Review: Addikt at UCD DramSoc Theatre

Student theatre is a balancing act at times. Limitless ideas hindered by limited budgets, talented actors at times hindered by lack of professional training, intelligent and creative lighting and sound designs marred by lack of resources. Restrain yourself too much to fit these constraints, and you risk creating something subpar. Try to extend yourself past them, and you risk creating something too complicated for the realm of student theatre. This balancing act can make or break any student production, but Ryan O’Donnell’s tragicomedy Addikt, isn’t just walking the tightrope, it’s running it with gleeful abandon. A juggernaut of a show, Addikt avoids all of the major problems that crop up in student shows and delivers one of the most enjoyable and emotional pieces of theatre in recent DramSoc history.

Set on the streets of Dublin, Addikt follows Darren (played by O’ Donnell himself), a young heroin user who has spent years in self-imposed exile away from his sister, Sophie (Rachel O’ Sullivan), in an attempt to get clean. Darren not only narrates, but acts out his own life, fulfilling the role of whoever appears on stage with him: the chirpy nurse behind the desk at the methadone clinic; the young teen kicked out of his home for using and the goon threatening Darren’s life. O’Donnell plays all with an acute subtlety, each one with their own tics, their own unique personas. It’s a joy to see him snap from one role to the other, and his movements across the stage, particularly when he is in the throes of a heroin high, are sharp and sudden, using the space to its best.

Indeed, movement is the name of the game in this production. Not only does the show feature a hectic exploration of the space given, in a surprising turn it delivers an impressive pair of interpretive dance pieces which perforate the second act of the play. Neither O’Donnell nor O’Sullivan are professional dancers, but they don’t have to be, as the slightly out of sync choreography conveys a human element in the characters so much better than a squeaky clean, finely-tuned dance piece ever could.

“O’ Donnell’s acting chops are the star of the show”

All this considered, O’Donnell’s acting chops are the star of the show. Were it not for the old radio on stage that blares the voice of his deceased mother (Alexandra Smith Fitzpatrick), and the later appearance of his sister Sophie, this would be a risky one-man play, but O’ Donnell’s incredible performance saves it from any of the more common troubles that befall a show like this. Going from quiet calm to belligerent bouts of anger in a heartbeat, Darren engages with the audience as if they were silent witnesses to his punishment, often placing them in the role of the average passer-by or fellow addict. Warm and funny at times, psychotic and desperate at others, he is by far one of the most human characters to have come out of a DramSoc show during the year. Rachel O’Sullivan also delivers a stellar performance as she delves into her own personal history in a monologue that contrasts with the rest of the show; quiet, controlled, static, yet just as entrancing.

“Warm and funny at times, psychotic and desperate at others, he is by far one of the most human characters to have come out of a DramSoc show during the year”

The show doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the “life of an addict” genre (that works like Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting have spawned), but it never really has to. While on the surface Addikt seems like a run-of-the mill story about addiction, it shines more as a story about connections, how the destruction of a support network can affect even the strongest of us. The writing and pacing, coupled with flecks of humour and mournful asides to the audience by O’Donnell, give us an uncomfortably human portrayal of how addiction and homelessness are viewed by the typical Irish citizen, how we cut ourselves off and limit our connection to these people. Throughout all of this, the lighting design gives us a glimpse into Darren’s perpetually uneasy sense of being; harsh, oversaturated lighting during the daytime, dark, cold tones for the uncomfortable flashbacks, fairy lights wrapped around his arm when injecting. It’s a simple set up, but it succeeds in what it tries to achieve.

“It’s the kind of show you would see in the paper being critically lauded in the Gaiety, not in a quiet college theatre on a Friday evening”

There is little to find fault with in Addikt, its main problem being a lopsided runtime. With an interval close to the start of the show rather than halfway through, the show suffers slightly in that what initially seems to be the end of the show turns into another fifteen minutes of runtime that drags slightly before the final bow. While this could be a serious issue for another DramSoc production, it is a minor stain here, a testament to how engaging and well put together the rest of the performance is.

Addikt is a tour de force of student theatre. It’s endearing, it’s ghastly, and it stays tortuous but tender at all times. It’s the kind of show you would see in the paper being critically lauded in the Gaiety, not in a quiet college theatre on a Friday evening. With every element of the show working together in a paradoxically discordant harmony, by the end of the performance it will, ironically enough, leave you craving more.