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"This area's gone to the f**king dogs": Why this writer was inspired by Dublin's rubbish problems

Meet Shaun Dunne, a young and exciting new playwright.
Nov 2nd 2014, 4:30 PM 21,493 10

Source: Abbey Theatre/YouTube

“I always knew I wanted to write about things that I felt needed to be spoken about” – Shaun Dunne
“This area’s gone to the f**king dogs” – The Waste Ground Party

SHAUN DUNNE GREW up in Dublin’s inner city, and as a talented young playwright he’s finding plenty of creative fodder on the streets where he was raised.

He’s just in his mid-twenties, but has already amassed an impressive body of work, writing and sometimes starring in plays about young carers, emigration, and disability.

Now he’s tackling the topic of rubbish, specifically the full black bin bags that litter some of Dublin’s inner city streets.

The Waste Ground Party

This human detritus is examined in his new play, The Waste Ground Party, which was made as part of the Abbey’s New Playwrights programme.

“I wanted to make something that would speak to people who are from where I’m from – I’m from an estate not too far from here called Portland Place, just off Mountjoy Square. I wanted to make something that was not representative as such, but something that the people in that estate would feel a link to or be interested to see.”

Essentially, it’s about living in a town or an estate in Dublin, something that Dunne felt he hadn’t seen explored a lot on stage.

“There are a lot of films that are rooted in estates in Dublin – they’re centred around families, and touched on communities and neighbours,” he says, nodding to movies like The Snapper or The Van.

Writer Shaun Dunne Pic Rich Gilligan

But the dumping of rubbish isn’t the only theme he’s exploring in this new play.

There were a few broad themes I knew I wanted to touch on. One was education in areas like this – what can happen when one person moves onto a particular level of education and others don’t and it’s not the norm, and what that transition is like.

He sees dumping as something that reflects the sense of respect given to an area, and is influenced by the broken windows theory.

“I was interested in that idea – the gradual decline of a place and something like people dumping their bins, actually speak to that idea and speak to where they are and where they think they are going.”

The characters came very quickly to him, as he knew exactly where they were from, and he says it was “really, really fun to write it”.

Loving Dublin

Dunne loves being from Dublin 1. “What I always find interesting about being [from] town, is this idea of when you get to a certain age and start mixing with other areas you come up with this idea of where you’re from being how other people see you,” he reflects.

He’s aware of the stereotypes that some have about inner city areas.

“I wouldn’t ever say I was held back or considered less of because of where I’m from – if anything it’s been a benefit, especially working where I work and doing the things I’m doing. I always feel connected to things – I always feel I have easy access to things.”

(L-R) Lloyd Cooney and Alan Mahon in Abbey Theatre's production of the new play The Waste Ground Party by Shaun Dunne Pic Rich Gilligan Lloyd Cooney and Alan Mahon from The Waste Ground Party Source: Rich Gilligan:

Dunne, who studied journalism in university, “always knew” he wanted to be involved with theatre.

He did a lot of child and youth theatre, and wrote his first plays as part of Independent Youth Theatre, which were staged in a basement in town.

“I was like ‘oh God I’m going to do a play about the Leaving Cert – the Leaving Cert is so f**ked up – we need to talk about this’,” he recalls, laughing at the memory.

“It’s really bad, it’s awful, but the idea I think is really novel,” he winces as he remembers the play. “When I look back on it now I cringe”. But he needed that sense of self belief to push on.

He compares his plays to the feature pieces he used to write as a student journalist.

“What I try and do is I try to be as objective as possible. You try and show actions and you try and show a real situation. What you don’t try and do is say things like ‘isn’t it terrible’.”

He says there can sometimes be a “very loud way” of representing Dublin communities.

“I think it’s just a thing we do ourselves – when we talk about Dublin, we lampoon a little bit. What I think people haven’t seen and what I’ve been trying to achieve, is a sensitivity and a subtlety about the representation of this kind of community which I don’t think I’ve seen before necessarily.”

Theatre for all

Does he feel that theatre is a democratic medium? “I do feel like it’s very level – obviously there is that consensus and it’s true because people say it all the time – people do think theatre is a middle class man’s activity, it’s not for everyone,” he says.

He adds that he “can understand that to a degree”, and this must feed into his work with Talking Shop Ensemble, who bring theatre to people “who might not think theatre is for them”.

With his latest work, Dunne is bringing theatre to even more people – and showing that sometimes inspiration can come from the most surprising of places.

The Waste Ground Party will run at the Abbey’s Peacock Stage until Saturday 22 November.

Read: Gold pants and gender bending… it’s Shakespeare, but not as you know it>

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Aoife Barry


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