Oonagh Young Gallery, Dublin
Such has been the achievement of Anu Productions’ masterful Monto Cycle, one that has broadened the ambitions and capacities of Irish theatre, that the audience for this fourth and final piece no longer arrives unsuspecting.
This person approaching in the street must be a performer, you think, waiting for Vardo to begin, before they drift past, just a person again. For a moment, it feels as though the slyest possible conclusion to director Louise Lowe's 100-year history of the north inner city area would be to leave us alone and guessing.
Bringing its focus to the present day, Vardo loses one of the more satisfying aspects of the previous shows: the necessity to fuse history with the present in complex layers. That rich mingling of "then and now" has blurred the turn-of-the-century red-light district into buildings of sheeny regeneration, or led audiences through a Magdalene Laundry into streets still haunted by its consequence. Here, the subject is a much more atomised present, guided by individual stories of desperate situations either hidden or forcibly concealed.
Vardo, like the other chapters, is a discovery; we are engaged and led, challenged and confided in, yet the underlying sense is of an unknowable city. Played out in transitory spaces – pubs, bus stations and apartments – there is a kinetic spin around an undocumented migrant with a heart-rending story, a young panicking Russian woman asking for help, or an uneasy, dispiriting apartment, where guarded young prostitutes move through an agressive sequence of wariness, tedium and frustration. That it concludes in a psychic's parlour, inspired by Romany fortuneteller Terriss Lee, is a consoling gesture, but it also casts this as an experience of cryptic clues from which to divine meaning.
There is time to appreciate the fine details: broken statues and regrets; fiendish echoes of phrases (whether spoken or gestured) from throughout the cycle, which can feel like artful self reference; and an impossible attempt to sum up. “I would do it again, and I will do it again. And we will do it again,” says one woman, somewhere between distress and defiance, and the cycle seems tenderly aware that this history is endlessly repeating.
More hopeful, though, is Anu’s remarkable framing of the city – and its effect. You leave more alert, inquisitive, and compassionate to hidden stories, as though encouraged to see the world anew.
Until Oct 12