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This gripping play about knife crime in Dublin wants to get people talking

It’s about young men, Irish society, and what leads them to violence.

Abbey Theatre / YouTube

WHEN PADDY CUNNEEN heard the stories about rampant knife crime in the city of Glasgow, his first reaction was to ask ‘what’s really going on’?

I felt at the time it became a cause celebre in the press and I felt the media were sensationalising the issue in such a way to sell newspapers, to have another sensationalised story in the papers as opposed to asking questions about why this was happening.

As a playwright, his approach was to explore the issue himself, writing Fleeto about the impact of knife crime on young people.

Now he has taken the play to Dublin, exploring crime in the capital and renaming Fleeto the more appropriate ‘Deadly’. It is on the Abbey’s Peacock stage in Dublin tonight and tomorrow night, having opened on Monday.

He felt the reporting in Glasgow “was very unfair, particularly on young people - they tend to suffer the most in an economic squeeze”.

“I took the view that the middle classes only seemed interested in the issue when the trouble spilled out of the [Glasgow] schemes and into the city centre,” said Cunneen, who lived in Ireland until he was four.

The play is about a young man who joins a gang and kills someone. He goes on the run, but ends up meeting the victim’s mother.

They share a moment in a burger bar, and come to an understanding, learning about each other.

Hopefully you feel and understand all sides of the argument, all sides of the issue and you feel strangely sorry for a young man who ends up doing something he hadn’t really thought through and didn’t fully mean to do, and understand the consequences of his actions.
Similarly, for a woman from a well-to-do area and who has lost her son, who says ‘I’m sorry, I’ve never given a moment’s thought’ to whatever is going on in her city’.

Creating an epic

Cunneen wanted the play to have an epic feel, and the characters express themselves in colourful language, and in iambic pentameter, which is what Shakespeare employed.

This “avoided the more clichéd aspects of soap opera presentation”.

Their way of speaking meant that “the audience doesn’t immediately write them off as a clichéd young violent men”.

Joe Hanley, Fionn Walton in DEADLY pic by Conor Lumsden Conor Lumsden Conor Lumsden

When he was approached about bringing the play to Dublin, he was helped by the Abbey Theatre’s education department in working with local schools.

“Knife crime isn’t as prevalent here as it had been in Glasgow at the time of writing the play,” said Cunneen, noting that knife crime has abated in the Scottish city in recent years.

“The Dublin psyche is different,” said Cunneen, adding:

At all times it’s a play and I’m not here to do a realistic portrayal of Dublin life or even Glasgow life. I’m here to look at issues that underpin whatever the local conditions are. There is something universal in the idea of young men feeling disenfranchised and given limited opportunities for education and self expression.

He workshopped the play with Dubliners, reading the play in ‘Scottish’ to them, and getting back the Irish words from the participants.

“The language is harsh but that doesn’t mean that the people are unintelligent,” he said. “It’s just how people speak.”

Root problems

Getting to Dublin reaffirmed his belief “that the problems at root are the same though they might manifest themselves differently”.

It’s a generation of people who have been denied opportunities for education because of where they live, sometimes it’s parental, [or] the culture they’re brought up in.

He also wanted to provoke debate, get people talking about what it’s like to share a city.

After every show, there’s a discussion, where the audience can ask questions. “The feedback we’ve had has been very wide-ranging,” said Cunneen.

He gets asked everything from very literary questions to “what happened to that character?” Plenty of people have told him they know someone just like the most violent character in the play.

It’s very interesting. The play causes conflict in the audience. Whilst it does present a dark side, you do feel empathy for the young man. They have felt very torn from seeing this issue from a different perspective.

Deadly is on the Abbey’s Peacock stage tomorrow at 7pm. Tickets are €15. For more information, visit the Abbey Theatre website. It contains strong language and is suitable for ages 14+.

Read: “She could set the world alight – but she’s not allowed, so she sets fire to people’s hair”>

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