Laundry by Anu Productions has won The Irish Times best production award for 2011 Irish Theatre. The pity is that so few people got to experience this exceptional piece of drama as the audience entered the former Magdalene Laundry in Sean MacDermot Street, Dublin, in groups of just three people during the 2011 Dublin Theatre Festival.
When I emerged from a Laundry performance into a bleak, wet, Saturday morning on Sean MacDermott Street, last year,I knew that I had experienced a performance that would never leave me. And it was a drama that was almost – but not entirely – without words. It relied on the sensory experience of the place and the almost mime-like performances of the actors to convey some of the experiences of the Magdalene Laundry. But it did not scream or throw blame in one’s face but, rather, invited you to immerse oneself in the building’s haunting history.
Theatre critic Peter Crawley has put it well – Landry has let ‘a shameful national history bleed into a vivid present’.
It bucketed rain in Dublin’s Sean MacDermott street on Saturday as we waited to be let in. Then we noticed a pair of eyes staring out at us through the grid as the door was unbolted. There was no time to shake the rain from the umbrella before being handed what smelled like a bucket of Jeyes Fluid by a chapped, ugly red hand. The overpowering odour of disinfectant pervaded the place for the site-specific performance of Laundry by Anu Productions at Dublin Theatre Festival 2011.
We progress, one at a time, through the tiled spaces lit by the watery sun through stained glass windows, to background sounds of a church organ, a baby’s cries, a ticking clock ,on a journey into the past. But it is a journey shot through with the present as a young man screams at the entrance for news of his sister and a taxi-driver, afterwards, tells the story of a woman who disappears a week after leaving the Magdalene Laundry to marry. True stories of how the experience of what happened in the place continues to resonate through the area.
Each scene carries us deeper into the building’s history: we are invited to look through a filing cabinet that holds snips of hair clippings and lumps of carbolic soap as the names of inmates are recited; a stripped woman takes a bath as a supervisor crunches an apple and looks on; a woman in the church holds your hand tight and whispers her story.
The stories told in the recesses of the Sean MacDermott Street building are powerful in their impact. An experience not to be missed.