Shoreditch Town Hall
Reviewed – 8th June 2018
“this riveting work shines some light into the darkness”
First presented in a dilapidated Dublin building two years ago as part of the centenary marking the Easter Rising, “These Rooms” is an intense, immersive blend of theatre, dance and installation. Drawing on eye witness accounts it recalls the events of Dublin’s North King Street Massacre in April 1916 – when fifteen civilian men were killed in house-to-house raids by British soldiers. In this utterly compelling, haunting and thought-provoking depiction we are forced to consider both stories: those of the civilians who were victims of and witnesses to the North King Street Massacre, and those of the men of the South Staffordshire Regiment who committed this act.
Created by the Irish performance companies, ANU and CoisCéim Dance Theatre, there is not an ounce of exposition or preaching here. Instead we are taken on a journey into the victim’s homes, not as flies on the wall but as one of them. Yet directors David Bolger and Louise Lowe are attuned enough to the absurdity and cruel contradictions of conflict that we also feel, at times, that we are the perpetrators too. We are delivered some brutal truths of history. Robbie O’Connor, in a spellbinding performance, asks us to define the phrase “take no prisoners”. But it is genuine fear, not aggression, that reflects in his eyes as he does so. As a regimental soldier he has no idea what he is doing in Dublin. And neither do we, but this riveting work shines some light into the darkness and, more importantly, brings the victims’ overlooked story, and its far-reaching aftermath, to the fore.
From the off it is impossible to remain impassive. The choreography, with its mixture of violence and virtuosity, beauty and barbarism, bypasses narration and takes a more expressive path straight to the core of each character’s emotions. The attention to detail is shared by designer Owen Boss who has transformed the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall into ‘these rooms’ of the title: the smashed walls, barricades of broken chairs, abandoned breakfast tables, the corner pub at closing time. Within these walls the characters search for meaning, taking us with them – sharing a drink with them, sharing secrets, sharing bread and marmalade and grief. We are shown fragments, but these minor details are what paint the bigger picture. Úna Kavanagh’s devastated response to the question of the colour of her husband’s socks, for instance, uncovers the trauma of identifying victims. People who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
At the heart, though, are the powerful and evocative performances. The finely nuanced emotions, whether expressed through movement or dialogue, reveal more of the history than the scant documentary evidence can. Especially as the subsequent investigations into the massacre were fudged – with the incredulous argument that the ‘fog of war’ made it impossible to figure out what really happened. A hundred years on these actors bring the horror of these events alive in a compellingly stirring and important piece of theatre. Intimate yet panoramic, this show is totally unmissable.
As we are lead, after a breath-taking ninety minutes, back up into the courtyard there is total silence. The broken women, frozen in their shared grief, merely follow us with their gaze. No applause, though we know that once we have grappled with, and untangled the emotions that writhe within us, the ovation in our heads is thunderous.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Hugo Glendinning
Shoreditch Town Hall until 22nd June
Previously reviewed at this venue