- “It’s Crazy, That Was Us”: The Implicated and Compliant Audience in The Boys of Foley Street
Demands for participation shape the performance experience in Irish director Louise Lowe’s 2012 project, The Boys of Foley Street. The piece forces spectators to become participants, living the cultural milieu as much as viewing it. The viewers act as accomplices rather than innocent bystanders because the emphasis remains on active expectation for participation. But what are the implications of compelling an audience into collusion with performed criminal activity in a culturally marginalized community? The production demands that audiences critically reconsider their views surrounding a largely demonized part of Dublin city life. To do this, the performance implicates each individual who enters this world. Lowe’s site-specific creation invites the disruption of social norms, pushing performance to a level of intimate and explosive reaction. Everything the viewer experiences is both performance and reality as the cultural memory of the neighborhood comes to life and actively subverts accepted conceptions about the area and the way in which viewers experience theater. In this paper, I aim to use ANU Productions’s The Boys of Foley Street as the quintessential example of a complex and immersive dramatic experience for an audience. I argue that this is a theatrically and morally complex work that breaks rules and conceptions of what can be called theater. The Boys of Foley Street troubles the supposed boundaries between spectator and performer, forcing audiences to confront not only their own personal morality but that of an entire city. Through encounters with the place, the people, and the social landscape, spectators recognize and enact their own roles in this production and in the marginalizing culture of Ireland. [End Page 103]
ANU Productions’s Monto Cycle takes the history of the infamous north inner-city Dublin neighborhood and inserts the viewer into the world ranging from 100 years ago up to the present, moving them from place to place within the locale. Beginning with World’s End Lane (2010), Louise Lowe began telling the area’s history as one of the most notorious red-light districts in Europe, notably the location of Leopold Bloom’s Nighttown adventures in Ulysses. In this production, participants were led through the Monto (the nickname given to the neighborhood) by various performers enacting ghosts of the early twentieth century, from madams of brothels to the lost souls of socially down-trodden classes trying to make a living, legally or not. But the focus remained eminently present, always referring to the contemporary time as well as the past.
The second production, Laundry (2011), shifted its focus as the area changed over time and the Monto became home to one of Ireland’s many Magdalene Laundries.1 Audience members were led through the Gloucester Street Laundry as witness to the lives led by women taken off the streets after the brothels were closed by the authorities in 1925. Viewers were given the opportunity to remember these women and the history of the space in which they toiled, and then at the end of the production were even asked to take part and fold laundry at a modern laundromat. So even in the first two productions the meeting between the historical and its contemporary antecedents was a major focus, as was the integration of the audience into the action and workings of the neighborhood.
The third production, The Boys of Foley Street (2012), went one step further and forced spectators from the safety of an outsider’s perspective not only by walking them through the area that in the 1970s became Ireland’s heroin capital, but by showing them the many-faceted views surrounding the Monto that still resonate today.
The Boys of Foley Street is a politically-driven, historically-based, site-specific installation in the heart of Ireland’s largest city; as such, it is difficult to call the performance “a play,” yet it is clearly theatrical in its composition. The piece’s narrative, if one can be assigned, places spectators inside the world as voyeurs and participants in its violent, crime-ridden, drug-addled happenings. Very basically, performers push spectators into situations of varying severity, from...