Play Review: ‘The Tenements’

Pictured: Tenement life.

Pictured: Tenement life.

‘The Tenements’ was written by Paul Kennedy for the Waters Edge Community Drama group and was presented to the public in Ringsend/Irishtown Community Centre on Wednesday May 24th – 26th. The community group who performed this lively play are part of the CDETB Adult Education programme.

Playing to a full house, the monochrome stage design works well to frame the bleak but hilarious action which unfolds. It’s appropriate that the stage includes a clothesline of washing – these citizens are airing their laundry in full view!

Paul Kennedy is writer and director. He has a large winning cast of 14. It’s 1916 and things are stirring in Dublin. Loyalties are being tested and the rules are being questioned. We meet a strong female lead, Mrs Oblong (played magnificently by Kay Woolridge), who invites us straight into her chat with Jenny Power’s character – Kathleen Purcell.

Kathleen is a member of Cumann na mBan but is circumspect about her involvement. Throughout the play, her character develops into an open militant but also caring volunteer as she attends casualties at the battle of Mount Street.

Her voice at the end echoes what everyone in the tenements feels – a desire for equality between men and women, in a free Ireland. “We’ll stand side by side with our fathers, sons and brothers.”

At this time, there is a lot wrong with Ireland. Surrounded by high infant mortality, rampant disease, and poor sanitation, the people who survived this ‘gutter’ were the ones who ‘looked at the stars’ as paraphrased, in reference to Oscar Wilde.

Kennedy makes reference to Ireland in all her guises, one of which is the innocent lamb surrounded by wolves and another that of Mrs Goggins’s establishment which provides warmth and a ‘bit of skirt’ to Irish Fenians and battalions of soldiers alike.

There are ‘high-sterics’ when money is scarce and tensions rise. This leads to vibrant exchanges of dialogue and it’s obvious that the cast are excellent team players who support and lead each other from beginning to end.

These exchanges introduce quaint pronunciations of ‘POLis’, ‘interESTed’ and the vocabulary –‘poo-er little chisler’, ‘ exobiant’, ‘morbicity’ are a delight. It’s obvious a lot of focus and concentration went into this, even allowing for first night nerves!

In tandem with the vibrant language and exchange are the colourful jewel-like costumes of Vera and Gloria at Mrs Goggins’s establishment, particularly when they arrive back from ‘a visit’ to Clerys during the bombing of Sackville Street.

There is a lovely moment where the line between the audience and stage fades as Squinty – the pimp with a heart of gold, takes out his banjo and starts up a lively sing-a-long song about Ringsend – ‘You can’t go over the bridge me boy’ written by Pat Larkin – and everyone joins in. The other well-chosen soundtracks were: ‘The Foggy Dew’, ‘Dirty old town’ and ‘The Auld Triangle’.

Reviewed by Grainne O’Kelly