Approaching the creation of a verbatim theatre piece for the first time, UCD student Luke Shanahan brings “The Absolute State” on stage on Saturday 29th February, at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. In line with the characteristics of this emerging genre, the play is built upon salient parts from a series of interviews that have been conducted among 45 young Irish people, aged between 18 and 22, during the summer of the past year. The scope of the play is to highlight the role of alcohol within the Irish youth captured through the neutral lenses of a non-drinking author. It is precisely this latter trait that sparked Shanahan’s curiosity and led him to bring on stage Irish drinking culture as it is “a big thing in Ireland” among students, he commented.
Indeed, the title “The Absolute State” is all but casual. It is built upon three layers of meaning with the first one referring to the common Irish phrase “the absolute state of ya”, used to indicate someone really drunk. The second level is a direct reference to the renowned brand Absolut Vodka. Finally, the third layer of meaning is given by a thoughtful association of the state as nation which sees Ireland as the nation with an absolute attitude towards drinking: either you drink, or you do not and that creates a label for students’ personalities. As a result, Shanahan puts on stage the construction of identity of young people through drinking and the personal repercussions it entails.
Using real, lived experiences as the script gives the play a unique authenticity in addressing this delicate topic. The guarantee of complete anonymity has for instance allowed interviewees to reveal intimate details of their adventures which everyone can relate to and empathise with. So the feeling that the show wants to convey is that of self-identification and comfort. The main challenge has thus been to faithfully show these adventures as the author remarked he and the actors felt a great sense of “responsibility in terms of representing someone’s experiences”. Not only that, they had to be communicated in an engaging and straightforward manner to the audience in a one-hour show though the overall recordings amounted to 30 hours. A substantial work has been done to develop this play that reflects the author’s passion in portraying such a felt issue among the Irish youth.