Theatre Times – the’Silent’ Apollo House

Yesterday evening, I went to see Fishamble’s production of the play ‘Silent’ – a piece written by, and starring Corkonian Pat Kinevane.

It’s a solo performance about the character Tino McGoldrick . Named after his grandmother’s favourite film star – silent screen icon Rudolf Valentino – he recounts his harsh upbringing along with his brother Pearse in Cobh, County Cork during the 1970s and 1980s.

Pearse, being gay is mercilessly bullied and abused by his community for his sexuality and ends up committing suicide. Tino  has a future though – with a wife and a child and a job. Until addiction and mental health problems blight all of these and he ends up sleeping rough in Dublin. Through the clever use of voiceover, a balletic style of movement and placards done in the style of silent movie dialogue he recounts how his life came to this – begging on the streets of the capital; and how his brother’s isolation and loneliness along with the jeers, ruined his life.

It was a beautiful play – almost unbearable to watch as it was so heartbreakingly sad. Tino is no angel – with that foul mouthed Cork wit. But the sheer rage and impotence at how his life has unravelled and the indifference or downright hostility he faces in a world that he didn’t invite, is stunning to watch,

Last night’s show was a one off performance in the Unitarian Church on Saint Stephen’s Green. It was a benefit show for the Mental Health Reform group – which campaigns for improved mental health facilities in Ireland – an area which is typically underfunded. The location was beautiful – an old eighteenth century church is quite the place to be seeing such an uncompromising performance.

What was additionally exciting about the play was how topical it is, concerning as it does a homeless character.

And homelessness is all over the news these days. Last Thursday a group called ‘Home Sweet Home’ occupied the Apollo House building in the city centre of Dublin. Apollo House is an ugly multi-storey office building from the 1960s, that used to house the department of social protection. It was vacated last year when that government department moved, and has been lying idle since. It is controlled by NAMA – the National Asset Management Agency – a state owned ‘bad bank’ set up to deal with the burst property bubble caused by the 2008 financial crisis. It is meant to manage state owned property on behalf of the Irish people.

Sadly – and perhaps inevitably – it seems to be more concerned with selling state assets to foreign vulture funds – which operate as ‘charities’ in Ireland – at knockdown prices. The purpose of NAMA seems to be to offer deals for the boys.

Well Apollo House was lying unoccupied. Apparently it had been sold to some vulture fund who wanted to demolish it and turn it into a luxury hotel and office block. We don’t really know. Despite being a state company NAMA operates under a shroud of secrecy and lack of accountability.

Scores of buildings lie empty and derelict in Dublin – about 8000 at last count and not all NAMA contolled for sure – while Ireland is in the midst of the worst homelessness crisis in the history of the state.

Over 7000 people are now ‘officially’ homeless – although that figure does not include adults who have moved back in with family and have not declared themselves homeless. They live in hotels and hostels; in temporary accommodation; on friends’ sofas; in their cars; or on the street. I encounter several rough sleepers on my walk to the bus every day.

This crisis bas been brewing for several years with the full knowledge of the government – who make all the right noises of concern, and promise solutions that never seem to materialise. It’s almost as if they don’t actually want to do anything about it. The free market is utterly sacred you see, and must be allowed to operate at its own leisurely pace to ensure the supply of housing.  At maximum profits. If the supply is limited the price goes up. Ka-ching. And sure within two years won’t we all be grand? Pass the brown envelope there please.

Well Home Sweet Home decided that a bit of people power was necessary and since last week they have been occupying Apollo House. It has been providing shelter for thirty five rough sleepers per night since it opened.

It has received support from singers and artists like Glen Hansard; Saoirse Ronan; Kodaline; Hozier; Jim Sheridan. Some are even saying that Saint Bono may descend on a cloud any day now. The building’s occupation is garnering massive public support – with ordinary people and small businesses donating money; food; supplies in their truckloads.

It won’t solve the homeless humanitarian crisis that is engulfing Ireland right now. It was never means to though. Its purpose seems to be to raise national and international awareness that there is an emergency occurring in relation to housing in this country. That direct and immediate government intervention to provide permanent housing is absolutely essential.  And If that requires state intervention into the free market then so be it. The government are working feverishly behind the scenes to get a court order to declare the occupation illegal and to evacuate the building.

In the meantime the girls and boys of Apollo House – which was name-checked in ‘Silent’ by Pat Kinevane last night, continue to fight the good fight.

Home sweet home.

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