May 23rd 2015 is a day that will forever be etched in the memory of the LGBT community in Ireland. It was the day the result of the marriage equality referendum was was announced, and 62% of our nation said that we were equal.
On 24th May 2015, Limerick woman Ann Blake received a text from her brother, asking ‘How’s the morning after the life before?’ This question became the title of the play ‘The morning after the life before’ which is currently playing at the Bewleys Cafe Theatre.
Written by, and starring Ann Blake, and co-starring Lucia Smith, it is one woman’s tale about her life; her coming out; falling in love; battling the inner conflict that each gay person endures at some point – to counter the insidious drip of homophobia in which society marinates; and the run up to that terrifying day in 2015, when after a three month trial our country told us that there was a place at the table for us.
I absolutely loved the play. The story is told with great humour and skill by both actors. Blake is the narrator, telling her own experience and Smith plays various other characters which crop up – Ann’s girlfriend (now wife) Jenny, who has issues with taking out the bins; the vinegar lipped registrar who didn’t approve of a same sex civil partnership; as well as being a real life foil, to guide the story along at an engaging pace. The script was both hilarious and moving. I was almost biting my nails as the tale reached voting day. On the one hand this may have been foolish – we all know the outcome of the vote, this was not a story from a dark, alternate universe where Ireland said ‘No’.
What was so powerful was that it brought me back to that day, and terror that we lived in at the time. What if our country told us that we were not fully fledged citizens deserving of equal civil rights and that we needed to be happy with our lot.
I was one of the ‘home to vote’ crew which is described in the piece. I had made the decision in January 2015 that I was moving back to Ireland after 15 years in Amsterdam. This was dependent on the outcome of the referendum though. Having been following the campaign from Holland, on the day the vote was announced, some months before polling day, I organised a flight. The vote was on Friday. I arrived home on Wednesday and was horrified by the sheer volume and poison of the ‘No’ campaign posters, smeared like a fungal infection, on every street light and electricity pylon. On the day before the vote, I joined the ‘Yes’ canvas on Thomas Street in Limerick. One of my loveliest memories comes from that experience – when a group of teenagers approached me in my hi-viz canvassing jacket. Worried that they might be abusive, I was pleasantly surprised when the boy who couldn’t have been more than 15 asked for stickers. He was gay, and upset the he couldn’t vote but he and his friends all left with the ‘Vote Yes’ stickers on their shirts. The next day I took my voting card and cast my vote (illegally – you are not allowed to vote, if you have not been resident in Ireland for over two years. I had never deregistered however. I didn’t care that I was breaking the law. I had been horrified that politicians had deemed it acceptable to make minority civil rights a voting matter – and claims the constitution required the vote was disputed). I was so scared that the Nos would win it, that I silenced my conscience. I would finally move home that August. This result of this vote was the deciding factor though.
It had to be Yes.
This play is very generous to the ‘No’ side – there is no anger, bitterness or rancour.
‘The morning after the life before’ is a snapshot in time of an unforgettable day; and the extraordinary courage of ordinary people who lived through the horrific ordeal of a vote on our civil rights. And there is free cake mid performance. I kid you not. It doesn’t really get better than that.
Running Monday to Saturday at 1pm until March 16th, in Bewleys Cafe on Grafton Street, and directed by Paul Meade for Guna Nua Theatre, I cannot recommend this play highly enough.
Postscript: As I received the final promotional poster today, I feel that I can finally announce my own new play. ‘The Number’ is a monologue about a Limerick man looking back to his teenage self on that other momentous day in Irish gay history – June 1993, when 22 years before marriage equality, Ireland finally decriminalised homosexuality. It is playing at the 16th International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival from May 6th to May 11th, at 9pm in the Teachers’ Club on Parnell Square. Expect to hear more about this.