Two or three return visits would be required to piece together Anu Productions’ latest work, staged on the streets of Dublin and in a dilapidated complex of flats due for demolition. Each audience member is led by the cast on a separate trajectory through an intensely immersive experience. It leaves us unsure where the performance begins and ends, but with a heightened awareness of social injustice. Director Louise Lowe, designer Owen Boss, and an ensemble of nine superb actors bring us close to personal histories of the marginalised.
Returning to the north inner-city setting of their acclaimed Monto Cycle, this multidisciplinary company bring their unflinching gaze to the housing and homelessness crisis. A forgotten play by Seán O’Casey, Nannie’s Night Out, is their starting point for a portrait of lives of acute deprivation in Dublin today. A work-in-progress excerpt in June took the form of a play-within-a play, performed in the backstage recesses of the Abbey theatre, where O’Casey’s drama was originally produced in 1924.
In the new iteration, little is left of the specifics of Nannie’s Night Out, but its furious social commentary and themes of addiction and homelessness persist. Nannie (Sarah Morris) is a chronic alcoholic living on the streets, in and out of emergency wards with her face bruised from fights. “I’m going to leave a Nannie-shaped hole in the Liffey,” she says. Raucous, funny and defiant, she tells her story of abuse and childhood neglect to a sympathetic doctor (Leanna Cuttle) in a mobile medical clinic. From here, the action shifts to the dishevelled rooms and stairwells of the flats, whose residents have all been given eviction notices.
Encompassing violence, mental illness, grief for a death that might be suicide, and a young boxing champion’s shocking fall from a roof, the narrative becomes impressionistic and fragmentary. Carl Kennedy’s sound design and Sue Mythen’s choreography powerfully evoke a hallucinatory mood, as the ensemble of five young men stagger through a haze of drugs and alcohol, blotting out the daylight in an airless room. Asked where he will move to, one of them says: “Your guess is as good as mine.”