Rental crisis at heart of Ray Scannell's new play

Inspired by his own experience of the rental crisis, Dublin-based actor, writer and musician, Ray Scannell — originally from Cork — has written and composed the music for The Bluffer’s Guide to Suburbia.

Scannell stars in the three-hander as Finn who left the Dublin suburbs 20 years ago to pursue a career on the indie music circuit in London. 

But he resorts to taking the ferry home having failed to live up to his early promise. He joins that band of ‘adult children,’ living with his parents, struggling to make music.

Forty-year old Scannell, an arts graduate of UCC who studied screen writing at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, knows all about the rental crisis. 

It is made even more acute by the struggle to make a living in the poorly paid arts sector.

What sparked Scannell’s latest show was an article about singer, David Kitt, who had to move out of expensive Dublin “as he was being gentrified out of the city”.

Scannell has been renting in Dublin since the pre-Celtic Tiger era, and has seen the situation get increasingly worse.

“The rent was reasonable but it wasn’t cheap. And suddenly, there was the domino effect of rent starting go up. Landlords and house owners started getting paranoid about keeping up. 

With no rent control, these things are open to vested interests. It’s like the Celtic Tiger again but almost worse.

"I’ve done the rounds in Dublin and have been in all sorts of situations.”

For a few months, Scannell lived in a house on the north side of Dublin that belonged to a woman who was sympathetic to artists. 

“But the house was involved in a family feud. She was trying to hold on to it so she wanted it occupied. 

"I had gone back to Cork for a few days and when I returned, the locks had been changed and all my gear was in the house. The other person involved in the feud had gotten in. I had to go.”

When Scannell talks about his current situation, living alone in leafy Sandymount, he initially refers to his living quarters as a mews at the back of a main house. 

But he later explains that it’s just a converted shed with a kitchen and a few steps up to the bed. The rent is reasonable for the area.

“I’m in a better situation than a lot of people. But it’s not a long term fix. I don’t own my own place. I’m still caught in the rental trap.”

There’s a line in the play “where a character says that basically, if you’re an artist living and working in Dublin and are not Bono, you’re unquantifiable to the vultures.”

Scannell has no time for the “old idea” that artists are bohemians who are happy to live anywhere.

“Everyone I know working in theatre has to do as much if not more hours than in your 9 to 5 job while getting paid much less. 

"I don’t know too many bohemian people taking the piss. Working in the arts is like any other line of work. You’ve got to show up and take it seriously.”

Having started his career at UCC’s Granary Theatre with the likes of Tom Creed (who is directing the show), Scannell, who has had success with other self-penned plays music shows such as Mimic and Sir Henry’s play Deep, is working steadily. 

But he’s all too conscious that at forty, there’s an expectation that he ought to have ticked certain boxes, like having his own home, a car, a wife.

However, Scannell points out that “90% of artists working and living in Ireland earn below the minimum wage. 

"In terms of first world/third world problems, I’m in a privileged place. But it’s all relative. These things (like high rent) are still out of whack,” says Scannell.

Unlike his Finn character, he currently has no plans to return to his family home in Monkstown, Co Cork. 

“But you never know.”

The Bluffer’s Guide to Suburbia is at the Granary on June 17 and 19-22 as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival.

Cork Midsummer: Selected Theatre

By Des O'Driscoll

Evening Train

Everyman, 14 June - 23 June

A stage adaptation of Mick Flannery’s 2005 album, complete with the Blarney troubadour himself among the live musicians.

Characters included Grace, dying to get out town, and her boyfriend Luther who promises to take her away.

The Small Things

Old Waterworks, June 14-23

A collaboration between Corcadorca and Enda Walsh is always an event to savour, with this revival of a

2005 play starring Peter Gowen and Pauline McLynn.

The playwright himself described it as “a love story about survival in a violent world and a celebration of the small things we cling to.

"It is also an ode to language, to talking.”

Note the 10.30pm start time.

Everything I Do

Cork Arts Theatre, June 14-15

Zoe Ní Riordáin’s show was one of the hits of last year’s Dublin Fringe Festival, with its music-based take on personal tale of love and heartbreak.

Tall Tail

School of Music, June 14-16

One of the family-orientated events, this tale unfolds through the eyes of a dog named Here-Boy.

Suitable for 7+ years.

Theatre for One

Emmet Place, June 18-23

A mobile performance space for one actor and one audience member at a time.

The five-minute plays that will be performed come from such Irish theatre luminaries as Louise Lowe, Mark O’Rowe and Marina Carr.

More on this topic

Review: Flannery premiere, Evening Train, The Everyman

Review: Opera, Blackwater Valley Opera Festival Lismore, Waterford

Celebrated playwright Enda Walsh selects his cultural touchstones

Zoe Wanamaker to star in new play about first ladies

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