The End of the Road

John Cronin and Dee Burke in Fishamble's 'The End of the Road'. Photo: Pat Redmond.

John Cronin and Dee Burke in Fishamble's 'The End of the Road'. Photo: Pat Redmond.

The title of Fishamble’s production refers both to the outermost point of Temple Bar - Fishamble Street - and to the looming death of its central protagonist, Bill. Produced in conjunction with the Temple Bar Cultural Trust, this site-specific piece aims to offer glimpses into Dublin’s social history by focusing on the life of a terminally-ill patient at St. Francis Hospice, Raheny, who recounted his life in interviews to writer Gavin Kostick.

Directed by eminent site-specific theatre-maker Louise Lowe, the piece begins in Project Arts Centre. In the foyer, an intimate group gathers to watch a video installation that documents a variety of Dublin population statistics spanning a 70 year period, showing birth and death rates, as well as medical, housing and education data. Embedded in this general overview are images particular to Bill’s life, including pictures of his favourite football club, Home Farm, and the city in which he lived.

After the ten minute footage has finished, two performers in period costume emerge from the group to identify themselves as Bill’s parents, and they invite us to learn more about their son’s life by following them out the back of the theatre and into the adjacent laneway. Here they part to make way for Bill (capably played by Leahy on this occasion, although the role is shared with Cronin, Murphy and O’Connor) who leads us across Temple Bar towards Fishamble Street. Although the group inevitably spreads while travelling across such a distance, our affable guide attempts to informally share observations as we go, even pausing to remark on a quote from Andy Warhol carried by a shop window on Scarlet Row. In Chorus Café he proposes to his future wife (played at different stages of her life by Murray, Kavanagh, Burke and Ní Chaoimh), and in Dublin City Council offices he attempts to secure a flat in Ballymun for his family. Among hoards of students and tourists in Darkey Kelly’s he encourages us all to sample coddle from polystyrene cups. While life may feel very contemporary inside all of these buildings, people in costumes swoop as soon as we step outside, marshalling large steel prams or horses, and never missing the opportunity to say “Hi Bill” as they pass. On occasion, political speeches from Irish history carry through the air.

Photo: Pat RedmondAlthough Bill’s story is relayed around Temple Bar and Fishamble Street, the area does not dominate his actual life, which navigates the North side, flitting between between Swords, Ballymun and latterly Raheny. This has the clever effect of framing Bill as an everyman who has kindred spirits across the city, using his life to revive generations of untold experiences. However, as we move around various sites, the narrative and performances struggle to engage us deeply with the fascinations and complexities of time and space as successful site-specific productions do, including Lowe’s previous work.

Part of the reason for this is that piece asks us to imagine at least three interconnected worlds: ours in real time; Bill’s on the North side, now mapped across this South city centre location; and the lives of people who actually lived in this area during Bill’s life time. However, while the production is strong on evoking Bill’s world though personal anecdote, and by suggesting period street life, it strains to engage all three worlds, and we are pretty much left to make connections between the central story and the many underlying contexts by ourselves.

In 2010, Playgroup explored similar territory with Berlin Love Tour, mapping personal stories about Berlin around Dublin. However, one of the features that made this show successful was that our guide (Hilary O'Shaughnessy) spoke to us from a shared present (whereas Bill straddles a few time zones), and she devoted time to discussing specific sites, anchoring us in real and imaginary place. But here the numerous contexts struggle to gel, and we end up feeling oddly dislocated and unsatisfied, as we are briskly moved around stations. With crew clearly visible on site, who even walk us to our final destination, in addition to unwitting passers by who stop to have a look and a laugh, the production ends up feeling a bit like a tour of a heritage site or a film set.

The most affecting moment of the performance is saved for the end, when we are led into the small garden at the back of the Contemporary Music Centre. Waiting for us is Kostick, who sits and replays part of the interview he conducted with Bill. The subject’s voice is warm, upbeat and fearless as he confides that he would like his wake to contain a mixture of the “unusual and the usual.” Only now does it feels that we are being given the opportunity to really settle into his story.

Fintan Walsh

  • Review
  • Theatre

The End of the Road by Gavin Kostick

19 -22 July, 2011

Produced by Fishamble: The New Play Company in partnership with Temple Bar Cultural Trust
In Fishamble Street, Dublin 2 and its environs.

Inspired by a series of interviews with Bill, a patient at St Francis Hospice Raheny

Directed by Louise Lowe

AV Design: Evan Flynn

Sound Design: Ivan Birthistle and Vincent Doherty

Costume Design: Niamh Lunny

With: Dee Burke, John Cronin, Una Kavanagh, Ronan Leahy, Michael Glenn Murphy, Mary Murray, Bairbre Ní Chaoimh and Robbie O'Connor, with students of the Gaiety School of Acting, Visions Drama School and community cast.