Dublin Oldschool sees wannabe DJ Jason on a chemically-enhanced trip around the Dublin party scene, getting into trouble, clubbing, and taking drugs. Over the course of a weekend he reconnects with his long-lost brother Daniel, bonding over a shared love of music – but struggling to bridge the gap created by time and their differing lifestyles.
Daniel is well-educated, but homeless and a heroin addict, and meetings with him both punctuate and frame Jason’s journey through the weekend. When they first run into each other, house music is all they share. To the older brother Daniel, it’s something from the past to reminisce about, whereas Jason seems to be living his dream – working in a record shop, finding opportunities to DJ, and always “on the sesh” at parties taking ketamine. Daniel thinks life is a river flowing away from him, while to Jason it’s just “mad cyclical shit”. But as Jason’s crazy weekend moves between drug busts and euphoric open-air raves, the contrast between his inability to read the warning signs and Daniel’s self-awareness make the differences between them less clear.
The Dublin patois is torrential and demands the audience’s attention, but the language is tightly controlled. The rhythms and rhymes create an intense atmosphere, and the play has the knack of knowing just when to switch the mood and inject some humour. Often, when a script’s language is particularly “street”, the writer throws in literary, historical or political references to prove they’re really quite smart; in Dublin Oldschool, that cliché is satirized through the extremity of the references. Anyone for 17th Century land reform and its effect on Norfolk farmers?
The performances are equally superb. As Jason, writer and performer Emmet Kirwan is cocky yet nervous, full of ambition and self-loathing as he careers around Dublin’s streets. Ian Lloyd Anderson, meanwhile, plays Daniel with a world-weary gravitas, and evokes other characters – such as the unforgettable Brian Blessed-eque drug dealer Dave the Rave – with impeccable comic timing.
The small space contains only two microphones on stands, which are unnecessary for reaching the audience but are used artfully for emphasis – whether it’s Kirwan moving away from the mic mid-sentence for a change in tone, or an out-of-the-blue intervention from Lloyd Anderson puncturing the flow of Kirwan’s words. Director Phillip McMahon has taken something that could easily have been pure spoken-word storytelling and turned it into a compelling theatrical event.
The sheer power and exhilaration of the language and performances make this a stand-out show. But there is more than just this going on, as Kirwan’s play also asks questions about the impact of economic crisis on the young, and whether their nihilism and drug-taking are any different from old-school heroin problems. Perhaps if you combine Daniel’s inevitable river of time with Jason’s repeating circularity, you get a downward spiral? Not for Kirwan though: this is a career on the up, and an absolute belter of a show.