Ask Too Much of Me review: A sharp, compassionate take on being young in Dublin

Veronica Coburn directs the National Youth Theatre in Dylan Coburn Gray’s compelling portrayal of the Repeal generation

Ask Too Much of Me: as one housemate explains, with only mild exaggeration, ‘everyone here is gay and vaguely communist’.  Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Ask Too Much of Me: as one housemate explains, with only mild exaggeration, ‘everyone here is gay and vaguely communist’. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

 

ASK TOO MUCH OF ME ★★★★

Peacock stage, Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Welcome to a dilapidated squat, somewhere in Dublin, during the tense early months of 2018 as the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution approaches. There are no prizes for guessing which side of the abortion debate the building’s umpteen young occupants favour. As one housemate explains, with only mild exaggeration, “everyone here is gay and vaguely communist”.

Well, that’s not entirely the case in Dylan Coburn Gray’s sharply written, clear-eyed and compassionate drama for the National Youth Theatre. A parade of identities – gay, straight, bi, non-binary (“How are you with pronouns?” a newcomer is asked), atheist, religious – the house actually represents a pretty broad church.

Indeed, church may be the operative word. In this fresh depiction of being young in Dublin – where the rents are unforgiving, but society doesn’t have to be – you can almost see the establishment of a new one: a communion for the lost and found; a crucible for strong beliefs and emerging hypocrisies; a site of belonging that, between protests and parties, seems just as ready to fall apart.

Coherent and resonant

Similar perils could befall an ensemble piece developed with 16 cast members, drawn together from youth theatre groups by the umbrella organisation Youth Theatre Ireland. But show me another production that has created something this coherent and resonant, differentiating each character without resorting to a monologue in a spotlight, and I’ll buy you a drink.

Its director, Veronica Coburn, favours the quick snap of group action, against Sinéad Diskin’s energising score, or the tight focus of duos. As groups flare up over the ethics of a Repeal jumper, for instance, or pick over references to homosexuality in the Bible, someone is always holier or hipper than thou.

“You’re all middle-class f***ing wankers,” retorts David (Darragh O’Donnell), a problem resident; in a play where no one is wholly right or entirely wrong there is no easy reply.

Coburn Gray writes archly but sympathetically, about public and personal responsibility, about the differences between beliefs and actions, word and deed. As one character complains, “Everyone wants to start the revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes.”

Sly confrontation

After much placard-waving and sly confrontation between right-on activists and right-leaning conservatives (both admirably tested), it may feel odd to see the stage later abound with cute couplings. But it’s significant to find such outwardly confident people so endearingly, enduringly hesitant in intimacy.

“I wish I was comfortable with touching and being touched,” a young Muslim man says, in a scene so tenderly realised you won’t have the same problem.

Besides, the production recognises, the sexual is political. With her own devout family divided over bodily autonomy, the enjoyably scabrous Rachel (Penny Morris) tells her sister: “Mum has a rosary bead for a clitoris.”

Perhaps that explains why the answers to their prayers are so hard to find. “Sooner or later we’re f***ed,” announces the same character, by way of motivation, as the referendum looms, followed by any number of cataclysms: homelessness, neo-Nazis, climate crisis. And still, even with the squat plunged into darkness, hope has not left the building.

In this compelling study of a generation, given such fine expression, that’s something to believe in.

Runs at the Abbey Theatre until Saturday August 24th

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