Writer: Gemma Kane
Director: Claire Maguire
Reviewer: Clara Mallon
“I actually walked into that smoke to die”.
Gemma Kane’s debut play 48 begins with searing testimony of survivor’s guilt. A smoke haze oppressively fills Smock Alley’s Boys School theatre and we are introduced to bodies who clamour methodically, moving agonisingly throughout the space, gasping for air immersed in disco lights. Aided by a haunting soundscape created by Dylan Tonge Jones, the tone is set: the horror of things yet to come.
Based on the tragic fire in the Stardust nightclub in 1981, the play’s title commemorates the forty-eight lives lost as a result. But this is a piece about life, not death. When the four performers (Laurence Falconer, Emily Fox, Niall O’Brien and Kane herself) transcend onto the stage space, we are met with a vibrant and comic tongue-in-cheek depiction of 1980s Dublin youth.
Humanizing the lives of four individuals on the run-up to this devastating disaster, Kane cleverly utilizes the event of the fire as a framing device. As spectators, we invest in the tales of young lives astonishingly realized. Worries about future careers, the break-up, and make-up between lovers and the what-ifs of a budding romance lend the piece a universality. The poignancy of 48 emanates from Kane’s compelling use of dramatic irony. As observers, we know the danger that lurks in our protagonists’ future and helplessly look on as they march toward their destiny.
Maguire’s direction works so that the entirety of the intimate stage space is utilized and the raw energy of the performing ensemble foregrounded. The minimalistic set is transformed seamlessly into many locations as the performers effectively slip in and out of multiple roles. From a serenade on the streets of Coolock to an awkward family-meets–boyfriend scenario, and finally to the electricity of the Stardust nightclub, the quartet needs no aids signifying space. The group’s remarkable versatility is at the heart of this shows success. 48 is an incredibly accomplished piece in its staging, writing, and direction.
Ultimately, this is a work about real lives on the run-up to a real event. Kane’s personal connection to the tragedy (her parents are both Stardust survivors), lends the piece an intimacy, insight, and integrity. Yet director Maguire does not shy away from formal and stylistic innovation. Inset songs, visceral soundscapes, ritualistic movement, and haunting lines addressed directly to the audience allow the piece to slip between the ethereal and the earthy.
The production ends in powerful yet painful ambiguity, leaving us questioning the fate of these youths. Kane’s debut breathes new life into this devastating event of Ireland’s past, ensuring that this tragedy and the lives that it altered need not be forgotten.
Runs until 13 April 2019 | Image: Contributed