ONE OF Dublin’s brightest and best-regarded young companies, THEATREclub is bringing its much-acclaimed, award-winning play, Heroin, to the Town Hall Theatre on Monday February 2 at 8pm.
First staged at the ABSOLUT Fringe in 2010, where it won a Spirit of the Fringe Award, Grace Dyas’s play illuminates the social history of heroin in Ireland over the last 40 years.
“I grew up between Fatima Mansions and Dolphin House. I knew how badly the area was affected by heroin from a young age,” Dyas tells me. “I’d have found needles in my back yard when I was playing and people would knock on our door to ask for spoons.
“I was inspired to make the piece when I was working in a shop in North Earl Street and I was struck by the difference between how my colleagues perceived drugs and how I perceived them. I came from a family where I was taught it was a disease and I should have empathy whereas the general idea is that addicts are individuals who make their own choices and have to be held accountable for their actions. I wanted to bridge that gap but I didn’t know how to do it.”
Dyas decided to approach the Rialto Community Drug Team for advice. “When I went to ask them for help they said ‘actually you are very naïve about this. You probably shouldn’t make a piece about this unless you would commit to coming here and learn as much as you can about it.’” she recalls. “So I did that for two years, spending a lot of time in their methadone clinic. I talked to a lot of people who used the service. I also studied, read books and went to lectures and that was the process that ultimately gave way to the play.”
How did this research alter her perspective on the issue? “It showed me how closely linked it was to political life,” she replies. “Previously I didn’t see the push-pull factors. You could ask me what effects the oil trade in the Middle East has on the Dublin drug trade and I’d have said none.
"But now I can see the ripple effect where our economy takes a hit, factories shut, people are out of work, and heroin is the drug of hopelessness. Or the connection to the Troubles; before they started Dublin criminals would have been robbing banks or post offices but when the Troubles started they were told ‘This is off limits to you now’, banks were being robbed by the IRA so they needed something else to get money from and started importing heroin.
“It was difficult finding a way to tell it theatrically because the information we had was so complex. We came up with a series of theatrical metaphors designed to give a feel for the emotions and reality of the story. It’s structured so each episode portrays a different decade. We have three characters, one of whom represents Society and how Society felt about drugs in each of the decades.
“Another has the role of Addiction, you see him taking drugs and the physical progression regarding where he is injecting, and so on. The third character represents Women. The experience of addiction is very different for a woman because you have things like prostitution, childcare. The action consists of a lot of improv around rules and for the Woman in the scenes relating to the 1960s and 1970s she is not allowed to talk because women didn’t have a voice in Ireland then.”
If heroin sounds like a forbidding subject, Dyas stresses that the play is far from bleak.
“A lot of the play is actually very light and fun,” Dyas, who also directs the play, says. “The main action is that the three actors are trying to build a flat onstage and bringing out walls, kitchens, doors, and so on. That in itself is very funny. There is a lot of lightness in all our work, even if it’s about a serious topic. If we were very grim about the whole thing no-one would get the message we are trying to put across, and it wouldn’t have got all its five star reviews if it was really grim!”
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie