‘Faultline’ is a new site-specific, immersive co-production between ANU and the Gate Theatre. Set in a Georgian building at number 11 Parnell Square East, the audience of twelve is divided into two groups and placed among the performers in a re-imagined gay bar; in the headquarters of the Irish Gay Rights movement in the early 1980s – which was in reality located in a few rooms in a similar building on the other side of the square; and in a cottage (a men’s public lavatory which was how many gay men hooked up with each other in those criminal days.)
At the time homosexuality was illegal in Ireland. A series of homophobic murders (Charles Self in January 1982 – the still unsolved case of the Late Late Show set designer who was seemingly murdered at the home he shared with Vincent Hanley; by an unidentified man he had picked up on the night of his death; and Declan Flynn in 1983 – read about that case HERE) had left the illegal gay community reeling. As a result of the Self murder, police responded by gathering a database of the names and addresses of known homosexuals in Dublin, instilling a terror in them of having their secret exposed and their lives ruined. The consequence of the police bigotry was that thousands of gay people fled the country to foreign lands just as the AIDS epidemic was starting to devastate the gay male population. This is the ‘faultline’ mentioned in the title. The consequence of the Flynn murder was the first Gay Pride protest as a reaction to the teenage killers being given suspended sentence for the brutal murder and their subsequent victory parade at the scene of the crime).
Stifling claustrophobia was the atmosphere of gay Dublin at the time – I can’t imagine what Limerick or Ennis or Athlone must have been like.
It is quite a tough show – searingly visceral and raw. It shows the unremitting bleakness and desperation of these people in an Ireland that condemned; criminalised and erased them; and the lion-like bravery of the few courageous souls who said ‘No. This is not right’.
There’s a scene where one of the actors is taking a call on the gay helpline from a man in the throes of deepest misery being unable to offer him any comfort. He looks at the audience and asks us ‘Well what would you have told him?’ I am not sure whether I was meant to answer but I piped up ‘Tell him to move to London.’
The scene in the gay bar where a man describes a homophobic assault took a turn for the strange when the actor took me to the corridor alone, and explained the assault in detail to me individually. It felt quite relatable having had my head punched twice for being gay – once in Dublin and once in Amsterdam; as well as having a beer can miss my head by centimetres in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney as the boys in the car screamed ‘faggot’ at me.
The ballet in the lav between the two men circling each other seeking a connection was quite beautiful. I had a bit of a stare off with the actor who looked me straight int the eye for about thirty seconds. I was going to tell him that things were going to be OK, but then I remembered that this was not real life, but a play and that he was performing.
It’s a play without that much of a script. It’s more about evoking the atmosphere of that very recent time (decriminalisation only occurred in 1993, when I was already at university) and it does this quite beautifully. It’s not a comfortable experience. Then again it’s not meant to be. Those were tough times whose impact is still felt by people over a certain age.
‘Faultline’ is quite unlike any piece of theatre I have ever experienced. It’s powerful stuff. Running until early December this is highly recommended.