, at the National Theatre.”

When Tighe speaks about his piece as a work for the theatre, his enthusiasm shines through. Salò Redubbed might not be light entertainment, but, by virtue of being a shared experience, by virtue of being a communal endeavour, by virtue of it being performed live, by actors in the room, any piece of theatre is inherently able to transcend the darkest material. It is a unique aspect of the artform, its chief glory. 

“I’ve been doing a lot of voice-over work,” says Tighe, “and I’m interested in the theatricality of it. That embodiment of the actor, which you don’t normally see, is beautiful to watch. And we have some wonderful actors for this. I think that element is a counterpoint to the material that we see in the film.” 

It’s an almost necessary grace note that Pasolini perhaps had in mind in his final scene, when two young men dance together. “What’s your girlfriend’s name,” asks one. “Margarita,” comes to reply. Might Tighe’s audience perceive the same flicker of humanity?

“I hope so,” he says. “Maybe there is justice. Maybe that’s the hope. That justice and truth can help us understand the past in a way that brings us some respite as a society.”

- Abbey Theatre, Peacock Stage, Sept 26 - Oct 5

Dublin Theatre Festival: Other highlights

Beckett’s Room, Gate Theatre

Ireland’s most exciting theatremakers, Dead Center, return to the festival with a look inside the Paris apartment where Samuel Beckett lived during the World War II, and in which he made some of his greatest leaps forward as an artist. In this study of art and absence, the audience will see an empty stage, while listening on individual headphones.

Hecuba, Project Theatre

A new play by Marina Carr is always a big event. Here, Carr reimagines Euripides’ post-Trojan War tragedy in our present context of climate change and refugee crises.

MÁM, O’Reilly Theatre

Michael Keegan-Dolan presents MÁM, his follow-up to ‘Loch na hEala’.
Michael Keegan-Dolan presents MÁM, his follow-up to ‘Loch na hEala’.

After the hit of the festival in 2016, Loch na hEala, Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Teac Damsa return with an eagerly anticipated show, exploring ideas of “meeting” with an ensemble of dancers and musicians, both Irish and international.

The Alternative, Pavilion, Dún Laoghaire

The winning entry into Fishamble’s A Play for Ireland initiative could hardly be more in tune with our times. Michael Patrick and Oisín Kearney ask us to imagine what might have happened if Home Rule had been passed in 1913. In this scenario, it’s 2019, and the eve of Ireland’s own exit referendum. It’s Leave versus Remain, but not as we know them.

Faultline, 11 Parnell Square East

ANU productions continue their excavation of the murkier corners of Ireland’s past. This time, with the help of the Irish Queer Archive, the company explores events in 1982 that followed the killing of Charles Self, and their huge impact on the gay community.

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