Astronaut, a one man spoken word piece by Joe Wright, was inspired by the 2016 Apollo House Occupation.
Wright has written that he was placed in emergency accommodation as a child, and was too inspired when the Apollo House/Home Sweet Home movement ended to let it rest.
He has also said:
“We, the people, can go out and march every day against this situation but we only really highlight it at Christmas. People have to take some responsibility. With the water charges [marching and protesting] did change something. From my point of view, the anger has mellowed now and I’m taking responsibility – I know I’m not going to change the world by myself, but I’m trying to aid the cause with what I can do and that’s be writing plays and performing. That’s my contribution and if it helps to raise awareness or kind of give someone who comes to see the show a kick up the arse that’s all I need from it.”
Attitudes towards homeless laid bare
In this piece, we follow Wright playing a homeless man, first as a young child, filled with endearing innocence, who looks up to his father – who, unbeknownst to the boy is struggling with addiction – to being placed in institutional care, led to the social welfare office but then left without work and descending into homelessness.
As a homeless man in the street, Wright points out the hypocrisy he sees. People believing that they’re helping by not giving him money to spend on drugs and alcohol, not caring that he’s starving, and how the police try to move him along, not caring that he has no where to go.
He repeatedly says that he followed the path that was placed before him, one that becomes increasingly narrow as he grows up and is surrounded by poverty and state institutions that fail those that they are meant to protect and help.
Poignant in the context of a resurgence of the housing movement
This show’s run began on 11th of September, the same night as the evictions of the housing activists occupying North Frederick Street by private security in balaclavas, aided by the Gardaí.
Not missing the significance of this, Wright integrates this image into his production, stating that this is the Ireland we live in today.
Using multimedia, we are shown news reports and follow the growth of the homelessness crisis over recent years. Wright lists the agencies that have been set up and actions taken to deal with the crisis, and contrasts this with the homelessness figures which still increased after these weak attempts by the government to be seen to be addressing the issue were made.
There is no denying that there is contempt from the state towards the most vulnerable in society, rather than offering them any help. Wright condemns the privatisation over social housing and poses the question “at what point do you realise that your country is a company and it reeks of austerity?”.
The multimedia and his political points never feel forced and we see the hope and inspiration that movements like Home Sweet Home and Take Back the City give people. While at points feeling reminiscent of Ken Loache’s “I, Daniel Blake”, the hope from Apollo House and the magic of the Apollo mission to the stars tied together in Wright’s writing and performance make this sweet and touching to watch, while still igniting anger about the ongoing crisis.