Toxic (Project Arts Centre, Dublin) – A Theatre Review
Before even leaving school, I had tacitly accepted that I would be emigrating once college was over. Back then, it was a matter of only modest consequence. A dozen Leaving Certificate classes or so had already gone that road before our one had even given it any consideration. It was the way that things were back then. Ireland held no prospects; it offered no future. The only way up was a plane ticket out. Then the narrative changed. Somewhere in the space where I was off getting shit-faced, losing my religion, and all the rest of that adolescent-to-adult carry-on, things went and got better… unimaginably better. There were suddenly jobs, a freedom from the shackles, a strange thrill of self-determination, a sense of unquestioning self-belief… We were amongst the first of the tiger cubs and we could not believe our luck.
Now there is a generation with a contrasting tale to tell. Welcome to the poison paradise, if you will, for these are the kids who knew little other than to take things for granted. Ireland had rapidly decayed into being a materialistic society and what more susceptible acolytes of the market economy than image-conscious teenagers who were entirely unencumbered by the grimness of pre-tiger Ireland? Here, the 18-strong graduation class from the Gaiety School of Acting have chosen to peer into the abyss that such misplaced trust in the future can create, with each providing some nice autobiographical detail along the way as to how they saw the world at the age of 14 and what is important to them now.
Written by Michelle Read and directed by Liam Halligan, this is a play where the strong prey on the weak, where the good become corrupted, where innocence wilts, and where honesty is a flower buried under a dung heap. Told in an episodic path-crossing format, there are elements of the television soap opera to all of the dramatic events that befall such a small pool of people (e.g. a drug dealer is helping a girl to go clean whose counsellor is married to a woman who has formed an activist group where another member once went to school with a girl whose fiancé’s brother recently killed himself and who is now considering an indecent proposal from the gangster for whom the aforementioned drug dealer works). Still, it is all done in such a suitably snappy way that you enjoy the patterns weaved rather than wonder about how the gossamer was made.
In addition, Cillian O’Gairbhi’s phlegmatic gangster is both riotously written and excellently depicted, Anna Clifford’s doomed junkie tears at the heartstrings, and much humour is procured from dodgy disco moves, make-believe pooches, and stiffs with electric handshakes. In one scene, the entire cast enjoys itself at a virally-promoted party in the incomplete shell of some broken bank’s new headquarters. It is hot, loud, and liberating – a sense of getting one over on those who have betrayed the country. Yet, this intentionally also feels like ephemeral euphoria, with one character viciously beaten as the music pounds, while another is beguiled into believing a seductive stranger and a third finds his lies abruptly catching up with him. In the end, the message here, perhaps, is that we need never look too far for the things that will hurt us most in life.