BWW Review: Searching for Sanctuary in SHELTER

BWW Review: Searching for Sanctuary in SHELTER

Cristín Kehoe's Shelter attempts to negotiate the knotty relationship between Ireland's turbulent past and uneasy present.

The setting of a dilapidated six-storey room recalls the tenements of Seán O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy.

Fus, the protagonist of Shelter, is the grandson of a veteran of the 1916 Rising - the action around which O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars pivots.

But where O'Casey's primary focus (in that trilogy) was nationalism, socialism, and religion, Kehoe tackles contemporary issues of drug abuse, immigration, and homelessness.

The interactions of four squatters and a sympathetic security guard in the crumbling room supplies the lens for Kehoe to explore the play's principal concerns.

Unknown to the landlord, the building's security guard, Tommy - played by a tightly-wound Rory Nolan - is allowing the squatters to stay in the room on intermittent nights. But Tommy has just been sacked because, he believes, Fus (a volcanic-tempered Aaron Monaghan) has deliberately drawn attention to himself.

Francis O'Connor's atmospheric set, strewn with bottle containers, cans of Dutch Gold, and images of the Virgin Mary, amplifies the characters' desperation, and the decision to set the play in the round lends the action a forceful immediacy.

Director Oonagh Murphy, meanwhile, assuredly wrings the script's tension and commands convincing performances from her disciplined cast.

As an emerging playwright, Kehoe demonstrates an impressive grasp for dialogue and harnesses the device of repetition, particularly the anticipation inherent in hearing unidentified characters about to enter the room, especially effectively.

But, ultimately, the production is undone by flaws in the script. In depicting social ills, Kehoe's writing frequently feels didactic. Fus and Tommy, for example, are portrayed as representing (seemingly) the only trajectories available to the homeless: resistance and antagonism or conformity and compromise, respectively.

Most seriously, the script severely stretches credibility when an (intentionally written) meek female character enters the forbidden room of four men, none of whom are known to her, and, with no apparent consideration for her safety, flintily contradicts the men's assertion of an episode she heard from outside the room.

Ireland's chronic homeless problem deserves a play that confronts this stubbornly 'invisible' scandal, but Shelter, a spirited effort from a promising dramatist, is not that play.

Shelter runs at the Mick Lally Theatre, Galway, until July 29. See druid.ie.

Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey



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