Writer: Joe Wright
Reviewer: Saoirse Anton
On the 11thof September 2018, a number of housing activists are removed from a vacant house they are occupying on North Frederick Street by an unidentified security firm, supported by the Garda Public Order Unit. On the 12thof September 2018, hundreds of protesters shut down O’Connell Street with a sit-in before accompanying the occupiers to another empty property at Belvedere Place. At the same time on the 12th September, just across the river, an audience sits down in the New Theatre to meet the astronaut of O’Connell Street, a young homeless man who is searching for the last few pieces of cardboard to finish his rocket and make his way back to the stars.
Joe Wright’s one-man play is a timely piece, looking back to the Apollo House occupation of 2016 and spurring its audience forward to make a change today. Following the story of a young man who had a difficult childhood and was put in the care of the church and state at a young age before finding himself homeless soon after leaving care, Astronaut paints a painful, honest picture of the plight of so many homeless people in our country. Using spoken-word poetry and storytelling, Wright flits between the personal stories of his character and accounts of real events in Ireland on a wider scale. By interspersing his text with videos from RTÉ News, the Apollo House occupation, and the current protests by the Take Back the City group, Wright grounds this fictional account of the Astronaut of O’Connell Street firmly in reality.
At times the writing jars a little; the jumps between different years are generally effective in terms of following the narrative and highlighting the ongoing issue of homelessness in Ireland, but in one or two cases they jump a little too sharply or abruptly, giving the impression of a gap or a cut in the story. However, though this happened on a few occasions throughout the piece and pulled attention out of the story momentarily, it did not detract too much from the overall energy or impact of the piece. Similarly, the lighting design often left Wright’s face in shadow, concealing his full range of expressions. It did not overly diminish the effectiveness of the work, it would improve the piece if the lighting was more focused on the performer in the space.
Overall, Astronaut is a moving piece of theatre that serves as an urgent, timely reminder not to let ourselves become “a generation who rejoice in regression.”
Runs until 15 September 2018 | Image: Contributed