This collaboration between the Abbey and the Complex, an arts venue in Dublin’s Smithfield, began when Vanessa Fielding, of the Complex, initiated the Browbeating Project, in which 100 women from drug-blighted inner-city communities came to share their experiences.
Writer Tracy Martin sat in on workshops with the women, and her play distills their experiences of fear, intimidation, poverty, and addiction.
Denise McCormack plays Joan, a grieving mother whose addict son has died. Karen Ardiff, a late addition to the cast, and still with script to hand, gives a powerful performance as Tina, a mother whose eldest son is starting to do “favours” for the local drug boss, Leo (David O’Meara).
Meanwhile, she’s trying to stay clean and financially stable to win back her other children from their care home.
Leah Moore plays Cathleen, a young mother constantly totting up her outgoings to see what’s left over for alcohol and tobacco.
Liz Fitzgibbon plays Marie, pushed to prostitution by a violent boyfriend.
She doubles up as Josie, a homeless heroin addict whose staccato rhymes transcend the otherwise realist depictions.
Indeed, Josie’s commentary is enough to make another stylistic embellishment — a chorus of seagulls flying overhead, naming and venerating the city below — all the more unnecessary.
The action unfolds in traverse, with the audience on either side of a largely bare stage.
Towards the wings are the rickety, raised platforms of Sarah Jane Foley’s set, effectively used to create the blocks of flats, balconies and stairwells of the play’s setting.
Fielding directs the action fluidity, with frequent changes of role and of scene.
Characters linger and blend into another person’s story, creating an intimate, community feel.
It’s an effective tribute to the show’s origin material.
And yet, Martin’s many strands and stories do not ever fully cohere, reminding us of another all-too-real experience, even in the tightest-knit community: isolation.