Writer: Fionnuala Gygax
Director: Raymond Keane
Reviewer: Ciara L Murphy
Using an ensemble of white Irish actors to convey the injustices of the Irish Direct Provision system should not work. However, in Fionnuala Gygax’s Hostel 16 it does. The interesting question for this reviewer (a white Irish woman) is why? Has Gygax hit on an uncomfortable truth? Is it more easy to empathise with the ‘other’ if you represent them as if ‘they’ were like ‘us’? Is the even more uncomfortable truth the fact that ‘they’ are, in fact, exactly like ‘we’ are?
Thoughtfully imagined this simple piece of performance examines the relationship between the Irish asylum system and asylum seekers who arrive on our shores seeking help. This performance comes at a timely juncture as the European migrant crisis worsens. Indeed many shows in the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival’s programme, such as Brokentalker’s This Beach, and Outlandish Theatre Company’s Megalomaniac comment on various aspects of the refugee experience in Europe and in Ireland. However it is safe to say that Gygax’s expirimental, artistic intervention outstrips both of these offerings in terms of affective impact.
The set, designed by Lisa Kearns, in the Von Trier style allows the audience an unimpeded view of the living situation of eleven ‘refugees’. It becomes clear that many of these residents – more accurate to call them inmates – have been in this Direct Provision Centre for years. A host of psychological, physical, and emotional strains become evident as the audience become increasingly familiar with each person and their situation. The image of the pregnant Karen McCartney is striking, making visible yet another way in which the Irish state fails mothers and women.
It’s hard to imagine a life for yourself and your family in which you have no control over your own food, eating and sleeping patterns, social, or sex life. But that is the reality that Gygax’s landscape represents. At breaking point the residents, lead by Nessa Matthews, plan a public demonstration to protest against their conditions. Their spirited quest for justice is matched evenly by their terror at ‘rocking the boat’ and being sent back to wherever they came from.
The production is not perfect, and there are some problematic points. The representation of sexual abuse is thrown like a grenade into the narrative and Gygax’s script then flees from it, leaving this idea unresolved. Similarly, Hostel 16 would have been more effectively concluded, this reviewer feels, by ending it one minute earlier. The late tragedy of the piece is unnecessary – a cluttering of what was a mostly clean and cutting narrative.
Despite this, Hostel 16 is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Fringe and a refreshing and brave production by one of Ireland’s newest writers. Make it your mission to see this show.
Runs until 18 September as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival | Image: Fionnuala Gygax