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These Rooms review at Shoreditch Town Hall, London – ‘powerful and poignant’

Scene from These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall, London. Photo: Hugo Glendinning
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A Loyalist pub in 1960s Dublin. With fags in hand and familiar tones, the landlady and her beehived pal usher an uncertain audience in. The jukebox plays, a black and white television set crackles, but the jollity and laughs don’t last long.

These Rooms, originally performed as part of the Easter Rising centenary in 2016, is a wholly immersive, intricate and moving piece of site-specific dance theatre that reimagines the events of the North King Street massacre, in which 15 civilian men were killed by soldiers of the South Staffordshire Regiment (later exonerated, without enquiry, by British authorities).

Transposing the action to the recognisable 1960s era, These Rooms plunges its audience into the domestic heart of the atrocity, the cramped conditions that contain vast wellsprings of sadness, rage and incomprehension. Dance articulates what words do not: the everyday ecstasies of a jukebox jive that veer into giddy, unrelenting spirals of grief. Hands flutter at hearts, they’re raised in farewell and surrender, strain for an elusive touch.

Perspectives change: a soldier confronts us with sweaty desperation about his orders to “take no prisoners” and pines for the certainty of the trenches. We’re forced to examine our response, to bear witness to bellowing loss, to make a kind gesture (or is it compulsion?)

As the audience scurry through bullet-riddled corridors, into kitchens, parlours and bare-bricked yards, we see all the beautifully banal minutiae of now-imperilled home life: Marmite jars, milk bottles and marmalade on formica tables. This is immersive theatre at its unrelenting best.

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Powerful and poignant piece of immersive theatre about an overlooked part of the Easter Rising