The House that Cork built

Raymond Scannell’s ambitious new play charts the rise and fall of a nightclub, a family and a nation

Raymond Scannell in Deep

Raymond Scannell in Deep


Half Moon Theatre, Cork

The easiest – and least satisfying – way to describe Deep is as a one-man show that recounts the history of Cork’s famous nightclub Sir Henry’s, from its grim beginnings in the late 1980s, through waves of 1990s euphoria, right to the end of the party in 2003.

A more accurate way of describing it is as a striking experiment in form, language and sound, a multi-character family drama, a detailed social history of dance music and a state-of-the-nation address.

Deep isn’t just the title of Raymond Scannell’s fascinating new play, but an indication of how far it digs and how much it reflects.

This makes for a challenging and heady performance, and one that can quickly become overcomplicated. Scannell’s protagonist is Larry, a 35-year-old whose fractured narrative begins in the present and skitters through time.

But the story is often handed to others: his older brother Danny jnr, a first- generation raver; their anxious mother, Terry; a depressive father nicknamed DeVito; and an entity known as “the beat”, which retreats, reappears and accelerates through a floating, poetic narrative. In its excitement, elation and shuddering comedown, it is a lyrical attempt to make the club scene work as a societal metaphor.

A story with so much surge and swell requires anchoring, and director Louise Lowe counterpoints the narrative with helpful video interviews and footage of club nights, both inviting and dismantling nostalgia. Carl Kennedy’s sound design gives its own extraordinary performance, scudding Scannell’s words around the space. But it is Scannell’s arresting performance that holds everything vividly together: nervy teenagers waiting to come up on Ecstasy, the neat parallels of a club drug and a tycoon’s yacht nicknamed Empathy, and the gradual mutation of an upbeat scene – and a society – into something horrifyingly toxic.

Deep contains enough material and scope to work as a novel, or a miniseries, and though it seizes the imaginative potential of the stage, it feels overpopulated with characters and overburdened with historical markers and, consequently, overlong. It is riveting and dizzying to watch Scannell keep everything in motion and in time, but narrowing his focus would not lose a fathom of depth.
Until Jun 30