These Rooms review: bringing unresolved history back to life

Dublin Theatre Festival: Time stands still in Anu and CoisCéim’s thrillingly immersive co-production, where the unresolved traumas of the aftermath of the Rising haunt a building

These Rooms ★★★★★
85/86 Upper Dorset Street

How do you commemorate something that never ends? The people we meet in Anu and CoisCéim’s intricately detailed and stimulating co-production seem to exist in a time warp, watching the 50-year commemoration of the Easter Rising cagily, from a bar in 1966, where the trauma of the event still echoes through the building.

Giving voice and body to women’s testimonies on the 1916 massacre of North King Street, when British soldiers stormed residences and killed 15 civilians, this is – in the truest sense – a haunting experience.

When, early on, one woman writhes in agitation (Emma O’Kane), but calmly meets your eye to say, “I still want their watches back”, it opens up secrets of grief, guided by real detail, where time seems to stand still. Within this building (the birthplace of Sean O’Casey), artfully and uncannily transformed by Owen Boss’s tremendous design, David Bolger’s choreography will suggest gestures of surrender, prayer or shock, but also creates expressive pathways for each character through this fascinating purgatory.


In other hands, that journey through summary executions and their tangled aftermath could be oppressive. But directors Louise Lowe and Bolger are alive to both history’s cruelties and its absurdities: the caged birds that died of fright, stolen watches, women asked to identify their husbands’ killers from a phalanx of soldiers. They respond by immersing us in a mesh of time periods, where you search for frozen moments through an abundance of rooms, peeping through bullet holes or answering a telephone, as the past becomes vividly present.

You can't watch invisibly or passively as Niamh McCann's redoubtable landlady Mrs O'Rourke shares worried minutes with her young barman, Paddy (Daniel Monaghan); you help them count and conceal money, break bread with them, learn secrets, staying nervily aware of their fates. There are many more histories, distilled into intimate encounters, and one viewing won't discover them all. This co-production heightens the skills of both companies, bringing a nation's unresolved history breathing hard back to life.
Until Oct 16
Peter Crawley