Historical centenaries are both too old and too new. One hundred years is a stretch too far for most people who witnessed the events first-hand but the following generations’ memories, created or not, are still fresh, fresh enough for tears and heartbreak.
Jim Larkin, the Lockout of 1913 and the people of the tenements are being remembered this year in Dublin in various, interactive ways. Strumpet City is this year’s One City, One Book and among other events, 14 Henrietta Street, a former tenement house has been opened up to the public and a dramatic telling of the personal turmoil of the people of the Lockout was performed 7 times a day until the end of August.
I had heard much of Strumpet City, but like so many books I want to read, it got pushed to the back of the shelf in favour of the latest shiny best-seller. I must admit, when I got the book into my hands, the size of it nearly made me return it to its happy home on the bookshelf, but I didn’t, and for that I’m glad. My usual trip home on the 46a was spent transforming my view of a city I thought I knew.
The city’s plight, the splintered perception of those involved, on both sides of the closed door and Plunkett’s multi-dimensional telling engages the reader and I felt I was floundering with the same dilemmas and suffering as the characters portrayed. Similar dilemmas, moral quandaries and downright hardship is what Living the Lockout is based on. When one of two brothers, who once supported Larkin wholeheartedly, becomes disillusioned with the stark, dark reality of the Lockout it presents a most tense, emotionally charged atmosphere in which the audience is part of the production.
The previous grandeur of the tenement house is still visible though now cloaked in peeling paint, uneven floors and a sense of poverty which pervades every inch. The interactivity of this production is where it excels, the actors engage with the small audience of 15, and ask them questions to which they expect answers. Some of the questions are haunting and innately unanswerable, and unbearable. Would you sell your last piece of furniture to pay for food, but in doing so, leave your children to sleep on a cold, dirty floor? Could you accept that the ‘scabs’ had no choice but to go to work? Could you stick to your principles but risk starvation? Would you?
If you’ve missed the performance, get your hands on the novel, it’s good enough to make you rethink contemporary Dublin.