Iron by Rona Munro. At the Complex, Smithfield until 28 May May 18, 2011Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, The Left.
Many thanks to anarchaeologist for the following which, as he says, might distract CLRniks from the main events of the day.:
I’ve taken an interest in the goings-on in Smithfield since the early summer of 1666, when the foundation trenches of the new development were first dug through the burial pits of 27 individuals who died at the gallows at the end of Hammond (Hangman’s) Lane. I’ve been in a position to see Smithfield’s fortunes fall, rise and fall again, recording the material evidence of blow-ins and blow-outs, the rich and the poor. The well scrubbed rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed. Great themes have repeated themselves hereabouts by rote, echoes of the past ringing around my head each time I stumble across what they’re now calling the Plaza.
Another story is there to be shared for the next week or so in the Complex. This is a theatre and gallery with a strong community ethos which occupies the ground floor of one of the new blocks facing the expanse of granite street setts which are currently being relaid. Iron is set in a women’s prison; coincidentally, the old Female Penitentiary stood just across the square, a gaunt Georgian structure which survived until the early ‘70s to be replaced by Corporation housing. A daughter turns up unexpectedly to visit her mother, a lifer inside for the murder of her husband; there has been no contact between them for 16 years and they’ve become strangers. Divergent lives, family bonds broken. The action takes place around the audience, facilitating an equality between the actors and the observers, an equality absent from the interactions of the screws, the prisoner and her ostensibly free daughter, a stranger to her mother as much as to herself. The story is riveting, the acting beyond superb. The proximity of the action is such that you can literally smell the atmosphere; the tension is real and unyielding. You leave questioning your preconceived notions of what it’s like in prison and yet how prison can become a home, despite the obvious restrictions placed on your freedoms and your ability to develop and live as a human being. While it’s obviously trite to talk about freedom in the context of a play set in a prison, the theme expands beyond the obvious, which makes the story as compelling as it is upsetting. The experience itself is something of an endurance test; at three hours (with a 15 minute interval) you’ll have earned your pint afterwards.
Like all good stories though, there’s another one just underneath. The Complex occupies a large space on the square and has functioned so on a relatively nominal rent for the past two years. There’ve been theatre shows, exhibitions, alcohol-free discos and local kids in and about the place making prints and other images depicting their local environment. There’ve been college end of year shows and yes, the odd archaeologist harbouring artistic pretensions hawking photos and drawings of the excavation which facilitated the development in the first place. Funding has been secured for a community youth theatre project, one which will continue director Vanessa Fielding’s commitment to the type of theatre which ‘takes out the fourth wall’. Demystifying the process without diluting the spectacle. Indeed, the place is nothing like a traditional theatre, something which will be immediately obvious as the first words are spoken in Iron.
The former landlord/developer has been happy enough to see the space occupied in the present climate, however prior to handing over the building to NAMA, a new actor walked on stage in the form of Tesco. Tesco wants a foothold to operate an off licence in an area well-known for outdoor recreational drinking and anti-social activities. They’ll pay more rent than the Complex of course and if we’re to believe the bullshit, that’s a result for the tax payer. However, they got into Temple Bar by stealth and they’re now doing the same in Smithfield. Last week they lodged a second planning application for the site, so if you’ve paid your 20 quid to comment on their initial proposal (a Fianna Fáil adjustment of the planning laws which reserves the right to object to such applications for those with the money), you’re going to have to cough up yet again if you believe the space should continue to function.
In the early stages of the development, an area was set aside for cultural use. Initially planned as a Museum of Childhood for the city (or a children’s museum, except the architects couldn’t get the apostrophe quite right), the irony of hosting such an institution opposite the Children’s Court eventually dawned on the developers. What eventually came about was the Lighthouse Cinema which of course is now defunct, faced with a 100% rent increase from an avaricious landlord who just wasn’t making enough money on the property. So, is the Complex going down the same road?
The week before Iron opened, an eviction order was delivered from the solicitors acting for the receiver, giving seven days to vacate the premises. This necessitated a 24-hour presence in the space, with this writer spending a night on the prison bed in the centre of the ‘stage’ which was compensated for somewhat by being able to play the Special AKA at full volume for several hours over the PA. The legal team are not without form themselves; one of them was recently forced to reopen the grounds of Lissadell House after illegally closing off a right of way to the public. These guys charge a lot of money and Tesco’s pockets are deep.
The Complex has been busy garnering support from whatever corner it can and a meeting was held last week with Jimmy Deenihan, Minister of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, facilitated by local TD Joe Costello. I’m not sure what this will achieve, as Deenihan says himself, he has no competency when it comes to NAMA and indeed, who does? The planning approach may well be a better way to go as the developers are in technical breach of their planning permission as it stands. A meeting today (Wednesday) with the City Council may resolve matters. The Corpo will doubtless be aware that getting rid of the Complex will certainly remove the last cultural institution in the development and the community will be poorer as a result.
As it stands, the most recent redevelopment of Smithfield is failing, despite the attempts of the City Council to re-landscape the Square and make it more attractive to the hundreds who pass through it daily on the tourist route from the Jameson’s Distillery to the National Museum at Collins Barracks. The monthly horse fair has been taken off the official list of things to do in Dublin, another story altogether with echoes of the ‘scumbag, Celtic-shirt wearing’ trope articulated so forcefully here on another thread, on Joe Duffy and elsewhere. The new apartments seem occupied by young barristers and the cultural phenomena known as Jedward. They pass gingerly by the spliff-sucking teenagers lining up outside the Court every morning awaiting their fate (two country cops overheard yesterday on Arran Quay: ‘did you see them, smoking dope and none of our lads saying a word?’). Yet there’s life to the place and if it didn’t develop as an aristocratic quarter in the late 1600s as originally intended, or indeed reinvent itself for the benefit of the elite over the past 10 years, there remains here a historical trajectory, an urban story which will run and run. The Complex remains central to this.
So, if you’re one of those who laments the passing of the Lighthouse and wishes they’d visited the place more often when it was open, here’s an opportunity to catch something which will seriously challenge your ideas of theatre and, as the cops take down the barriers along the nearby quays, notions of what it really means to be free.
As an added incentive, readers of the CLR will get in at the concessionary price of 12 Euros. Come in a little early and check out the St. Kevin’s College graduate photography show.