I find Anu Productions a little bit frightening. I admire their work hugely, I think they are one of the most exciting Irish companies making work right now but I would still be wary about recommending an Anu show to someone. I would be wary about going to see it myself! I was glad I went to see Laundry in last years Dublin Theatre Festival because it felt important to recognise what went on in the Magdalene laundries and to act as a witness to what those women went though. It was also a beautifully realised piece of theatre that was heart-breaking and incredibly moving.
Despite that, I was still in two-minds about whether to see The Boys of Foley Street. I wasn’t sure if I was up to it. I knew it was out on the streets and I knew World’s End Lane, situated in the same area, had been a fairly harrowing experience. My first few shifts as a festival volunteer were at the Lab, doing Front of House for the show. Seeing the audience members coming back looking a bit subdued and slightly shell-shocked didn’t really reassure me.
Then I got a ticket out of the blue and it’s hard to say no to a free ticket so off I went. It knew a little bit about what was coming from hanging being in the Lab but it was still quite an experience. The performers take you away to a different time and place and you’re pulled out and moved through those places quickly, urgently. The women in Laundry shyly beckoned you into a room, here you’re told to “Move! Move! Faster!” and you do it because you don’t know what else to do. You want to be a good audience member so you do what you’re told; stand where you’re told to stand, look where you’re told to look. And all this doing and looking makes you complicit with the terrible things that happen on on the streets and in the back alleys and the flats.
Everyone is looking after themselves as best they can and because that’s not easy, they don’t have time to look after anyone else. As an audience member, it’s all too easy to slip into this frame of mind.
The cast is so good and there performances so accomplished and so natural that it all feels frighteningly real. Laundry felt like it was performed by ghosts but here the performances are more corporeal and much more in your face. You go into a grim little flat at the back of Foley Street and it feels like going back in time. You only spend 10 or 15 minutes there (maybe more, maybe less – time is hard to judge as you’re are ordered in and out of cars and rooms and lives) but it’s a heart-breaking glimpse into these people’s lives. You can see their past and their future expanding on either side and it’s depressing and so hard to see. Leaving is difficult because you feel like you are betraying them but at the same time, you are so glad that you have the option.
The characters and stories explored in Boys of Foley Street feel very current. After the show, it can be difficult to tell the different between the actors and the inhabitants of the area. It stays with you when you leave.
The work is important and political and terrifying at times. The actors, who performed 20 times a day for the entire length of the festival, astound me. Their performances are so strong and so believable that it feels like a privilege to witness it. Next year I will be first in the queue to get a ticket for the final part of Anu’s Monto quadrilogy. I’m looking forward to it already.