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  • Northside East

Stardust play is a fitting tribute to the 48 victims of 1981 tragedy

Wednesday, 8th January, 2020 1:50pm
Stardust play is a fitting tribute to the 48 victims of 1981 tragedy

Emily Fox, Laurence Falconer, Niall O’Brien and Gemma Kane star in ‘48’

Stardust play is a fitting tribute to the 48 victims of 1981 tragedy

Emily Fox, Laurence Falconer, Niall O’Brien and Gemma Kane star in ‘48’

Review: Tony McCullagh

TO SEE a play about Ireland’s worst ever fire tragedy being described as “savagely funny” initially didn’t sit well with me when I arrived at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf for a performance of ‘48’ this week.

Written by Gemma Kane, who also stars, it tells the story of four young people whose lives are changed forever when they attend the Stardust for a St Valentine’s disco on that fateful night of February 13/14, 1981. However, it becomes abundantly clear from the outset that, despite being peppered with large sprinklings of humourous dialogue, this is anything but a comedy. The Stardust disaster is something particularly close to Kane's heart as both her parents were at the doomed nightclub that night but managed to survive.

In the harrowing opening scene, the four excellent cast members – Gemma Kane, Niall O’Brien, Emily Fox and Laurence Falconer – are seen struggling for air and their very survival as they move across the smoke-filled venue in slow motion. You feel a palpable sense of relief as the story rewinds to their lives before the night of the fire and the actors burst into song with an impressive rendition of Blondie’s ‘Call Me’.

We are given an immediate insight into these four young lives: the romantic politics of being a teenager; the petty rivalries and rows with friends and colleagues; the dreariness of working in mundane, dead-end jobs; their hopes and dreams for a new life abroad.

For many young people growing up in recessionary Ireland in the 1980s, the future looked bleak and uncertain. Against the backdrop of unemployment and emigration, going to the Stardust disco on the weekend provided local teenagers with some welcome respite from the everyday drudgery of life.

But even in the face of adversity, working-class Dubliners have always been renowned for their razor-sharp wit and this is affectionately conveyed in Gemma Kane’s sparkling dialogue, which produces quite a few laugh-out-loud moments.

The play is interspersed with panic-stricken scenes of the nightclub fire so the audience is always aware of the tragedy that is about to unfold. By infusing so much humour into her play, Kane has given us an emotional investment in the four characters and we care deeply about what is going to happen to them. The juxtaposition of comedy and reality makes the contrast all the more shocking when the fire starts to take hold and the disco-goers find themselves trapped in the inferno.

‘48’ is very much the human story of the Stardust fire and largely steers clear of apportioning blame or responsibility, save for some pointed references to bars on the toilet windows and locked fire exits. As we approach the 39th anniversary of the tragedy next month, it is a fitting tribute to the 48 people who lost their lives and a timely reminder that the search for justice continues.

‘48’, presented by No Desserts Theatre Company, is now running at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf until January 18. It will return to the Northside on February 12&13 with two performances at the Axis in Ballymun. The play is directed by Clare Maguire and produced by Ali Fox.

Read the digital editions of the Dublin People Northside East, Northside West & Southside here