One doesn’t have to venture far from the doors of the Abbey Theatre to see the often grim reality of life in Dublin’s north inner city — the drug deals, petty crime, and addicts shooting up in plain sight.
However, such activity and its impact is not something one often sees being played out on the stage of our national theatre.
A new play is aiming to redress this lack of representation, focusing on the women of Dublin’s north inner city, whose stories get lost beneath the crime and drugs statistics and the headlines blaring the latest gangland shooting.
Written by Tracy Martin and directed by Vanessa Fielding, Dublin Will Show You How explores the coercion, intimidation and isolation these women experience in their daily lives.
For Martin, the opportunity to portray the lives of these marginalised women was one to be seized.
“For me, that was the absolute most important thing. There is a line in the play that the real drama plays out in the laneways around the Abbey.
"I really wanted to take a look at the people you pass by on those streets.”
The play is based on a concept by Fielding, artistic director of The Complex arts centre near Smithfield, who asked women of the north inner city to share their stories as part of the Browbeating Project, a community collaboration between the Abbey Theatre and The Complex.
Martin came on board just over a year ago and sat in on some of the workshops, which provided much of the material for the play.
I just listened really, to piece together not so much what they were saying but also what they weren’t saying. A lot of the women were experiencing homelessness and addiction problems when we were talking to them, and had come out of domestic abuse situations.
"I didn’t want major outrageous stories from them. We weren’t going in and prodding them too hard.
"We had many cups of tea, just very gently getting a feel for the situations, their lives.”
Martin says the women found it hard at first to share their stores because they didn’t believe that anyone could possibly be interested.
“They don’t want to talk about it with their friends or the family, and especially not with us.
"The play, for me and Vanessa, became a lot about silence, how fear, embarrassment shame can be used to keep people quiet and how that has gone on for generations. It was quite startling.
"Sometimes a woman would be sitting there and it would be hard for her to comprehend that her story mattered, that somebody might be interested in how she was experiencing having absolutely nothing in the fridge or the presses, and having somebody knocking on the door looking for money, and might be trying to figure out, with her, how best to handle that.”
When the women did begin to open up, Martin says she was struck by the unrelenting pressure these women were under, the exhaustion of being constantly vigilant in the face of crime, drug use and lack of money.
“They would talk about what it is like to live in a tiny flat and your son comes home after being in prison or he has drug abuse problems.
"Just the minutiae of sharing your life in a tiny space and how that can get in on top of you.
“And also what it is like to know what goes on your flat can be heard all over the place, just those different living situations.
There were women talking about living in a hostel and how they protect themselves, acting tough so people would leave them alone. There was real paranoia — people coming to the door saying they were connected to gangs.
"Because it is the woman who are minding the children, they know that where those children live is where that woman is.
"The husband, father or son might be gone but they know they can get to them because they know where granny lives and she is sitting there with the grandkids.”
Martin says that a lot of the women end up in abusive relationships or involved in drugs and crime because of their life circumstances.
“There was a massive lack of confidence and that is how situations arose, like domestic violence or getting involved in drugs… if you are 15 and you’ve been in care, you haven’t done well in education, you are kind of ripe for the picking by someone who will have you working on the streets for them pretty soon.”
Martin says that while it is important to show such stories on the stage, it is even more vital that people in the communities featured get to see the play.
“We don’t want it to become ‘the Abbey’ as a separate thing, which is why it is important that it is going to be performed at the Complex as well.
"Getting people in and then having talks and workshops afterwards is a massive part of it, that the play is a conversation starter more than just taking stories and going ‘look at this’, like some weird kind of poverty porn or something.
"It is definitely not that, it is made for the people who contributed to it.”
Martin is also keen to point out the strength, community spirit and humour among the women involved in the development of the play.
“That humour… I heard some of the best slags I’ve ever heard, they’d keep you on your toes. There are lots of groups in the community working really hard, for and with the people, whether it is the choir groups, the Men’s Sheds and the female equivalents.
"There is constant work going on in the community. There is a fierce pride there as well.”
Martin previously wrote the acclaimed play Harder Faster More, which explored the lives of sex workers, and hopes to continue to produce work telling the stories of marginalised women.
I was always interested in the idea of women slipping through the cracks, they get into prostitution because they’ve been in foster care for so long, there is no-one really looking out for them.
"There is a whole world of people out there who are not seen and are not heard. Hopefully there will be a part two to this play.
"I am interested in the idea of the resilience of female friendship, I’ve seen a lot of that while working on this project.”