ALL VICTIMS OF HOMOPHOBIA
Aodhan Madden's new play, Sea Urchins played at the Project Arts Centre from 8th to 13th August, when it moved to the Tivoli, Dublin. It is inspired by an incident that occurred in Fairview Park some years ago, where a young man, Declan Flynn, was murdered by a gang of 'queerbashers'. The gang was arrested and brought to court, but the youths were given suspended sentences. The case caused quite a public reaction both good and bad, and highlighted some disturbing homophobic tendencies in Irish people. GCN critic, Tony Murphy went along to see the play:
SEA URCHINS, by Aodhan Madden at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin.
After having its world premiere at the Hawkswell in Sligo a few months ago, this play toured the country before finally reaching Dublin. It must have been a disappointment to many that the show only ran for a week at the Project, as there was surely sufficient demand for a three-week run.
The sets comprised of a number of of rostra that formed steps down to the beach at Dun Laoghaire Pier. They were slightly battered round the edges, but this was probably due to the number of venues the company has played. Cider bottles were very much in evidence and as the night wore on their numbers increased. The back wall of the Project was painted to represent the sea/sky, in a crude but effective manner. Most of the action seemed to take place at night, as the set was lit mainly from behind in light-mid blues with cross light fill, again in light blues and key lights from the right (moonlight?), the idea of using orange to represent sodium street lights could have been exploited a lot more.
The show opened with Huey, the main character (played by Declan Croghan) going for a swim, although we are led to believe that he has something less innocent in mind. His pal Pug (Gerry Marshall) times him while he is gone, but after 650 he stops, fearing the worst.. As the play unfolds, we see that the characters are a sort of family, united by their drinking of cider. When one of them gets money, it is spent on cider for all of them. Squint (Paul Kennedy), who went to the same orphanage as Huey, is the leader and is the chief source of money (got mainly by acting as pimp for Ria (Aoife Lawless) and by organising attacks on the gay men who use the pier as a cruising ground). Smokey (Connor Clarke) is an alcoholic by now, and has to rely on the others to supply him with cider. The gang spend most of their time at the end of the pier, lost in their own dream worlds, except for Pug, who sees very clearly what is happening around him and sees through the other characters. Ria, although not a dreamer, still does not quite see what she is doing to herself. Smokey is either drunk or has the D.T.'s. Squint feels that he has brought this family together and that he is master. Huey dreams about the family he thinks he had that drowned on the Titanic. (All the characters are in teh 17-20 age group, and the play is set in 1985!) After setting the scene, the first half of the play ends with the attack on the 'Duke' (John Woods), with the intention of robbing him. However, Huey takes out his anger at himself and people of his kind on the Duke, whom he feels portrays typical "filthy queers". He ends up killing him.
In the second half the trial is over, and the young men have gotten off with 5 years keeping of the peace. The local community supported them very well - "sure weren't they ridding the neighbourhood of child molesters". They arrive back at the end of the pier to celebrate. During a re-run of the case, Ria decides that what they told the Judge about child molesters etc. was not true ("what kids come down here after dark?"). She realises that the Duke had kids of his own, that he was a human being, the same as herself and that it was wrong to have killed him. She cannot escape a vision of his face. The only thing for her now is cider. Smokey feels the same. Whatever chance he had of giving up cider is now gone. It is the only escape from the thoughts of what he has done. Ria moves over to England, to her sister. Smokey tries for re-habilitation and even Squint realises that he no longer has his family to look after. Pug, who never wanted a job in the first place, gets a job in his uncle's pub. Only Huey remains. He also requires cider to escape. Pug visits him, to find out why he killed the Duke. Huey finally admits that he is gay himself, that it was hatred for himself that made him do it. Pug, who was trying to tell Huey that he (Huey) was gay at the start of the play now finds it hard to take. There the play ends, with Huey left in darkness.
The first half of the play is badly paced. The director has drawn it out, with little contrast between high and low points in the action, the fight scenes are unconvincing, be they brawls between friends or the attack on the Duke; sloppy, unconvincing and far too slow. The time for the first half could easily be cut by 30-40% without losing any of the dialogue, and it would certainly help relieve the tedium.
Direction wise, the second half of the play is much better. The pace is a lot faster and there is much better contrasts between moods. Although I was bored for the first half of the play, I sat riveted through this part. When it was over I sat there, stunned. Was this a live performance or was it reality? It took me 5 minutes to convince myself of where I actually was.
Huey, the main character is not very convincing. The inflections in his speech, his accent and the lines he is given add up to a totally unconvincing performance. However, it is difficult to know whether to blame the actor or the director. I would tend to blame the director. The author, in trying to show us a confused mind has succeeded in showing us too well.
Squint was unremarkable, quite a good performance, but again, what a terrible accent.
Pug was excellent. He was not acting the part, he was the part. His voice had the correct inflections for his lines. He spoke them with the correct accent and his emotions were real. Gerry Marshall is a name we are going to hear a lot more of.
Ria also gave a good performance. She had good contrasts between her moods and maintained the correct (Sallynoggin) accent throughout. Particularly effective was her soliloquy where she is shown pleading with her mother after the murder.
Smokey, although a small part, was a very demanding one. To stay in character with the D.T.'s every night for a long run, even if you don't have a lot to say requires much of an actor, and Connor Clarke did so admirably.
The Duke was a very small part, hardly worth a mention, except to say that the make-up, while good in the shadows, let the actor down when he turned to the key light.
Overall this was a very worthwhile performance. As many people as possible in Ireland should see it, if only to reveal what Aodhan Madden, the author, described as a "deep and unpleasant homophobia in Irish society". Well done Acorn Theatre Company.
SEA URCHINS UPDATE
Sea Urchins has now transferred to the Tivoli in Francis St. where it will play for as long as the demand is there. During the Theatre Festival the play will tour community venues around Dublin. Contact the Festival Offices for further information.