We Don’t Know What’s Buried here, by Grace Dyas and presented by TheatreClub, traces the failings of the Irish state in our recent history.
This show is inspired primarily by the fate of the Sean McDermot street laundry, which is set to be sold to a hotel group.
Early on and throughout the show we are told that in Germany, pregnant women in labour camps were killed because they weren’t able to work, but in Ireland pregnant women were made to work because the church couldn’t kill them. Throughout the piece’s duration we find reports and recommendations buried, not only about the church abuse, but the failing of the state to respond to heroine epidemic, and the false imprisonment of the women in the laundries is paralleled with the “false imprisonment” of Joan Burton in Jobstown this critique of the church, the Irish state and neo-liberalism.
Grace Dyas and Doireann Coady star as two magdalene ghosts, Bernadette and Tina, who lived in the Sean McDermott street laundry and are digging in Liberty park, searching for their babies after hearing of the remains found in Tuam. They dig in desperation, like others before them in an attempt to uncover the extent of abuse from the church. Repetitive dialogue, paired with urgent music conveys the frantic search for the truth and the trauma that the church has caused.
Tina tells us that she stole away from the laundry in the night to give birth under a statue of the Virgin Mary, rendering images of Ann Lovett. Shots are taken at Leo Varadkar, who “doesn’t even know who Joanne Hayes is”, with Bernadette telling us that our Taoiseach isn’t happy with her because she doesn’t get up early in the morning.
We are told that Varadkar believes that he would still be Taoiseach even if he was from there – and even if he had been born in a Magdalene Laundry, because it is not just the material conditions that make a person’s destiny.
This is an important point because individualism is a necessary cornerstone of neo-liberalism as it takes responsibility off the state for the material conditions of a person’s life. It is in the interest of the capitalist state to push this mindset because it atomises people who feel responsible for their own poverty and prevents movements and collective struggles by aiming to pit people against each other, for example, by blaming those who require social welfare to live for depriving the state of money which could be spent elsewhere, despite Multinational Corporations are able to escape large taxes.
This individualism is highlighted again when they find reports on the drug epidemic buried under needles from the 80s up until the 2000s. While it was found that hard pressed and working class communities are more likely to engage in substance abuse because their lives feel empty, and that they should be given supports and need funding for their communities, this recommendation is overridden by the statement that it is the individual’s choice whether or not to experiment with drugs.
The Market is personified, telling us that it doesn’t care about any politician, that the church and state has failed the people, and that only The Market can protect people, but it needs to grow. Through analogy and examples, this piece eloquently shows how the dictatorship of the markets, along with the Church and the state work together in oppressing those who can’t afford their individualistic ideals.
Though the play threads together the experiences and oppression felt by working class people, the primary focus is still on the laundries, with the two women describing their experiences; their fear of the nuns, that they couldn’t talk to each other, and they tell how the outside world worked with the Church to keep the women of the laundries confined. If one of them would escape, the nuns would ring a bell and everyone would search for them and return them to the laundry.
It is still seen how the church and state still work together. Magdalene survivors still await reparations from the state while the survivors die out and reports investigate a limited number of laundries – the UN committee against torture noted that only 18 institutions had been reported on when as many as 70 may have been involved.
Even the full situation of the remains in Tuam was brought to public attention by amateur historian Catherine Corless, rather than state funding being invested into an examination of the abuse there and across Ireland.
The Market (personified), points out how the state tried to bury the video evidence from Joan Burton’s phone and Garda footage to criminalise working class protestors.
The Gardaí testifying at the Jobstown trial all misremembered the day of the protest in the same way, causing accusations of Garda perjury. The accusations and calls for investigation into Garda perjury were ignored showingb how the state puts itself before communities protesting the austerity they endured over eight years and against any left wing threat.
Ireland’s weak capitalist state has relied heavily on the church since its foundation and it is still felt as we have pharmacists who can refuse emergency contraception on a moral basis, schools that don’t provide sufficient sex education, maternity hospitals that can’t provide the contraceptive pill, and, most widely known, the eighth amendment, which still stigmatises and criminialises women for making reproductive choices.
Each show is followed by a post show discussion which includes activists, politicians and artists. While it is a moving piece, scrutinising the Irish state, it has been created to allow for people to debate the issues it touches on. The five euro ticket price for people living locally to the venues (The Civic in Tallaght, The Axis in Ballymun and The O’Reilly on Great Denmark Street) is made to attract working class people to the theatre and involve them in a debate about these issues.
With strong performances by both Dyas and Coady and through research and support from Dublin Honors Magdalenes, Jobstown Not Guilty and Lynne Ruane, this play works to expose the pillars of the Irish state which uphold the interest in private profits and the existence of global neo-liberal policies above all else.
Towards the end there are a number of moments which feel like good natural end points, but the play continues, perhaps a bit self indulgently. This could also be interpreted as the long drawn out process of digging up in real life, and in this case it is a personal preference of whether or this is good theatre, but in this reviewer’s opinion, the ending could do with further development.
While not putting forward a concrete alternative, the politics and abuses explored make clear the multifaceted need for systematic, anti-capitalist change led by the working class and serves as a call to end oppression and separate the church and state.