Dublin Theatre Festival: The Boys of Foley Street

ANU Productions 'The Boys of Foley Street' as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2012. Photo: Owen Boss:

ANU Productions 'The Boys of Foley Street' as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2012. Photo: Owen Boss:

There are only two sets of headphones on the security desk in The LAB. Part of me had known that this show was probably not going to be in one of the well-appointed but decidedly untheatrical rehearsal spaces in the building, and yet, I had had hopes.  I was my usual punctual self, and as the clock ticked closer to 6.30, I began to feel that particular dread that I wonder visits theatre-goers everywhere — am I going to be the only one at this performance?
The third in ANU Productions’ four-part Monto Cycle in which they tell the stories of Dublin sites that contain histories of despair, squalor and rage, The Boys of Foley Street does what the company have been refining throughout the project: they break down the fourth wall and drag the audience through to the other side. They also set the standard for the sort of theatre that forces the audience to get up onto their feet: we’re not promenading so much as being yanked and pulled along with the story.
In 1975, a radio documentary was made by Pat Kenny, following the misfortunes of four lads from the area. We — there are two of us, thankfully — put on the headphones and listen to excerpts from that programme, and dutifully look about the place, Foley Street itself, idly wondering if the man squatting in the distant doorway is an actor, or if that girl with the mad hair is in the show. Standing around with expensive headphones on doesn’t seem to be a good idea, and this instinct is underscored when someone walks by, aggressively demanding to know what we’re listening to — oh, the show has begun.

What follows is a constant challenge to the witness’  — my — boundaries. The entire creative team, headed by director Louise Lowe, every designer, every technician, and particularly, every actor, have created a space in which all expectations of safety are thrown into question. This feels unbelievably dangerous. There is this terrible tension between ‘this is only a show’ and ‘holy crap, am I really getting into this car, even if this is in fact only a show?’ We are forced to respond to queries, not only because the querent is standing right up in our faces, but also because it would be anti-social not to do so. In some instances, it would actually be inhuman not to do so.
This is the story of human beings who got caught up in something that they were powerless to fight. We are powerless to look away from what unfolds before us, and are transformed not so much into participants as accomplices. When a young lad shoves an iPhone in my hand and tells me to hold onto it, I tuck it up my sleeve, and fold my arms behind my back. When his ma shows up and practically strips him down in the alley, checking for drugs, I start thinking of ways I can get rid of the phone, because she’ll eat the head off me if she finds it on me — there’s a drain, off to the left, I can tuck it in there maybe, or maybe, I can just let it fall to the ground and I’ll slip off up to the street?
Or: there I was, standing in a tiny loo with a girl who looks as though she has been assaulted. She silently hands me a pin. I close up her dress the best I can. I say, ‘This is the best I can do,’ and she hands me another. She turns to me and whispers, ‘Will you help me home?’ and I say yes — of course I say yes — and then I am forced out of the flat, leaving her behind, leaving behind an abject child and beaten-down mother, and I almost literally dive into another strange car, because at least that car will get me out of there. Compassion wars with survival. How did this become all about me?
How could it not be all about us? The most impressive aspect of the show is the way in which it seamlessly fits itself to the area: it is impossible to know what is life and what is art, not until that art takes you by the hand and tells you to sit down on that chair, there. The fiction of the piece forces one — me — to really look around, and if not understand, at least comprehend what had happened in Foley Street, and what still happens, every day, every hour. I feel something, something frustrated and sad, and wonder what can be done. What can I do? Can I do anything? The shows says no. When it is all over, when it literally just stops, we wander back out into the street. I look around, trying to spot someone from the company, but no. No one is around — and equally, it is as though I was never there.

Susan Conley is a cultural critic and author.


  • Review
  • Theatre

Dublin Theatre Festival: The Boys of Foley Street by ANU Productions

28 Sept-13 Oct 2012

Produced by ANU Productions
In Meeting point: The LAB, Foley Street

Director: Louise Lowe
Creative Producer: Hannah Mullan
Visual Artist: Owen Boss
Sound Design: Ivan Birthistle and Vincent Doherty
Costume Design: Niamh Lunny
Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Shiels
Technology Design: Niamh Shaw

Featuring: Dee Burke, Lloyd Cooney, Sinéad Corcoran, Caitríona Ennis, Úna Kavanagh, Conor Madden, Paul Marron, Laura Murray, Stephen Murray, Eric O’Brien, Peter O’Byrne, Robbie O’Connor, Thomas Reilly, Zara Starr