Theatre times: ‘Running with dinosaurs’

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I read the blurb of the play with trepidation. Set in an inner city Dublin flat, this drama was the story of a working class young man who gets caught up in the gangland culture of his deprived home area. Ominously the flyer and programme stated that this was about a community whose story rarely gets told. The play was ‘Running with dinosaurs’ by Nadine Flynn, staged by Gladeye Productions and it was held in the New Theatre in Temple Bar.

Before I continue I do need to admit my prejudices. I live in Dublin and I enjoy theatre about the town I live in. However there is a very strong tendency in the Dublin drama world for nice respectable middle class playwrights to write roles for respectable, well-educated actors about life on the fringes of Dublin society. In other words plays about poor people in inner city Dublin. The commentariat then bray appreciatively to each other about how ‘brave’ the writing and performances are. How these are courageous stories that need to be told. Are the real people living in poor areas getting the chance to tell their own stories? It seems like it’s being done on their behalf.  A lot. There is so much theatre about the struggle of working class inner city Dublin life and the accompanying challenges of addiction and poverty. It’s as if people seem to believe that these tales are the only authentic narratives about life in our nation’s capital, and that writing well meaning, ‘hard hitting’ plays about these lives  is a worthy and cathartic thing to do.

I find it a bit preachy and self-congratulatory. I also like to see Irish plays about other experiences occasionally – like the rarely told stories of the vast number of people who move to Dublin from places like Limerick and Roscommon and Kerry and Poland for work. Or indeed plays set outside Dublin. Or – dare I say it – plays about nice suburban people, living hellish suburban lives. Authentic, real life tales about the death of hope.

‘Running with dinosaurs’ is a about a guy named Jay who lives with his sister Yvonne and brother Sammy in an inner city flat. Their mother is a single parent and they are living on the poverty line. Yvonne has an ambitious boyfriend – a trainee Garda named Deco who offers an ‘opportunity’ to Jay. It seems like this chance is too good to be true – and of course it is.

The characters all speak in strong Dublinese at a breakneck speed. This is a play without pauses – the dialogues rattles out like machine gun fire.

My problem was that it all seemed a bit clichéd. I was able to predict the ending of the play upon being introduced to the characters. The stereotypes emerged – the single mother, the drugs, the crime, the gangs, the descent into alcoholism, the appalling living conditions, the grind of poverty. The casual homophobia.

Using a word like ‘faggot’ on stage is jarring and weird, unless it has a context. In this play it’s just excreted out for no reason by two different characters at different points. I think the intention was to show how ‘authentic’ their lives were. It alienated them from me, regardless of how gritty it was meant to be. I am a believer in using whatever words you like without censorship. When using words like faggot which are loaded with hatred, it is perhaps wiser to have a solid justification for doing so.. Like the ‘N’ word, the word ‘faggot’ can and is used by the targets of that slur among ourselves. When used by bystanders then it needs to have a reason. Maybe that is hypocrisy but it’s the reality. Perhaps the use of the word here was to show that the brothers were ignorant bigots who deserved their misery. I don’t think that this was the intention though.

The performances were solid though, with the three siblings in particular being impressive. While the plot was a touch flimsy, the play held my attention throughout. I knew what was going to happen next at all times, but it was still reasonably engaging. The dialogue was appealing in the quieter moments when the characters were not being consumed by the plot.

The staging was simple and effective – set in the living room – as all plays and parties should be.

In summary there was simply too much happening in the plot of ‘Running with dinosaurs’ and not enough silences in the script to absorb the meaning.

After the play was finished we repaired to a hostelry for an apres show post mortem. I discovered that the writer Nadine Flynn is twenty three years old .I look forward to see what she writes next as there is a definite potential there.

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