Vault (Pit) Leake Street
Astronaut opens with an anonymous man stepping from the back of the audience singing a chorus line from the song “Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye”. Although he never reveals his name, we do get to learn the significance of that song.
Initially against the projected backdrop of a Dublin skyline, he seems to be considering throwing himself into the river. Instead, he takes us on an impressionistic journey through his childhood and the plight of the homeless in Ireland.
In a confidently paced performance, Joe Wright plays the imagined stranger alongside a range of other characters. It is interspersed with true stories from Ireland’s growing housing crises. Behind him on the stage are stacked large white cardboard boxes creating a ramshackle wall upon which are projected video clips illustrating parts of the story we hear. There is one of a homeless man being beaten by police, another of a man dancing desperately for enough money to stay alive and an inspiring clip of the “Na Na...” song from the defiant occupation of Apollo House in Dublin, which, though supposedly owned by the public, was empty and available for the property speculators even as the numbers of homeless grew.
The stranger speaks about a time when things seemed different, of “a time when families had houses and homes weren’t collateral.” It was a time when he felt secure, when his father told him about how in 1969 the Apollo astronauts “glided through the stars.” And when he asked if he could be one, was told, “yes you can, anyone can.” That security was lost with his parents' death and his transfer to a brutal children’s home and eventually a life on the streets. He became just one more homeless person, the statistics climbing from 3,800 in 2012 to double that by 2016. Hence the relief with which he threw himself into the Apollo occupation as thousands marched the streets in support.
It's a fine, moving performance that should prick the conscience of any politician who accidentally stumbled into the show, for, as the stranger says of those inspiring struggles, “my Apollo had landed but crashed on the surface of broken promises.”
A world that can send people to the stars still cannot house its own population.