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‘I think all art is political, whether it’s meant to be or not.’
The Dublin Fringe Festival has returned this year to a country which has recently repealed the eighth amendment and is experiencing one of the worst housing crises in its history. That art is political is news not to the writers, producers and performers partaking in this year’s Fringe.
Down The Drain is no exception. The play addresses the very real situation unfolding in the city whereby students, regardless of socio-economic background, are victims to a housing situation which disregards basic dignity to make way for profit.
Chris (Orla Devin) and Sophie (Honi Cooke) are Trinity students, arriving to college from a world of middle-class privilege with tuition fees and living expenses supported by their parents.“On paper, their situation is not ‘that bad’ – they have family homes ready and waiting for them”, says Down The Drain writer Annie Keegan. “But it’s a question of gaining independence, which is what college is supposed to be all about. The ‘move back in with your parents’ solution always assumes that a person has a safe home environment where they can still be themselves, which is not the case for many students.”
Chris and Sophie are best friends who, in order to adjust to a rapid increase in their monthly rent, naively decide to become drug dealers. Selling MDMA, ecstasy and ketamine to attendees of the Trinity Ball out of their bathroom window earns them enough money to pay next month’s rent, but not without serious consequences. “Chris and Sophie… began as archetypes of the two main reactions I perceived to the student housing crisis: Chris’ ‘get on yer bike’ attitude, her tendency to turn every aspect of her life into a money-making opportunity, her adamant belief that every problem has a solution; Sophie’s slow, steady crumble under the weight of anxiety and stress and expectation.”
The performances are hilarious throughout, with Cooke’s Sophie a particular highlight. The complexities of college relationships are treated with nuance and care, with the central friendship between Sophie and Chris showcasing the subtleties and importance of female friendship during times of hardship. Chris’ experience of sexual coercion in the third act of the play is devastating in it’s realism, heightened further by her decision to keep it from her best friend with whom she shares everything.
Sophie’s drug addiction takes hold in an exaggerated form, but is no less impactful because of it. Drug taking, and the dangers of it’s perception as part of the ‘college experience’, hit hard in the final moments of the play, and it would be hard to imagine many in the young audience who didn’t have experiences of hearing about ‘bad yokes’ being sold on their campus. College dealers are brilliantly rendered in the two male characters, Dave (Colm Lennon) and Greg (Ethan Dillon), highlighting the dichotomy of extremes found in everyday situations on campus. Dave is an entirely lovable guy who happens to sell some dope to support his PS4 habit while he lives at home. On the other hand, Greg is the representative of every creepy dealer who has seen Scarface too many times, and uses drugs to control, coerce, and further his reputation.
Down The Drain is an insight into a particular college experience which encopasses privledge, poverty, dangerous situations, anxiety, and naevity.
It’s hard to come away from the performance without a sense of fear for the next generation of students in Ireland who are forced to live with an unregulated renting system and dehumanising living circumstances, as well as an increasingly normalised drug culture in Irish universities. We don’t find out if Chris and Sophie land on their feet, pass their exams, or manage to scrape together next month’s rent. It is in this uncertainty of the future that Down The Drain achieves it’s true realism.