In Praise of Anu

I didn’t mention Louise Lowe or Anu Productions in my last post on female theatre makers and that felt like an omission. I certainly count Louise Lowe among the female theatre-makers making strong, relevant work over the last number of years, but I hadn’t seen enough of Thirteen to write about it.

Suasion. Photography by Patrick Redmond
Suasion. Photography by Patrick Redmond

I only saw a couple of the Thirteen pieces but I enjoyed them very much. I had heard great things about it from many people so in the final week I was delighted when I finally got a chance to go down to the basement of Liberty Hall to see Suasion. It was set during the Lockout and we saw real people like PT Daly, Jim Larkin, Rosie Hackett and Helena Moloney brought to life at a trade union meeting in 1913. I got a strong sense of the various battles, big and small, that were being fought during that period. I loved that we were in the real place where those things took place and that the actors spoke directly to us.

That short, 45-minute piece of theatre really reminded me how strong Anu’s work is. I was hugely impressed by Boys of Foley Street and Laundry in the last couple of years and impressed in the literal sense of the word in that they left their impression on me; I am slightly changed from having seen that work. After I missed Living the Lockout on Henrietta Street, I was determined to see as much of Thirteen as I could, but then I got busy and suddenly I was working on two shows and time became less and less available. I’m glad I saw Suasion and I also managed to see Backwash and Soup, which were equally impressive.

Fintan O’Toole wrote an article just after the Fringe, praising the work that Anu Productions are doing. In “It’s Ireland’s best public theatre, and it means our support”, he doesn’t specify what sort of support, but does mention how quickly performances sell-out – they are clearly not in need of an audience. I presume he means support from the government and other bodies who are in a position to support the arts both financially and in kind by providing space, etc. Thirteen was supported by the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon, Dublin City Council, The LAB and the Irish Congress Trade Unions, DCTV and Fishamble; The New Play Company’s New Play Clinic. The tickets for Thirteen were free, which I’m sure was a conscience decision – why make a piece of theatre about the poorest people in the city and then restrict those who can see it with ticket cost? I think it would have been nice to allow the audience to support the company financially by passing the hat at the end of each performance. This voluntary contribution could have fit in nicely in some pieces – a bucket labelled “Support for the Strikers” perhaps? So often at the end of Anu productions there is no space for applause. This would allow the audience to show their appreciation and help the company to continue to make ground-breaking work.

As well as making imaginative and visceral theatre, the work the Anu makes is unapologetically political. It’s interesting that a major protest brought the city to a stand-still during the Fringe. I wonder if there was any connection to the Thirteen performances, which all evoked the spirit of the Lockout. I also thought it was maybe slightly short-sighted of the government to spend a lot of money celebrating the 1913 Lockout, then later in the year cutting benefits to the elderly, the under-26s, expectant mothers and those requiring help from the State because disability or long term illness. Are they not worried that they might be encouraging revolution?

Another possible way of supporting Anu’s work would be to answer their call to arms; to rise up and demand justice against greedy bankers, to revolt against corrupt systems that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Russell Brand’s interview on Newsnight last week sparked a lot of discussion about revolution. Is it possible for people power to change the world? I think the history of the Lock-Out shows that it is, though it is a long, slow battle. But it is possible in the 21st century? Are we just too apathetic now? Has capitalism and consumerism dulled our senses? Are we all just comfortable enough not to make a fuss? Will Anu Productions succeed in shaking us out of apathy? They are certainly doing their best and we should support them in that goal.

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