Theatre review: The Lost O’Casey, Dublin Theatre Festival

Gillian McCarthy in The Lost O’Casey. Picture: Patrick Redmond

By Des O’Driscoll

You’re sitting in a flat in a block in Dublin’s north inner city. Curtains drawn, a group of young men are dancing to a pounding techno beat. The guy on the couch next to you spills white powder from a bag as he engages you in a drug-addled chat about the friend they’re mourning. Can’t understand how he could’ve fallen off the roof. Great boxer.

As a theatre experience, this is quite a distance from Hamlet playing at the Gate around the corner. There are four audience members and we get split further so we’re one-on-one with characters as the ‘play’ unfolds in their world: Frederick St, the dingy flat, a mobile medical clinic. Members of the public glance wearily as we wait at a pedestrian crossing with a ranting, blood-spattered woman.

Anu has built its reputation on such immersive productions, and here Louise Lowe and co put a contemporary riff on a little-seen Sean O’Casey work. Nannie’s Night Out was described in terms of “a poor tenement-dweller gets drunk on methylated spirits hitting the town and leaving chaos and confusion in her wake”.

Fast-forward 100 years and while the substances may have changed, the deprivation, addictions, and misery look very similar. References to the characters’ children signal that this is all set to continue.

At times, the immersion feels a little forced (holding a bag for a character is fine, but does an audience member really need to buy-in to the extent that we tell them stuff about our own lives?).

Overall, however, this is an edgy, visceral experience that makes important points about the community in which it is set. Programme notes from an inner-city doctor warn of “the ultimate injustice when that same community is blamed for its own misfortune”.

A sign of The Lost O’Casey’s success comes when the 70-minute production ends and you head off along O’Connell St. Some of the people in the shadows look slightly different than before. It’s not so easy to dismiss them for how they’ve ended up, now that you know more about how they got there.

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