“Hostel 16” is a look at direct provision in Ireland and centres around 11 characters, each given their performer’s first name.
There are two single parents with their children, a pregnant woman and her husband, a family of four and one man on his own, who causes trouble for others in the hostel.
White tape marks out the different rooms that each group lives in and the shared toilet space.
The lack of space on stage outside of the ‘rooms’ gives us the sense of the claustrophobia of their rooms they occupy either alone or with their entire family.
A protest is being planned for Tuesday (the play starts on Sunday), and while Nessa, the single mother of a 14-year-old boy, encourages the other residents to get involved, tensions grow as some characters are determined to fight despite the risks and others fear being evicted or forced back to the homes that they have fled.
A single tone playing for the whole piece, never accompanied by more than one or two notes, express the bleak monotony of their lives and lack of future prospects. Having different families at different stages portrayed, shows how differently they all cope with the reality of their lives.
An eight-year-old, who has spent six years in the hostel, goes to her first birthday party only to realise how differently other children live.
A 17-year-old is given hope by her school that she will be helped to reach third level, but is ultimately told that there isn’t anything that they can do for her.
A pregnant woman and her husband are torn between the love for each other and their child, and knowing that they may not ever be able to give their child a real chance for a decent life.
The parents struggle with not being able to provide for their children and lean on each other for whatever support they can get. We are shown the tension, abuse, frustration, and boredom that occurs when people are kept in a harrowing situation, but also the love and hope and solidarity that persists between people, despite years of being let down by the system.
Nessa speaks of missing her home, feeling the walls and wishing she was back. Her and another mother imagine that deportation could be better than the life they have in the hostel, but know that the danger at home is too great for that to be true.
The performers are all Irish, which is a bold choice, but breaks down barriers to an (mostly) Irish audience fully connecting with the characters as people, and forces the audience to put themselves in the shoes of these people who have escaped from their home and are desperately hoping for change and freedom.
The first “day” acts as a striking snapshot of these people’s lives, but when “Monday” comes and we see them all get up and receive breakfast together for the second time, it sinks in that what we have seen is not just a short depiction of their lives, and we start to experience the routine and entrapment of DP that they feel on a daily basis.
When the protest comes, the characters are shown covering their faces, showing their anonymity in Irish society and we hear recordings from a protest held by real people in DP.
In the writer’s note, Fionnuala Gygax points out that when she first heard an interview with a woman living in DP with her children, she was horrified by the reality that these people face, and the fact that so many people in Ireland, like herself, knew little to nothing about the DP system.
She also noted her questioning her right to tell this story, but the through the research and work that has gone into her writing, it can safely be said that it is her absolute right to raise this issue. The effect of the performances is so strong that DP becomes an emotional reality for everyone in the audience for the hour and fifteen minutes that it runs, and it is a beautifully crafted rallying cry for solidarity with migrants and an end to direct provision.