June 25, 2017 by Roy Murray
We were supposed to be on our way to Body & Soul but we had to stop off in Dublin to pick up tents from a friend of Gerard’s. I told them this was a bad idea. Gerard’s plans always backfired. This time his contact could not hand over the tents until 10.30 at night which mean we were stuck in Dublin all evening instead of listening to Blindboy Boatclub. I knew Gerard would let us down. He always did. We decided to get burritos in Boojums and headed up Abbey Street. It was then that we bumped into the queue outside a grey looking old building. Turns out it was the Abbey Theatre. The actual real Abbey, although it looked like an office block and not the kind of place where Yeats would have hung out with all those Celtic Twilight heads. They were giving away free tickets to see something called Room.
Jen had read the book and Gerard saw the film. They said it was interesting and it was based on real life stories of young women being held captive by suburban monsters like Joseph Fritzel in Austria. Not exactly Wonder Woman then. None of us ever go to the theatre. Not sure why. “Let’s go” I said.
So we decided that we would join the queue and see if we could get into our National Theatre. We joined the line and gave it a while as the Luas carried carriage loads of faceless commuters from one end of the city to the other. In fairness, the rest of the people in the queue didn’t look like theatreheads. They were like us, groups of young people looking for something different to do on a Friday night out. Within minutes the queue was heading down the street towards Busarus like a Meathman in a hurry for the spuds.
We got our tickets and got inside the foyer. As National theatres go, it was very meh. Surprisingly underwhelming, like a local cinema. There were no giant faces hanging from the ceiling, no funky sculptures. To be honest I find it hard to remember what the place looked like, which is kinda bad as I’m into design and all that sort of stuff. Gerard, being our resident thespian who plays in local musicals says this is the norm. They keep the drama for the stage apparently.
Once we got inside, the stage had some projections on it. It was like looking down onto a room from above. We could see people moving about within the square. Two figures negotiated what looked like a table and a bed in a room, moving from sink to wall and back again, like Pacman chasing dots around a screen. Full house though.
The projections disappear and then the play starts. We meet Ma and her five year old son Jack who live in the cell-like Room on the revolving stage. They do exercises, play games and make sure they physically take care of themselves. Jack also has an inner voice character (played by an adult which is a bit weird as it makes him seem even more odd) who points out child-like anomalies between the world of Room (which is all he knows) and the make-believe world of TV. For instance he explains that snow should be white but when it falls on the skylight above them it makes the room dark. Y’know that child-like way of looking at things that children have which we would call dumb if adults had, unless they were being poetic. We also meet Old Nick who wears work overalls, has a hard time making ends meet and has come to the conclusion that it is perfectly normal to imprison young girls as sex slaves. There is nothing cool about Old Nick. He rapes Ma while Jack hides in the wardrobe ever night. They usually sing during these parts and there are some projections which turn the stage into an emotional child drawing so it is not so difficult to watch. You do get the idea that this is not your average relationship. That is the gist of the first half.
What surprised me was the music. Nobody told me there would be songs. The music is not Les Mis. In places it sounds like Future Islands mixed with David Bowie. Not three bad. It is not a full-on musical. Mostly they turn on the songs at the peak of each scene and get some good contrasting harmonies going between the main characters.
At half-time we went outside to eat ice-pops. Some people thought it was over but Jen told us to hang on as there was more on the way. I was glad there was more because it was just getting good. I wished we had closer seats though. I am used to close-ups during dramatic moments. I wanted to see more of the reactions of the characters in the second half. Good acting. Gerard made some smart-arse remark about it not being a football game and that plays were broken into acts. Something got to do with a philosopher from Greece. He is such a gobshite at times. First half, second half, fuck off Gerard. Always talking shite to make himself look clever. I asked him what was the difference between a musical and a play where people sing but he couldn’t answer. That shut him up.
Anyway, the second half was deadly. This was when the play really got interesting and the set changed into these laser beam lines that made their new house look huge yet strangely empty compared to Room. Old Nick has been caught (Yay!). Ma and Jack tried to adjust to real-life which turns out to be much more difficult than being cooped up in a room for seven years and creating a false reality in order to survive. It reminded me of my first job after college that I hated. It’s crazy the things people have to do. At times I felt like telling Ma to cop on but that was probably easy for me to say, sitting in the National theatre.
At other times I could really relate to her and Jack as they discovered that the more freedom and choices they had, the more difficult it was for them. I nearly cried at the end when Jack returned to Room at the end to say goodbye to Lamp and Wardrobe. It made me feel weird cos I was happy that he was moving away from his messed up childhood but at the same time part of me was sad to see him leave his security behind. That made me feel wrong somehow.
We all agreed that it was excellent but a bit weird. Then we collected the tents and got the 111 bus to Athboy where we partied alnight in the Woodland Stage wearing fluorescent body paint. As I lay in the small hot tent this morning listening to shagging noises around me, I decided that maybe I was getting a bit too old for festivals.
As for the theatre, I should really go more often. Keep the free previews coming Abbeyheads. Do something about the close-ups though.
And maybe a few funky sculptures.